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How to help a hoarder

(16 Posts)
andpropersteel Tue 28-Feb-17 10:05:50

How can I help my lovely sister sort out her "stuff problem" when she doesn't realise there is a problem?

She suffered from PND and depression, they've always had a lot of stuff, but it's got to the point now where family members have stopped visiting them as the environment is too stressful. sad

My DP and I went up there to help "sort the house out" but it was just so soul destroying. It was literally just us ferrying crap from one cupboard to another (think hundreds of games for redundant consoles, junk mail, mobile phones, etc). When we suggested starting a bin bag/charity bag there was always an excuse: "we need to go through that stuff later", "we might sell some so don't chuck it", we suggested we go through it now but no "need to ask DW first".

She is so sad with her life at the moment, but she can't see the problem. It's always "this house is too small, I hate it". But it's not, it's average sized with a very decent amount of built in storage, a huge loft, 15x15ft shed. Even so, every surface is littered with junk, they have toys literally piled to the ceiling, and you can't walk more than half a metre before tripping up on piles of stuff.

Last time we were there their whole bedroom (including bed, they were camping on the sofa I think) was waist deep in clothes, DVDs, books, outgrown baby products. I had to climb over it via the windowsill to get something from the wardrobe.

She's really delicate at the moment and feeling shitty about not being able to get anything done. But there's only so many ways I can put it to her gently. Her DW is not motivated in that way, but that's a whole separate issue that I acknowledge needs to be sorted long term. How can I help her in the short term?

I've suggested the following (she feels she has no time to get things in order because of the kids):
- Filling a bag a day for the tip and taking it out to the car.
- Take something upstairs that needs to go every time (and vice versa).
- Do one small thing to improve every room you go into (e.g. pick your laundry up, wipe a surface, pick up that toy you've tripped over 10 times).

She couldn't see it though, the same excuses came out about needing to run every item by her DW before chucking it, and I feel she is focusing too much on a big tidy up needing to be done before little improvements could happen.

The big tidy up is too overwhelming so it never happens. Besides, the loft is full, the cupboards are full, and the shed is full.

So maybe an intervention? She's not eating properly at the moment because of the stress (I think it's a combination of the kitchen surfaces all being full and table piled high with stuff, combined with feeling she needs to get on top of the house so gets in a flap trying to at least get the kids in order and forgets about herself) so I thought I could batch cook her favourite meals in 1 portion pots for the freezer. One less thing to get stressed/upset about. I just feel like she's so overwhelmed she's on the verge of breaking down.

I could also go up there and get on top of her laundry. But these are just short term fixes still sad

Help?

Matildatoldsuchdreadfullies Tue 28-Feb-17 10:09:35

I'm not sure that it is possible. Sorry. There was a wildly sad documentary on Channel 4 a few years ago. The presenter's mother was a hoarder, and she was trying to 'cure' it. Her mother really couldn't let go of broken Barbies.

Good luck to you and your sister.

HecateAntaia Tue 28-Feb-17 10:11:05

You cant. Hoarding like that is a mental health issue which requires specialist help.

treaclesoda Tue 28-Feb-17 10:16:07

You can't. I have been in this position with a family member and you just can't do anything. My family member's children were eventually removed from her care as she just could not/would not overcome the hoarding issue and the house was unsafe. A lot of people will say 'her house, her rules, she isn't doing anyone any harm' but that is completely untrue unless she lives alone. Unfortunately there are very few treatment options available for the underlying problem. My relative was treated for her depression, but there was simply no help available for the hoarding beyond 'tidy up, make a plan and stick to it'.

Hoarding ruins lives.

andpropersteel Tue 28-Feb-17 10:25:44

Thank you for your replies. I was worried that'd be the answer. I feel so gutted for her. It's like watching someone's life fall apart in slow motion. She could have such a happy life and has two beautiful children sad

I put "hoarder" in the title quite casually, but having looked it up they definitely fit the criteria. God this is awful.

Can I tell her I think she is hoarding? It's so stressful going there, even just making a cup of tea takes five times longer than it should. I can't even begin to imagine how stressful her life is because of all the stuff.

treaclesoda Tue 28-Feb-17 10:44:55

Could you have a chat with her about it? Is she upset by it? Does she wish that things were different?

My relatives situation was worse than many in the sense that she personally didn't see any real problem with it, she felt that people were making a fuss about nothing and that it was her choice if she was 'a bit untidy'. However, it really was beyond untidy - think broken glass on the floors, mould growing on dishes that hadn't been washed for weeks, rubbish strewn across the floor, rooms so packed with 'stuff' that it was piled six or seven feet high.

If the hoarder looks around them and thinks 'I hate this, I don't want to live like this' then that is a great first step.

Would she be open to going to her GP?

andpropersteel Tue 28-Feb-17 11:00:14

Treacle She definitely wants it to change, and she hates the situation. It's strange because it goes against her other traits; for example she's very health & safety conscious, particularly with the children.

It's hard to understand as she is definitely stressed by it, and knows she needs to sort things out (e.g. there are little jobs on the house that need doing but she can't because of mess).

