My Mom has barely been maintaining her house since my Dad passed away, nearly 15 years ago. What can I do about it? - AgingCare.com

My Mom has barely been maintaining her house since my Dad passed away, nearly 15 years ago. What can I do about it?

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My mother hasn't been maintaining her house since my father passed away, nearly 15 years ago. It's the house we all grew up in way back when. My siblings and I have tried to maintain it for her to varying degrees, but it is a very big house that she lives alone in (4 bedrooms, huge yard). It's become extremely hard, and burdensome, for us to keep helping her as the huge house continues to fall apart; we all are in agreement that she should leave the house, but she refuses, and we don't know what to do to get her to move.

The house is in very bad shape. It needs extensive work and money we aren't willing to invest anymore. The heating is partially failed; only the first floor is heated (all of the bedrooms are upstairs or downstairs). This is a New England state so heating is very important. Several exterior doors, we had to nail shut, as the frames are in such bad shape, opening might cause them to fall apart. One of the bathrooms, nearly all of the plumbing is a lost cause. The large yard really needs a lot of time and money we can't afford; weeds, dying trees, overgrown bushes. I could go on.

My siblings and I are past the point of exhaustion for helping Mom. When my sister and her husband spent a full week cleaning up the upper floor of the house, she had filled the cleaned rooms with carefully sorted junk inside two weeks. They were so frustrated they have barely helped her with anything since; her blasé attitude about doesn't help. She's filled the entire house with junk, such that each room has only a single place to sit, even the huge dining room and nice living room. She complains, despite this, that we do not visit. Two siblings told her, it was because her house is a mess and there's nowhere to sit or stand, and she just ignored them.

My mother seems very sweet and thoughtful, but she's extremely irresponsible, unreliable, and impulsive. She wasn't like this before Dad died; I learned later, this was how she behaved before she met him. When she met him, she "got it together" and became responsible. I learned, speaking to her peers (sisters, old friends, etc) that she is a massive liar, and very, very good at it. She'll say anything that gets her out of responsibility. So it's hard to be sure when she's sincere. It's also very hard to get her to follow through with agreements; she'll agree to things just to get rid of you. She's manipulated the police (investigating problems with the house), debt collectors (before one of my siblings automated her payments), and she does it to all of us and our spouses. Learning all this has made most of my siblings not want to talk to her at all. I persist regardless; I may be insane.

She has impaired hearing, but uses it as an excuse to only "hear" what she wants to hear. I also have impaired hearing and know how it is, but she just uses it as another tool against us. She doesn't have a phone, or any means of communications, except talking to her in person, even though she's computer literate (she exchanges emails with pen pals and plays a lot of video games). My siblings think it's her way to try to get us to visit but I think it's a tool she uses to avoid being available.

All day, every day, she either plays video games, or buys and sorts junk she fills the house with. I could live with this if she lived in a smaller house. As it is, it would take multiple dumpsters to throw out all of this junk. In a smaller house, there'd be less... volume.

But I think a real problem, a big part of it... she's still in the house we grew up in. I think she's empty nesting really, really hard. She hasn't done anything since Dad died, really, except fill that house as we moved out. She hasn't got any hobbies but video games and sorting her junk. She has no life goal; taking care of my Dad and raising us were her life goals.

So I don't know what to do. I'm at a loss. Can anyone suggest some direction? I apologize; that ended up being quite rambling.

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Well, she obviously considers it unthinkable to leave her home behind and can't believe that anyone could ask her to do something so emotionally difficult. I hate to think a person is wasting their life on "stuff" though, when they have people who care about them - what a heartache - hope you can do something to bring her back to life in some small way, and I hope it is not happening because she can't manage anything else socially or cognitively, but is mainly grieving and "cocooning" to try to comfort herself.
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toastboss, have you watched the documentaries on hoarding? There are two series on it that are still available on Netflix if you are subscribed. It sounds a lot like what you're going through.

Hoarding is a mental illness that falls into the obsessive-compulsive category. I suspect some is sheer laziness. I think it has more than one purpose. It creates a purpose -- a reason to live. It fills empty space. And it distances others. My mother is a hoarder. All the extra bedrooms were packed high with stuff. When her kids came home for Christmas there was no room, so we all stayed in hotels. Her kitchen was stacked high with food that she kept buying. The freezer and refrigerator was overflowing. The dining room was stacked with boxes of records that should have been shredded years ago.

For my mother I think it was OCD coupled with laziness and a desire to be alone. In our case I had to tackle the problem when I first moved in. It was very difficult dealing with the anger when I tried to clean things. Finally I got most things clean, though her bedroom and her mountain of clothes are still strongholds.

I would say start simple. Have one house repair done. Figure out what your mother is least attached to and see about removing it from the house. After you get things started, work with her to figure out what to trash, what to donate, and what to keep. If there are any good things, maybe you can talk her into some yard sales.

Bad plumbing and clutter usually means the rats are going to arrive soon if they aren't there already. It is the kind of place that they love. I wish you could get her out of there, but I know you have to cast your bucket where you stand. Do you think she would be open to counseling?
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First question, how old is your mother? Is she driving or is someone driving her to places where she is buying junk.

What I worry about is the fact that some of the exterior doors are nailed shut, that is a fire escape hazard.... I would call in the local fire department [none emergency line] and explain what is happening.... maybe your Mom will listen to a firefighter to get those exterior doors fixed.

Your Mom is substituting you, your siblings, and her husband with junk. The more junk, the more comfortable she gets, she is cocooning herself.

Since she does get out of the house to buy more junk meanings she isn't hiding in the house.... is there anything she loved doing when you all were growing up? Maybe she can volunteer doing the things she loved doing.
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I forgot to say. We inherited her mother's house. She can have it for free. We'd split up her bills. We offered this to her (she's still capable of handling day-to-day stuff for herself, see, and proud of it) but she ignored the offer. Didn't even say no, just stared at us, then acted like she didn't hear it.

The house we offered; it's smaller than hers but it's near the rest of her family, but not near her children. It's about an 8 hour drive from my siblings and I, but about 15 minutes from her sister (who could seriously use her help and asks constantly) and 30 minutes from my cousins (who all have young children and also could use her help and ask constantly).

We also offered to sell both houses and buy a smaller one near me, but she didn't respond to that offer either. We even emailed it to her to be sure she hadn't misheard us. But she just ignores it! And none of it would cost her anything - the smaller houses, we'd cover all of the costs, all of the trouble, even visit her more often! I'm so confused, I don't know what to do in the face of no answer at all.
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