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How can I help my mum?

(23 Posts)
Nomenclature Thu 30-Jun-11 20:17:56

She wants help, she needs help, she has asked for help but she doesn?t like it and is making helping her difficult. Her kitchen is a mess. It is old and tatty and needs replacing. She wants it replaced and has said so. My DH will install a new kitchen for her. His only condition is that her kitchen is properly tidy (ie all work surfaces cleared) before he starts.

The problem is that she has an enormous amount of stuff. She has downsized a couple of times but has never reduced the quantity of possessions. There isn?t a clear space in her kitchen. We have tried to help her reduce the quantity but each time we are met with obstruction and arguments. Out of date tins of food are still fine to eat even though she has multiple duplicates (how many tins of chestnuts or lychees does one person need?). She comes from another time and has a special tool/pan/knife/spoon for every possible job. This would be fine in a big kitchen but she doesn?t have a big kitchen, she has a normal sized one.

I am worried that the way she lives now is going to harm her health both physically and mentally. How do I get her to let go, de-clutter and get organised? Efforts so far have failed.

Are there any answers out there please?

UnhappyLizzie Thu 30-Jun-11 21:49:34

It sounds like she has emotional issues that stop her from letting go of things. She doesn't need all this kit, clearly.

Why don't you see if she will be prepared to store stuff that she uses seldom somewhere other than in the kitchen - garage, shed? If you could find another place for it to go... box it up nicely, if she is a hoarder she won't want to get rid of it completely. You could even pretend you are doing it to make the kitchen ready to install the new one. Get her to tell you which things she can't live without.

Say there's a tombola going on at the school fete or something, and ask if you can take the tins. Say you'll get her some more when the new kitchen's finished. Then chuck them.

If you can just physically get some of this stuff out of the way, she likely won't miss it at all, so probably won't want/need to reinstate it. She will probably enjoy the space.

Not saying you haven't already tried this. If she's anything like my mother trying to seem helpful and being gentle about it could be the best way. If my mum feels bullied or nagged she's really stubborn and I get nowhere.

Good luck

Nomenclature Thu 30-Jun-11 22:29:24

Thanks Lizzie, you are right about the heels being dug in when mum feels under pressure. I struggle to get her to identify the things which she uses less often. Everything is needed all the time (this includes the christmas pastry cutters!).

UnhappyLizzie Thu 30-Jun-11 23:42:03

Why don't you make a list of things YOU need to use in your kitchen. Or ask her to make a list. Base it on the assumption that the kitchen is being redone and she needs to limit herself to things she needs to use day to day. Critical thing is, you must do this when she is not IN the kitchen! Get her round to your house or go out for coffee. Do something nice with her and introduce the subject then?

Going through stuff in the kitchen and asking her 'do you really need to keep this?' will always get an affirmative answer. And she probably feels threatened and defensive if you do this on her turf. Women can be very protective of their kitchens, I know I am.

If you box stuff up for her, do it properly and label all the boxes, so she can find things if/when she needs to. Don't denigrate all her stuff, those Christmas pastry cutters etc all have memories attached to them - kitchen stuff is quite emotive really. I can remember really distinctly the meat dishes my grandparents had, the jug the gravy was always in, the cake plate with the stem that the Victoria sponge sat on. All these things carry memories and downshifting all this stuff may make her feel sad that she's an old lady on her own.

All this may be wrong, I'm trying to think of ways to break the impasse.

Btw, I have bumped you twice now, but you're not getting many takers on this thread. A lot of the stuff on 'relationships' is quite hardcore, you might get some better ideas if you put it on a different forum ('good housekeeping') where there are more domestic goddesses and fewer women preoccupied with marriage problems etc.

