Mom is still staying with me. Her spare room is insidiously filling up with piles of plastic shopping bags tied together at the handles.

I know Mom compulsively shops. She’s admitted to me before that it helps give her purpose and fills some sort of gap for her. She doesn’t see it’s filling in gaps for us to, except it’s our room to breathe. She keeps bringing home stuff that she’s bought for me or for my daughters, but it’s neither stuff we’ve asked for or want. For instance, she found a cookie pan with imprints in it to give cookies a snow flake design. She hands it to me and says “I thought the girls would get a kick out of this.” Which is fine, if she’d actually bought the cookie ingredients and carved out the time to actually make these cookies with the girls. So instead, I have to store this cookie sheet.

I know that sounds ungrateful. You might not be able to understand the volume and frequency at which this happens. It’s overwhelming. Unwelcome.

Mom has been with us now for 5 weeks, heading into our sixth. She’s gone to her old house twice. Once to turn off her taps and pipes to reduce the damage when they thaw and spray water everywhere in her absence. And this past weekend, she went to pick up her mail.

She stayed there for 2 nights. She slept in her van in her driveway, which isn’t, of course, very restful at all. She filled her days by shopping at her favourite thrift store haunts. I’m not sure if she ate much.

I didn’t hear from her for 2 days. I worried she tried to travel on the highway while we had thick fog. I wouldn’t know if she’d had an accident along the way. I also didn’t want her to answer her cell phone while driving, so I didn’t call her right away. Finally, Sunday morning, I got in touch with her.

She said she was coming back but had some errands to do. I reminded her to come early to avoid driving in the dark, and through the the heavier traffic that happens when people rush back to the city on Sunday nights. That perhaps she wouldn’t be as tired if she drove in the early afternoon. I’m always afraid she’ll fall asleep at the wheel.

She remembers to call before leaving her town. By this time, it’s 5:30 pm. On average, it’s about 3.5 hours to make the trip, but it always takes her longer. The dog needs to have pit stops, and she’ll stop for coffee or food along the way. It’s hard to drive for that long when you have chronic back pain. It’ll be after 9 by the time she gets home safely.

In fact, she calls as I’m deep in the bedtime routine for my daughters at 9 pm. She’s made it to town. But has had an accident.

Out I go, to find her a mere 5 minutes from my house. She got so close! And although I’m not entirely sure what happened, I can see her front tire is completely blown out from hitting a curb. She’s ok, but perhaps a little sore from the impact. A bit sheepish, too.

I call a tow truck.  The driver first attempts to find her spare tire, which is under the floor of the back of her van.  Which is packed to the very top with more random plastic shopping bags tied at the handles.  To his credit, the tow truck driver was a complete gentleman, and treated her with dignity and without derision concerning the state of her van.

We delivered the van to a repair shop, and I brought her home to rest. Let’s see what a new day brings.


Mom has moved in with me for the winter.

Her old oil furnace gave up the ghost last winter. She muddled through the final chilly weeks of early spring and vowed to do something about it. We all acknowledged she couldn’t spend another winter in that house. But the months went by and nothing got done, and finally winter came again.

She tried to make a go of it. Putting more blankets on the bed. Spending all her waking hours in town before going home to catch just a few hours of sleep and going back out again to stores to stay warm. Every night I crawled into my own warm bed feeling guilty that she was shivering. I worried she would freeze to death.

She also tried to get the furnace fixed but it’s so old that you can’t get parts for it anymore…at least, that’s what the 3 different servicemen told her. And she thought about renting a new furnace, but you can’t rent oil furnaces. At least without running an oil furnace this year, she’ll save herself the $7,000 bill she had from heating her house last year. The very same house that has holes in the roof and walls.

Tipping Point

About a week before Christmas, she called me in tears to say she was feeling desperate.  Her pipes have frozen, and it’s so cold in the house, the water in the dog’s dish was also frozen. I think that was the final straw for her…the dog’s dish.

She was already planning to come for Christmas, but this was earlier than expected. I got our spare room ready for her, and have been wrapping my head around the idea of her living with me ever since.

My husband is a great support. He loves my Mom, too, and wants to see us safe and taken care of. But I know this is going to be a strain.

Narcissism

I’ve long known my Mom has compulsive hoarding disorder. And now I feel pretty certain she has narcissism, too. The manipulation of feelings, playing the victim, holding court with a carefully constructed ‘front.’ Any time we try to talk about making decisions, and taking the next logical steps just gets met with the most infuriating smile and shoulder shrug.  Her response is always “I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”

And now her stuff is starting to creep into my house.  The spare room looks like an explosion and she’s only been there 2 weeks.  Her van, which is packed to the gills, and has damage from accidents, is now sitting in my driveway leaving me to hope I don’t get a ticket parked on the street.  I’m constantly working to keep the rest of the house tidy and prevent her hoard from creeping further into my living spaces.  Did I mention I have a full time job, 2 busy children, and a volunteer commitment to maintain?

What Now?

