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Many of you know my situation--PT caregiver for a VERY self involved mother. She has been slowly but noticeably declining in the last 6 months, which is sad, but it made her a lot nicer to me, so I won't complain.


I have talked before about her "hoarding" and how she is so attached to her "things" that she will NOT discuss moving anything or (now) even letting things be touched. Lovely, expensive items are cheek and jowl next to something from the $1 store--and each thing is equally treasured!


I am a cleaner, and a purger. I am currently cleaning out my small office and have managed to cull 3 huge garbage bags of trash, plus the entire back of my SUV is packed with stuff for Goodwill.



Took a break and went to Mother's to get ONE photo of her mother in her wedding dress to have copied for a gg-granddaughter who is named for this lady. Mother had me going through fithy, dust and bird poop covered boxes to find this particular picture. On the way to finding it, I also found about 10 large scrapbooks that are so dusty and filthy--she hasn't looked at them in 20 years. I found drawers full of "exercise bands" that she can't possibly get to--and that are cracked and ruined. Every drawer (and I had go through ALL of them) is packed to the point they barely close. She owns over 100 pairs of socks. Well over 200 pairs of earrings. She had squirreled away almost a year's worth of old catalogs--again, she cannot get to these things. She has space to move around with her walker--and that's about it.


I know she sensed my frustration, b/c these photos are OLD (some well over 100 years) and they were finally found in a high cupboard, in a ratty old paper bag. I wanted to cry.


I found the photo I wanted and a lot more I didn't know existed--ones of my dad's parents, ones of MY GGGgrands..and she has them stored in a hot, dry closet.


I sat her down and said "Mother, I'm going to be frank. You are basically living in about 20 pounds of dust, dust mites and bird poop. PLEASE let me come and clean. PLEASE let me move a couch out of your "puzzle room" which cannot even be used because of the size of the puzzle table. PLEASE let me give you more space!" She rambled on a bit about her sister (?) and how I had to hurry and copy a photo for her brother who is 91. Then I approached her again. "MOM! I will get clear plastic bins. I will sort and wrap and SAVE everything. I won't throw away ANYTHING you won't let me toss. You can sit and watch me." She said "I want to love in a cave". (?) I said, "OK, let's find you a cave". She meant "just stick me in a NH". I told her she would only be able to take about 1% of her things to a NH. I am just trying so hard to get the place so it can be DUSTED and VACCUUMED....she has respiratory problems and they ALL stem from the dust.


I want to just jump in and do this, but having done it before and being "banished" for 6 months was the outcome. She admitted she cannot see anything above about 4' off the floor as she is so bent over with osteoporosis--so I said "Let me make living easier for you!! PLease!"


Did I handle this well or should I just leave it be? My niece is being paid to clean and water the plants. Well the plants are all dead and the dust is 1" deep in many places. I've talked to my niece, but she is totally checked out.


I'm angry, tired and frustrated. I am the only sib who actually goes to see mother and altho she lives with my brother, he sort of pops in once every other day to make sure she's alive.


I guess I can just ride this out until she dies, but it's getting so much worse as she cannot pick up anything and doesn't clean at all. The smell is pretty bad.


I know there's others out there like me--how do you handle this? I go to visit and I have to stand up the whole time b/c all the chairs are covered in junk. Arrrggghhhh!

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Midkid, I hear ya. My mom's house was also chock-a-block with clutter and junk and duplicates.....and little to nothing of familial or sentimental significance. The crap that Mom defended to her death (literally) was 99% impersonal. I always had an awareness of that, but it really hit me after we cleaned out her damm house. Filled 2 commercial dumpsters and shuttled countless truckloads to the thrift store. What I took home for myself (excluding vital documents) could have filled a milk crate. So much for a legacy......or whatever it is that people from functional families like to gush about. If they only knew.