However, I don't think she realises that it's the accumulation of the"stuff" that is the problem. Or at least I don't think she realises the extent of it. At Christmas the kids had hundreds and hundreds of presents from the mums (family gave money so as not to add to the problem), some very large things too. She wants to do a toy library system (this is a step in the right direction but really things need to go) as the kids are overwhelmed but it just never gets sorted.

Her wife seems to buy a lot of stuff, and they always show us their latest "deal", they have significant debt (which in turn makes them reluctant to let go of anything).

She was having counselling for depression and some historical abuse but I think it's ended now and I don't think she'd think she has time to go again to be honest.

Letmesleepalready Tue 28-Feb-17 12:45:55

I know that many people think the Marie Kondo book is a bit strange but it really did help me get rid of car loads of stuff.
But what helped us get rid of the most was to have both DH and I at home one week and both taking turns in looking after the kids and sorting through stuff.
Would you be able to offer to look after the kids while they do it, or help them go through some of the stuff together?

I'd say this will only work if one of them wants to change though, and you say that your sister does. I've lent someone my copy of the book in the hope that it helps them too, but I'm not convinced they think they have an issue with their stuff so may well fall on deaf ears.

specialsubject Tue 28-Feb-17 16:17:21

this is rather more than the 'tidy up, it's nice' statement in wotsernames book. This is unreasonable behaviour due to mental illness.

not her fault, but not the fault of her kids who have to live in this horrendous and unsafe environment. She needs to ask for professional help and treatment.

is her partner contributing to the problem in any way?

andpropersteel Tue 28-Feb-17 20:41:48

To be honest I don't know which of them has the problem (or who is worst). Sister struggles with hanging onto stuff, but then her excuse is always that she needs to ask her wife first (before binning stuff). Not sure if that is just a diversion tactic. She seems nervous when you bring up chucking something away, whereas her wife gives away stuff quite happily.

Her wife likes to buy all the latest gadgets, toys, etc so she definitely is a contributing factor in that she's an accumulator.

specialsubject Wed 01-Mar-17 17:41:07

two hoarders living together - they will egg each other on.

the kids don't have the choice to live like this, though.

it will seem a huge task but it can be done - but not if there is refusal to get rid of even the tiniest item.

your sister needs to accept help, if only for the sake of those poor kids.

Glittermakeseverythingbetter Wed 01-Mar-17 17:45:30

I recommend you watch some Hoarders programmes. I watch them on tlc sky channel or youtube. Then you can see how the therapists talk to the Hoarders. Might give you some insight on how to speak to your sister, how things are done without stressing them out. They need to be cured mentally though as otherwise you can clear a room and they just re-hoard it.

Leeloo2 Wed 01-Mar-17 17:48:51

Could she stay with you for a couple of days to see how easy life is without the stuff? Or find house the same size as hers (but minimal / tidy) to show her round to show what hers could be like?

It sounds (if she can't get rid of junk mail) that she needs counselling and if she's not willing to access that then you might need to consider calling social services she is forced to get help for the children's sake.

SomewhatIdiosyncratic Thu 02-Mar-17 07:32:38

My mum won't let go of anything. Can't bin anything with her address on in case her identity is stolen. Can't bin a magazine from 1994 as she hasn't read the horoscope yet etc etc.

She has a large house, and it's stuffed with broken old furniture and unused old stuff. We're the only people that stay these days, and my family piles into the one usable room with the DCs on camping mats as there's no space anywhere else.

In her case old age has made it physically harder to deal with. She's had her demons in the past that in those days were just brushed under the carpet. There's also been times such as being bombed out as a child where she's had to move on suddenly and leave everything behind, so she clings on to stuff like a security blanket. Logic of "X moved out in 1984, I don't think he'll miss it now" is lost on her.

Sadly, me understanding why she's like this doesn't help unless she's willing to make a change. I can't do it for her if she doesn't give me consent. (I'm also a distance away with young children to care for.)

Your situation is complicated by two people contributing to the problem. It sounds like there needs to be boundaries about buying/ letting go before the problem can be physically resolved.

CaraAspen Thu 02-Mar-17 10:45:48

As others have said, OP, it is a mental health issue. You can't do anything to help and even if you were to magically wave a wand and get rid of it all, the problem would still remain and the hoarding would begin again.

To an outsider, there is a solution but the hoarder does not have the same perspective. In their eyes, what they have around them may actually represent security - to the extent that removing even the smallest amount will create anxiety and so on.

Sometimes someone who lives in this sort of state will actually present an immaculate face to the world and will leave for work daily, beautifully dressed and made up.

So many paradoxes.

andpropersteel Fri 03-Mar-17 08:55:52

We've had them stay a few times (we live in different counties) but they just bring it all with them. Once they almost didn't come as they couldn't fit everything they 'needed' in the car sad they repacked it - it took four of us multiple trips to and fro to bring it all in from the car.

Our house just temporarily becomes an extension of their living conditions minus the pets.

I think they are hoarders at the end of the day, but it feels like it's brought on by some sort of security blanket of compulsive consumerism as well. Vicious circle of stuff. Their lives are stressful and difficult so they 'need' the latest convenience product to help buy time, which then adds to the stress and clutter.

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