I’m not sure I’ll make it through the winter.  Because, then what?  The house still isn’t livable.  Raccoons and squirrels have torn it apart.  Old pipes burst and caused all sorts of wet damage.  The ceiling is caving in.  Will she move back there?  I can’t let her do that!  But I can’t have her here forever.  I think that will be too stressful for all of us.  I love her, but dang, I wish she could finally take charge of her life and make the decisions needed to move forward.

I can’t fix any of this.  And I’m not unbreakable either.  It’s all feeling rather fragile right now.


I’ve received notice that my domain name is up for renewal.

It’s giving me pause for thought.

I do still have lots to share about dealing with compulsive hoarding disorder, from the perspective of a family member. It’s just…sometimes I feel disloyal to my mother, and fear she, or someone she knows, will recognize this is about her. Some things just feel too personal to share right now.

But I also get messages from people telling me that since they found Not Just Clutter, they don’t feel alone anymore. That someone else shares their dirty little secret.  Your messages mean a lot to me.  I respect that you’ve reached out and given me your trust.

My goal with Not Just Clutter is twofold.
1: Express my feelings about my mothers hoarding so I could get it all off my chest, since I couldn’t always say it to her.
2. Battle the shame and stigma around this misunderstood mental disorder, and mental illness in general.

For many reasons, I haven’t updated much in the last year. It doesn’t mean anything has gotten better. In fact, many things have gotten worse.

Ok, dear internet readers. Let me know. Have you found Not Just Clutter to be a useful resource? Is it worth maintaining, even with infrequent updates? Or should I clear the clutter of this extra task and focus on real life?
Regardless, I hope this message finds you well, and content.
Sincerely,
Rae


Catching Up

I don’t even know where to begin.  So much has happened with my family that it seems I’d need a novel, & not just a blog post, to explore all that’s happened in the past several months.

I took a long break from posting because I was concerned about my Mom’s privacy.  I know she’s be mortified to learn I’ve discussed her relation to compulsive hoarding disorder.  And Mom, if you do ever find this, I know you know I don’t do this out of spite or malice.  It’s just been a way for me to cope with all the thoughts I have about this subject since it’s so difficult to actually discuss it with you.

Moving: Dealing With Our Own Stuff

I suppose this post is a bit of a tease since I’m not ready to divulge just yet, but thought it was long over due to check in.  I’m in the middle of selling my own house, and all the tasks that come along with that.  We still had boxes of stuff that never fully got emptied from when we first moved to this house 10 years ago.  And we’ve accumulated more since.

To get the house ready to sell, we totally purged our main living areas.  No dust-collecting knick knacks, stuff like that.  We emptied bookcases, cleared the junk drawer, and took down family photos. Yeah, it took out some of our “personality”, but it certainly makes maintaining a tidy space WAY easier.  It’s like a breath of fresh air!

Of course, all that stuff has to go SOMEWHERE!  And I’ll admit a fair amount got packed to move to the new house.    Lots got moved to the basement waiting further judgement.  We’ll take a good hard look at all this remaining stuff to see if it really needs to come with us.  I’m trying to make some hard decisions that I’ve avoided for years.  But why pay to move something if it doesn’t bring us joy, right?  I don’t want to spend money to cart anything to the new house if I don’t think it’ll be used (not just potentially useful, but actually USED).

We’ve already gotten rid of a good amount, too.  Stuff that had insidiously collected in corners and in backs of cupboards without us even trying.  All that got loaded into the back of the truck for runs to the garbage dump.  Other stuff has been sold. We don’t have as much hidden storage in the new place.  No unfinished basement to serve as a wasteland.  Our new basement is finished and ready for entertaining.  I’d rather fill the basement with friends and family having fun, instead of books I won’t read again, know what I mean?

A Hoarder’s Sense of Potential

I’m not sure my Mom really gets it, though.  I’ve been telling her about our experience, and although she’s supportive of us, I can almost literally hear little pieces of her heart breaking off when I tell her about something I’ve purged.  She’s missing the potential of those items on my behalf, I think.  She’d take it all if I offered it, you know, just in case I ever decided I needed any of it again.

This whole moving process is really good for putting everything into perspective, and it’s a reminder to not think too harshly about someone else who hoards.  I’m not without blame, and certainly don’t live in a glass house.  It’s a slippery slope from having an unorganized basement to floor-to-ceiling chaos.

I’m glad for this fresh start.  I hope it makes a difference in how I choose what items I bring into my home.  It’s really got to be worth it to make the cut.  I’m not moving with clutter.


I’m hoping by your random visit to Not Just Clutter that you’re someone seeking a deeper understanding of the mental disorder known as compulsive hoarding.  If you’re new here, I recommend reading some backstory.  For a quick snapshot, though, take a peek at the infographic below for some stats I bet you didn’t know about hoarders.  Seriously, it’s really Not Just Clutter!

Inside the Reality of Hoarding

 


The clutter on the passenger seat in a compulsive hoarders van

Passenger Seat, Photo taken 3 years before Mom accepted help to clean out her van.