And is there ANY explanation for old folks' obsession with the daily mail delivery??!? Goodness, it's so weird. Throw in a little dementia, and the mail fixation becomes a full-time job.
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Again, the kindest and lack of judgment I get here is so soothing!! Spending time with Mother is, at best, hard (why the 3 other sibs are all MIA).
Yesterday had me in years-once again this old lady has the ways and means to hurt me. She ASKS for help. I trot up there like the obedient dog I am, and she KNOWS I will come, then she shoots me in the foot.
I did just go into the other rooms w/o her permission and prowl around (she wouldn't leave the kitchen table--she HAS to meet the mailman and give him 2 chocolate kisses everyday and coyly "flirt" with him. Poor man, she is on a rural route and almost 90% of his deliveries are sidewalk mailboxes. He has to get out at her place, walk to the door and wait for her. He has earned a special place in Heaven!! I left at 6:30 pm and he still hadn't come---
Anyway, she wouldn't leave the table so I went in and snooped, to see exactly what we're dealing with. 17 yo catalogs "in case" she decides to order something, No less than 30 puzzles in boxes,, stacked haphazardly, books all over...Drawers that are so packed tight with junk they are unusable. Dust a quarter inch thick on EVERYTHING--partly bird dander, partly dust. It's not the "typical" hoarder's nest that I have seen, but it's so grimy and stinky. She literally sees what she wants to see and nothing else. Someone mentioned removing the things "up high" where she can't see, but I tried that and within 6 months the spaces above her cabinets were once again packed with garbage. I guess she sweet talks one of the kids into putting stuff up for her.
I AM really concerned about the dirty bird cage and unwashed birds sitting not 5 feet from where she prepares food. I will not eat anything that comes out of her kitchen.
I'm done. She's mad at me. I'm mad at her, and all I am going to do is copy these wonderful pictures of my GGparents that I HAVE NEVER SEEN!! And when I return this pile of photos (if I do) I will do so in a clear plastic bin and clean out the one cardboard box she has a lot of important family documents in. She has letter and items that are almost 200 years ago, tucked up cheek and jowl with piles of mouse poop, b/c once upon a time, this box resided in the potting shed.
I called Brother, he just listened to me rant and said "Sis, let it go. She's losing it more every day. She won't last much longer. Everything is shutting down". (I'd believe him but he has said this for the last 5 years. She told me she would never die, just to spite us.

Oh, also found out that she met with POA brother and cashed out her LTC policy. So, no money for LTC. I guess she gave it all to the brother she lives with--which is as it should be. That may well account for his complete denial of any discussion of moving her into LTC, no matter what.

APS has been called, it's not worse nor better than when a PT called on her. They told her she had to keep walkways clear and that was it. You can't force someone to clean--it's amazing the low standards they must have.
Truth is--she likes her home this way and all the complaints are just to pit us kids against each other, And it works like a charm.

Saddest thing of all to me---she makes room for that d*mn stuffed rabbit--and there is not a photo of my sweet dad in the place. Not one. Breaks my heart.
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I think I would be proactive and talk to APS. It sounds like you need the force of law to change anything - hoarders don't change.

For example, did you see the article in the Boston Globe last week about the sisters in tony Brookline in their million+ dollar house? One of the sisters died and eventually fell under the kitchen table. The other sister did not do ANYTHING about it - I'm certain she thought she should wait to call EMTs when she cleaned up the clutter a bit. Did not happen. She did not change, even with her sister dead at the table!

