How do we tackle my sister and brother in law's hovel of a house

(42 Posts)
howtohelpher Mon 26-Nov-12 17:13:35

My DS and her husband live in what can only be described as a tip.

They have 1 DD(2) and another due in a matter of weeks.

Their house is disgusting, not just untidy but smelly and dirty and something desperately needs to be done before new baby arrives and their house is opened up to health care professionals.

As a family we have tried to help them - My parents do the garden, sorted a shed. Helped them get in touch with contractors to get essential jobs done.

We've hinted at needing to get sorted, offered to help with cleaning/ sorting jobs.

It is so bad I can no longer bear to go round. sad

We are so worried that Midwife and Health Visitor will come in and think they aren't coping (they aren't) and will report them to Social Services.
Their DC is loved to bits and they have time for everybody and will help out at the drop of a hat.

We think that my sister would rather be anywhere but home and spend time at mine or my parents house just to get out.

This problem has been going on for a while and I have posted before under a different name. We did some of the suggested things. Helping with storage and
I even spent every morning during 1 week they were away cleaning the house as many rooms as was possible.

As a family (my DB, my parents and DP) we just need to do something. It is not an acceptable or safe environment to bring up 2 DC's. My Mum has had to let in contractors recently and she said she is so ashamed, she has been in tears over it.
None of us want to go round anymore.

My DM & DF came round last night to say that my DF was going to go round and grasp the nettle, and wanted to know we had their support.
My DF would get straight to the point. But I said a few weeks before birth it might not be the best approach to tell them in no uncertain terms that it's unacceptable and they need to sort themselves out.

So I have volunteered to do it using a more caring approach - i.e. we are worried that the MW & HV will think they are not coping, and the we are worried they are not coping and that we all desperate want to help. I won't accept excuses (of which there have been many) I will say it has to be done and we are going to help so that they are sorted and can keep it sorted in the future. If it isn't kept up I will send my Dad in, in 6 months time.

What do you think Mumsnetters?

ethelb Mon 26-Nov-12 17:16:11

it sounds awful. but why do yuo think they are not coping?

Are they hoarders?

Bigwuss Mon 26-Nov-12 17:19:17

When mess gets out of hand, sorting out can seem overwhelming. Can you give time and just get stuck in and get it done with/for them. Could you get them a cleaner for a few weeks are a gift. Not sure how you start the conversation.
On the flip side, if they truly are not coping then maybe th health visitor will be able to get them the long term help they need.

FivesAndNorks Mon 26-Nov-12 17:21:28

hmm tricky. I do think you've done all you can with hints and help, and I think you need to lay it on the line which is wjhat it sounds as though you're going to do. People will say none of your business but this child is your niece or nephew, so I disagree. Good luck.

howtohelpher Mon 26-Nov-12 17:24:08

I think they are hoarders, but hoarders without an garage and a loft space!
My sister has clothes in 5 different sizes 8, 10 ,12 ,14 and 16 I've told her just to get rid of the majority of stuff and keep a few favourite pieces. Besides some of it is not fashionable now. T

They just keep junk. She won't throw out stuff that is his, he won't sort it.

But if its that bad then they arent coping and they need help.

If it has to come from SS to make them listen then maybe you need to let things happen as they will.

Bigwuss Mon 26-Nov-12 17:26:33

I think if it serious hoarding is a whole different ball game to can't be bothered and it may be something that getting outside help may make more a difference with

fossil97 Mon 26-Nov-12 17:28:26

Have they/ has she asked for help, or taken up an offer? Can you have a straight (but kind) conversation with your sister and figure out whether she thinks they have a problem or not? MH issues aside, most people manage to keep on top of their housework to a greater or lesser extent so if she really isn't bothered maybe it's her choice?

The last thing you want is to have a bust up and end up not on speaking terms.

howtohelpher Mon 26-Nov-12 17:38:25

They haven't asked for help - but they do accept it and have thanked me for tidying the kitchen when they've been away - it needed doing there were dirty pots which would've been left for a fortnight.

I am not bothered about the state they live in I am bothered about my niece and new baby.

I will be kind and try to establish if there is an underlying cause.