It’s a brand new year.  Lots of opportunity to set new resolutions and goals.  And also opportunity for reflection.  I haven’t posted much in the last year.  I’ve started a number of posts, and then just couldn’t publish them.  It all felt rather, I don’t know, pointless.  After all, the recent holidays were also a grand opportunity to accumulate and hoard more stuff.

Not much has changed with my Mom.  Her health has SO many complications, and I’m positive most of them are linked to her living conditions.  Every year, I pray this is the last winter she’ll ever spend in her house with the holes in the roof, raccoon infestations, and $8000 oil bills.  And every year I can’t believe she’s still there.

She came to visit me a few times this year at my home.  Over the summer, I thought we made a break through when she asked me to help her clean out her van.  FINALLY!  She asked for help!  This is a HUGE step!  Like, mammoth!!!  Previously, she’d insist she didn’t see any problem with having her minivan filled to the roof with her hoard.  But this year, she acknowledged something needed to be done.

I took her to a private parking lot and we emptied about 80% of the stuff in her van.  Just pulled it all out onto the pavement and sorted it along the way.  I brought big garbage bags and we filled them for various reasons…laundry, donation, and even garbage.  I was so proud of Mom for being able to let go of some stuff that had been in her van for years…like a container of desiccated cupcakes she’d made for an event long in the past.  We tossed the whole thing, Tupperware and all.

Some stuff she wanted to give me.  Some of it was gifts she’d meant to give me for my birthday but had lost.  I think it was easier for her to give me some of stuff instead of dealing with the emotions associated with just throwing it away or donating to the unknown.  I accepted a small amount, but it still filled my own car.  A fraction made it into my actual house.  I admit I very quickly re-donated most of it.  We filled 5 bags of garbage, 4 bags for donation, and were able to recycle reams of old newspapers, envelopes, flyers, and such.  We spent 7 hours at it.

Seven hours.

And I happily helped.  I didn’t judge, and gave her positive support and feedback every time she made a hard decision.  I focused on the progress, and joked with her to help make it a fun day.  Then it got dark outside, and dinnertime passed, while we continued to sort.  Time came to put the remainder back in the van so she could take it all home and actually DO SOMETHING with it all at her own house.  Stuff she couldn’t bear to part with, like a plush life-sized golden retriever; a canister vacuum; patterns and recipe books; clothing; quilting fabric; yarn; sets of china and glassware which had broken; and decorative boxes for the “new” house she’d have someday.  A large amount of Christmas decorations was in that mix, which cracked me up, considering she doesn’t decorate for Christmas anymore and hasn’t for probably 15 years.

It all had to go back into the van.  And even after 7 hours, we hadn’t even put a dent in the pile on the front passenger seat, or even the middle row.  She barely has any place to sit as a landslide of papers and lace threaten to bury the drivers seat.

I thought for sure she’d have more space, but I guess everything had compressed so much before, putting it back in fresh seemed to take even more space!!!  She was astounded that after all that work, she STILL couldn’t see out any of the back windows!  That we had to play Tetris to get in every last bit.  That we had to hold the avalanche back with a hand and quickly snatch it out as we slammed the door shut.  She was mad at herself for letting it get this bad.

She vowed to do something about it when she got home.  But of course, she was tired after the long drive.  And it rained the next day.  And her shoulder hurt the day after that.  And when she came to visit us for Christmas a few months later, nothing had been removed from the van, and amazingly, more had been added to it.

I felt so defeated.  I just don’t know what to do.  What to think.  Or even what to say anymore.

Seeing her van even worse than before makes me worry about her driving the 3 hours back and forth to visit with me.  It’s a long stretch of highway.  What if there was an accident?  What if she had to brake suddenly and all that mass sitting behind her rushed forwards towards the back of her head?  What if the van rolled, and she got caught in a tornado of Christmas decorations, canister vacuums, and broken glassware??

And so here we are.  I wish I had better news to share with you.  I wish I could share my foolproof tips for finally getting your hoarding loved one on the road to recovery.  But I’m still wildly baffled by the whole situation.  I’ll admit it’s deeply embarrassing for me to have her van in my driveway…she doesn’t have tinted windows, so the hoard is plain to see by anyone walking by.  My children find the whole thing very curious and I have no good answers for them.

I guess I’m frustrated that the momentum was so short lived.  That over the span of months, Mom just couldn’t find the energy or emotional power to take out even a few things to make a dent.  And knowing this means it’s just going to get worse because her health (physical strength) isn’t getting any better.  I can only imagine what her house is like.


You might be wondering how things are going with my Mom. Her hoarding has not gotten much better, but nothing has really happened to change it. The winter was very stressful. Knowing there are gaping holes in her roof and walls of her house, heating has been a serious concern. There were a number of days where the temperature was down to 45 degrees…we had a pretty brutal winter. It was actually warmer for her to go out to her car and run the heater for a while. Of course, that has it’s own concerns. Last Fall, the fire department told her they didn’t want her to spend another winter in the house, but really, where would she go?

