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.


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.

Thank you for your emails and comments of concern after my last post about the Silent Phone.  I wanted to update you on what’s happened since.

House Call

My sister, Lynn, went over to Mom’s house to check up on her at my request.  Lynn and Mom don’t speak anymore, so I get the fun “in the middle” position.  Anyway, Lynn went to the house but Mom’s van was gone, so she left a note on the door to call me.  That was a Tuesday.  Days went by.  By now, it’s been nearly a month.  At least I knew she wasn’t buried under her stuff inside the house…otherwise her van would have been in the driveway.  However, now I could only assume she’s had an accident some where.  I considered calling the police.

I called again out of habit on the Sunday, and lo & behold, she answered!!

Another Lost Cell Phone

Yup.  She lost it.  And had to buy another one.  She’s on her 3rd phone in less than 2 years.  What a waste.  She said she was hoping the last one would turn up some where but finally had to break down and buy another.  Wouldn’t you know…she lost the newest one the very next night!  Aye yai yai! Somehow she was able to find it because a friend kept calling every 20 minutes and she followed the sound of the ringing.  Luckily, it was still charged, or she would have been out of luck again!  Turns out it was buried deep in her knitting bag.  Would that happen to be the same size 18 month knitted sweater project she started for my youngest daughter…now 3 and a half?

Lack of Concern

As relieved as I was to finally hear her voice, I’m angry!  I’m angry she let me wonder for a month.  I asked her why she didn’t call me collect or borrow someone else’s phone.  I told her I was afraid she was dead.  She mildly replied “Oh, I was fine.  I didn’t think of calling collect until a few days ago.  Thanks for your concern though.”

That’s it?  Thanks for your concern?  Don’t you care that I care?  I’m hurt.

Land Line

And I’ve learned she’s STILL paying for her landline.  That’s about $80 a month for nothing.  When I mentioned cancelling it, Mom said “Actually, I’m going to call the phone company this week to get on them again about fixing the problem.”

Mom…they’re not going to be able to do anything for you.  You won’t let them into the house anyway, so what’s the point?

Hello.  It’s been a while.

I took a breather from Not Just Clutter to sweep some clutter from my own mind.  I felt a little too wrapped up in worrying about mental illness and any hit of clutter, that I stepped back for a while.  It was a good thing for me.  I was able to focus on happier things for a while, and put my energy into other areas of my life.

But if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you might be familiar with a series of posts called Case of the Silent Phone.  That’s what’s prompted me to write again.

It’s been 4 weeks since I’ve heard from my mother.  If you’re new to Not Just Clutter, my Mom only has a cell phone.  No land line, just a cell.  And for a while after getting it, Mom frequently lost her cell phone.  In fact, I think she’s had 3 phones in the last 18 months and it’s NOT because she’s always on the cutting edge of technology.

I call my Mom every Sunday.  3 weeks ago, my call went to voice mail.  I assumed she would call back within a few minutes.

2 weeks ago, I got voice mail again.  I thought maybe she lost the phone, or it’s not charged up.

And tonight, voice mail.  I’ve left messages every time.  I just don’t know what to think.

It could be that she’s lost the phone or the charger.  Or she’s feeling depressed and is refusing to answer any calls.  Or maybe….I don’t know.  My mind goes a million places.

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback from my post about teaching children about hoarding.  I wrote how I felt I am failing my daughter by not coaching her on better organizational habits earlier.

You Responded!

I was delighted to read your comments!  Thank you to all who took the time to leave a note on the blog or email me in person.  You were all reassuring that I haven’t ruined my kids just yet!  Phew! There’s still time to teach them about personal organization!

Knee Jerk Reaction

I suppose I’m being extra cautious.  Living so close to someone with a mental illness makes you paranoid (wait, isn’t that a mental condition too??? ).  Perhaps it’s similar to those with an alcoholic parent and forbidding their own children to ever toast with wine at holiday dinners.  I’m probably being hyper-sensitive, but I know I’ve read in several places that compulsive hoarding can be hereditary.  Diabetes also strongly runs in the family…some future I’ve got facing me, huh?

Nature vs Nuture

Genetics aside, I think learned behavior goes a long way.   I don’t want to go overboard and insist on unattainable perfection.  I can’t maintain that myself anyway.  But if I can begin to instill the proper techniques for organizing personal space, encouraging attachment to people instead of objects, and how to begin and finish any project, then I think I’ll be giving my girls some great life skills.  And hey, it doesn’t hurt to practice them myself, right?  I’m sure Will would agree, as he eyes my creatively chaotic craft room.

Your Suggestions for Teaching Kids About Personal Organization

You had some great ideas for helping kids learn about organizing, and learning how to let go of treasured toys.

