Kris and I drove down to clean Mom’s house last night. Over the past decade, her place has gradually been overtaken by Stuff and clutter. Since Mom is still in the hospital, we figured this was a great time to tackle some of the mess.

After three hours of cleaning clutter and sorting Stuff, there’s no mystery about where I acquired my compulsion to buy. I come by it honestly. But while I’ve managed to kick the habit, Mom is still under its sway.

The gift that keeps on giving
We started cleaning upstairs in the spare bedroom. It was difficult to even get the door open, and when we did, we didn’t know where to begin. The room was piled with boxes and bags and bubble wrap.

Mom has a thing for ordering from catalogs like Current, ABC Distributing, and Colorful Images. Over the years, she’s ordered boxes and boxes and boxes of Stuff from these companies to give as birthday and Christmas presents. She’s given most (but not all) of these things away, but, for some reason, she’s kept the boxes.

She’s also kept some of the gifts, misplacing them beneath stacks of paper and plastic. Kris found one item intended for our nephew, Michael. Mom wrote herself a sticky note: “Christmas 2002 2004″. It’s now 2008. Michael will be ten years old this winter, and the gift is no longer appropriate.

The spare bedroom also contained:

  • Over 50 rolls of wrapping paper
  • Mom’s collection of mail-order dolls
  • Unused exercise equipment
  • A personal computer from about 1993
  • Stacks of newspapers from the mid-1990s
  • Immense quantities of packing peanuts and bubble wrap and other shipping debris

At one point I stopped and sighed as I looked around the room. “This is a great example of why you shouldn’t buy too much in advance,” I said. “This whole thing is a mess.” I’m sure Mom no longer has any idea what is left in the room. She ought to take an inventory.

Best by date
Next we worked on cleaning Mom’s refrigerator and pantry. We sorted the old, expired food from the good. Little was good. “This soup is from 1997,” Kris said, discarding a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom. “And this Wheaties box has Clyde Drexler on it.” We laughed.

We found many similar examples:

  • Mayonnaise “best by” 1996
  • Juice boxes from 2003
  • Green olives black with mold
  • Snapple long since turned to sludge

Mom apparently buys a lot of food at Costco in bulk packages. She might drink the first two bottles of a Snapple four-pack, but then the last two become spoiled. Or she’ll buy a six-pound bag of pretzels but forget about them.

(“Maybe she likes pretzels,” I said when Kris showed me the bag. But she replied: “No woman living alone should buy a six-pound bag of pretzels.” The bag was from 2001, so I’ll give Kris the point on that one.)

We threw out several hundred dollars in spoiled food, nearly all of it in giant Costco containers or bound as part of a Costco bulk pack. Costco (and other warehouse clubs) can be a great way to save money, but not if the food doesn’t get used. A bargain is not a bargain if it goes to waste.

Little messes become big problems
Eventually we noticed something alarming. My father had actually purchased many of the items in the freezer and the fridge. My father died in 1995. Obviously it makes no sense to throw food away just because the person who bought it has died. But it also makes no sense to keep the food for twelve years past the expiration date.

“You know,” I said. “Mom probably never meant to save this Stuff so long. I’ll bet it started small. She let a couple little things slide. She kept this jam, for example, or those pickles. Before long, she wasn’t throwing away any of her old food.”

A similar problem became apparent with the cats’ litter boxes. What had started as a single “accident” is now a looming disaster, an accretion of months or years of similar accidents. The stinky mess has ruined not only the linoleum, but perhaps also floorboards underneath. If you let the little things slide, they eventually become big things. In this case, a mess that might have taken a few moments to clean will probably now cost several hundred (or several thousand) dollars to repair.

A small step
Going through all of Mom’s Stuff, and handling her finances recently, I feel like I’ve been given a peek at a secret life. I’m able to see how she handles money, what she spends it on. Mostly she’s doing okay, but like all of us, she has blind spots.

We didn’t finish the job tonight. We managed to get a lot of Stuff out of the house, but Mom’s back porch is littered with trash. Her laundry room reeks of cat urine. We have a shopping list of things to buy for her. Even after we take care of these tasks, the work will continue in the weeks and months ahead.

129 Replies to “Cleaning House: When Little Messes Become Big Problems”

  1. Nathan says:

    Well best of luck on the clean up job. I think its great you and your wife are taking the lead on getting these issues resolved for your mother before she returns to her home. I would guess that at somepoint you just become to old to take such issuse, and maybe unwilling to ask for help.

  2. Fish Finder says:

    Keep at it big guy. My family is going through this with our mother. She is going through chemo after breast cancer surgery and we have found much of the same things you have, especially the food. I guess people her age living alone become pack rats. The whole experiance has helped us grow closer as a family so there are positive sides to bad things.

  3. Jessica says:

    I sometimes worry that this will happen to me in the future. I tend to hold onto a lot of things, thinking that they may be used in the future. I have gotten a lot better at it by making a point of finishing food/other things before I buy something, and that means even if it is on sale. I think I am making progress, and making money in the process too!

  4. Eric Hollins says:

    Good thing for cleaning out this stuff. I used to be a major pack rat but lately I’ve been trying to really simplify my life and throw out stuff. I’ve avoiding impulse buys with this mentality and I’ve thrown away a lot of clutter as well. It is nice to not really be tied down with “stuff”. I have “stuff” but I don’t keep it around if I don’t think it’ll be needed.

  5. Jen says:

    My parents (63&65) are getting to this point. It wasn’t like this when my brother and I were still living at home. They are lazy when it comes to housework and my Dad is so “Dutch” (as he calls it) that he doesn’t throw things away that “might still be useful.” My husband hates to eat dinner at their house for fear of food poisoning. The house smells of cat urine. I have tried getting mad about it, appealing to the health and safety of grandchildren, helping out, but nothing helps. The piles keep getting higher. Now Dad is building a new garage in the backyard, his “workshop.” He already can’t park in the existing garage due to all the stuff. I joke with them that when they die I am renting a 1-800-Got-Junk dumpster to park in the driveway and I’m attacking the house with shovels. I’m not joking though, I’m sure that is truly what will be done.

  6. RJ says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter. This post brought back some memories of my families old home. When I was younger, and my parents divorced, this same type of situation developed. Small problems avalanched into large issues, and would then be mostly ignored, instead of addressed. By the end, there were ruined hardwood floors, overgrown gardens, and many many other issues that could have been addressed easily earlier.

    I know that I took away the lesson of constant maintinance.

    I hope that your effort is appreciated, and that this problem doesn’t reoccur. Good post, and keep up the great blag!

  7. Rachel says:

    Good for you helping out your mom with this type of chore now when she really could use it.

    Perhaps if there is anything salvageable you can put it up for sale on ebay and maybe use the proceeds for something she can enjoy like a new tv or pay her cable for a year or something.

  8. Frugal Dad says:

    Wow, between the bulk bag of pretzels and the reference to ABC catalogs, this really made me think of my own mom (who is also currently hospitalized).

    Lots of posts floating around the last couple days on eliminating “stuff” from our lives, maybe we are all in a late spring cleaning mood, or maybe seeing our parents fall ill has reminded us that one day someone else will be responsible for all our “stuff.” Either way, it feels good to get rid of some of it and live a simpler life. Hope your mom continues to recover.

  9. Harm says:

    My parents were never really bad about
    clutter, partly because they had several
    friends and aquaintances that were, one to
    the point of being the sort of person that
    was on tv when she died, just because of
    house clutter, a la the Collyer Brothers.
    I keep some stuff for recycling, and some
    nonperishable food, but I’m also trying
    to reduce the amount of STUFF I have to the
    point where it would only take me a day to
    move, LoL….AND that if I expire, cleanup
    would be a relatively straightforward job.

  10. HollyP says:

    My sympathies for having to deal with this mess.

    The Current cards gave me a giggle. My grandmother was also a lover of all things Current, and my grandpa is still using up the extra greeting cards ten years after her passing.

    I hope your mom is recovering quickly.

  11. Belinda says:

    That is so nice of you both to help your Mom out like that.

    My exdh and I cleaned out his Father’s house a couple of times. The last time we ended up renting a dumpster.


  12. Melissa A. says:

    Hey! I’m a woman who lives alone and I could totally get through a 6 lbs bag of pretzels! I wouldn’t buy that much, but I could eat it before it goes bad, especially if they were honey mustard ๐Ÿ˜›

    Seriously though, this is a great article. I’ve been letting things slide in my apartment, just little things, but I really need to get to it.

  13. maya says:

    you’re lucky. my mom won’t let us clear out her clutter. she says there are papers that she needs in there and that she’s the only one who can go through them. but she doesn’t go through them. she says she can’t because everything is so dusty, it bothers her eyes and allergies too much. and it would – she has a few health problems. but if you haven’t seen certain papers in 10+ years, do you still need them?

    there was a point where her house was fine. then we started meeting at my grandparents house for Sunday dinners and i didn’t really go to her house for two years. two years later, her house ASTOUNDED me with the junk/clutter. for me, it was like it happened overnight. our house was never like that growing up.

    now i live a state away and don’t go back that often. i’ve offered to pay someone to cart her junk away. she refuses. it stresses me out.

  14. Mary says:

    Sorry for having to deal with the mess, though I’m sure your mom will be greatful for it. After having to go through that disaster with my great aunt, my mother makes it a point to get rid of the clutter before it gets overwhelming. Of course now my annual trips back home usually result in her filling up my car with all the junk she’s trying to get rid of from her house!

  15. brad says:

    The poet Donald Hall told the story of a man who was cleaning out the attic of an old New England house and came upon a box filled with tiny pieces of string. The label on the box was “String too short to be saved.” That says it all, I think. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. PW says:

    It is so comforting to read your article on stuff. The crazy thing is I finally watched “The Story of Stuff” video you’ve talked about last night!

    This post was comforting because my parents are drowning in stuff and I’m at a loss to help them because it’s just me and I am drowning in my own stuff. I have inherited being a pack rat from them and feel overwhelmed. My dream is to get rid of my stuff so all I have is what I actually USE. Thankfully, I have a friend who is willing to help me, as I have come to terms that I can’t do it alone. Thanks again for this post.