I worried all winter long, but she found endless excuses to not come for a visit. It’s really hard to stay enthusiastic when she doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me.

To fill the radio silence, I present another guest post from Heather Roberts. She’s also written other organizational type posts for me like 5 Ways Clutter Increases Pest Infestations.

When Your Tenant is a Compulsive Hoarder

There never really is a dull moment when you deal with tenants. There are some days however when we find that our tenants may have different ideas about living standards than what we originally intended, hoarding personal belongings and more. The typical landlord has to worry about late payments, noise disputes and their busy schedule, but it gets much more complicated when a hoarder is involved.

If you manage a high volume property, or even just rent out a room in your house, you may eventually be forced to address someone with compulsive hoarding disorder.

 Lease drafting

In most cases, lease agreements will have clauses that state the need for keeping apartments and houses in good condition by the tenants. Hoarding may easily lead to obstruction of passageways and may even create unsanitary conditions. Excessive hoarding becomes a safety risk, and may lead to issues with pest control and worse. If you have this type of hoarding around your property, you could include a hoarding clause in the lease so you can set things straight from the get-go. Mentioning it in your lease will let the tenants know your expectations.

It may seem excessive, but it could save you trouble in the long run. Do keep in mind that excessive cases of hoarding are pretty rare, so you may not need to worry about it too much, but a hoarding clause will give a solid position you can fall back on when confronting an awkward situation.

(*Editor’s Note:  Lease agreements are different in every city, state or province.  You’ll need to check with bylaws and legal terms which are appropriate for your area.)

 Dealing with a hoarder

If you DO find yourself having to confront a hoarding tenant, approach this person with sensitivity. Before you knock on their door, however, you would do well to tour the property. An alleged situation of hoarding may simply be the tenant organizing or reorganizing or even packing for a trip.  If the collection of belongings lingers, grows, and begins to impede clear movement, well, then you may have a real problem on your hands. A compulsive hoarder will likely be defensive or emotional about their belongings.  If you have a proper lease agreement, this is a good time to revisit it with your tenant.  It might be difficult to determine if this is a case of true hoarding or simple neglect, but either way, you should still know that 30 days is usually the minimum of time you need to give your tenants to clean up before asking them to vacate the premises. This should happen only if they insist on maintaining this type of environment and they ignore your warnings and the lease agreement.

(*Editor’s Note: each case is different.  This is a mental disorder, which needs to be treated appropriately.  If there are safety concerns, you may also receive guidance from your local housing authority, the Fire Department, or Public Health office.)

For more house cleaning ideas and end of tenancy cleaning tips you can contact: Chelsea professional end of lease cleaners.


Guest Post:  When Pests Move In

It’s easy to make a serious mess around your attic, garage or basement around the house, losing those spaces to excessive clutter. There is a point, though, at which things become not just frustrating and dangerous for you, but also quite welcoming for a number of pests. Adding more clutter around your home increases your chance for pest infestation risk and hides their nests.  Once they’re inside your home things will get even worse, so you will need to work on eliminating those hiding spots to keep that from happening in the first place. What really makes clutter and hoarding great for pests to enjoy? Well, first of all, pests need a base of three elements to survive and thrive, as demonstrated by the following tips:

1. Hide & Seek

Pests can hide in boxes, clothing, piles of paper, inside your walls, inside furniture, sometimes even inside a vacuum cleaner if you haven’t really put it to good use lately. If you deny them shelter, they will have a much harder time surviving in your home and making a mess out of things.  Disturb the boxes and move things around and out of your home.  Most pests don’t want to be near the action.

2. Food sources

Row of garbage and recycle binsPests will be attracted to a number of things that present a food source for them, such as food scraps and debris, as well as dust in case of a lot of insects. Ensure they get no chance to enjoy a viable food source, as they must not be allowed to thrive around your home.  Eliminate dirty food containers, empty the recycle bin weekly (or more often), keep garbage bags with food scraps properly stored, and mostly importantly, do it all immediately.  Once dirty plates or containers get hidden behind other clutter, it’ll become out of sight out of mind…for you.  Not for pests.

3. Water sources

Dripping or leaky pipes, condensation, and more will attract pests to an area, not to mention the fact that mold may form.  Mold, aside from being a directly air quality concern for you, it may also serve as food for some species such as the foreign grain beetle.  The beetles might find their way into your pantry, or congregate around the damp areas near plumbing in your walls.  Rats, mice, raccoons, bed bugs, cockroaches and other insects are all nightmares you really don’t want to have to deal with.

4. Health hazards Spread by pests

Taking out the garbage and remove food sources for pests.Rats and mice are capable of spreading pathogens through their feces and urine, as they tend to mark their territories and communicate through their urine. They can also contaminate food sources and surfaces, especially when you’re not around and you’re not looking. Roaches can also cause asthma and allergies in young children. Bed bugs may migrate around your entire home if you’re not careful, and they tend to leave some pretty painful and annoying bites. Rodents may also chew on wires, which could instigate fires, which brings us to our last point.

