Reader Anonymous submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I am hoping that you can give my brother and I some advice. Our mom is getting worse each year and refuses to believe she has a problem. In addition to her bringing other people’s garbage into the house, she also has a number of cats who use the house as one large litter box. When my brother and I attempt to clean, she yells and screams, and takes the rubbish back in when we put it out for the garbage truck. Unless we physically rent a truck to take it to the dump ourselves, it never leaves the house. We are so worried because it’s getting worse and she is approaching 70 and are at our wit’s end. She won’t go to counseling and when we clean anything it just gets disgusting again. There is food rotting as she doesn’t have a working fridge anymore and when she buys food she forgets about it and it gets compacted with stuff she puts on top of it. The piles of garbage are growing and we can barely get the front door open now. We have threatened not to come and visit and she said fine don’t. Nothing seems to work or get through to her. What can we do as we don’t want to see her die in this. Please, can you help us? Please don’t publish my name.
Only a doctor can give an official diagnosis as someone being a hoarder, but, since your mother is refusing to seek treatment at this point, that diagnosis is going to be difficult to acquire. I think that you will be okay if you function under the assumption that she is one, however, as it definitely won’t hurt her or you if you do.
Hoarding is a psychological illness. Your mother is not a bad person or a bad homemaker, she’s suffering from a mental health condition similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder or clinical depression. As much as she doesn’t want treatment for her condition, she desperately needs it. You and your brother can clean her house a million times, but it will always return to its current state if she does not get the medical care she needs. Cleaning her house against her will might also lead to her cutting off communication with you — and that is not something you want to happen. Keeping the lines open with your mother is extremely important.
Start by learning as much as you can about hoarding. There are many resources available to those who love and care about people who suffer from this condition. The Children of Hoarders website may be specifically helpful to you, and I recommend checking out their resources section.
Unless you believe your mother is endangering herself or others, you cannot force help upon her or commit her against her will to a mental health facility. Nagging, negative and judgmental statements, and disrespecting her stuff will only exacerbate her hoarding behavior. Learn as much as you can about her condition, be supportive and encouraging, and find non-threatening ways to encourage her to seek help. Best case scenario: She decides to seek treatment and finds a healthy way to live with her condition in a safe home environment.
Thank you, Anonymous, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. My thoughts are with you and your family. It is admirable that you and your brother are worried and care so much about your mother.
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