  17. melissa says:

    Glad to read that your mother is doing better. I hope she appreciates the clean home once she gets out of the hospital.

    It’s best that you’re doing these things now. When my maternal grandmother passed away a few years ago, it took 6 months and several large dumpsters before the house was finally clean enough to put on the market.

  18. d^2 says:

    kinda makes me sad to read that some of the stuff was purchased by your dad. maybe she was keeping it because it reminded her of him. every time she opened the fridge, she’s see the stuff that he bought, and she’d be comforted, or something.

    still, 13 years is way too long to hold on to that kind of stuff!

  19. K.R. says:

    I know you haven’t talked much about your mom’s diagnosis but the condition of her house leads me to believe it may involve Alzheimer’s or dementia.
    I moved in with my grandparents two years ago and found a similar mess. Please be strong and keep your cool when/if Mom has a meltdown when she sees the house. Dementia can encourage hoarding when patient forget they’ve bought an item or where they’ve stored it. Patients also lose the motivation to start new projects like the cleaning one you’ve described.
    Best of luck with this work in the coming weeks and months and if you ever want book recommendations, disease literature or to ask someone who has been there and done that, you have my email address.

    ~K.R., Alzheimer’s Association Volunteer & caregiver.

  20. Funny about Money says:

    Good grief. You’re scarin’ me, kid!

    This is exactly the predicament that terrifies me as I approach old age. As you get older, it seems to get harder to shovel out the mess. Last December, about the time I started FaM, I had a decluttering frenzy in which I threw out as much junk as I could, with exactly your scenario in mind: I don’t want my son to have to spend days and days cleaning up a gigantic mess after I die.

    Fortunately, I’m not given to buying a lot of useless junk…but that could change with age. The habit seems to be a function of age. But even though I don’t buy Stuff (can’t afford it), the paper and the clutter seem to pile up in much the same way dust piles up on the furniture and dog hair drifts into the corners. The older I get, the harder it is to keep up . Because I apparently move more slowly, it seems to take forever to do chores that formerly got done in an hour or two, and so only the most urgent chores actually get done.

    Not only that, but the smallest disruption in life expands to the size of a crisis; I get so tired and distracted trying to cope with minor flaps I have no energy left for cleaning and so barely hold my own against the most urgent demands of daily life. As a result, a vast reservoir of unfinished cleaning and organizing jobs quietly builds up.

    As you get older, you need frequent, regular, reliable help dealing with the daily influx of mess. If you don’t get it from your family and you can’t afford to pay for it, you inevitably end up living in a pile of clutter, pet filth, and spoiled food.

    It may be time to think about persuading Mom to move to a life-care community. These are not nursing homes — you live independently in your own place, but they have resources designed to support older people. They’re not cheap. But I will say the biggest favor my father ever did for himself and for me was to move into one of those communities.

    You might want to check to be sure she’s not silently suffering other, more minor health problems, too. I no longer go to doctors for things that should be seen — a broken toe that has never healed properly, for example — because fighting the medical bureaucracy, getting myself to and from doctors and labs, and dealing with treatments and meds is more than I care to contemplate. Better to hurt a bit than to screw around with all that. Well…no, of course not… But without another person to urge me to take care of myself, I don’t.

  21. Christopher says:

    This really reminds of a few Taoist ideas. The one that comes to mind is the classical “journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

    Each big task is composed of a lot of little ones. It works the other way too. Each big problem is composed of many smaller ones.

    I wish you luck, JD. I know it’s a rough time. Stay strong.


  22. katy says:

    oh boy, I certainly identify with mom passed in 96 and my dad is living in a museum. we threw out a little when she passed and cleaned and painted. but it’s still really bad.

    my heart goes out to you.

    I have a lot to do now myself. Prayers for all of us.

  23. Sarah says:

    My in-laws are major pack rats, and it gives me nightmares to think of having to clean out their house. What I think is so sad is that all this stuff is considered important to them for some reason. However, there is so much of it that when we (maybe) have to go clear it out one day, it will all just look like trash to us.

  24. Lily says:

    Ouch. My mum too is a bit of a hoarder – I think she’s improved during the years ’cause I see her decluttering quite often, but her fridge still scares me. I’d prefer one with the reign of Gozer inside to hers. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. HIB says:

    Keep at it man! Your mother is very lucky to have someone helping her.

  26. Anne says:

    Don’t be disappointed if your mom isn’t appreciative — or if she is even angry or upset. We’ve had these sorts of discussions with family members in the generation that grew up in the World War II era. My parents are currently ok (though expiration dates are something I check for when I visit). I don’t know how old your mom is, but think that there is something about growing up with rationing that triggered hoarding (both food and “stuff”) as a survival instinct…and I see the anxiety that surfaces when I even suggest going through a closet or the attic to sort through things. When we suggest getting rid of something, mom’s response is often “Someone might need it.”

  27. plonkee says:

    It’s so easy to let things slide and it’s not just a function of getting older. I’m naturally lazy, really lazy and I have to make a really big effort to do things all the time otherwise it’s like I turn my back for a minute and the clutter has multiplied.

    I bet it’s much easier to see your mum’s blind spots than to correct your own. ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Lynn says:

    I went through the same experience with both parents and a grandmother- all packrats. In the last years of my father’s life, he would buy cans and cans of food because “it was on sale”, forgetting that he had a huge stockpile already. I threw away hundreds of dollars of spoiled or outdated goods. He also was incapable of throwing away opened envelopes, junk mail, plastic bags, etc.
    Consequently, I have turned in the opposite direction, and have been steadily “pruning” away at everything in our house. I do keep goods in thepanrty, but I go through it regularly to check dates on packaging. I have given away through Freecycle a lot of the stuff we do not use or want that is still usable. I recycle plastic bags back to the grocey store, wire hangers to the cleaner, egg cartons to my organic egg supplier. Hopefully I can keep my aging brain hardwired to keep this pattern up! My worst collecting habit is books, but I periodically make a pile of the ones I will never read again, and donate them to the book shed at the local library.

  29. Moneyblogga says:

    Having been through the “cleaning out the in laws house” once already (and probably risking Hantavirus in the process) my partner and I decided to never allow the clutter to start in our own home. It’s easy to say that, however, because the older one gets the harder it is to deal with life’s blows (such as ill health or death of a life partner) and subsequent depression. Good luck.

  30. J.D. says:

    Plonkee wrote: I bet itโ€™s much easier to see your mumโ€™s blind spots than to correct your own.

    Heh. No doubt! ๐Ÿ™‚

    As we were working last night, I actually began to think it might be useful to have somebody come in from outside my life to perform a similar frank assessment of my own situation. What would this person say?

    “Why do you have computer parts from machines that died eight years ago? Why haven’t you purged all of these comics? Your workshop is filled with boxes of books and other things that you want to get ‘good money’ for, but maybe you should just get rid of the stuff so that you can use the workshop to work in.”

    And, I think, “You have too much house and yard to reasonably manage.”

  31. Helena says:

    Longtime reader, first time commenting. This situation is so very similar to what my mom dealt with when my grandmother passed away a few years ago, and what my husband and in-laws and I dealt with earlier this year when both of my husband’s grandparents passed away. In the latter case, we were throwing away food that had expired in the nineties…that had moved to three different houses with them in that time! Not to mention home-canned goods that were no longer identifiable, rugs absolutely ruined by dog urine (we inherited the dog, he’s actually housebroken, but it turns out that no one was able to walk him, so he peed in the house), and more.

    In the case of my grandmother, lots of bulk-packaged food like what you’re talking about–I decided after that that warehouse stores are probably not such a good deal for people living alone. And all the mail-order stuff she’d buy and forget about…oy.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you’re not alone in having to deal with this problem. It’s very good of you and your wife to help your mom out like this. Good luck and don’t get discouraged–as you keep clearing out, it does get better!

  32. mari says:

    I’ve got a lot of the same behaviors in my family as well as my husband’s.

    Be very careful. I read an article some time back about the dangers of “rehabbing” a compulsive hoarder without their consent and knowledge. I can’t seem to find it (am pretty sure it was an offline read), but maybe wikipedia will help: Good luck and I hope your mom gets well and can adjust to the new living conditions.

  33. elisabeth says:

    I don’t think it’s all the fault of the hoarding instinct. The desire to be frugal and not wasteful is also at work, and there’s also the fact that there’s too much packaging in the world! The Consumerist site often shows the wasteful packaging used by Amazon and other shippers, and until this year, when I started bringing my own bags even to department stores, we had significant numbers of “shopping bags” in the house, which I kept thinking “well, if I have stuff to donate to good will this will come in handy…” the desire to
    We’re also lucky to have good curbside recycling, which makes it easier to get rid of cardboard, but it is definitely a case of having to acknowledge that while accumlation is quick and easy, deacquisition is slow and hard.

  34. Peter says:

    My parent’s are also like that, except not to the same extreme. My mom use to buy clothes in boxes because they are cheap. However, she didn’t no one wants to wear 50 shirt with the same design.

    Best of luck for your family situation

  35. middleclassdream? says:

    My inlaws are moving towards this point. I have mentioned to my wife several times that we need to send them on a weekend long vacation and help them get organized. They are neglecting their only asset of value, their home and that is causing it to depreciate because of the increasing disrepair. I am going to stop talking about it and set a date. Thanks for the motivation.

  36. db says:

    Oh, bless you and your wife JD — and your mom too. JD – do be prepared for your mom to be upset with you though.

    We went through something similar with my grandmother and great-uncle. They were living in the family home of 100 years, and there was literally 100 years worth of stuff in the house and it was also attached to a family storefront with 100 years worth of remnants of the different family businesses that had run out of it (grocery, then craft store).

    There was some old/freezerburned food, but there was an absolute ton of paper — boxes used for shipping in the 60s & 70s, an archive of probably every National Enquirer ever published, bank records going back 60 and more years, old scrapbooks filled with duplicate paper clippings as old as the 1920s and much more.

