My dad won't stop building things in his apartment & filling it with "stuff". How can I let go of the stress this creates?

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Dad recently moved to a retirement apt community; he has a nice large 1 bedroom apartment that my partner & I fully furnished for him. In the two months he's lived there he's managed to fill every bit of floor & cabinet space with misc. furniture he's been given & enough canned goods to feed him for another 20 years. His cabinets overflow with dishes & pots & pans he brought from his old house, even though his apts have a dining room and he gets 2 meals a day, 7 days a week. He loves the food & says they give him so much he has to get it boxed up to bring back to his apt. He has all this prepared food filling up his refrigerator, but insists on cooking more food. Before Christmas he decided he wanted a fireplace so he bought lumber and used power tools in his bedroom to build a mantel with surround down to the floor to put in his living room. I discovered all this after the fact & he was quite proud of his creation. Envision a mantel with surround & a big hole in the middle where a fireplace would be. He wants me to find him a "fake fireplace that will look nice in the space". After the initial shock I decided to laugh it off & let him be creative. A few days after Christmas I stopped by to visit and he's now extended his kitchen countertop along the wall 6 feet into his dining area so he'll "have more room to stack pots & pans". His apt is slowly filling up with so much stuff he's hauled from his old house & all these building projects that pretty soon it'll be so full it will be hazardous to his health.

We've had many discussions about keeping the apt picked up and neat (he has weekly maid service who vacuums & cleans the bathroom, but it's getting to the point there isn't much floor space to vacuum); he says he'll do better, but he continues to accumulate stuff... newspapers, magazines, two mounted deer heads that are over 30 years old (he wants me to sell them for him); tables are covered with stuff, his bed has clothes piled on one side and he just surrounds himself with all these "things". I'm getting close to telling him I won't come visit anymore because being around all this causes me a huge amount stress & worry. The apts are 15 minutes from my house and when we moved him there I envisioned stopping by frequently to visit, but the reality of who he is and how he lives is just so stressful & talking to him about it does no good. He has an excuse & reason for everything and he refuses to modify any of his habits. He's perfectly happy living there with all his stuff piled up around him; and now with his building projects I can only imagine what's next!

How can I let him be who he is, not let it upset & worry me about how he's turning his nice home into a "thrift shop", and also convey to him I can't come there if he's going to continue down this path?

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The TV series Hoarders helped me a lot in dealing with it. When I came in, I wanted to clear everything out right away. But I had to go slowly in order to deal with the anxiety and anger it generated for my mother. There were some things that couldn't be put off -- e.g. spoiled food and utter filth. There were other things I could handle when the time seemed right.

My mother's hoarding tendency was not so strong that she could not be coaxed into letting things go. We threw away old food and she donated her stuffed animals (there were so many!) We still have a whole room of clothes and clutter, but she is holding fast to that last cache of things from her past. It worries me because it is a fall hazard for anyone back there. I can't even get around in the room. These are her memories of who she once was. What she used to wear when she used to do things.

I have not been able to do much about my father's part of the hoarding problem. He is a compulsive catalog shopper. I would try not bringing him the catalogs in. I tried canceling them -- that did not work. My father is deaf and mostly autistic, so it is like dealing with someone on another planet. He has his routines and reacts so strongly if someone upsets him. I really resent the catalog companies that prey upon elders, many who have the same shopping compulsion my father does. He buys junk that we have no use for because he enjoys ordering and opening the boxes. He then puts things aside, never to use them again. And I'm left with figuring out how to get rid of things and how to stop it. He spends a lot of money, which is his to spend. I just wish he would spend it on something more meaningful than another set of plastic thermal coffee cups. I think we have about 20 sets of them now. Dealing with autism/Asperger's in the elderly is very different than dealing with dementia, but I think they are equally difficult.
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Hoarding is now classified as a mental illness. I guess it always has been, but now they've put it under the Compulsive-Obsessive category.
No way to treat it except professionally. Sorry. That's the way it is.
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My parents are hoarders. My mother is worse than my father. It is a health issue. When I first came here, the place was almost impassible. Food was stacked to the ceiling. The refrigerator and freezer were so full they were unusable. There was food that was 20-30 years old. I had to battle with my mother about throwing the old food away. She felt it was still good as long as it had been frozen or not open. I wasn't willing to take that risk, so in the garbage it all went. She never used this food, just added the new food onto the top of it. On a lighter side of this -- I found one sweet potato pie from 1990 last year. I guess no one wanted that pie. Mom insisted it was still good. Yeah, right. Tossed in garbage.

Hoarding also mean you can't clean the house. It is impossible to clean a cluttered house without a bulldozer. So houses get nastier. It is also impossible to maintain a hoarder's house. How can you paint the walls if you can't even see them?

Cluttered houses are a tripping and a fire hazard. It is against the law to have a house so cluttered that an emergency crew can't come in if needed. It is against apartment codes far sooner than that, so residents can be evicted.

Unchecked hoarding is a mental illness that creates a health hazard. It also pushes people away. Who wants to visit a hoarded house? Hoarders often become hermits with even their own children avoiding them. Hoarding can become an unhealthy, lonely life. So if it is bad, it is definitely not something to ignore. (The maid can only clean what is not covered.)
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There you go, that is what I was saying - if his environment is dangerous past the point of sentimentality, then it is time for an intervention. Do what you have to do, then you can really enjoy that glass of wine, not just Need it! Good luck, and Bless you, my child! Is he lucid enough to really miss anything if it were just to 'disappear'?
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True DT, but my reason for writing was because I do fear he's going to stumble or trip over all this "stuff" he's collecting and building (in fact he did fall New Years Eve & Paramedics came - nothing hurt but his pride). Add to this collecting/hoarding his carpentry work and it just gets more interesting every week! I find that having a nice glass of wine after my visits helps. ;-)
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N1K2R3 has a point - as long as he is content and clean and healthy and his environment is not dangerous to himself or others, why not let him have his security woobie? When he passes you will have some work, of course (lots), but think of the garage sale for other hoarders! I would not mind attending if I were not fighting the same thing!
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Just wanted to add - lijoma62, thank you for your note about your dad. I wish my dad was as organized as yours! It's helpful to read how others are dealing with these situations. My dad doesn't have dementia, although he's always been kind of "out there" and quite unique. ;-) I don't really have anyone to talk to about this and it helps tremendously to read others' points of view on this subject. I've been trying to fit him into a mold he will never fit in and I need to just let him be who he is. Thanks again everyone... this helps. :-)
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Ok, so he's 89 years old. Good Grief, Charlie Brown, let him indulge in his creativity.
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Thanks guys... your answers help. He's been a handy man/tinkerer type for most of his 89 years and although he loves to read (keeps a dictionary & atlas out at all times to "look things up"), he also loves to build things... DT you & my dad have a LOT in common. He crafted a pot & pan rack out of an old bicycle wheel that hangs from the ceiling in the kitchen of his old house... and adorned it with plastic greenery. It spins around so you can easily reach whichever 100 year old pot or pan you might dare to cook in. He saves everything and hoarding is definitely an issue here. I can't stop it though and think I'll just do my visiting in the communal dining room from now on. No point in even trying to change this behavior. Good to know there are other "mature guys" out there who share his eccentricities!
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PS again - there is an old apartment dweller's creedo that if you have not used something for a year, you really don't need it. I admit I rarely or never followed it.
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