APS can even see about a geriatric in patient mental evaluation for 3 days at an overnight facility, during which time the family would be required to clean out the house and make it safe or she could not return. Then the family can blame APS for their horrible overreach that makes grandma safe. Brother will still be mad, Grandma will be madder, but you will be secure in the knowledge that grandma won't die a horrible death when her space heater burns something in the bedroom while she's in the bathroom and every piece of paper and fabric goes up around her: My nightmare for 30 years.
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It's frustrating. We can only do what they will let us when they are ready. I have six rooms of the house mostly cleared now. Two rooms -- her bedroom and her back room -- are so crazy that I have to get out and close the door. They make me crazy to see them. I get out for my own mental health. One day the APS is probably going to throw me in jail because of the state of those two rooms. They won't understand that the whole house used to look like that. One advantage that I have is I can sneak things out if I know they'll never be missed. I'm lucky that my mother doesn't order stuff and I do all the shopping. Dad used to order stuff a lot -- useless stuff. So it was clutter on clutter, and totally crazy making.
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Welp...I went to mother's armed with a "playbook" of things we could do to "open up" her apartment--with the very clearly stated statement that NOTHING would be trashed. I was kind and I was gentle.
She shot me down, point by point. She HAS to have ALL her things, around her, (suffocating her!!) and altho she "allowed" me to clear off ONE very small picture bulletin board (I tossed 3 small photos that were copies of ones she already had up!!) That was the extent of the day. I know she is up there digging through the trash right now).
She has all her original Mirro pans from her wedding 68 years ago, She uses 2 of the pans. She has purchased SO MUCH CRAP from catalogs and such, and she is squirreling it away--she wouldn't leave the kitchen table as she waits all day long for the mailman to come and so I just went ahead and took stock of what could be done to give her some walking room and breathing space. 2 huge closets jampacked with clothes. 2 huge dressers also completely jampacked. I asked if I could PLEASE put some of the out of season clothes in bins and store them up high (where it's just a jumble) and she said "I sometimes want to wear a certain sweater and I wouldn't be able to find it. I asked if we could move the loveseat to another room in the house, and the three end tables ( 2 are cheap, cheap laminate) and she lost it. I manned on. Mother, one of those excess tables actually GOES with the bedroom set..she said "Then where do I put my chair? Do you KNOW how old that chair is?" (Yes, mother, it's over 100 years old.) And you know what sits on this? A 4' orange stuffed rabbit she bought at Shopko for $4, which she HAD to have because it was 75% off.
I was gritting my teeth--and had to listen to her dither on and on about her one friend who has life so horrible. Couldn't keep her on task, and I finally just said "OK, mother, you win, Once again, you reach out for help, I offer it and you shut me down. I am going to get the cobwebs off the ceiling and take out your bathroom trash and I not doing another thing. Ever." "Oh, but who will wash my windows?" I said "It's 12 degrees outside right now. Someone will do it in the Spring".
I did tell her that her place is a hazard, I was SICK of hearing about banged ankles and bruises from bumping into corners. I said "You choose this over having family in your life. No one comes to visit because your place is filthy, there's nowhere to sit and it stinks. I'm sorry to say that to your face, but I am the last person who will clean for you. If you fall again, APS may be called. Good luck with that." And I left.
ARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!
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My advice is to call APS and tell them there is a vulnerable adult or an at risk elder and explain the situation. Don't worry about the family member that she is renting from going ballistic. He might be in for a rude awakening if he gets slapped with elder neglect. Let the APS know about his attitude to the hoarding (family member just doesn't give a damn).
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If she can't see above a certain level due to her back, could you at least freely sort/toss things that are higher up? Hoarding is classified as a a mental illness now and her mental capacities are declining anyway. I don't think she wants open spaces - part of the hoarding disorder. Asking her permission won't be helpful, I think. I would go ahead and do what makes sense to you, Her situation is affecting her health and safety. EMT's need to be able to get to her. Sad that bro and other sibs don't see or care about that.-Good idea to stop the catalogs. Doesn't look like you have much to lose if she gets mad. Prayers for you!
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This new format is taking some getting used to!
I sat in church yesterday and made a list of things I can "possibly" do to clear out some of mother's stuff. As she cannot reach into any of the corners of her place--I thought about boxing a lot of stuff (reassuring her that it is going to be stored) and giving her a "sense" of openness--She was on brother about "building me another closet!!" last week. How? Where? Why?
The answer to "can the EMT's get to her" Yes, and no. If she falls in the bathroom, no way. The living room? Nope? Only if she falls in the hall or kitchen could they access her. I KNOW they kindly got after her, last time she fell, about the clutter, but she was so enamored of the "cute" fireman she didn't care.
I am sure to encounter a lot of pushback from her. She doesn't like me much, so I haven't much to lose if she sends me packing. It won't be the first time.
In short, my concern is for her to have more clear space to move around and to organize so she can set down a glass of water and not have it fall.
She's safe on the telemarketers calling--she can't use her cell phone. 911 is programmed in to it. And one friend. She can't answer it, and she has been snail mailing all her junk purchases all her life. That can be stopped easily.
Wish me luck. Seeing her tomorrow!
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I don't think you will stop her shopping until the Financial POA takes away her checkbook and credit cards. I've heard that a particular company that sells junk on TV will notice when their regular customers have not ordered recently and call to "check" on them with the idea of a product they "knew you would love!" Just a horrible thing to do to compulsive spenders!