    They lived in a little town where the town newspaper would print little society articles like this “So-and-so invited persons X, Y, and X over for afternoon coffee and a new recipie for coffeecake. Everybody reported the new cake was delicious and enjoyed an afternoon playing cards.” There were THOUSANDS of these snippets that featured some member of the family or a family friend dating back decades.

    And that’s without discussing having to clear out 50 years worth of things like scraps of new and salvaged styrofoam left over from craft projects, or stacks of bleach bottles cleaned out to save for use in a craft project. Great googly moogly.

    It was insane. After the old ones died, it took my parents a year to go through everything and sort out the stuff to keep and what to get rid of. They would go down and stay at least a week every month as they cleaned out, held another yard sale and filled up another dumpster.

    What everybody kept asking ourselves was how it was ever allowed to get so bad.

  37. db says:

    re Elizabeth:

    The “wasteful packaging of is what allows your books to arrive to you undamaged.

    I’ve noticed as Amazon has tinkered with how they ship books to reduce packaging, that more and more of my purchases are arriving in a condition that isn’t acceptable to me. I’ve started returning books to amazon simply because the packaging is insufficient to prevent damage.

  38. J.D. says:

    db wrote: What everybody kept asking ourselves was how it was ever allowed to get so bad.


    It’s a little like boiling a crab in water: the temperature change is gradual enough that the critter doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

    We’ve been aware of some aspects of Mom’s situation for a while — not just with the house, but with her illness, as well. But we just thought she’d take care of things. We were wrong. Now we know she needs help.

  39. Barb1954 says:

    After my husband took his 90-something father to live with with my sister-in-law in another state, we tackled cleaning out my father-in-law’s house. It took 18 months, countless filled garbage carts, and, with help from the junk haulers, ten 20-foot trucks to get rid of the wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling junk from just the basement, garage, shed, and attic. (The junk guys said it was one of the worst jobs they’ve ever seen.) Dealing with the furniture and housewares in the house was a whole other task.

    Like you, we found long-expired food, unopened mail from years ago, and enough projects to keep a person busy for another two lifetimes.

    Horders come in all ages, but the problem does get much worse as the person ages and no longer has the physical ability to deal with the mess. People who lived through the Great Depression always think that they’ll find a use for everything they have or that they could get five cents for it at a rummage sale.

    I cannot tell you the relief we all felt once the house was cleaned out and sold. My father-in-law is now 95, and it looks as if he may need to go into a nursing home within the next year. Luckily the remaining value of his home is now deposited in liquid investments to pay for a nursing home should that need arise rather than in a cluttered house that he doesn’t even remember he owned. (His dementia and another sister-in-law’s financial power-of-attorney made taking care of his affairs possible.)

    After spending a day at Dad’s, we all wanted to come out home and clear out our own houses. Last year, I went through every closet, cupboard, drawer, and shelf in our house to get rid of what we don’t use or love. I held a huge rummage sale last October and donated everything left over to GoodWill. Thanks to the “It’s Deductible” module of TurboTax, I was able to deduct $2,500 in charitable contributions on our income tax return. Our house isn’t perfect yet. Since then, I’ve made another two passes through my books for donations to the library, and I still have things in the basement and file drawers I need to pitch. But decluttering does help one to live a great life in the present rather than just be a caretaker to things from the past. (Being the researcher of family geanology and the keeper of ancestor’s photo albums, home movies, etc. doesn’t help.)

    I wish you the best of luck in caring for your mom and helping her with whatever needs she may have in the future.

  40. Victor says:

    @brad – I heard a similar story of a man cleaning out his grandmother’s apartment. He found a FULL shoebox with the following label:

    “Pens that don’t work”

  41. Heather says:

    My dad has a similar compulsion to keep everything. Right now my mom is doing her annual forced-march through all his stuff and making him choose. What’s interesting (and a little heartbreaking) is that he keeps the stuff because it’s part of his identity. He told me he got rid of about 1,000 books (keep in mind that many of these books are computer books from the 1980s or 1990s–totally obsolete). It made him realize that he’s retired and getting rid of them was like the nail in the coffin.

    Maybe your mom kept that food from you dad and kept buying bulk food because her identity was as a wife and mother, with a house full of mouths to feed. Without that, she had a house full of Stuff.

    Just a thought, and I could be totally wrong.

    Thanks for posting about this. I bet a bunch of people can identify. I certainly can. Even with all my mom’s cleaning, I don’t relish going through the stuff that’s left when my dad passes away. They live in a four bedroom house, but have so much stuff that they don’t have room for me to stay with them at Christmas. They choose stuff over us, though not consciously.

  42. Mrs Pillars says:

    My 70-something mother and I joke about this – when she says I’ll have to deal with all her junk and I say I’ll have a giant yard sale, she replies with mock horror “What?! Sell all my treasures?” Fortunately, she downsized homes a couple of years ago and got a bit of a start.

  43. slackerjo says:

    I’m not gonna lie to you JD, your Mom may yell at you! The compulsion to hold on to stuff is a hard habit for anyone who lived during the Depression/WWII.

    I suppose if Mom yells at you, it means she’s feeling better

  44. liz says:

    My grandma used to love a bargain and buy things in bulk. I think because of watching her have to throw things away (or rather, me throwing them away when I’d clean for her), I’m the only person I know who never goes to Costco– it’s just not a place that’s organized for a single person living alone.

    Continued good luck! I’m finding with my aging mom that she just hates to ask for help, even though she’s 76. It must be a tough new role for parents.

  45. Aaron says:


    Not sure how I stumbled onto your site – through Tim Ferriss’s 4HWW blog, I think. Anyway, great stuff. Practical, useful, easily understood in layman’s terms. An endorsement from Money magazine goes far in my book.

    One thing I find particularly interesting is our attitude about money in North America. More is better, simply for the sake of having more. Really? According to who? Being the land of opportunity and so forth, we all have the opportunity to become wealthy, so we all feel the pressure to try. Most of us won’t make it, at least not to the rarified levels of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. They are once-in-a-generation phenomenon. Like Ferriss says in 4HWW, we don’t really want the million dollars, we want the millionaire lifestyle, or at least what we think is the millionaire lifestyle (cf. with Stanley’s ‘Millionaire next Door’ and ‘The Millionaire Mind’ for a statistical look at how millionaire’s really live – a tad different than Paris Hilton).

    But with a little prudence, a little dilligence and a little discipline, we can all raise our standard of living without substantially raising our income or sacrificing our quality of life.

    My wife and I are going through our own spring cleaning. Cathartic is an appropriate word here. Shocking, revelatory – wow, do we ever have a lot of crap! And we don’t conisder ourselves packrats or lavish spenders. This is just material we’ve collected over the years and, well, it just stayed.

    The observations on food are particularly insightful. As a personal chef, I don’t keep perishable items in stock. I usually go to the market the day I cook for a client. I had someone ask me the other day if I did shop bulk at Costco. I said no, mainly becasue of the storage concerns. A deal isn’t a deal and there are no real savings if I wind up throwing out most of what I purchased. I find it personally offensive and shows a lack of professionalism on my part to waste food like that. It’s gross, conspicuous consumption at its worst and on a business level, it’s a waste of my client’s food dollar.

    I would suggest even before a person starts on the road to financial independance with any kind of debt restructuring or savings plan, go through and clean house. Squelch all sentiment and just purge. If nothing else, it hammers home the difference between a need and a want. You want to figure out how to spend less than you earn? How to produce more than you consume? Figure out how much clutter you have. Look at how much money gets spent on impulse purchases, on being susceptible to marketing. Consumerism for its own sake is the cancer of personal finances. (No, I don’t think that’s too severe.)

    Purging will do a couple of things. First, it will make you aware of where your money has gone in the past. Couple that with an itemized list of where your money goes now (cigarettes, the occasional coke, coffee at Tim’s or Starbucks, eating out, a book, magazine or DVD, extra ringtones), curb the worst of those impulses and you can easily come out with a surplus every month. Instant ‘Latte Factor.’

    Second, purging gets you in the right frame of mind to take care of buisness, to get serious about paying down debt, saving and getting your legal affairs in order. Anyone who has parents who have moved into a nursing home or passed away without being prepared knows what I’m talking about.

    Yes, I’m saying be ruthless. You don’t need to keep every picture your kids bring home from school. you don’t need to keep old magazines, newspapers, old clothes, broken tools, baby toys, sports gear you never use. At the end of the day, it is all just stuff. Purge on a regular basis and you will have more money, you will have more room in your house, your house will be cleaner, you will be more organized and focused.


    Chef Aaron Taylor
    Executive chef, Gourmet On Demand Personal Chef Service

  46. Celloluv says:

    I brought this discussion up with the people I work out with and the stories all mirror many of the stories already here. 98 rolls of toilet paper, leaky pans that could be repaired, etc. The best story was one woman’s grandmother had sewn all her jewelry and money into the linings of coats and the hems of dresses. They had to handle every single item of clothing to make sure they found everything which added up to thousands of dollars and then they discovered money stuck in the piles of newspaper and old magazines….

    Thankfully my parents seem to be staying on top of the stuff. I think they saw enough of their parents’ hoarding. And it inspires me to really think about what I buy and why. Of course I’m thinking as I’m trying to get more frugal that I need to watch what I’m collecting!

    Best luck with your mother!

  47. deepali says:

    Oh no. People really are like this. My worst fear about myself. Luckily, in a few months I’m moving overseas, so I’ll get rid of lots already.

    Good on you for doing this. I might try something similar with my Dad over Thanksgiving.

  48. Paula D. says:

    I’ve been helping my parents (in their 90’s) go through their stuff in preparation for moving. Because their used to volunteer with the local senior’s group they could bring home anything they wanted.

    Any little decorative item that struck Mom’s fancy, cases of toilet paper (there were 6 packages of 24 roll each) and I can’t tell you how many dusty silk flowers were returned to the very thrift store they came from.

