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Seeking help managing when staying with a hoarder...

(72 Posts)
chillywindows Tue 12-Nov-13 18:50:09

My MIL lives in extremely dirty, depressing conditions. She is a hoarder, with additional elements of serious disrepair and squalor. (I know not all hoarders are squalid, but we're talking bits of rotting food on the floor and in the fridge, unbelievably filthy, black slime encrusted kitchen sink etc) She is also very, very difficult. My DH and I will be staying with her for nearly a fortnight over the Christmas period, between our lease ending, and moving overseas to live.

This sounds dreadful, as we are on the cusp of moving so far away, but I have insisted to DH that after the first couple of days we go away for a few nights, as I cannot cope with the filth for two weeks (I'm pregnant, which is definitely affecting my tolerance levels, usually I'm quite stoic) I also cannot cope with her passive agressive (escalating to aggressive) behaviour when we are in her company for extended periods i.e. more than a couple of days. However, she is desperate for us (especially DH) to stay, particularly as we are moving so far away. DH would not countenance a B&B for the entire period, but I know that she will not be able to cope with us for the duration without having a very unpleasant meltdown at some point. She will not be able to visit us, as she is not allowed to fly. But it is the last time we will ever stay in the house, as once the baby arrives I would never be able to stay in such unsanitary conditions with a small child.

I don't even know the purpose of this post, really. Just that I'm upset for DH - and MIL - that she has this dreadful illness. And for my own part, how do I survive Christmas in her house? Any coping tips from children of hoarders (or anyone else) much appreciated!

Holdthepage Thu 14-Nov-13 13:06:35

Well done on confronting a difficult situation OP. I think your compromise solution sounds like a good alternative.

I feel relieved for you.

Anniegetyourgun Thu 14-Nov-13 12:30:54

Not an expert here, but I have worked a little bit on the periphery of social services and the main principle seems to be that people have a choice to live the lifestyle they want, whether or not the rest of society would throw their hands up in horror. Mental capacity has to be very severely impaired before the professionals will swoop in and force somebody to clean their house, feed themselves etc, and it doesn't sound as if the OP's MIL is in that situation at the moment. She is clearly unwell but she is functioning day to day, albeit in a way most of us would find unacceptable. She eats, she drives, she has friends in. The Powers That Be will not make her miserable by forcing change upon her. If she were trying to change and needed support it would be a different story - her sons really should be pushing to get that support. But she isn't. So there's not a lot they can do, really.

Whether this is how things ought to be is a debate for another day, but right now, this is how things are and the son contacting the GP is really not going to achieve a lot. Otherwise, as the OP has made clear, he would have done it, because he does care about his mother. (I only hope when I'm old and doolally, which is going to happen if I live long enough, my sons are as caring.) He has just had to give up, basically, because he cannot live her life for her, even if it would make that life better in theory. All he can do now, apart from keeping an eye on her from a distance, is focus his energy on the next generation, which is his primary duty.

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 09:11:25

I see where you are coming from - really do. But at the same time I'd have thought that as you are both going to be half way across the world and he has put so much effort into it all to date, it would be fitting to say to her GP that he can no longer support her day to day, but that in his opinion she needs help- so over to them.

How old is she by the way? That makes a difference. If she is elderly and frail, her home will be a huge risk in terms of falls, more than anything else.

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:48:14

No I'm not, Loupyloulou. DH is not going to speak to the GP because he's sick of having to parent his useless parents. We are snowed under with the logistics of my difficult pregnancy, moving our lives and work over to the other side of the planet and saying goodbye to the people who actually care about us and support us. More intervention in the life of a woman who DOES NOT WANT IT is a bit too much to contemplate at the moment.

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:42:55

Loupyloulou, I think DH has been trying to escape the suffocating obligations imposed upon him by his DPs for years. His brother has managed to completely extricate himself despite living in close proximity. DH was always being drawn back, despite at times living much further away. (Although when I met him he was actually living back IN the house, helping his mother recover from her chronic illness.) So a merely physical removal of oneself from the situation - be it to the other side of the country or the other side of the world - is not the same as being able to withdraw mentally/ emotionally, and I am so glad we're not staying in the house now. It gives DH a chance to change the dynamic between them even before we get on the plane.

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 08:37:41

Harsh words. 'Man up Chilly'.

Stop tiptoeing around her. Put yourself first.

How can you say no to a lift to the station? Easy- you tell her you have either booked a taxi from the flat, or she can drive to the flat and pick you up there, so it won't put her to any trouble. She can meet you at the station if she likes.