  • take photos of toys before donating them, and put photos in an album to preserve their memory
  • designate a set number of keepers.  Let them choose which keepers, but don’t go past the number.
  • designate a box for toys and don’t let it go past the top.  If it doesn’t fit the box, it can’t stay.
  • trim pieces from favourite blankets, clothing, or stuffed animals and sew them into a memory quilt or pillow (careful this doesn’t add to your own long list of projects *cough*)
  • Remind them of children less fortunate, and encourage a social conscience.

Feel free to keep sending your ideas, and I’ll add them to this list.  I’m sure I’m not the only parent in this boat.

I also just came across the Overindulgence website.  It discusses dealing with spoiled children, the feeling of entitlement some kids seem to have, and gives a few ideas about giving chores.

My own purge continues

Going back to my craft room for a minute, I worked on clearing that room out, too.  Yes, I’ve been on a purging kick the last 2 months and it’s feeling great.  I didn’t realize exactly HOW great until I sat down at my sewing machine and did a quick little project.  I mentioned this to another creative kindred spirit, my best friend, and she said “Rae, I think that’s how we feed our soul.”

How we feed our soul.  Yes.  Yes, I think that’s it.

And because my craft room is the dumping ground for when we don’t know where else to put something, I had crowded out my opportunity to feed my soul. And I was starving.  Funny how having too much can make you feel so empty.

Have you carved out a space all your own?  How do you keep it clear for spontaneous use?  I’d love to hear about it!

In case you’re wondering, Mom is still without a phone.  We’ve not spoken since I saw her about 3 weeks ago.  That seems like a long time to go without hearing from your mother, doesn’t it?

My eldest daughter, Maddie, has been sneezing up a storm. I figured this was a good time to give her bedroom a good deep clean and clear out the dust. When I gently suggested she give away some of her stuffed animals, I was met with great resistance. It’s time I start teaching my children about compulsive hoarding.

How To Start

It started by clearing out all the random stuff that’s been shoved under her bed. It brought up a lot of dust but also helped us find some little toys we thought were lost forever. The pile was a real mixture of things…board games, doll clothes, books, trinkets, and so on. I explained we needed to organize these into piles and put them away. Then I left Maddie to it while I worked on Quinn’s outgrown baby clothes in the next room.

After a few minutes, Maddie called out “Mom, I don’t know what to do with all this.”

It hit me that she probably had no idea how to sort through this random pile and make general categories. It’s one thing to sort by colour, or by size, but when you’re only 7, sorting by purpose is a little confusing.

So, we sat together and I pointed out how board games don’t get stored with books, and doll clothes have their own container. It was starting to make sense when I showed her we actually DO HAVE a place for everything…it’s just that I’d always done the sorting for her in the past. What a disservice I’ve done for her!

Once that pile got sorted out, it was time to look at all the stuffed animals she keeps on her bed. There’s about a dozen stuffies, and she wants them ALL on her bed. I’m thinking they’re a treasure trove of dust and it’s time to simplify.

I held up a stuffed cat. “What do you think about this? Can we give to charity?” With wide eyes, Maddie grabbed the cat and clutched it to her chest. “But I love this!”

Everything Can’t be special

We went back and forth like that with a few other stuffies, and I finally said “You can’t love all of these the same. Surely some are more important than others!” And I think deep down she knows that too, but when faced with the scary thought of parting with any of them, they were elevated to Must Haves.

I was at a loss.  I tried to explain that sometimes we have to make tough decisions.  That the memories we have can be kept in our heads and we don’t need to keep every thing just to remember.  That if everything is special, it really means nothing is.

So far, I’ve been keeping the family’s dirty little secret from my children.  Maddie doesn’t know the reason we never visit her grandmothers house is because there’s no room.  She has no idea that compulsive hoarding even exists!  But I needed to show her, so…

I grabbed the laptop, launched and called up the photos from my Visiting a Compulsive Hoarders Home post.  I didn’t tell her I took the photos.  I didn’t tell her it was Meema’s house.  I didn’t even call it compulsive hoarding.  But I showed her how little space there was to move around.  How you couldn’t see the couch.  I pointed out the piles were taller than her head, and there was no room at the dining table for eating.  I showed her how food was piled on the kitchen floor with no sense of organized categories.

And everything I pointed out, she met with a rationalization.  She had a modified action for everything I said that would allow her to cope with that appalling environment.  In short, she didn’t think it was that bad.

Will My daughter become a hoarder, too?

Obviously, I’m failing.  Not only have I lost my mother behind her hoard, but I’ve not done enough to develop the right skills for my first daughter.  I can see this will be an on-going attempt to teach her how to organize, how to detach emotion from objects, how to truly value certain things and treat them with greater respect, and how to actually clean a home.  I’m open to your ideas, so please share your tips for guiding my children away from a future in hoarding.

Well, that didn’t last long.  Time for an update on the Case of the Silent Phone. Mom has already lost her new cell phone.  She got it at the end of April, and now it’s lost in her pile of possessions.  Apparently, it’s been lost for 2 weeks already, AND it’s the second time she’s lost it.  I can’t say I’m surprised.  I knew from the start it was going to be difficult for her.  She’s got hoarded piles on every surface and no where to create a dedicated space for it.