TBH, they need to come to the realisation that it needs to be done and have the motivation and skills to do it. THEN you can maybe help. but otherwise they will just go back to how they were very quickly and you and other members of the family will be forever rescuing them.

Would your DS and BIL be open to some form of counselling? If so, I'd see if you can find someone appropriate and offer to babysit while they go (and maybe help with counselling fees if you are able). They need to deal with the hoarding tendencies otherwise they won't be able to maintain any improvements.

YDdraigGoch Tue 27-Nov-12 13:02:34

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with hoarding, and untidyness, as long as they keep the place clean, particularly with young children around.

TBH, the whole "thing" with hoarders is that they see value in everything, and hence are reluctant to throw things away - "I might lose weight and be able to wear that dress" or "I might be able to use that cardboard box for keeping things in".

You'll struggle to get them to throw stuff away, but you might be able to convince them to make money out of the stuff they have by selling it on ebay, car boot sales etc. They won't see that they are not coping, they will see that they are being thrifty.

I'd concentrate on the cleanliness side of things - its more important with a baby coming, and tackle the clearing out in very small steps - just with one thing at a time to begin with.

AnyaKnowIt Tue 27-Nov-12 13:09:29

If they are not taking any hints then I would tell them straight.

If they accepted the help then I would go round with bin liners and rubber gloves. I did this with my sister, the house was that bad that she didn't really know where to start. Once we cleaned it from top to bottom and chucked out the crap she has really kept on top of it.

WantAnOrange Tue 27-Nov-12 13:27:14

We are so worried that Midwife and Health Visitor will come in and think they aren't coping (they aren't) and will report them to Social Services.

If they won't listen to you this might be what happens. If they are not motivated enough to create a suitable environment for their children then someone does need to step in because this isnt acceptable. As family, of course you want to save them from themselves and the best outcome is that they listen to you and sort it out, but you can't go on saving them forever and tbh from what you have said, they won't listen. Remember, Socail Services are on their side and will want to help them and the children. Don't go in, thinking that they are they enemy. Do you understand, as horrible as it feels, that if they are not providing a safe home for the children, and will not accept your help, that you may have to report them yourself? Because it's the children's welfare that matters here, a lot more than their feelings.

I will say it has to be done and we are going to help so that they are sorted and can keep it sorted in the future. If it isn't kept up I will send my Dad in, in 6 months time.

6 months time is enough time for the baby to get seriously ill from lack of hygeine, or the toddler to get seriously injured. 6 months is way to long. It gets sorted now, and it stays that way, or else they have proven they cannot provide a suitable home.

Sometimes doing the best for the people we love means being honest, even if they don't like it.

Good luck, I really hope they get the help they need and overcome this.

unexpectediteminbaggingarea Tue 27-Nov-12 13:41:34

my cousin was the same - rooms and rooms full of bin bags of stuff that she was convinced she would use or sell one day. her partner was a binman and used to keep stuff that people had thrown away which he thought he could sell on, but he never did. someone helped her once (read, did it for her) and it all just built up again. She moved house, convinced if she had more room it would be better, it just built up again. But as anya says it can work in some cases.

A mw or hv may well make a referral because a very dirty house could be seen as neglectful, and certainly not meeting DCs needs. I would expect that it would not be more than support to clean up and children's centre support or something like that.

runningforme Wed 28-Nov-12 03:47:23

I have an aunt like this. No matter how many times family and friends went in and cleaned the place up, she let it get bad again. And I mean really bad. As in kittens born to her cat that died were found decomposing under bags of rubbish bad. Instead of washing up, she'd just buy new plates and then add them to the mess. If her son wet himself, the clothes would be flung aside and left to rot. This went on for years despite all attempts to help her. Until one day the gas man came to check the boiler. He saw the state of the place and reported her to SS. They took one look and refused to let her son come home - he was collected from school and taken to my grandmother's. He had to live with my grandmother until they were satisfied it was safe and clean for him to return. My aunt's problem was, even when SS offered help (she has MS) she refused it. I don't know if her place is any better these days as I now live abroad and family stopped going round years ago, but I guess it must have improved long enough for SS to allow her son home (though this was after almost a year).