You are still avoiding the issue of your DH talking to her GP- don't know why?

chillywindows Thu 14-Nov-13 08:33:02

MIL has many good friends. She is actually very generous, and would do anything for them. I have been with various of them in the worst room of the house (in my opinion), which is the kitchen/ dining area. It's all pretty bad, but this is where there are piles of dirty dishes, slimy gunk, bits of rotting food 'for the compost', floor covered in paper and less pleasant detritus, benches piled high with all matter of things etc etc. MIL is not trying to hide anything, she's in complete denial about the actual state of her house. She seems to enjoy the moniker of 'charming eccentric' among her friends. confused I imagine that anyone in her past life who has expressed concern for her environment is no longer around. And about DH being the one to seek help for her because he is 'family'- I can't express my frustration at the sheer bloody amount of help DH has attempted - and failed - to give both his dysfunctional DPs. And amazingly for such a fabulous, caring man, he's had enough. He's finally making sane choices about her i.e. WALK AWAY, rather than bending over for yet another kicking. No more.

But DH is not going to cut her off, particularly at this time. Attila, she wants to drive us to the train before we leave. How could he say no? It would be cruel (and her car is ok). She's not coming to the airport. As for the staying on the last night thing. It's not a matter of convenience for us i.e. staying there does not make the logistics of our journey any easier, so I think it's just DH and I making more gestures of appeasement. But it's a pointless gesture, and I don't want to stay there at all. I think we'll be having another chat tonight! Bloody hell...

NumptyNameChange Thu 14-Nov-13 08:26:35

agree about not staying the night. if you are never going to stay there with a baby/child then the we don't stay at your house line is going to have to be drawn and will be easier to draw now i'd have thought. delaying it to next time won't help.

Loopyloulu Thu 14-Nov-13 08:21:41

OP

I'm glad you have some other plans now.

I wanted to clear up my perceived comments earlier. I wasn't for a moment suggesting your DH was washing his hands of her, in a premeditated way. What I meant was how could he cut the amount of contact so radically after having been so involved, when I assume working overseas was a choice, not something imposed on him? It's not a criticism, but a question!

I agree with Attila. Staying for 1 night is foolish. If you become ill then it will be at the start of your journey. It's also appeasing her without treating her like an adult - who has the choice to clean her house or, face the consequences.

Finally, my late MIL suffered from mental health issues for 20 years before her death brought on in the main by self neglect. We live at a distance but my DH was fully involved in supporting her via her GP- having phone discussions with him when he thought she was slipping back again ( into anorexia amongst other things.)

Your MIL would never know who had spoken to her GP. There are ways and means of them contacting her, or putting SS onto the case because it's a mental health issue.

Her friends- whether they are medics or road sweepers!- will not feel it's their role to interfere. have you not considered that they might be shaking their heads in despair wondering why her 2 able sons don't do anything to help her- via professional help?

"We will probably stay with MIL on our last evening, as she is driving us to the train the following day. The bedroom is ok, DH will clean the sink and loo, and we will be eating out for dinner".

I would not do this either and I would make alternative arrangements to get yourselves to the train the following day.

As for DH cleaning her sink and toilet, well I would not do that either. Nothing you do or say whilst you are there would make any real difference whatsoever. And what if she starts on at you or both of you again?.

"Pretty much all her good friends are medical professionals, who I've actually met in the house on a number of occasions. If they haven't felt it necessary, with the benefit of their professional experience, to stage an intervention, I'm certainly not qualified to do so, and neither is DH".

But you're still considering visiting albeit for one evening.

I doubt very much these people can or will say anything; its not their place to do so as they perhaps feel that this is a matter for family. Also what sort of medical people are they?. They are probably only allowed in the less cluttered areas also.

You seem and feel almost as obligated to this woman as your DH is even after all the awful behaviour she has thrown in your direction.

Just to get back to your post about medical intervention. It may well be that the friends are only allowed in part of the house, and don't recognise the extend of the problem. Or that they are embarrassed, and not sure what to do either. And think, well if the FAMILY don't do anything, it can't be as bad as I think , and it's NOT my place since I am her friend not her son/social worker/ nurse/ whatever.
I have seen people admitted for treatment, while the house was being cleaned up.
You can report to either environmental health or social services, anonymously even. If it really is as bad as you say, once it's officially brought to their attention, they will at least have a look. I would suggest environmental health, as social service and GP will have far more of a problem if the person refuses help.
Glad you have your immediate problem sorted, though !

Viviennemary Wed 13-Nov-13 23:36:22

Crosspost. Sorry. You made the right decision.

Viviennemary Wed 13-Nov-13 23:35:41

This is a difficult situation. You can't change things in this short time. It would need quite a lot of help and time from somebody who would support her to get her home cleaned up. I think the only way is to find an alternative place to stay.

KouignAmann Wed 13-Nov-13 23:31:20

I have read this thread while hiding in my DPs room as the rest of his house is rendered uninhabitable by his DPs. So much resonates with me. They have lived with him since their house became unfit to live in. In the next month we will move them out. Meanwhile I cheerfully don the marigolds and harshly go through the fridge, bleach the sink and smuggle bags of rubbish out to my car to stop FIL rescuing it from the bin. They squawk in horror but I love DP and know he approves.
If I was pregnant I would run a mile for the baby's sake. You are doing the right thing. And no GP would be surprised if you rang. This is a common condition in older people sadly. Just watch your DP doesn't go the same way!

cloudskitchen Wed 13-Nov-13 22:15:59

well done chilly. I think you've made the right but tough decision.