5. Unpleasant environments

Removing garbage and recycling from your home.If you have ever had the unfortunate fate of seeing what a place looks like after rats have gone through it, then you probably know what it feels like. The heavy, terrible smell of rat urine and droppings, the constant gnawing on boxes, furniture and more, the stress of letting the pest pass you into another room if you’re not careful. There’s also risk for your family pet. Are you comfortable letting your dog or cat wander the house freely if you have a flea infestation, or nesting squirrels?  All of this can be avoided if you focus on decluttering, junk removal, waste removal, furniture clearance and so on where you can keep things under control so pest infestations will never happen in the first place.

Article provided by London House Clearance Ltd. – a team of professionals that can help you with the garden waste removal and the garage clearance.


Today I present a guest post by Molly Nox.  Molly is an aspiring grad student in Clinical Psychology, with a keen interest in Compulsive Hoarding.


The Connection Between OCD & Hoarding

Individuals who have a hard time throwing anything away may end up with a big mess on their

hands. Even though their quality of life is impacted, their spouses object, and their children are

embarrassed to have friends over, hoarders are still unable to part with their accumulations.

Hoarders often suffer from other mood and anxiety disorders, and their clutter often reaches a

point where psychiatric intervention and professional hoarding cleanup services need to be

called in order to begin recovery from Hoarding Disorder.

What Is the Link Between Hoarding and OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental challenge in which the sufferer exhibits some sort of

irrational, repeated behavior and cannot seem to stop him or herself. Historically, psychologists

classified hoarding solely as a symptom of OCD; recently, after the publication of the DSM-5,

Hoarding Disorder has been recognized as a separate disorder completely.

It is true that many people who have Hoarding Disorder also suffer from OCD, but the link is not

as concrete as once believed. Approximately 18% of people who have Hoarding Disorder also

have been diagnosed with OCD. While this is a significant number, it is worth noting that a

staggering 92% of people with Hoarding Disorder also suffer from other psychiatric conditions,

with over 50% having clinical depression. It appears that Hoarding Disorder is not as closely

linked to OCD as it is with other disorders such as depression and General Anxiety Disorder.

Another aspect in which Hoarding Disorder and OCD differ is their treatment. In the past, people

who exhibited hoarding symptoms were diagnosed with OCD and treated accordingly. We now

know that people with hoarding symptoms are very unlikely to respond to traditional OCD

treatment. Hoarding Disorder is notoriously difficult to treat, but interventions targeted

specifically toward hoarding symptoms show the most promising success rates.

Why Does a Person Become a Hoarder?

While there is no clear consensus on the cause of Hoarding Disorder, there are a handful of

contributing factors to consider:

  • Genetics – Hoarding Disorder tends to run in families. Researchers have found patterns

in chromosome 14 that are unique to families with multiple hoarders.

  • Trauma – Trauma often plays a significant part in the onset or expression of hoarding

behavior. This does not necessarily mean that trauma is a cause of Hoarding Disorder; it

is, however, considered a factor that can cause a “break” in a person who is already

genetically predisposed.

  • Biology – A recent study found that individuals with Hoarding Disorder experienced

frontal brain hypoactivity. This is a condition that leads to decreased dopamine levels in

the brain and is commonly associated with addiction. Frontal brain hypoactivity is not as

common in people diagnosed with PTSD though, which is further evidence that OCD and

Hoarding Disorder are very different indeed.

Why Call a Mental Health Professional?

Hoarding Disorder is a condition that goes untreated in a worrisome 80% of cases. Many

hoarders either do not think they need treatment or think treatment will not help them.

Treatments for Hoarding Disorder have improved drastically in recent years, but public

perception has not improved with it.

If the accumulation of excessive things is negatively affecting the hoarder’s quality of life and

relationships, then psychiatric evaluation is highly recommended. Therapy can begin the process

of helping a hoarder understand their compulsions and eventually live a clutter-free life. It can

be helpful to seek a therapist who specializes in helping patients who suffer from compulsive

hoarding and its related disorders. Additionally, enlisting in professional cleaning services to

clean up the entire site can help make their home inhabitable again.


Molly Nox is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She’s a California dreamer with a penchant for handwritten letters, the New York Times, and dark roast coffee. Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mollynox


I was recently contacted by a producer for the TV show Divorce Court with Judge Lynn Toler.  The show is shot and produced in Los Angeles, CA.  Personally, I’ve never seen the show, but if you live in the LA area, this might interest you.

From the Producer, Sybil Curry:

We are currently looking for local couples who need an in home marital/relationship intervention as well as assistance with their compulsive hoarding. These potential couples say this problem is causing stress on their relationship. There is a substantial appearance fee as well as location fee; this will be taped in their home.  If you have any leads in California I would appreciate it.

You can reach Sybil Curry via this email address or directly at 323-762-7725.