So I would say that you need to just be straight with her. If she has been grateful for help in the past, then I'm sure she won't be offended. Someone posted that it might be an idea to give her the gift of a cleaner for a few days - this would be a great idea (I would have loved one myself after the DC's were born!). Also, it might help to see if there are any home organisers in your area who could go round and offer a consultation on ways to declutter and get back in control of the home.

CheerfulYank Wed 28-Nov-12 04:28:31

Nothing of value to say, but bumping and wishing you good luck. Could she afford a cleaner who could come every so often?

FellatioNelson Wed 28-Nov-12 05:06:02

I have had a couple of friends like this over the years - it's not just a normal, healthy disregard for a bit of dust and a cluttered environment - it is on another level entirely. To be honest, neither of them were people who 'weren't coping' as such - they were very happy, easy going, intelligent girls with nice husbands and happy marriages. They just were too laid back for their own good, and didn't have any self-discipline. They were also both people who'd want to spend all day sitting in someone else's house drinking tea and chatting, or have people at theirs all day quite happily, rather than spend time on their own getting on with any kind of boring routine. Their children's bedroom were un-fucking-believable, and no-one could ever locate any clean clothes. I stopped wanting to go there in the end - it just got too depressing. One day I went to one of the houses and couldn't find anywhere to sit that wasn't piled up with junk, and when I moves stuff and sat down the sofa was minging (children were allowed to run around with food and it got everywhere) and I had an overwhelming smell of sour milk coming from the sofa/carpet not sure which! That was the final straw for me.

I don't know if you really can change people like that though. Suggesting a cleaner is no good, as unless they are committed to keeping at least a bit tidy the cleaner won't be able to actually clean anything! If it really is that bad then perhaps a tip-off to SS or the HV is the only answer.

ClareMarriott Wed 28-Nov-12 09:18:31

Dear Howtohelpher

I think the important sentence in one of your own posts is " they have'nt asked for help " . Although you are right to be concerned about your niece and the new baby to come, what I would suggest is perhaps you have a talk with her based on the imminent arrival of a new baby and see if there is anything SHE would like the family to do for her and her DH. Then if she does say yes, then you could all arrange a mutual date/s to come and do the garden, clean the home etc. Otherwise, there is apdo-uk , the professional body for declutterers who you could contact if your sister/ dh are happy with a major clean and are happy for essentially, strangers, to come and help her sort things out.

fuzzpig Wed 28-Nov-12 09:34:34

The thought that struck me is that maybe a referal to SS is what they actually need sad

LIZS Wed 28-Nov-12 09:42:45

Are there any underlying issues to this - SEN, depression, mental health perhaps ? Would they qualify for Homestart or similar in your area?

howtohelpher Wed 28-Nov-12 17:14:27

Thank you for your replies.

I don't know if their are underlying issues - no SEN, but I do wonder about depression as it is definitely not normal to live how they do.

With regards to the hygiene issue with her first DC I convinced her to carry on breast feeding because I just worried she wouldn't be clean enough for formula feeding. I just thought with their track record and aversion to cleaning it would be 'easier' for her to breast feed.
She did end up expressing and therefore, sterilising.

My DP doesn't think I should be the one to go in and say something and thinks my Dad is the best person to do it.

Just spoken to my Mum who has said some new furniture has been ordered (due to arrive next week) and they might wait and see what happens. As they've ousted some stuff and plan a tip run on Saturday.

I however, think we need to act now as baby could arrive in as little as 3 weeks maximum 5 weeks!

I think that I am going to get her some practical gifts for baby - like storage baskets to put under the coffee table and buy a toy box from Ikea. and fill them with goodies.

I am also going to go round and clean up when she has had the baby. Not asking her just doing it. My mum-in-law does it for me and I long since stopped being offended - she just likes to help. (I'm not dirty/ untidy BTW she just likes to do stuff).

I think as a family we need to handle it ourselves and not report her.