Good luck :-)

springydaffs Fri 01-Jul-11 00:28:48

Yes, I know someone like this and to cut them free of their 'stuff' is like cutting their limbs off. what I thought when I read your thread is that you/DH don't imo have the right to tell her to clear her surfaces before he/you put in a new kitchen ie to make it a condition. It sounds to me that it isn't a normal 'please clear your surfaces' but is more 'you've got a problem and we are setting an ultimatum' ie blackmail. I'm not surprised she digs her heels in tbh. Accept she's got this problem, give her a new kitchen (help her to box the stuff up first, don't make any comments) - then when the new kitchen is in leave her to put all the stuff back. She may not, but then again she may. Gotta leave her to it really.

startail Fri 01-Jul-11 00:49:00

I have an ancient colander, it has a sharp bit, it doesn't go in the bin because it was my great aunts and went to uni with me.
Non of my northern family are still alive and I've lost touch with lots of people from college. But when I drain my spuds I sometimes remember them.
I'm crying now, be gets with your mumsad

startail Fri 01-Jul-11 00:50:05

Stupid auto correct, be gentle

UnhappyLizzie Fri 01-Jul-11 01:00:02

You're right startail, it's like I said, kitchen stuff is emotive. Making mince pies, cutting out biscuits, rolling the pastry, making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

OP, this is what all this stuff probably means to your mum. All those memories of family rituals. Letting it go is letting go of all that history. Startail is right, be gentle x

Nomenclature Fri 01-Jul-11 13:32:03

Thanks for the suggestion about not asking the questions in her kitchen. I will certainly look at how to achieve that. The thing about clearing the kitchen surfaces is that my mum has previous. DH does an enormous amount for her and she is sometimes less than appreciative especially while the work is going on. She doesnt like the disruption so while the work is going on she is sometimes angry and upset. As she is on her own DH has to bear the brunt. DH just wants some commitment from her before he starts.

She isnt very mobile now so cant manage this on her own. She is a hoarder and I think is starting to feel overwhelmed by the volume of stuff. She is a great believer in false economies. She buys in bulk then lets things go out of date or loses interest. Then when these things have to be binned she gets upset at the waste.

The things she keeps arent related to memories of family rituals. Much of what she is keeping was acquired in the last 20 years. Again many of the non-food things are related to her false economies. Vast quantities of empty tupperware plastic boxes fill cupboards because they are suitable for the freezer. The freezer is already rammed full of bulk buys.

She is an absolute sucker for BOGOFs at the supermarket. She walks round the supoermarket every day yet if she fell over in her kitchen she could easily survive for 6 months without needing to send out for food.

I know my own emotions get in the way. The waste and the clutter annoy me. I start with all good intentions to not get cross but I then find myself growing more annoyed as each new treasure is revealed. I am far too much like my father!

I'm not sure that there is an answer except that I keep trying but venting here has helped me to understand a bit better. Thank you all for the sage advice.

MrsFlittersnoop Fri 01-Jul-11 13:44:44

OP, I could have written exactly the same post 2 years ago when DH, DS and I moved back to live with my mother in my childhood home. It had become apparent she couldn't cope with living on her own in a big old house any more, and we were skint and desperate to move out of London.

The cooker finally gave up the ghost a few months after we moved in with her (well actually, it was CONDEMNED by the gas safety engineer hmm) and she accepted that the entire kitchen needed replacing. Hurrah! We had inherited the fitted kitchen (built-in oven, hob, cupboards etc) when we moved into the house in 1972! <boak> and it had never been replaced.

I am actually too embarassed to admit on here just how many large packing boxes of duplicate/redundant/broken kitchen equipment and cleaning materials we packed up. I don't think anyone would actually believe me.

OK. It was 15.

15 packing cases!! And don't get me started on all the ancient tins and packets lurking in the cupboards which she refused to bin. Excavating her 6ft chest freezer required the services of Time Team. We found stuff dating back the the previous century in it.

The secret is to pack stuff up while the kitchen is being renovated and only unearth it again on a need-to-use basis. Don't chuck anything away (yet) and gently remind her that the crap precious things are only boxed up temporarily while the work is being done. Aged Mama was so delighted to have a spiffy clean newly-spacious clutter-free kitchen that she was prepared to accept only having items that are in frequent use back in there. The rubbish priceless heirlooms are still boxed up. just not clogging up every available workspace any more grin.

oldenoughtowearpurple Fri 01-Jul-11 13:48:53

Mrs F, that's a brilliant strategy. 'saves' it all but gets the kitchen done.