    At least it was easy to hold up an item to ask Mom if she wanted it, and if it came from the thrift store, she could easily let go of it.

    It’s a valuable service you’re doing for your Mom, good luck and keep it up while you can!

  49. Kim says:

    I agree with those who say this might get unpleasant. I know how tempting it is to just go in and “fix” things for people but don’t be surprised if the person being fixed isn’t too happy about it.

    The anxiety and anger that comes from people going through your stuff and getting rid of things when you are not psychologically ready for it is real and not to be joked around with.

    I wish you the best of luck with your situation. It is not an easy position to be in but do try to see it from her point of view too.

  50. Kristen a.k.a. The Frugal Girl says:

    You have to promise to tell us about your mom’s reaction. My grandma would have been furious if we’d gotten rid of her stuff while she was still alive.

  51. Aryn says:

    If you’re mom is hesitant to get serious about her hoarding problem, you might want to get her a copy of Peter Walsh’s book “It’s All Too Much.” He’s from TLC’s Clean House and helped that epic hoarder on Oprah. Anyway, the book isn’t about how to organize stuff. It’s about figuring out what causes you to hoard – the psychological root – and then overcoming it so you no longer feel the need to hoard. And then he has some organizing tips, too. But he’s very firm about setting limits on stuff so it doesn’t get out of control again.

  52. heather says:

    how timely. right before reading this post, i watched a documentary called “Possessed” about four hoarders in the UK. it doesn’t make any judgments or commentary, it’s just interviews and footage of their homes. here’s the url:

    for me, as more of a compulsive cleaner, i find the hoarding mentality confusing and, when it becomes extreme, quite disturbing. that’s not to say i don’t have my own little collections here and there; but, almost on schedule, there’s a yearly sort’n’purge of things which are weighing me down.

    my boyfriend is a hoarder/collector. it’s one of the biggest reasons we probably won’t ever live together. his inability to throw away receipts from items he purchased three years ago baffles and frustrates me to no end.

  53. sabrina says:

    Heartbreaking. I hope it turns out well — I’m related to a collector and I absolutely hate going to the house, and dread the eventual disposition of all that Stuff.

    However, on a slightly practical note (I hope) — if the floorboards are not utterly ruined near the cat box to the point where you have to rip them out and replace them, and you’re still going to try cat urine cleanup stuff, look into a product called Stink Free. It’s expensive (I just bought a gallon jug from PetSmart for $28 yesterday), more so than most of the other products I’ve seen at pet stores, but having tried absolutely all of them, Stink Free is the only one that ever really solved the problem. The enzymatic ones just wound up making it smell of cat urine + cleaner fragrance, which was even more repugnant. So if the situation is reparable, I’d buy a jug of that and use it liberally wherever you find stains. (It’s cheaper to go straight to the expensive-but-functional product than to work your way through $150 of products that don’t work or make it worse!) Hope that helps.

  54. FranticWoman says:

    Ah…here’s another with parents who are pack rats! My mum keeps all her mags from the mid 80s to the present! Oh why oh why?! I dont want to be like her so as soon as I get a mag I read it cover to cover in about an hour then put immediately into the recycling pile. Even better, I let all my subscriptions run out.

    My father often jokes that he feels sorry for me after they die – since I will have to clean out the house. They also wonder how four ppl lived in the house – since 3 of the 4 bedrooms are so packed you cant walk around in them.

    What’s made it worse – both of my parents’ mothers died and now their stuff is stored there too! Grrr.

    Partly why I like my small place with poor closet space – is that it is easy to fill it up – so I’m extra careful to not obtain too much stuff. Isnt working 100% though – I always have a pile in a corner I havent moved on. I’m good at rearranging the pile though ๐Ÿ™‚

  55. getagrip says:

    The standing order with my family is that anything my mother offers us, we say thank you and take regardless of size, use, condition, etc.. She typically has a bunch of things “ready” for us every time we visit and it’s usually things she recognizes she needs to get rid of but like depression era folks just can’t bring herself throw it away because it might be useful to somebody, somewhere, one day. Giving it to us lets her get rid of it under the pretext that we can “use it”. Every third item is something we can find a use or home for, a good chunk gets donated, and the rest gets trashed. I’ve even begun asking if she still wants something if she begins to complain about it, sort of a pre-emptive strike.

    Of course, the worse thing is the boomerang gifts coming back at us a year or so later. That can hurt the kid’s feelings but we’ve prepped them for it as well.

  56. Lee says:

    My great-aunt is a major hoarder–she has stacks and stacks of magazines and newspapers dating back to the 60s. I remember going to her house when I was just a kid, and not being able to sit down anywhere because everything was piled with stuff–there were only two available chairs in the whole house (one for her, one for my great-uncle). Eventually it got so bad that they quit letting anyone come over; when my grandmother finally forced her way in years later and started to shovel piles of stuff around, she discovered that a whole family of possums was living in there, too, but my great-aunt and -uncle had never noticed because they couldn’t see around all the stuff. Even when I was growing up, the family was already arguing about who was going to have to clean out the house when the couple died. (My vote: just let the fire department burn the whole place down as a training exercise or something.)

    The clutter so quickly gets out of control and snowballs into something much, much worse. My great-aunt’s only child died in early adulthood, and that’s when her clutter problem started; the stacks of magazines and papers date back to the year of his death. She couldn’t bear to part with his things, of course, but then it spread to not being able to part with anything. Her biggest problem was with newspapers and magazines; I think she felt a need to somehow hold onto all the events and news that her son didn’t live to see, or something like that.

    The scary part is that everyone else is my family (myself included) is a packrat, too, even though we’ve seen the darkest side of that. It can be so easy to cross the line from “messy/cluttered” and “downright unhealthy” before you’ve even realized it.

  57. Emily says:

    Wow, that is pretty bad. It sounds like it’s going into “hoarder” territory. Have you thought about getting her professional help, or do you believe it isn’t that serious yet?

  58. Mrs darling says:

    As you know Jd we are going through a lot of this with or parents. What is it with the older generation? My parents still have 500 glass cups and plates from when they had their catering business years ago. They have all the big serving bowls too. My dad is hanging on to a cake fountain because “I paid so much for it and now if I sells it I wont get my money out of it!”

    My brother went into my Dads shed the other day and reports that there are 25 tires stored in there!!!! Our parents wont let us get rid of anything!

  59. JenK says:

    One thing I found helpful from the Squalor Survivors website was their description of the “stages” of squalor and clean, because it helps show that going from one stage to another is a gradual process

    First degree squalor
    You are getting behind in tasks that you would normally manage, like laundry and dishes. You are not the tidy person you once were. Little piles are starting to emerge and your disorganization is starting to affect your life and inconvenience you. Things are just starting to get out of hand and become unmanageable. A sign of first degree squalor might be that you are embarrassed for other people to see your mess … but you would still let them in the house.

    Second degree squalor
    Now things are really starting to get out of hand. Signs that you have reached second degree would include losing the use of normal household items like your bed, table, television or telephone, because the piles have expanded to cover the items up. You start to develop new methods of moving around your house, as normal movement is impeded by your piles of stuff. You might start making excuses to discourage people from entering your house.

    Third degree squalor
    At this stage, you have all the above, plus you have rotting food and animal faeces and/or urine in the house, and this is the rule not the exception. You cannot cope with the growing mess. Essential household repairs may not be done, because you are too afraid to let a tradesperson see your house. Just the thought of someone seeing your mess causes you great stress.

    Fourth degree squalor
    At fourth degree squalor, you have all of the above, plus you have human faeces and/or urine in your house that is not in the toilet.

    Stage one clean:
    Surfaces are neat; the centre of the room is free; piles are on perimeters. No rotting food, but current meal remnants allowed. Current craft projects, current books/magazines ditto. Perhaps some de-cluttering still to do; also smallish dust bunnies lurking UNDER furniture. But in general room looks nice. You feel ok about things. Unexpected Company would be welcome … especially at night!

    Stage two clean:
    No piles. No dust, even under furniture. No food at all. Insides of drawers/cupboards/shelves: neat and clean: even if no one can see! You are elated! There is now a GLOW to the room, a lovely welcoming feeling. Company encouraged: even in daylight!

    Stage three clean:
    Now we’re into serious stuff: fresh flowers; rugs shampoo’d; chandeliers washed; windows sparkling. No dust (of course); no fingerprints on walls; company stunned by beauty! As for you — this is beyond your wildest dreams!

    Stage four clean:
    This requires $$$$ and/or TIME and/or ENERGY: time for redecorating, renewing, replacing. New paint, wallpaper if needed. New carpet/flooring if needed. You are now finished: “House & Garden TV” is filming the room! This perhaps is just a dream…….

  60. Jessica says:

    What you’re describing sounds an awful lot like Compulsive Hoarding Disorder. You might want to look into it, chances are when your mom comes home she’ll just recreate the mess if she doesnt get treatment. I have the same problem. Its miserable.

  61. Anca says:

    I hope I never have to do this for my parents, though it would be great payback for all the useful and wanted things of mine that my mom has thrown out or given away without my permission.

  62. scatterhaiku says:

    wow. sounds like quite an accumulation. it was good of you to help her out with the cleaning. after the problem reaches a certain point, i’m sure it can be such a relief to receive a helping hand.

    also, by cleaning house you make her environment a lot more healthy, hopefully avoiding and removing potential sources of disease.

  63. Rhea says:

    The state of your mom’s home sounds like what my mother-in-law’s home was like a few years ago. We were helping her move… it would have been SO MUCH EASIER if she had not been there to “help” us. She insisted on keeping so much stuff, most of it trash. And the cat litter box thing… I totally understand. You have my sympathy. Best of luck with the cleaning, you are doing her a great favor.

  64. Cindy says:

    Oh my gosh! I had to comment when I read this article. My mom is the same way. If there is an empty space, something must be there: picture, table, stuff on the table, stuff on the stuff on the table… My folks moved into their house 14 years ago, and there are still some boxes that haven’t been unpacked.