CheerfulYank Wed 28-Nov-12 20:04:34

I have had a couple of friends like this over the years - it's not just a normal, healthy disregard for a bit of dust and a cluttered environment - it is on another level entirely. To be honest, neither of them were people who 'weren't coping' as such - they were very happy, easy going, intelligent girls with nice husbands and happy marriages. They just were too laid back for their own good, and didn't have any self-discipline. They were also both people who'd want to spend all day sitting in someone else's house drinking tea and chatting, or have people at theirs all day quite happily, rather than spend time on their own getting on with any kind of boring routine.

<looks around guiltily for Fell peeping through the windows> blush blush blush

Mine's not too bad, but it can get bad very quickly because I am much as you described. The one thing that keeps me halfway on top of it are my DS (and DC2 coming in May). I want them to remember growing up in an orderly and clean environment, not a crazy one. So I have to work very hard to keep on top of things.

It sounds like the OP's sister has different problems though. sad

thekidsrule Wed 28-Nov-12 22:22:17

op,you sound like a very caring sister and aunt

it's so nice to hear you want to help this family

i hope they realise what you are doing for them

best of luck and hope things work out

howtohelpher Wed 28-Nov-12 23:30:16

Thank you thekidsrule

I just want the best for them as they are so kind and would do anything they could to help me out.

izzyishavingababyAGAIN Wed 28-Nov-12 23:35:59

It has taken me 4 months solid to declutter my house, and there is still too much "stuff", ebay has been my friend, the tip, the charity shop, I have gotten rid of cupboards, bookcases, the less storage space there is, the less places there are to hoard utter crap!

Ex MIL was like this, house was filthy, it was a form of OCD.

WantAnOrange Fri 30-Nov-12 17:49:00

But OP you have already tried to handle it yourself and it's not working. Apologies for being blunt but you need to get your head out the sand. I'm not saying report her now, I'm saying she has ONE chance, with your support, then you will have to report her if she doesnt keep it up.

Please think of the children above all else. SS will give her the help she needs to take care of them properly and keep them together if that is what she needs.

I do know what a horrible position you are in, I've been there with a dear friend.

CuriousMama Fri 30-Nov-12 17:58:56

I hope they do change I'd be very worried. I had a friend like this, strangely enough he ended up a social worker confused

howtohelpher Sat 01-Dec-12 07:57:04

She has until Sunday to make serious progress.
I had a word Thursday.
I said did she need anything doing because I was starting to get worried as baby due in the next month.
She said they were doing it at the weekend. (although I'm sure it will take longer).
I said that if she didn't and was to be taken into hospital we would come and sort it out anyway.

My head is not in the sand. I just do not want to upset a heavily pregnant woman. I

They have made some progress and I took my DN for a few hours. Will do the same next week.

On Sunday I will get my Dad to come with me and we will tackle her together.

Thanks for your replies. WantAnOrange it may come to that - reporting to SS. But we need to give her a helping hand first and make her realise she has to book up her ideas.

Seabright Sat 01-Dec-12 08:07:58

Do you/they know able freecycle/freegle? My DP and I have a tendancy to hang on to stuff "in case it comes in useful", but knowing it's going to someone who can use it now, rather than it just sitting in our loft makes it much much easier to get rid of, plus, no organising trips to the tip or charity shop, you leave it on the doorstep and your choosen recipient collects it.

It's really easy with old toys and clothes, you just post "X bags of toys for 3 yo girl" or "x bags off size 16 clothes". No big descriptions, no taking photos, nothing taxing or time consuming. And a warm feeling that someone else is please to get your stuff!

CuriousMama Sat 01-Dec-12 11:57:08

Good luck I hope they do get their act together.

Great idea Seabright and yes they may feel better knowing it's getting used.

Seabright Sat 01-Dec-12 12:32:13

Yes, it works for us. You somehow can't really justify hanging on to stuff you don't really want anymore and can't really use anymore (but is too good to go to the tip) if you know someone on Freecycle wants it and can use it right now

howtohelpher Sat 01-Dec-12 14:21:59

Thank you I will mention free cycle.

I have had a heart to heart with my BIL today. And hopefully we will get it sorted.

howtohelpher Sat 01-Dec-12 14:22:37

Not 'hopefully' we are getting it sorted.

Shellywelly1973 Sat 01-Dec-12 17:36:17

How did the chat with bil go?