I think hoarders in general don't like people they can't bully, like the good boundary setter you are. I believe hoarding is a question of control - they want to control everything that comes into their realm of reality. People, magazines, trash... it all has been a part of their lives and they are putting a big ownership claim on it.

The safety issue is this: will firemen be able to come in and find her in case of a fire, or will the goat paths, the furniture in the way, and the stacks of boxes that might fall over on the firefighter keep them from reaching her until it is too late?

If a person is under 65, they have every right in the world to live as a hoarder. It's when they cross into the 'senior years' set by law that they are not allowed to self neglect. If there is a caregiver living with them (like your brother apparently is), that person is considered to be responsible for their situation and can be legally liable for elder abuse. I think that is why your brother had such a fit when they came before. APS can create motivation for him to get it clean, but that means he will have to listen to Mama cry.

Until your brother is on board with a clean out, he will continue to enable her to keep her from manipulating him. He may see that as his only way to keep from being written out of the will or being fired as POA. I truly believe APS is your best route to force him and the mom to provide sanitary and safe housing.
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This is the best place to come when I am overwhelmed and feel unsupported!
I appreciate the idea of taking all the photos, but I will NOT bring any of her junk into my house. We are preparing to retire--the last 3 days, I gutted the office, threw out 80% of the "junk", filled 3 enormous black garbage bags and sent the rest to Good Will. And I still have a ton of photos to sort and (probably) toss.

I think I will take some pics. I hadn't thought of that! Brother sort of "helicopters" around when I visit, and he is so controlling. I cannot reason why he is like this, except that he got shorted out well over $150,000 when the folks moved in with him. They were supposed to pay off his mortgage in return for his adding on to his home and taking them in "for life", It didn't happen and we all had to help, financially for several years. I think he is looking to a big payout if mother ever dies.

I'm going to take a deep breath and think hard about ways to give her more space (safety reasons) deep clean her place (health reasons) and curtail her excessive catalog shopping (probably by taking her catalogs and emailing each of them to STOP sending her their catalogs) and HOPEFULLY allowing her to let a few larger pieces of furniture be moved. AS long as nothing is thrown away.
She's not particularly unsafe, she can go places and does, but she is not happy in her current situation. I'm the ONLY sib who sees this as an issue.
Weirdly, I am also her very least favorite kid. I show up and it's "oh, it's just you."
Every stinkin' week.
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I'm a member of a group called Children of Hoarders which has helped me with recovering from having a hoarder mthr. Maybe what I can say will be helpful to you.

First, your mom is not going to change. Most importantly, it sounds like the place a fire hazard - and that's where I want you to leave it for Adult Protective Svs. She's beginning to fail mentally, and she has respiratory issues due to the hoard. To me, it does sound like it's time for a home, and what she has NOW is the cave.

Take tons of photos next time you are there. All the hoard in its bountiful glory. Goat paths with some kind of standard sized marker to judge width. This is evidence.

Take those lovely plastic boxes and get the photos that are important. I would not even tell your mom, but if she asks, tell her that you were getting the rest of the ones for the grand children, that you found an excellent place to get these copied so everyone can one. After all, she thought this was such a good idea for ggdaughter that you realized all the grands need copies! You will bring them back once they are done (and maybe you don't get around to it). This gets the irreplaceable photos out of a place that should be red tagged. Now you can say the only thing she's let you take are some old family photos to copy and return.

The way you bring this to a head is 1) she is injured, you take her to the ER, you & brother refuse to allow her to come home by showing printed photos to the hospital social worker who will work with you to get a placement.

OR 2) you get Adult Protective Services to stop by while you are there so you can let them in to see the conditions. Because of her hoarding and mobility issues, she can't keep her house decently. Since your brother is her landlord or lets her stay in his house, he is probably responsible for the senior neglect. This is an ideal way to get him on board to force her move, if APS says she has to move or get a forced clean out.

Adult Protective Services was a fantastic community resource for my mthr, and they basically saved her life. They got involved, found me several states away, and helped us navigate the legalities of the situation. I can't say how great they were. Mthr is now clean, warm, fed, and taken care of, and I don't have to worry about her causing harm to anyone else.
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Thanks for your update which gives another dimension to the situation you find your mother living in. It is very unfortunate that you do not have the support of your brother because this makes it hard to come up with any concrete decisions. Your idea of starting with trying to organize with clear plastic bins is a start and I wish you well!