    I liked the comment a previous person posted when they said they were teasing their parents about when they die, she was going to show up with a dumpster. I told my mom I was going to have a sale and everthing would be a dollar. That way she can look down from Heaven, and say, “what on earth is my daughter doing?! Doesn’t she know how much I paid for that?!”

    My mom’s problem is that she is a shop-a-holic. She buys something (always on sale, of course), then puts it still in the bag with the receipt in the spare bedroom (or my old room or the office, or their room, etc.) and there it sits. Almost everything still has the price tag on it.

    I used to get upset about all the clutter, but I remind myself that I cannot change her behavior. I think my dad is resolved to the fact that this is the way it is. Maybe that is why he likes to get out and go fishing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    In addition, it is not bad enough that she can shop and bring items home, she also likes to bring lots of paperwork home from her job. Why, I have no idea. I bet she keeps it when she retires….good grief!

    Sorry for the length, but I believe we all get so frustrated by this type of behavior from our relatives, but the offending relatives don’t have any problem with it. I don’t know why they can’t see that there is so much stuff in their homes that they can’t enjoy them. When you can’t use a room for it’s intended purpose, when there is no place for people to sit when they come over, when there’s even no where for the homeowner to sleep because of all of the stuff, some serious questions need to be asked. But as someone else said, many times the person you want to “fix” doesn’t want to be “fixed.”

    Also, I’ve heard many people say that those who lived thru the depression are keen on keeping things. However, there are younger people (one of my relatives included) who do the same thing. I wonder if it’s because we are more affluent in this day and age, along with being bombarded with advertising, that we buy, buy, buy.

  65. No Debt Plan says:

    Sounds like that could be hard on the emotions, seeing your Mom’s place like that. Hope it starts to get better. I guess it’s all part of getting older, eh?

  66. Lee Hall says:

    It’s hard not to live a pack rat life. We end up collecting stuff because it represents who we are. But in difficult times, we realize how short life is and we are just “passing through.” Which such impacting experiences, we should embrace the how we want to use the limited resources in our life to live a life that we want. Life is all about focusing on what’s important, and being creative on how to get there. -Cheaplee

  67. Jane says:

    In my limited experience, I also think that hoarders have to come to the realization themselves that they need to change things. And you have to be prepared that they probably never will. My former next door neighbor (85 years old) had one pathway through her apartment. On each side was stuff piled feet high. Her bedroom was completely inoperable from excessive stuff. When I saw the pictures of J.D.’s mother’s house, my first reaction was “That looks downright sparse compared to my neighbor’s place!” She slept on a small couch at the front of the apartment. There was nowhere else to stand or sit anywhere else in the apartment (well, I guess except the toilet!). While this was depressing to me everytime I came over to visit, it didn’t seem to bother her that much. Perhaps it did and she didn’t tell me, but I had to come to the realization that I couldn’t help her, and I either had to accept her with her stuff (and not let it depress me) or decide to no longer come over. I opted for the former and am glad I did. While it still stresses me out to enter her apartment, I understand that she made her choice to live that way. And I figure all the stuff either ends up in the landfill now or later. In her case, most of the stuff really is junk – magazines, empty boxes, even empty Kleenex boxes that she might someday have a use for. I figure, and feel free to disagree with me, if it makes her happy to be surrounded by junk, why should I judge her for that? The only real reason I could come up with to challenge this was the fact that it is a fire hazard to have so much paper in one’s house (and of course, rotten food would also be a problem, but she didn’t seem to have any). Anyway, this is all to say that I think it’s a sensitive issue. One man’s clutter is another man’s security blanket or comfort.

  68. Pepperdove says:

    Yeah, that’s familiar. I try not to think about it anymore. It’s a big reason Christmas is so stressful for me now – I have to bring my 2 little kids into that, but the rest of the year I stay away. I grew up in it; I can’t deal with it anymore.

    In my experience, it is most emphatically NOT a comfort or a security blanket. It is a stress and a worry to the people living in it. But they feel frozen, helpless, and ashamed. It is a (literal) dirty secret that has to be hidden from the world. It can often be related to depressive disorders, in a downward spiral kind of way.Certainly do not judge the hoarder – that is their greatest fear, and the reason they shut the world out – but don’t think they live like that because it is fun or comfortable. It definitely isn’t.

    Please let us know how it works out!

  69. kick_push says:

    JD i feel your pain.. my mom is the same way.. she is a total packrat.. she grew up in the philippines where they did not have much growing up.. so she tends to hold on to every single possession she owns now that she lives here in the US

    we’ve gotten rid of some clutter.. but still have plenty of it.. we have a 3 car garage and only get to park 1 car in there.. because most of it is filled with JUNK!

  70. joe says:

    Well, did you tell your mom you were going to have a cleanup?

    Normally clutterers will not appreciate someone throwing their “treasures” away.

  71. sjw says:

    My last vacation we went to a friend’s place on the other coast. She had warned us that it had gotten a bit messy, but I didn’t expect what we arrived to. We threw out five big black garbage bags of pop cans, assorted garbage and expired food (including 6 month old egg nog in the fridge). For those we just informed her what we had put into the bags and got them out of the house.

    In the week we were there we were able to get much of the kitchen done – 5 boxes of items to a community garage sale – by dint of having her sit in a comfy chair in another room and bringing out items for a verdict. Showing that she had multiples of certain things was good – I think that she felt better being able to select the one to keep.

    In the midst of all this cleaning and decluttering, our friend saw an electric ice crusher at the local pharmacy and just _had_ to have it. At least there was space in her cupboards – for now.

  72. Sandy says:

    When my father in law passed away he left a tremendous amount of papers neatly packed in boxes. All the papers he thought were important over his adult life. Add to that his parents important papers. My mother in law had to go through all of them piece by piece because mixed in with the useless papers were stock and bonds. My parents struggle with these issues too. My husband and I also kept too much stuff. My husband passed away suddenly a year and a half ago. I had to bring home the contents of his office. All that stuff from his office and alot of his other “important stuff” filled my garage to capacity. I work every day at getting rid of the excess and organizing what is left over. I don’t want my kids to be left with a bunch of junk to deal with.

  73. Aafke says:

    I can identify with your post. Your description of the house resembles the house of my mother at 85, to years ago. My brother and I cleaned the house. It contained at least 20 years of newspapers and magazines and lots of food: under furniture, in cubboards, in the attic, everywhere.
    My mother is in a home for elderly people now. It took my brother and me moths to clean the house. I don’t want my kinds to find such a mess in my house when the time comes.

  74. Cara says:

    JD, you are doing a great thing for your Mom. I’m an anti-packrat and get stressed out at the smallest sign of clutter. I couldn’t imagine trying to clean out so much stuff. I know a lot of people who have houses and garages packed with useless stuff and yet they complain about their lack of money. But when you buy lots of things you don’t need because it’s “such a good deal,” I guess the stuff creeps up on you as the money creeps out of your bank account.

  75. alameda says:


    Hope your mom is making a quick recovery. I had to comment. First the effort you and your wife are making is great. It may just be that your mom, like many others, is unwilling to let go of things. My in-laws moved a month after my husband and I did. While we were very successful in throwing away things of our own. We inherited an entire truck load of things they were not willing to throw away. Since then, I’ve been donating and throwing stuff out one or two boxes at a time. Giving smaller pieces of furniture away to folkes who need it. It has been enlightening to get rid of things, a type of cleansing if you will. Maybe every item has it’s expiration date?

    I also shop clearance/sales and in bulk at that, so this is a good lesson to confirm that the savings are true if the items are being used. I have had moments where I’ve held back, realizing that “savings” are also savings of money never spent.

    I hope your mom is able to enjoy the clean slate you and your wife are giving her. Best of luck

  76. Jim says:

    Hoarding is a serious problem. I’ve known a few people with the problem including my own mother. My father knows a woman who can’t even live in her own house its so bad so she’s had to rent a place and her house sits unused full of junk and garbage.

    Theres a lot of issues that can cause hoarding. People might be natural collectors, they might be frugal and not want to be wasteful, they might have shopping compulsions, etc. It could be a sign of depression or other issues. As time goes on it can get a lot worse. Eventually they might have medical issues that make it even harder for then to deal problems. The medial issues may contributed heavily to JD’s mothers problems. My mothers problems got worse as her health declined. Her house had a full basement and as she got older she had more difficulty going up and down the stairs so anything down their (including a large pantry of food) just ended up stayed there.

    I think theres varying degrees of the problem for sure. Some people may just have ‘too much stuff’ for common reasons. Maybe they moved from a large house into a smaller one and didn’t have/make time to sort it all out. These people may just need a little help from someone to sort and get rid of stuff.

    But other peoples definitely have a real mental issue difficulty getting rid of stuff. These people will just not be able to bring themselves to throw out even simple trash. Thats a different level and might need some counseling to resolve.

    I have sympathy for JD and anyone else dealing with this kind of problem with loved one. It can be a difficult situation.


  77. Mike says:

    When my Aunt’s mother and father passed away (my Aunt through marriage, so not my grandparents) they said they cleaned out their house of course to prepare it for sale.

    One of the rooms was their home library of many hundreds of books, paper back novels, magazines, etc. After tossing books for a while, one of them noticed a $10 bill fell out of a book. They went back through all of the books and found over $10,000 of cash in all the books. They grew up in the dirty 30s, so they stashed all the spare money they could because they didn’t trust the bank with all of their money.

    Cleaning out my basement the other day, I found a birthday card for my brother from my grandparents. $35 cheque for his birthday in December 2002.

    It certainly takes much longer to search each item, but it can certainly pay off.