You sound very caring&thoughtful by the way!

howtohelpher Sat 01-Dec-12 19:18:44

It went so much better than expected.
I said I have come to help you, either doing bits of cleaning and tidying or looking after DN. whilst he sorted stuff and ran to the tip.
I said I don't want to interfere, but I am worried about things.
He said I want you to interfere. As he has tried to broach the subject and my DS has been putting it off. And any broaching of the subject ends in argument. Which he doesn't want at 7pm when he gets home from work
He admits that it is a joint problem, and that they are both overwhelmed by the mess. They didn't know where to start. And they only have one day a week together to sort it out or go out as a family.

His Mum was there and brought up lots of what we have said as a family and what has been said on here.

He was at first grateful, then overcome with emotion, apologetic and at the end a little bit embarrassed.

My Dad is tackling my DSis later when she arrives back from work.

goralka Sat 01-Dec-12 19:22:45

they are so lucky to have you because some HV might really make a problem for them with SS. Tell them that!! It is serious.

LilQueenie Sat 01-Dec-12 19:29:51

DP's family are like that cause of his hoarder brother. It is at the point that they dont allow anyone in yet believe it is because everyone else is a snob not that they literally cannot move from piles of trash. And I mean trash its all other people cast offs. It has become normal and accepted. (not by me) Please get help before it reaches this level. Eg: the response of "it IS tidy" when in reality it only piled up neatly rather than chucked. Nothing is thrown out even when broken or dirty. Really hope you can help get it sorted op.

LeChatRouge Sat 01-Dec-12 19:36:08

You sound like a very caring person.

I think it might be an idea to have a family meeting with all close family invited, maybe to a pub or somewhere neutral. And then really really discuss the situation. Take turns to say your thoughts without interruptions so everyone can be heard, even if painful.

Try and get to the root of the issues they are having - depression, OCD, hoarding, him, her, lack of knowledge, lack of routine etc etc

And then come up with a plan. Get the house sorted by the birth has to be the first solution. Then how about a chart of chores to be done daily? He said he wants you to interfere, so how about if you take turns to drop in at agreed times to tackle any early signs of reoccurrence, so it can be kept on top of?

Emphasise the one family day they have together and focus on the fact this should be spent out of the house or just having fun together at home, not sorting and cleaning.

RabbitsMakeGOLDBaubles Sat 01-Dec-12 19:40:57

Family support is something services look at, so it is nice that they have you guys to help them get out of their hole. What they need to make sure is that they aren't just being helpless and letting you sort it, because that's very co-dependent, they need to be working towards the outcome too. Obviously being heavily pregnant and only getting that one day is a hindrance, but introduce them to a system of housework, perhaps like FLYlady, which they can use to keep on top of things without it seeming insurmountable. So help now, but provide tools for them to help themselves too.

Sometimes people do need help, it's not a bad thing to admit that, but make sure that it's the right kind, otherwise you'll find yourselves re-visiting the problem. It's very easy to become dependant on support, and if these are fully functioning adults then you need to avoid that or you'll constantly be rescuing them.

CuriousMama Sat 01-Dec-12 20:35:40

It's sounding promising. Seems to be your dsis that's the main hoarder? She may have blinkers on and not 'see' it properly?

A good friend of mine is the same, dp can't even go in her house he waits outside to pick me up or goes in for the briefest time. Her poor dp hates the clutter. She says it's clean but it isn't really. Lots of cobwebs and dust. It's unbelievably cluttered. She has bi polar a symptom of which makes her buy stuff all the time. Plus she works at home and all her equipment and materials are in there too.
One day she caught dp talking to me about it and went ape. Told him to fuck off if he didn't like it! shock He looked mortified. He has one tiny office for his work and it's so tidy. sad I don't go very often now as saw another side to her that day and was one I didn't like.

i was going to suggest making up a weekly/daily chore list so they dont get overwhelmed and things get on top if them again... but i see someone has suggested that already smile

they are very lucky to have you and everyone else around them to help out. i really hope things work out for them... their children will benefit so much from a clean (and happy) home

CuriousMama Tue 04-Dec-12 22:10:49

How's it going OP?

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