I also have a sibling who goes against my wishes for the good of my mother and it's not pleasant. He is missing in action but has 'all the right advice' it seems. Very frustrating but I've learned to ignore and move on and do what is best for my parents. I hope that you are able to do the same.
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Thanks to those who shared:
Mom is slowly declining, mentally. I notice because I spend a lot of time with her. She can't remember so much and repeats herself constantly--I turn a deaf ear. She also rambles kind of incoherently from subject to subject--again, I listen but don't try to follow.

I think her comment about "living in a cave" was to make me feel bad--she hasn't changed in the guilting dept at all!
I don't want her in a CAVE! I want to be able to be in her place and be able to move around. It's "clean"-ish. Her eating space is clean--her food prep area just shrunk to the size of a small cutting board--as we had to move her microwave to the counter. She no longer uses her stove. The rest of the counter looks like a pharmacy/candy counter.
Hiring someone to come and wipe down the available space would be useless, as she barely allows me to do it. You cannot get a vacuum in the small amounts of carpet that show..

I think I will return next week with a plan of attack. CLEAR big plastic bins that I can sort out her "extraneous" stuff and pack away, labeled clearly as to what is inside. The house has a HUGE crawlspace for storage, and if she knew her precious stuff was safely in the house, maybe she'd agree to that. She has a couch that is unusable and she HAS to have a giant puzzle table up. Perhaps we can move that out and the two end tables she can't even reach. And the books---if I can convince her to give the more recent ones to the Sr Center for their use, she might part with them. And the 50+ puzzles, in bags and boxes....I kind of want to cry.
AS far as calling APS, someone did that after visiting a few years back--my brother went BALLISTIC! He feels that she is fine, her place is fine and people need to butt out. Well--but she has little to no space to move around, and she is a fall risk.

Recognizing her "need" to have her "things" around her makes me sort of understand her. She's never been a great housekeeper, and that's not changing at age 87. It's the constant influx of more crap that drives me up the wall. Junk she wins at Bingo. Stuff she orders and doesn't want anyone to know about.

Thanks for letting me vent. My hubby is sick and tired of hearing me talk about this (his mother's home has so little in it, when she dies we can move her out and stick a for sale sign on the house and be done. She has ONE bottle of aspirin in a cupboard for medicine. These women are complete opposites!)
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I agree with getting an outside agency in to check and then she can blame them. Maybe, because of her respiratory illness, you can have her doctor set this up? Once the agency deems her place unfit for her, maybe she'll be more in agreement with things getting cleaned up. I feel for you. I have my own issues with my parents but at least they are not pack rats.
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Yes, the text is much clearer now. I love it.

You say that your mom has been declining over the last 6 months. Do you mean physically, mentally? Is she functioning okay in her own home, despite the dust, clutter, etc. ? Is she competent?

I think I would determine if the hoarding constitutes a health or safety hazard. You say the dust aggravates her respiratory problem. Is it bad enough for her doctor to speak to her about it. If it was worse, like, dangerous mold or doorways blocked, I might be more assertive. If it's just messy and an eyesore, I'd leave it alone and just try to get her to allow you to vacuum. Perhaps, begging and doing what vacuuming that you can.

Hoarding is often a mental health issue and often involves emotions and issues that have little to do with the items. Even trained professionals struggle to help people with this condition. So, with a senior.....I can't see how much change would come. I might just keep an eye on her to make sure that it's not harming her or jeopardizing her health. Will she let a helper come weekly to vacuum?

Does she really want to go to a smaller place where she doesn't have all of that stuff? You say she wants to live in a cave. Is she joking? Maybe, she feels overwhelmed with all the work of sorting though it. What if you offered to store the items for her while the house is cleaned?

I don't see any point in being mean. It will only hurt her feelings and not help. I wouldn't push anything on her as long as she's competent. I know that it's frustrating, but, I would just keep offering to help, stay positive, not be critical and keep an eye on her mental and physical state, to be ready to step in when that time comes.

I might try to get her an Emergency Alert Button, explaining to her that if she falls in the house due to clutter, she may need it to get help.
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You can call adult protective services to do a welfare check. They will force her to get it done and then you can blame them .
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Holy Cow, the new format makes it look like I am yelling. I'm not, but I don't need my glasses to read the forum!
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