MrsFlittersnoop Fri 01-Jul-11 13:53:15

X-post! Aaaarrrgh - the Empty Tupperware Boxes!!! This is uncanny - I swear they must pop these old dames out of the same mold. Do you have the mountains of carefully folded plastic bags as well? grin

You do have to try to laugh about it. But TBH, I ended up quite badly depressed after a while, trying to gently de-clutter and discreetly dispose of a lot of stuff which was basically junk. I mean REALLY junk. We had moved the entire contents of a 3 bed house of our own, so had all OUR belongings to slot into place as well sad. I just felt completely overwhelmed and trapped by it all.

Poor Mama, all these belongings were so emotionally loaded for her. She lived by herself for 17 years after my Dad died, so the upheaval of having us move in was pretty fierce all round. 2 years on and we are all sorted - she is so much happier now and we have learned not to tread on each others toes! grin The house looks great too!

Nomenclature Fri 01-Jul-11 16:18:53

MrsFlittersnoop we havent yet reached the plastic bag drawer. We binned an entire carrier bag full of the tightly packed bags which are left at the door for unwanted clothes. She didnt like to throw them back onto the doorstep and appear mean so she kept them.

I think the idea of boxing up as part of the installation is a good one. As part of the process I will try and be logical and gather similar things together so that she can see how much she has. So many things are duplicated because she cant find the original whisk/special sharp knife/whatever. This means that she ends up with, say, two special knives for cutting cucumber swirls (one of which doesnt work so is kept as a kind of talisman to remind the gods that she is owed a knife for cutting cucumber swirls until she can find the one which works).

MrsF, you are a braver woman than I to actually live with the process! I'm glad to hear that it has worked out for you.

springydaffs Fri 01-Jul-11 16:30:14

It's a MH issue OP, so trying to 'get her to see' is a bit of a waste of time and upsetting for you both. I@m not surprised she found it difficult when your DH did some work, moving things around - that would have been her worst nightmare and she wouldn't have been able to see beyond it to be grateful for what DH was doing for her. Try not to take it personally, or even seriously. In the scheme of things it won't bring the stock exchange to a halt. I know it's hard when it's your mum - I get similarly churned up about my mum - but do try to accept her as she is, with a few million tupperware containers to her name wink

<off to chuck out my tupperware stash blush>

Pigglesworth Sat 02-Jul-11 01:31:38

It is really hard, isn't it. I have realised through contributing to a similar thread that while some people (such as ourselves) are the children of "hoarders" and have to deal with the emotional consequences of living in embarrassingly cluttered homes, not having friends over, the emotional fallout that comes with trying to get rid of our own stuff that we don't want/ need but our parents need to cling on to for emotional reasons, and will go through the bin to retrieve and bring back into the home, etc., other people here have the same mentality as our parents and become very upset at the suggestion that it can be a problem - and defensive of our parents! It is valuable to hear their perspectives though, it increases your empathy for your parents.

I understand where you're coming from. I'm not sure what to suggest to help. I have managed to massively and single-handedly (from a very young age) remove A LOT of junk from our home by throwing it out when my parents weren't looking. They have almost never noticed and if they have, it is quickly forgotten. It has made a huge difference both to the appearance/ hygiene and safety of the house, and actually also my parents' mentality! But if your mum rarely leaves her house you don't have that option. The root of the problem is that this "stuff" plays such a huge role in their sense of self/ memories. Have you ever talked to your mum about what having all this "stuff" really means to her?

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 02-Jul-11 08:10:47

Hoarding is classified as a mental illness.

You may find this website helpful:-

Nomenclature Sat 02-Jul-11 16:01:20

Thank you, Pigglesworth for such an understanding post. I find this whole hoarding thing so difficult to deal with. I don’t want to ‘parent’ my mother but I am worried that she is reaching a cusp. Currently she hasn’t a clear space of worktop in her kitchen. I worry that this is not hygienic. The curse of recycling means that she keeps a box of slowly rotting vegetables on the worktop. The whole thing seems to be slowly slipping out of control.

In the end it is her business but at what point do I start to say that the children cant come and visit (which is something she asks for it isn’t babysitting) because I’m worried they will get food poisoning? We aren’t there yet but we aren’t far off.