  78. Jesse says:

    Sounds about like what we went through when we were cleaning out my rental house. Its amazing how much “stuff” accumulates over the course of time…

  79. Dave says:

    Sometimes there are treasures amidst all the “treasures”. After my grandfather died, my parents had to clean up the house so it could be sold. Amongst all the empty paper bags and those little bags from KFC (with a napkin, spork, and salt & pepper packets) was a brand-new windshield, still in the original box, for a car that was long gone – a 48 Packard, if memory serves. My dad contacted a car group and found a collecter who eagerly bought that windshield. Of course, now when I try to clean up some of my clutter, I have to be careful not to think “this will be valuable someday…”

  80. Emily says:

    I can sympathize. When my grandma died a few years back, her five children and the older of us grandchildren tackled her accumulated stuff because my grandpa couldn’t bring himself to do it. My job was to call the numbers listed on food products to find out what the expiration date of various canned good stamped with cryptic codes was. We also found a coffee can in the back of the cupboard that contained my father’s childhood dog’s ashes. Since then, I have thrown away as much of my own clutter as I could. I already have my grandma’s compulsiveness, I don’t want to become a hoarder too.

  81. Stacy says:

    I had the same experience when my Mother passed away unexpectedly. We found 8 plant pruners in her things. Lots of clothes that she had never worn with the tags still on them. The lid to a teapot, but no teapot and on and on. There was so much volume to her things that we found ourselves rushing to throw things away and package them up for goodwill. I sometimes wish we had taken a little more time and kept a few more things of hers, but in the end it’s just stuff. I can’t imagine how she must have felt smothered with all those things.

  82. db says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of mental illness or needing therapy when people hoard — especially people of an older generation.

    It’s easy for us 20-, 30- or even 40- somethings to not feel the hoarding need since most of us have grown up with an overabundance of stuff and the means to get it (even if it means debt).

    Older generations lived through different times — some of them experienced immigration and having nothing, most of them experienced the depression and rationing during WWII. Most of them grew up without such a thing as easy credit.

    With my own family, I think it was more a matter of not really stopping to think about what was worth keeping. Between constantly fighting to be able to make ends meet and encroaching old age, they just never stopped to think that they might not need that stack of bank records from 1934 now that it was 1976.

    I can’t judge them for it. I’m just sad that they didn’t think they could ask us for help if their stuff was overwhelming them.

  83. db says:

    P.S. — Based on a few responses, I don’t think JD and Mrs. JD were decluttering the tschotskies. I think they were going through and cleaning out the genuine trash.

    Mom will likely still be a bit mad — probably due to embarrassment. But really, she’d have to see that it’s for the best the moldy olives are gone.

  84. New Leaf says:

    When my husband’s Grandmother moved from The Old Homestead to an Assisted Living Facility, we were handed a car load of stuff to store for her just in case she needed any of it.

    After shifting these boxes around in my closet for a year, I finally looked inside one of them and had a good laugh.

    What was inside? Tons of USED gift wrap! All neatly folded and stored! I could not believe I was giving up valuable storage space in my house for something like this, shifting it from place to place saying “This is Grandma’s box. Gotta keep this safe.” Argh!!!! And the other precious boxes? Much of the same junk!

    Good luck with this, JD! I hope your mother understands that you are only trying to help!

  85. John says:

    When my mother-in-law died, we spent weeks cleaning out her house. We found almost $10,000.00 in uncashed pension checks. We literally filled 7 of the large dumpsters that hold 2000 pounds each with trash, plus we needed a middle size one to finish–that held only 1500 pounds, but then we overfilled it. This is a common “disease” for older people, especially poor ones. They feel that if they have “stuff”, they are not “poor”. Good luck.

  86. liz says:

    Is this necessarily a case of hoarding? It just seems like when people age and/or fall ill, little things spiral out of control and it’s easier to just shut a door behind it than ask for help from your children.

  87. dickey45 says:

    I was lucky that my mom didn’t leave a mess. She passed away in May and she knew her days were numbered. Her finances were in order and we filled out a will and she got it notarized. Fortunately the court accepted it. It took us about 1-2 weeks to sort out her stuff. She had a fontinini collection (nativity set) that took 3 of us 8 hours to put into their boxes for storage. And it took a 2 day estate sale and the wonderful craigslist to get rid of everything we didn’t need, want, or have room for. Shoot, I just sold the bidet (don’t ask) just yesterday.

    The one thing that I noticed that she had problems with was standard house maintenance like pressure washing the house, replacing caulk in the siding, getting the moss off the roof, and cleaning gutters.

    Let me tell you, I felt bad that we weren’t more insistent in just going in and doing those things for her while she was alive. It would have made her feel better and it would have made our work easier when we went to sell the house. My mom didn’t like relying on others and she didn’t think these standard up keep items needed to be done.

    Well, hopefully we have learned our lesson. My parents are both dead now (I’m 39) but my husband’s parents are both alive so I can dote on them.

  88. J.D. says:

    Great comments today, everyone.

    I had misgivings about posting this since I know it’s not strictly about personal finance. But I’m glad to see that many people can relate, and can understand that this *does* relate to money in a very real way.

  89. Alexis says:

    Best of luck.

  90. Scott @ The Passive Dad says:

    My wife and I went through this with her parents passing and acquired many items from the estate. We went through her parents house and had to deal with years of clutter, old computers, books, clothes, everything. It was overwhelming for us! In fact we probably should have gone through some therapy after it all.
    We are still going through the effects of it as we have more “stuff” in our garage and house now. It’s hard to throw out items that have memories and meaning to them. But, it’s still “stuff”.

  91. Shirley says:

    For anyone online, readers, parents with issues (those who are not too ill to make progress on their own), etc. Flylady ( is really a great resource for teaching you how to purge and declutter on an ongoing basis. (Of course, she also has a book as well that people have found very helpful, even those who are online as well.) She teaches you about the emotional aspects of why you are holding on to stuff and how to let it go a little bit at a time. When you subscribe to her emails, you get daily and weekly reminders that allow you to keep up with decluttering, household activities like laundry, etc. 15 minutes at a time. All of that comes into play in keeping your house sensible. One of my favorite sayings of hers is “you can’t organize clutter.” Well, yeah, no matter how many storage tubs or containers you get, it still won’t work. It might look good for a short while, but you still can’t find what you want and you still have stuff you’ll never use. Frankly. I feel many of us are like this collecting stuff, but when we are younger, we can keep up with the clutter … perhaps doing it through mad cleaning and purging binges when we have guests coming for a stay or a party coming up or getting ready for a yard sale, but as we age, it becomes way too much to handle in that manner … we might not care any more, we might not have the energy to deal with it, etc., but most of us are like this–just at a more acceptable degree. It’s so easy to see when we are looking at someone else’s house like our relatives or friends. If you’ve ever watched the decorating shows on HGTV where the person comes in and critiques the house, you can easily see the clutter and ridiculous stuff people hold on to. (And, that’s a technique that Flylady suggests, go into your house with a clipboard and pretend to be a realtor and note the flaws, issues, junk, etc.)

    Obviously J.D. and his wife had to do this to help his mom because she’s ill, but for other relatives who are in good health, it’s better to work with them than do it for them. You don’t learn if someone else does it for you. you don’t go through the process where you learn to let go. It’s also important to do it in small increments of time. It can quickly become overwhelming. Do one drawer each day … don’t dump the whole contents of all the drawers on the floor and swear you’re not leaving until you’ve cleaned them all out. Even working on a drawer while you’re waiting for your computer to boot or while there’s a commercial on can produce amazing results over a short time. And, when you do “get it”, how freeing and liberating it is to let stuff go, it is addictive and you don’t want to do back. You might slip up, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever go back to your original state. And, if you do, by the skills you’ve learned (like through Flylady), you can easily get back on track.

  92. Jenzer says:

    From one Flybaby to another – thank you, Shirley, for mentioning Flylady!

    Yes, please, if you’re struggling with clutter and hoarding yourself, please visit and give her “Beginner’s Babysteps” a go!

  93. Lin says:

    Oh, I know what you’re talking about. Had the same thing when my aunt and my mother passed away.
    A thought, take a good look at everything you’re throwing out. My aunt was hiding money and jewelry in with the trash she was keeping.
    On the bright side, I found a few vintage things (like 1950s soap!) that I was able to eBay.

  94. Livingalmostlarge says:

    You have just written my greatest fear about my mom. That I will clean her house of 5000 sq ft full of junk. I could have written excatly what you wrote. It is so scary to realize your parents have tons of crap!

  95. Sam says:

    Time to sell some of those old stuffs for profit. My mother also has that “habit”. She buys things in advance but then forget it, and all the stuffs just hang in her room. I managed to get rid of some of them but then she got so emotionally attached its hard to get of old stuffs!

    Fix My Personal Finance

  96. J.D. says:

    I just made a trip to the hospital to see Mom. She’s doing well, anxious to go home, though she knows there’s still a week or two left (at least). I told her about our cleaning bonanza, and she seemed pleased. In fact, she told us about a couple of other things that could be cleaned. More work Thursday night! ๐Ÿ™‚

  97. Ann at One Bag Nation says:

    My mother is also living surrounded by Stuff, but she’s not a hoarder in the usual sense of the word. She just never gets rid of anything, and doesn’t keep up on taking the trash and the recycling to the dump.

    It’s truly awful to watch your parent live like this, but until she’s incapacitated, she won’t let us into the house to help her out.

    Good luck as you work through this difficult project.

  98. Sent says:

    Any recommendations on how to approach parents on Stuff? My mother has her entire basement and guest bedroom filled with stuff. I could sell half of it on Ebay at least.

  99. Amy F says:

    It took my dad 3 months of half-time work to clean my grandma’s basement when she moved out. No one else could help because grandma would only allow her son to part with anything. She’d have things like a dozen winter coats in the same color. But he also found lots of letters between family members from WWII and other fascinating things worth keeping. He was in the midst of retiring and could spare the time, but going through 45 years of stuff was crazy.

  100. RB says:

    I’m glad your mom was receptive to the cleaning bonanza- sounds like a case of being overwhelmed rather than classic hoarding. This way, you can get her input on what she truly wants to hold on to, and what you can get rid of.

    If you get BBC America, I suggest the show “How Clean is your House.” Two professional housecleaners go into some of the worst, filthiest, houses, almost always belonging to hoarders, and clear out the junk and do a deep clean, using things like vinegar, dish soap, baking soda, and essential oils. They have many useful tips and it’s good to see that others are in a similar situation.