It’s been a while.  A long while.  There’s SO much to tell you about, but we’re still in the thick of some mental messiness and I don’t even know where to begin.  Who knew compulsive hoarding could cause such havoc.

Deep Dark Depression

Back in July, my Mother called me in tears.  She had been hiding it from me, but she finally revealed she’d been sliding down a dark tunnel with her depression.  By the time she called, she was feeling suicidal.

There’s nothing to prepare you for hearing your mother express her wish to be dead.

Her sobs.  Her confusion.  Her complete and utter lack of hope.  She was overwhelmed by blackness and to her, ending it all seemed highly appealing.  I was at a loss of what to do.

With Mom’s permission, I called her doctor and was able to talk about how to support Mom at this time while living hours away.  The doctor said to just stay supportive and let her know I care.

The next few weeks were a roller coaster.  I checked in with Mom every day to see how she was doing.  There were times when she didn’t answer her phone for what felt like forever.  She would call me back sobbing, incoherent even.  She told me she was imagining all sorts of ways to kill herself.  How she didn’t have the energy to try to get better.  That the pain and loneliness was just too much to bear.

The scariest was the night she called me from a parking lot and confessed she couldn’t remember how she got there.  Her mind was erratic, and she was convinced all sorts of plots were being hatched to hurt her.  She was having black outs, she wasn’t sleepy or eating, not taking her medicine, and was spending way too much time sitting in her van roasting on hot, hot summer days.

In the meantime, I was researching a course of action.  Could I take her to the hospital?  Was there a mental health walk in clinic option?  Should I call the police to check up on her?  I talked to my employer about taking time off so I could come down and get someone to evaluate my mother before she did something serious.

911

Then, the day before I planned to head home, something happened.  Mom’s doctor tried calling my Mom, and became alarmed when she couldn’t get a hold of her.  Knowing her fragile mental state, the doctor called 911.

Mom awoke to the sound of voices in the hallway outside her bedroom door.  She had finally gotten to sleep and didn’t hear the phone ringing or people banging on the front door.  A police officer, paramedics, and a social worker were all there to make sure she was ok.  The social worker later told me it took about 20 minutes for the police to actually find my mother in her home.  Moving through the piles of stuff in her house would be difficult, indeed.

The 911 response team wanted to take Mom to the hospital for a psychiatric assessment.  She refused, and there wasn’t anything they could do to change her mind.  Apparently the paramedic used the term “hoarder” and that made her really mad.  At least the social worker was able to get Mom to agree to come chat with her the next day.

When I learned of all this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t going to have to deal with this all alone.  A team of trained professionals was now on the scene and I thought we’d finally get Mom some help.  Turns out, it’s harder than it seems, and the story continues.

I’m pretty drained at this point, so the story will come in bits and pieces as I feel up to it.  There are plenty of ups and downs to this story, and it’s not even close to over.


I said to my Mother “When you’re ready to accept my help, let me know.  Until then….”  I trailed off.  She replied, “Until then, I’m dead to you, is that it?  Well, so be it.”

Those were the last words we shared before she hung up on me.  And I can’t help but wonder if those are the last words I’ll ever hear from her.

It started off innocently enough.  The regular Sunday night phone call to catch up on the week had grown increasingly shallow over the past few years.  Mom, on her cell phone, would undoubtedly be browsing in a store somewhere, and I’d get to hear commentary about other shoppers she observed, or comparisons on various household products.  Tonight was about coloured toilet paper.  I asked for updates on doctors appointments, but specialist appointments are always “some time next month” and “no, I haven’t heard back on test results.”

Eventually, conversation turned to her house.  “Wouldn’t you know it, ANOTHER bird got into the house!  It woke me up this morning fluttering around my room.  And there were 2 raccoons in the wall behind my headboard fighting.  You wouldn’t believe the racket!”  If you’re new to reading Not Just Clutter, let me assure you my Mom is not an animated princess who can command woodland animals.  Nope.  She simply lives in a rapidly deteriorating house where raccoons and other wildlife find refuge.  This is where things start to go south.

Since Dad died 8 years ago, she hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance.  She needs to move out and sell the property (and really, it’s the property that has value, not the house).  It’s not safe or healthy.  The whole place is falling apart and is packed to the rafters with her hoard.  Clearly, somewhere has crumbled enough that all sorts of critters are finding their way in.  She’s had trouble with raccoons for years.  And that bird?  That’s the third on in as many weeks.

I’ve been trying to encourage her to make more actionable plans to move out of this house.  She really resents this though, and any time I gently mention it, she finds a way to turn things around.  Like, mentioning the doctor thinks she has a heart problem.  Or she suspects her cancer is back.

Or she’ll try to deflect and say she’s working on things slowly in her own way.  “I’m not going to worry about it, and it’ll all work out in the end” is a common refrain.  But I worry.  Knowing all her ailments, including a frozen shoulder, shortness of breath, and limited mobility, I’ve offered to go help her.  I told her “Let me be your muscle.”  I know she can’t carry much, if anything, up and down stairs, so I’d be happy to be the pack mule if she points out what to move.  But she refuses any help and has her priorities all skewed.