The posts on this thread have given me some insight and also suggested some approaches I could take.

Nomenclature Sat 02-Jul-11 16:20:06

Thank you Attila. Reading through the link I can see that what my mum has at the moment are clots. Some of the rooms are starting to clog.

MrsFlittersnoop Sun 03-Jul-11 22:31:44

Hi Nomenclature, if your mum is going to have a new kitchen installed courtesy of your DH, won't that solve the hygiene issue? New worktops and cupboards, and the fridge and other white goods will presumably have to be moved, so an ideal opportunity to clean them thoroughly if they are not being replaced.

I do suspect your DH is being a tad optomistic if he thinks he can re-fit the kitchen with just some tidying up and clearing worksurfaces in there . You really will have to empty all the cupboards and pack everything up and move everything you can out, particularly if the flooring needs to be replaced and you are re-decorating (trust me on this!). You could probably get away with just disconnecting and shifting washing machine / cooker / fridge from one side of the room to the other at a pinch if the kitchen is fairly large.

Because we had so many packing cases of kitchen stuff , we had to ruthlessly de-clutter another 2 rooms to store them in while the work went on. Out house is fortunately very large, but unfortunately this also means more potential for crap to build up.

For various reasons, our kitchen re-fit took 4 miserable months to complete. This worked to our long-term advantage however, as Mum's memory is not what it was, and luckily she sort of forgot about a lot of the stuff which was boxed up. Especially as most of it had been crammed into cupboards and never looked at from one year to another. I managed to sneak a lot of it away to charity shops.

I cultivated the services of a lovely guy who does removals and house clearances. He pops round with his van and removes broken chairs/decaying beds and takes boxes to charity shops for me (we don't have a car).

WibblyBibble Mon 04-Jul-11 08:26:14

OK, practical solution (not sure if you want that or if you are trying to use the untidiness as a sign of 'issues'): get a bunch of plastic crates (or even just cardboard boxes). Chuck all the stuff into them (er, get her to do this, I mean). Re-fit kitchen. She can then put everything out as she likes, but you don't have to deal with it.

Nomenclature Mon 04-Jul-11 13:32:59

MrsFlittersnoop the idea about my mum clearing the work surfaces is that she commits to the process. She has previous for wanting things done but then not wanting the reality. Replacing cupboards and worktops will cure the hygiene problem initially but if she hasnt thinned her stuff out then the problem will come straight back.

Once the work surfaces are clear and mum is ready DH will completely strip out the existing kitchen, rewire (he's an electrician) then install a new kitchen. He estimates the work will take 2 weeks. He's done plenty of kitchens and knows what he is doing.

At the end of the day I want the new kitchen to be a benefit to her. If she just ends up with the same quantity of stuff all over the place as she has now then she will have had a whole load of disruption and the expense of a new kitchen without any gain.

The clutter upsets her. She doesnt like not being able to find things. The waste when out of date food gets thrown away also upsets her. Like a lot of pensioners money is an issue but she doesnt seem able to resist a 'bargain'. If she sees an offer she has to have it.

It is her own business but she asks for help then resents the help.

WibblyBibble I think the suggestions about sorting and boxing up are the key. This will help her to see what she has actually got. Hopefully then she will be more willing to get rid of some things. She needs help to do this as her mobility isnt great.

deste Mon 04-Jul-11 21:56:06

Would it help if you said you would take some of the food to use for yourself. You could then bin it if it is unsuitable.

Nomenclature Mon 04-Jul-11 22:32:06

Deste we had a major session the other day. The out of date food got binned (earliest date = 1980s). I'm loathe to take food off her (actually our tastes are quite different). She lives within walking distance of a massive supermarket. She goes every day, walks round and buys up all the deals which take her fancy. This is repeated day after day! So the problem isnt a one-off, it's a repetition.

There have been some very useful suggestions on this thread. I'm going over tomorrow with my suggestions for the layout and also some suggestions about changing the way she uses her storage. I'm hoping that by reorganising some of her storage that she will find it easier to keep track of what se has already got.

With that done I shall see if I can persuade her to spend less time shopping!

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