    Also, for the cat pee, Nature’s Miracle enzymatic cleaner really truly worked for us. But you have to use a LOT and let it air dry, which can take as long as a week or two. Also, most cats will ignore a litterbox that’s not completely clean, so maybe using some of the proceeds if you sell off some of the Stuff to purchase a self-cleaning litterbox will help the problem from getting worse, and help your mom, since it’s probably not an easy task for her to clean litterboxes daily.

  101. oldernwiser says:

    @JD and Kris…kudos to you for doing this for your mom! And,that she is glad you’ve done so is an added bonus!

    Though my mom isn’t a hoarder, per se, she is a “collector” of things and some old rare books. One of my jobs this fall will be to go over and put post it notes in books that should be donated to a special collections library..which brings up donations…

    Most local libraries, special collections libraries at universities and/or local geneological groups would be thrilled to receive some collections of things–especially anything to do with local history. Obviously not the junk but do think before you throw…. Remember that researchers of the future will visit these places to research US! Primary sources will always be important. If you think you’ve got something that somebody might be interested in, give one of these places a call.
    Plus, it offers you a good tax deduction.

    @DB…sigh, collector that I am, I would have loved to have helped you clean out the remainders of a craft store. That is MY weakness…. but it is used in products I re-sell, so I guess I should be called a re-cycler. For other readers that might encounter such stuff, please put it on craig’s list, ebay, or etsy. You will probably find a buyer, and quickly.

    A friend of mine was cleaning out the attic of his family home (mother was a horder) and I knew that there would be stuff in there that I could use. I told them I would come help. A year later, at an art show I was in, the friend’s wife came up and saw something I was selling–hand molded reproductions of old figural Christmas lights. The first words out of her mouth..”I just threw away a TON of those from the attic.” ARGHHHHHHHHH

    I know from talking with my mom, who gets overwhelmed by the paper/mail/magazine syndrome, that being physically unable to deal with some of it causes it to mount up. Once it starts to mount up, the anxiety/stress/depression about NOT being able to do something about/simply getting overwhelmed about it sets in. It is a Catch-22 for some folks up in years–and even my age, mid 50’s.

  102. becca says:

    Please don’t minimize this psychological disorder. Seriously. I’m a therapist and have heard many heartbreaking stories. If you can’t get some help for your mom (and chances are very high she will refuse any type of counseling), at least get knowledgeable yourself so you can handle the situation with a minimum of stress to your mother and yourself. Best wishes.

  103. Beth says:

    Your mother has a compulsive hoarding disorder. You need to study up on it. You can damage her psyche by cleaning up trash that she has deep attachments to. My grandmother is a compulsive hoarder. I have learned that I must tread more lightly than I wish to. There have been cases of social workers going in to clean up public health hazards, believing they were helping these individuals, and winding up doing more damage than good.

  104. tosajen says:

    Actually, this is one of the reasons we moved out of the bungalow we bought 3 years ago into a duplex we bought this year — we’ve gotten rid of so much stuff! At some point, we realized that we were paying a chunk of our mortgage just to store junk. Out of a 3 bedroom house basement, we and our kids slept in 2 bedrooms, we used the kitchen, den, and dining room, and the rest just accumulated piles of stuff we were slow to get rid of.

    Is there a category of disfunction called “consumerist illusion of frugality” where you hang onto stuff you don’t need because someone paid money for it (maybe you), so it’s worth something, so it’s hard to give it away or throw it out? Hey, you might need it again someday!

    Every time I go camping, I’m inspired to get rid of stuff when we get home, because it’s so relaxing to me to live with just the stuff we took with us — no piles of extra paper, spare bedding and towels (for the rare guests we have), more summer and winter clothes than we really need, junk/trash that hasn’t made it out of the house yet, etc.

  105. Andrea says:

    My mom became ill 18 months ago and will not be recovering. Her house is full of clothing, linens, shoes, knickknacks, a huge amount of pots,pans, many sets of dishes and silverware(but not actual silver). There is no clutter in the rooms- but closets( 14 coats! in one), pantries, drawers, garage and a large storage closet are full. When friends and family would downsize, my mom would take some of their things- even though her own house had plenty. I am gradually giving some things away that my mom will never use again(because she has such a quantity) and my family does not want and others need- table cloths, towels, sheets, dishes. It is okay with my mom to give almost anything or to take almost anything.

  106. kcw says:

    pls recycle the peanuts and packing supplies!! UPS/mailbox etc stores take them back.

  107. becky says:

    My mom (alive and well) is very similar. She keeps food in her ‘food storage’ area that expired in the mid-80’s. Also, my father passed away 3 years ago and she still has food that he bought in her freezer – that has since expired – most of it expired three years ago as well (and she tries to feed it to us on family occasions)! When we mention that the food has expired and should probably be thrown away she gets EXTREMELY AGGITATED with us. I also see signs that she is getting more comfortable witht the messiness and clutter of her house (it’s not to the extent of hoarding – thank goodness), but my question is what I can do about this and how to help her so that she can avoid (or maybe so that we can avoid) having to clean up a ton of worthless stuff?

    By the way, you truly are helping your mom in so many ways. I’m glad that she is not upset. My mother would be furious probably to the point of not talking to us if we did that to her home.

  108. Mac says:

    Hopefully your mom makes a speedy recovery, and is pleased with your clean-up efforts. However, you may be rationalizing your mother’s clutter-amassing behaviour, and you may want to glance over the definition of compulsive hoarding:

    Edit: I should have read over some of the other comments, people are pointing you in the right direction.

  109. claire7676 says:

    I agree with a couple of other commenters. J.D., not to alarm you, but 2 of my grandparents who had dementia had the food spoilage problem (and you couldn’t not see the spoiled was in the front of the fridge). I’m not in the medical field, this was just a commonality that I noticed.

    Best of luck.

  110. Bri says:

    My father-in-law went through this after his mother passed away. She has purchased many things through mail order catalogs and they were piled in rooms all through her small trailer. She had hundreds of Franklin Mint statues and had even ordered two computers through the mail. One thing they ran into was creditor problems because she hadn’t ever paid for any of these items. I imagine a lot of it was out of loneliness. She didn’t have anyone very close as she pushed most family members away and she was additicted to gambling. She enjoying having stuff just to have stuff and it was never enough.

    Very sad. Good luck fighting through all of the clutter and getting her well and back home. Remember to be with her when she gets home so she isn’t in shock ๐Ÿ™‚

  111. Suzy says:

    This was a really timely read. I just came back from my MIL’s house, and everytime I go there I am stressed out by the amount of clutter. It upsets her to get rid of anything, because (she admits) she holds on to the past that way. I find things in the original packaging from the ’60s. Everything you eat you have to inspect, because it might be years expired. Reading all these posts makes me feel better about it though,because I think it’s a common problem. Don’t be alarmed though, if your cleaning efforts are for naught. If she’s not on board, it’ll mever work once she gets in control again.

  112. CarrieK says:

    Thank you for posting this. It’s so personal but applies to so many of us out there. I dread going to my Mother’s house. She is still in good health, but there will come a day when I will be doing what you are doing. This is going to sound really corny, but Oprah did a show on hoarders and the psychological aspects of why people keep buying and don’t throw anything away. It’s worth looking into. This is a really big, multi-faceted problem.

  113. 030366 says:

    Wow, I am overwhelmed by the response to this article!

    I work for an elderly man–my actual job is to help clean out his house, which is in a very similar state–but I am in the same predicament as Maya:

    “youโ€™re lucky. my mom wonโ€™t let us clear out her clutter. she says there are papers that she needs in there and that sheโ€™s the only one who can go through them. but she doesnโ€™t go through them…iโ€™ve offered to pay someone to cart her junk away. she refuses. it stresses me out.”

    It’s quite the mess at Dan’s house too. Wall-to-wall clutter, things he’s bought at Goodwill on seniors’ day because it was cheap, and a refrigerator that would render a team of horses unconscious. And he will not part with anything because he “needs” it all.

    Does anyone know of any way to deal with this kind of predicament?

  114. PDXgirl says:

    My grandmother was also a hoarder. And in her declining health she lost track of cleaning out the fridge or washing dishes, she would just wipe them out with a filthy cloth.

    She lived in a rural area on the coast and when she fell and broke her hip shedecided (at our suggestion) to move up to Portland and live in an assisted living facility.

    We went through all of her stuff, had an estate sale. We asked her what she wanted to move into her studio apartment and there were many things we wanted to save (a bedroom set that sailed around the horn with my great-great-grandmother, for example) but otherwise we sold so much stuff… I think she made about $1000 from her estate sale at dirt cheap prices, we just wanted it gone.

    It was amazing… I hope I’m never like that but who knows.

  115. Jolie Rahn says:

    You are a very loving son and you have a very loving wife to help you tackle mom’s house. I have a VERY DEAR ( I love her to death) MIL who is in a similar situation….especially about the spare bedrooms (and in my MIL’s case bathroom, closet, upstairs hallway are filled to the brim with outdated clothing, toys and expired food. The older grandkids are always talking about the expired food. Once, I took a bite of her cheesecake (while pregnant) that was made with rancid buuter/margerine 8^O I gagged and spit that out and ran to wipe my mouth out asap-lol. We laugh about it now, but she is a *bargain shopper*…of the likes as your own mom. I told my husband his mother can NEVER die!!! Because my hubby, his siblings and I would be cleaning that house for weeks. While she doesn’t have inside cats, she does have field mice in her house and we have received gifts with mouse poop on them–YUCK!!!!! 8^O Anyway, as i was reading your blog, I had to laugh as this was so similar to our situation and if one doesn’t laugh, it would be very overwhelming and upsetting to deal with. I think with parents who were born in the Depression/WWII era, they have a tendency to hoard and save whatever they have, given the circumstances from whence they grew up. Also, they are getting older and they just do not get around easily like they use to…it’s not quite as important either to get rid of stuff.