If I lived in a house overrun by wildlife, I’d fill a suitcase and get out.  Instead, she insists she has to organize her craft supplies first.  I can’t possibly help her with that either because I “don’t know the difference between worsted weight, cotton, polyester, or wool” yarns.  I reminded her the birds are probably pooping on it, and the ‘coons are nesting in it.  She was pretty indignant after that.

I’ve tried my hardest to be patient.  I’m the one who always tries to be diplomatic.  I just couldn’t hold it in any more tonight.  I kept calm and rational, but I laid it out honestly with her.  I called her out for making excuses and procrastinating.  I told her I can’t understand why she won’t accept my help, when all I want is for her to be in a safe, comfortable home.  She insists she wants to do it independently because if she accepts help then she’s a failure.

I said imagine if you came across a person fallen to the ground, and you put your hand out to help.  If that person reaches up to accept your help off the ground, are they a failure?  Do you judge them?  I’m just reaching out my hand.

She accused me of making her more depressed.  Then she accused me of conspiring with my sister to make her miserable.  And THEN she said maybe it was best if we just cut ties all together.

That’s when I told her to think about my offer and get back to me when she’s ready to accept the help.  I don’t know what the next step is.  I’m so torn.  She’s so stubborn she might let her pride lead her, and she won’t call me again.  If I call, then what?  Go back to the same vacuous relationship where we talk about coloured toilet paper?  Do I pretend everything is ok?  Do I ignore my nightmares of her dying in her house because she couldn’t find her way through her hoard in a fire?  Do I keep pressing her?  If I don’t call, she’s alone.  No family left.  That’s not the kind of daughter I want to be, but at some point, I have my own mental health to think of.

Either way, hearing my own mother say “I’m dead to you” is a harsh way to end a phone call.


There are some days when I contemplate exactly what it’ll be like to clean up my Mother’s house some day.  The monumental piles of stuff is a given, but what will the walls, carpet, counter tops, and the actual structure of the house be like?  My best guess?  Covered in mold.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips2And the last thing I want is to compound the toxicity with more chemicals, but luckily there are some natural options.  Things have been pretty busy for me lately, so I invited Heather Roberts to guest post.  Mold might run rampant in a hoarder’s home, but really, it can be found in any house where dampness is left unattended.

Guest Post: Cleaning Mold Naturally

One of the greatest problems in any home, given the right circumstances is the uncontrolled proliferation of mold due to neglect.  Mold and mildew can be a real pain in hot and humid conditions, and that makes them a doubly serious issue when you have large quantities of personal belongings in a home that have not been moved for years.  Such is usually the case with hoarders, so this makes mold something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.  Even though you can usually keep it at bay through the use of dehumidifiers, you can still experience it.  There are a good deal of natural materials you can use to spray or remove mildew and mold.  They can be a wonderful substitute for the hazardous fumes bleach produces.  In this article we will cover most of them as possible solutions to your problem:

  • You can use tea tree oil, which is often found in health food stores as a great cleaning material that acts as a natural mold killer.  It may be the most expensive option on this list and it may have a strong scent that disappears within a few days, however it also has one of the most effective qualities in our list, completely eliminating mold from ceilings, rugs, showers and so forth.  You can combine two teaspoons of it with two cups of water, then using that as a spray you can eliminate mold on any given spot.  You don’t need to rinse it and it can be used even months down the line if you need to.
  • Another possible option is using grapefruit seed extract, though it’s also expensive.  Unlike tea tree oil however, it has no scent that lingers. Combine about 20 drops of it into about two cups of water and use it in much the same way as you would with tea tree oil.
  • Next on our list is a natural mold killer so widespread and right under our noses, that we often overlook it without even knowing its qualities.  Distilled white vinegar is said to kill up to 82% of all mold species, acting fairly quickly but leaving its scent behind for a few short hours as a result.  If you have light stains, then you can dilute the vinegar with water in a 50:50 ratio for good results as well. If you’re experiencing mildew forming on the bottom sides of your rugs or carpeting, then you can stop it by spraying it with distilled white vinegar and letting it dry that way.  It should kill most spores with ease, leaving your carpet safe.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips

  • If you have a plastic shower curtain and it has suffered mildew and mold, then you don’t need to worry about it at all.  You can simply toss it in the washing machine alongside two bath towels on the gentlest setting.  Then you need to pour about half a cup of baking soda inside as well as a half cup of vinegar.  The baking soda should go in during the washing cycle, while the vinegar needs to go in during the rinse cycle.  Let it dry out and you’re almost good as new!
  • You can also use a 3% hydrogen peroxide for mildew and mold as well.  If you use it on its own, you can wipe most mold right off the affected area.
  • When you have mildew-stained garments, you can make a paste of lemon juice and salt.  Rub it against the area affected by the mold or mildew.  Repeat that until you remove the stain completely and let it dry in the sun.