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 21:57:52

Bit of an update. Had good chat to DH over a nice meal. He agreed we cannot stay with MIL, apologised for accepting the invitation and we've written out a list of our options, of which there are, fortunately, several. I've just this evening been offered a dear friends' lovely flat for the entire duration, should we need it, as they will be away. We will probably stay with MIL on our last evening, as she is driving us to the train the following day. The bedroom is ok, DH will clean the sink and loo, and we will be eating out for dinner. Now just to think about how to break the news... very matter of factly, I think. Just that we've been offered a flat to house sit, and we're going to take it. But we'll be popping in and out to say hi, and are looking forward to a nice Christmas Day. Am hoping if we're simple about it, she'll actually be relieved.
Re the GP stuff, 2rebecca, we would never contact her GP. Pretty much all her good friends are medical professionals, who I've actually met in the house on a number of occasions. If they haven't felt it necessary, with the benefit of their professional experience, to stage an intervention, I'm certainly not qualified to do so, and neither is DH.
Thanks again to all who've contributed to this thread, it has helped me so much. xx

Fairenuff Wed 13-Nov-13 20:23:51

The bottom line is that you cannot stay there OP. So if that means that your dh won't leave you alone, it follows that he won't be staying there either.

That's the easy bit decided. What you have to discuss now is where you will stay instead and how/what you will be telling MIL. If your dh tries to persuade you to stay at her house, then your problem is really with him, not her.

2rebecca Wed 13-Nov-13 19:24:37

There is nothing your MIL's GP can do unless she wants to change. Hoarding isn't an illness that will respond to a few tablets. It's changing deep rooted habits and she has to want to change for any therapy to have a chance. Psychological services have a huge wait in the NHS anyway.
If she doesn't accept she has a problem and doesn't want to change anything then involving the GP is pointless.
Social services don't get involved in decluttering houses any more, it's too expensive and too often the place just returns to its former mess anyway. Often hoarders only "improve" when they are bad enough to need residential care and clutter isn't tolerated and they can't control the environment any more.

louiseaaa Wed 13-Nov-13 18:50:55

best of luck then.... I think you have a plan :D

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:41:49

louiseaaa we are going to have a BIG chat tonight! I've tried not to talk to my DPs too much about this, although they know my MIL is difficult, and I think my DM was pretty surprised when I said we were staying there before flying out. She and dad are giving us some Christmas dosh, which is now earmarked for a B&B. We've been invited to stay with a number of friends too - everyone wants a piece of us before we leave, thank goodness!

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:35:48

Yes, Humpty, I think you're right. But I think the enabling came after the helping! DH has repeatedly tried to help his DM organise things, and has been met with repeated hostility. His options were to 'work around' the glaring issues, for the sake of 'harmony' (such as it is!) or do what his DB has done and generally avoid his DM. His DM is a retired health professional, which does complicate things. She still has a profile in the local medical community. God knows what she'd do if DH called her GP!!!! The mind truly boggles...

louiseaaa Wed 13-Nov-13 18:31:41

Actually even if loopyloulou is right - as in getting away from being responsible for his DM, it's IMHOP the right thing for him to do - he's also responsible for your child, and if it takes moving such a distance away for him to focus on you then that is what he needs to do. The fact that you are going and supporting him is great. What both of you need to discuss (rather than sweep under the carpet) all of this stuff about his parent that this thread has brought up. How do your parents feel about it?

Feel free to ignore x I am a nosey bugger :D

NumptyNameChange Wed 13-Nov-13 18:27:53

i don't mean to be antagonistic but there is a difference between helping and enabling and possibly dh has done more of the latter? helping would mean confronting the reality and expressing concerns to her and to health professionals not colluding in denial and fearing mentioning it.

NumptyNameChange Wed 13-Nov-13 18:26:31

agree dh should be free to go have a life but none the less someone does need to have a word with her gp and ask them to visit her. it is not safe and by the sounds of it she will have no one once you're gone as the other brother doesn't get involved. be good to know you've done what you can to try and get her some help.

just a thought but could you call the SIL and ask her how she's handled it and whether she'd consider putting the two of you up for part of the time?

chillywindows Wed 13-Nov-13 18:10:16

Loopyloulou I just saw your other post about the possibility that DH is 'washing his hands' of his DM. I cannot begin to tell you how wrong this suggestion is (I know that you're only speculating based on the information I have so far provided). The amount of support DH has given to both his selfish, dysfunctional parents, at HUGE personal cost i.e. of his career, his financial security, his emotional wellbeing, is unbelievable. There is, believe it or not, another son in the family, who lives literally around the corner, has lived an utterly conventional life, lovely home, family etc and has done bloody nothing for either of his parents. It's DH's turn to have a life.

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