    Chin up, just laugh it off and make humor out of the situation as best you can. Even if it is hectic and chaotic with the cleaning, enjoy it as a quirky behaviour of your mom. Some day you will have some funny tales to tell to your grandkids.

    Cheers, Jolie

  116. PB- says:

    Ohmy. I really never wanted to admit my parents were like that. But yes, I feel your pain.

    My sweetheart and I cleaned out my parent’s mountain home last summer and found the same things. Food from the early 90’s. Seven OPENED bags of flour in a closet. Empty deli containers. The crawl space was filled with empty boxes from, I swear, what seemed to be anything ever purchased in their lifetime. The list goes on and on.

    I promptly emailed my daughter, apologized for anything and everything I may do to her when I’m old, and asked her to take me out in the north 40 and shoot me if I get to be like that. Then I started redistributing my own excess. I divided my belongings into two and ONLY two categories. 1) things I love 2) things I don’t love. It’s a good feeling to pare down and be surrounded by the things I really love.

    My sister called when she found out what I was doing and asked me to start on Mom & Dad’s home here in town when I finished the mountain place. Ha Ha. I reminded her that SHE is inheriting that house. I already cleaned the place I’m inheriting.

    Love and gratitude for all of you wonderful sons and daughters who take care of aging parents!

  117. PB- says:

    One more thing. Okay, two.

    1) You can also sell things on Craigslist and

    2)If you don’t want the hassle of selling things, check out You post things you want to give away for free and folks email if they want it. You choose who gets it, tell them when and where to pick it up. Most communities have a freecycle group.

  118. PB- says:

    Brad & Victor (#15 & #40)

    Years ago my dear friend’s parents found two boxes in her grandmother’s house.

    1) A shoebox tied with string and a tag “String Worth Saving.” Inside were neatly wound balls of good string.

    2) A shoebox tied with string and a tag “String Not Worth Saving.” Inside was a bunch of crappy string.

    They all had a good laugh.

  119. Robin says:

    You are wonderful for helping out your Mom. Please do ensure that her cats are well cared for. They are unbelievably loving and clean creatures, but their boxes do need to be scooped once a day. If let go, they are so clean that they won’t go in a dirty box, hence the problems that occurred. In order to properly clean and prevent them from resoiling an area that they have already soiled, it MUST be cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner (such as “Nature’s Miracle” or “Petzyme” found at PetSmart, PetSuppliesPlus, or other pet stores)…otherwise you may FEEL it’s clean, but the cats WILL smell it and think it’s an acceptable place to go. A black light (also at many pet stores or Wal-Mart) will highlight areas that need to be cleaned. Cats can also get deathly ill if they go without food for more than a day (feline hepatic lipdosis–liver failure— sets in quickly, and lack of taurine can lead to heart failure) so if she is overwhelmed (or forgetting) she may need regular help once she is out to care for her sweet little kitty cats.

  120. Michele says:

    I’m so sorry that you have to deal with the aftermath of her pathology. My in-laws are hoarders, and my husband is praying to die before his brother does, so cleaning their dad’s house won’t be our problem! (That may sound flippant, but I’m completely serious. It’s that bad.)

  121. Jason says:

    I think you’re rather brave to open up your life so much, and I really appreciate it. These lessons taught from personal stories are the best, IMO.

  122. dana says:

    My boyfriend’s mother does this. She is a hoarder to the point that there have been multiple times dumpsters have been brought to the house to clean things out. She like clothes, books, bulk foods, you name it. She filled a 4 bdrm ranch house, and then an extra garage was built so she could continue. Last year, my boyfriend’s father passed away, and in some ways his mom has cut back on spending, but in other ways, she continues. She is mesmerized by deals and cash back. She unfortunately has a Kohl’s card and, as a senior, gets extra discounts on things she doesn’t need, and her sons and grandkids don’t want either. And you can’t use logic on her. She just gets her feelings hurt and feels like she’s being attacked. There’s an ugly circle of behavior, and honestly I don’t think she will ever escape it.

    I try to live by the mantra “You will never have enough of what you don’t really need.”

  123. Wendy says:

    I recently when through the exact same experience with my Mom. My husband and I came to call it the House of Many Treasures and the sad part is that there really were very few treasures that turned up. It took us 4 commercial dumpsters to clean out her house after she moved with a fully loaded 28 ft. truck.

    The rest of the family thought that once she was moved into a nice clean new space, she’d eventually see how much of a problem exploded food, bugs in the kitchen, mouse infested boxes, and less than body width paths through the house had become, but no… she just continually berates us for all the treasures we took from her.

    I blogged about it too and my coworkers thought it was supremely amusing isolated behavior. I think in realty, there are many people like this.

  124. Fiona says:

    The home of my mother in law, a retired primary school teacher, is hovering between 1st and 2nd stage squalor (thanks JenK@43 for that disturbingly graphic description of the descent). Oddly, her classroom when she taught in it was beautifully ordered with the many small pieces of teaching equipment neatly boxed and the children’s artwork cleverly and tidily displayed on the walls and ceiling. I think her professional pride kept the classroom clean. She loved teaching and enjoyed making the environment welcoming for children and visitors. She doesn’t feel anything like the same attachment to her home, and despite having an active social life and many friends, would seldom have a visitor who wasn’t family – quite deliberate on her part. Efforts by her children to clean the place up – with the ultimate intention of moving her into a smaller house – are only partially successful. My mother in law, a gentle and seemingly yielding person, does an excellent stubborn old cow impression when pulled in a direction she doesn’t want to go. Part of me thinks: good for you. The other part suggests my late father in law’s suits could go to a better home. Said father in law, dead now 7 years, was a very unpleasant man despite being a member of the clergy so I don’t think the attachment to the suits is romantic. The nicest thing anyone said of him at his funeral, attended by the great and good of the Anglican church, was that he was “an orderly man”. Not, as they say, a match made in heaven.

  125. Cindy B says:

    Ten years ago I called my mother and she said I needed to come home( I lived a 1000 miles from her) to clean her closets. I was there 3 days later and I spent 4 days cleaning closets. We laughed about one closet that was stuffed. I don’t think I could put all the clothes back in there. I put bags and bags in the formal living room with the intention of taking it to the thrift store at the end of the week but my the end of the week, my Dad and I put her in the hospital were she stayed for 6 weeks before she died. I was thankful for the opportunity to help her and thankful to be able to help my father. They had a lovely home together.
    About 3 years ago we moved Dad to asisted living and after a year we decided to sell his home. He had collected pieces of copper wire. Some were only 2 and 3 inches long. My sister thought my husband was a bite nutty when he said he was taking it to the salvage yard. After they loaded the van, I made the comment that we were spliting? When the fellows came back my brother-in-law was beaming. It was an easy $70 for each. My sister became in instant believer in my tendencies of being a scavenger.

  126. dogatemyfinances says:

    Why not hire a cleaning service to help? You could get a lot more done. Cat piss is not “clutter” — it is unsanitary nastiness and dirtiness. No one should live like that.

  127. J. C. Wolf says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU POSTERS one and all. I woke up the other morning and decided to play dead. Yup, I was dead and so I pretended to be my two children who were left to go through my years of collecting “stuff”. My family silver which they will never use, my art work including empty canvases and big paintings I once sold before I went out of style, boxes and boxes of unfinished manuscripts, stories, novels, hundreds of art magazines, art books, art opening cards, children’s artwork, furniture I planned to paint with Pennsylvania Dutch designs, half finished sewing projects and rolls and yards of fabric. As I am cleaning, I keep thinking “I just cannot leave this mess for my kids to deal with.” That thought actually makes it easier to remove, toss, or sell, my ‘WONDERFUL STUFF’.
    And reading all your posts is a big help!

  128. Beth says:

    I know this blog post is a bit old, but I’d really like to recommend the website and the Yahoo group “childrenofhoarders” to people dealing with this.

    Hoarders can be especially difficult to deal with, and when the hoarder is a parent, it makes it even harder. Up to what point should someone be allowed to live life the way they choose, and at what point do you call in the authorities? At what point do you force a clean-up, with the possibility of alienating yourself from your family forever (this is a very real possibility)? These are really hard decisions to make.

    This disorder also has an enormous impact on children. The psychological and physical implications of growing up in squalor, the complete lack of cleaning/money management skills passed onto the kids, and having to lie to friends in order to keep people from coming to the house and revealing the family secret. In many ways it’s like being the child of an alcoholic.

  129. FrugalKitty says:

    I used to live in a 3 bedroom flat but moved to a single storey house (have 2 roommates) and now have the master bedroom to myself. Hvg to squeeze all my junk into that one bedrm was an eye opener coz I found that I hv wayy too much stuff, even papers fr uni five years ago!

    Trying to downsize and get rid of the clutter but it’s a rather slow and difficult process. I feel attached and just shift things from one box to another. Some are stufff from work which I cannot throw in case I need em for later, but I guess I’m gonna have to give them away or donate them since I use em once a while.

    My grandad was a packrat, and my mother keeps all sorts of stuff too. I keep my bedroom door closed at all times coz I got too much junk and the room looks so cluttered. When my bf saw my room for the first time, he said it’s clean but very cluttered. When I visit him/other ppl,I am very organized and am very clean (I even helped organized my bf’s house haha) It’s just with my own space that I do the hoarding.

    Bf’s mom’s house is full of stuff too. Pantryfull of food and fridge filled to the brim w food. Trying to get food was a nightmare coz u nvr knw wats good and wats bad. One time I took the trouble of going thru her fridge w the help of the bf and we threw out take aways fr god knows when. Recently, he had some cider from that fridge, and got sick coz he didn’t realise it’s gone bad (it was 2 months old). When we visit we can’t use the bedroom upstairs coz the bed has a couple matresses on em and there’s no space to keep them so we sleep on the couch. I thought about what would happen when they pass on, a lot of stuff to give away/left for the next gen I guess.

    Parting with stuff is very hard, esp when it has sentimental value attached to it. But I’m trying, coz I plan to move
    and rather than doing it all then, I’d rather do it bit by bit now.

    Thanks for sharing. And sorry for the superlong comment :p

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