For more cleaning tips you can contact: Deep Cleaning Islington


Recently, a Not Just Clutter reader emailed me with her personal story.  She has realized she is a compulsive hoarder, and wants to make a change.  We’ve been communicating back and forth the past few weeks.  I am humbled this person has trusted me with the details of her life as a compulsive hoarder, and I am inspired as she shares her progress moving forward.

She’s taking great strides to turn her life around, as difficult and overwhelming as it must seem.  And as she takes 2 steps forward, there’s a tiny step back as she revealed she still feels shame.  I want her, and anyone else who hoards to know this:

Dear Compulsive Hoarder,

do not be ashamed.  Please let go of that feeling; it has no place in your heart.  You’ve had the unfortunate twist of fate which left you with a largely misunderstood mental disorder (and NO, that doesn’t make you crazy)!  It means for some reason, you have this extra challenge even though you didn’t ask for it.  Totally unfair.  But you didn’t rationally choose to end up in this state.  You’re intelligent.  You’re accomplished.  And you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I don’t think you’re lazy.  I think you’re probably overwhelmed.  You might be in denial, to varying degrees.  I think you’re probably creative, and can see great potential every where you look.  You might even be a perfectionist, with super high standards.  You take comfort in your collections, and you love the thrill of the hunt.  I bet you’re a skilled bargain seeker, too.

You have some challenges ahead when you’re ready to face them…actually, whether you’re ready or not.  Problems that just don’t go away when you close the door or turn the radio up louder.  You probably already know that; but do you know this?

You are not alone.

You are not the only one with too much stuff.  You’re not the only one who doesn’t know where to start.  You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, defensive, or in wondering where the money will come to help you.  I think you probably have people in your life willing to help you, even if you don’t think you do.  And it’s good you’re not alone, because you can’t turn your life around alone.

It starts by clearing a spot in your heart to let others back in.  Place your trust in them so they may help you in anyway they know best.  They’re not out to get your stuff.  They may be confused, baffled, or as overwhelmed as you.  But they’re there for you if you let them.  People to help sort, make repairs, lift heavy things, tell you jokes when you’re feeling low.  People who see you as a good person, a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker, a valued member of society.

Clear space for these people, and you may find you have more treasures than ever before.

Good luck to you.  It’s a new year to move forward.  And it has great potential.


My Mom seems to find very odd things funny.  I assume it’s related to the denial that comes from compulsive hoarding.

She recently shared a gem which leaves her laughing and me terrified.  Her house is crumbling around her, and now, it’s:

A House with No Escape

Backstory: Mom’s house is an unusual design.  It’s essentially a bungalow but on the second floor.  The first floor of the house has a small apartment, and a large double garage.  Dad used to run his business from the garage, and it has huge & heavy rolling doors.  The front door is in the middle of the apartment and garage, and to get upstairs there are 36 steps.

I know this hallway by the front door is filled with stuff.  It was 50% filled 11 years ago.  The last time Lynn saw my Mom open the door, she said it couldn’t open all the way.  So, it was already a serious situation.

The Door Won’t Budge

Mom tells me the door has been sticking.  I get that.  With changes in weather and humidity, doors tend to do that.  But Mom’s front door is sticking so much, she sometimes can’t open it.  I know she’s tried sanding it down, oiling it, and a few other tricks, and yet, there would be days she’d come home and not be able to get in the door.  She’d push, and nudge, and probably curse, but it wouldn’t push open.

That’s when my senior citizen mother would have to try to raise the heavy-duty garage doors.  And then climb over all the stuff left in the garage from Dad’s business which was never cleared away after his death.  7 years ago.

Last Straw

So, finally, Mom got tired of doing this difficult task.  After struggling with the door again, she lost her temper and kicked it.

Wouldn’t you know…it opened right up!  My Mom is SO amused by this!

And while the idea of my elderly Mother turned ninja is amusing to most, I’m cringing.

I’m cringing because not only is the door sticking when she wants IN to the house, but also when she wants OUT of the house.

That’s right.  Should there ever be a fire, and by pure Act of God my frail Mother makes it past burning walls of stuff, down 36 smoldering wooden steps, and down a smoke-filled hallway, she still won’t be able to open the damn door to get out.

How’s that for a haunting image?

Jumping out a window is not an option, as all her living space is on the second flood.  There’s a back porch, but those wooden stairs have been withering in the elements for years.  I wouldn’t trust them to hold my purse.  There’s the garage, but again, the path is cluttered, and the doors are heavy.

Ninja Mom

I expressed as much to her.  She still chuckled, and revealed she did indeed have trouble getting the door to open from the inside.  So she tried kicking it again, and yes, it opened.  But think about that.  The door swung open toward her after being kicked.  This whole set up is compromised and needs repair, but since she was able to Hi-YA it open, she considers it problem solved.

She refuses to take this seriously.  And my fear of her being caught in a fire just got deeper.