I didn’t hear from her for our regular Sunday chat, but thought maybe she was just sleeping.  Then I called on the anniversary of Dad’s death to let her know I was thinking of her, and figured maybe she was just feeling low and wanted to be alone with her grief.  It makes a whole lotta sense now that I know the cell phone is lost.

At least, I got to see her today.  She told me she just can’t imagine how she lost the phone.  And how she lost another important piece of paperwork she’d filled out and promptly lost.


Then we got to chatting about the carpet in her house and how much she’d LOVE to replace it with hardwood.  Uh huh.  I know the carpet IS hideous.  I lived with it, too.  It was great when I accidentally smushed Play-Doh into it as a child and no one was ever able to tell; maybe you’re familiar with it, too, if you remember the 70s.  But now, there’s probably only 1% of the carpet showing in all the house.

Extreme Makeover

She did admit her house needs a lot of work.  Ha.  Let me repeat that.  HA!  And that the best thing to happen would be for the house to be struck by lightning.  Yup.  That’s what she wishes for.  For her house and home of 33 years to go up in a big ball of flames.  Can you imagine?  My childhood memories in a pile of ash.

Lynn said to her “You’d never make it out in time.”

Mom got that thin smile she effects on when conversation takes this kind of turn, and smugly insisted “Oh yes I would. No problem at all.  I’d just tuck the dog under my arm and away I’d go.”

Sigh.  How do you answer that when you know it simply isn’t true?

And, how would I even know, when she has no way of calling to tell me?

It’s been about 5 years since I last visited my childhood home.  It’s a compulsive hoarders home now, thanks to Mom’s mental disorder.  Lynn and I snuck in while Mom was out and did a tiny purge of her hoard.  You’d never even be able to tell we’d spent 2 hours working on a 4×4 foot area just putting spare papers in recycling bins.  We removed 4 bags of trash and yet, it didn’t make a dent in her hoard.

How bad could it be?

I took photos while we were there of the general state of things.  Given so many years have passed without anyone else stepping inside, I can only imagine how high the stacks are.  Oddly enough, I found the CD of photos as I cleared out my basement decluttering my own junk.

Merely Existing

I knew the photos were going to be bad, but they still took me by surprise when I loaded them up on my computer.  If you’ve never seen photos from inside a compulsive hoarders house before, brace yourself.  I know you’ll probably wonder how could anyone live like this?  I don’t know if you can call it “living”, actually.  I think having to survive in such a space is reducing to merely “existing.”

A view of a living room of a compulsive hoarder

A view of a living room of a compulsive hoarder


The dining room of a compulsive hoarder

It’s hard to tell, but this is a dining room.

This was my home once.  I lived here with my sister through all my childhood, and only left when I went away to college.  I have good memories of birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and watching Sunday morning classic movies on PBS.  And I’m willing to bet there are physical remnants of all my memories still left inside that hoard.

Now, we stay with Lynn when we visit my hometown.  Mom comes over to Lynn’s house to sit with us for a while and we make thin small talk.  I’m curious to try to get over to my old home while Mom is out again.  I probably won’t get in because neither Lynn nor I have a spare key.  But I want to see how the old place is holding up…or quite likely, falling apart.  On the other hand, do I want an even worse mental image of my home if I should see it in such disrepair?  It’s like when you visit an ailing relative in the hospital right before they die, and they’re frail and forgetful…they’re not the vibrant and fascinating person you remember anymore.

I do want to know how my Mom is existing, though.  It’s important to me to understand what her daily life is like.  No matter the mental disorder, it pains me to think of her living in such conditions.  I wish I knew how to make it better…and I wish she actually wanted it better, too.

I dreamt I was in my Mother’s house.

When someone’s compulsive hoarding is so extensive it invades someone else’s dreams, you know it’s significant.

In this dream, I go to my Mom’s house to take photos.  I want to collect images not just for, but to really see how she’s living.  Maybe if she sees the photos she’d realize there’s a problem. I’m also a photographer, so it’s in my nature to want to visually document the legacy my Mother is hoarding. In the dream, I need to take the photos in secret, so I sneak in.

And not in the standard dressed-all-in-black-in-a-svelte-catsuit sneaky way.  No.  In this dream, I’m also trying to navigate a bicycle along the goat paths.  Don’t ask me why.  I don’t love riding bicycles.  The dusty stationary bike over there in the corner agrees.  But anyway, here I am, struggling with my trusty Nikon around my neck and a mountain bike.

As I’m moving through the house, I feel confident that I’ll be able to hide pretty quickly should Mom come along.  Piles are at least shoulder height.  I’m so preoccupied with hauling the bicycle over a stack of vintage lace pattern books and cases of RC Cola, I don’t hear her coming down the hall.  Suddenly, I sense her on the other side of the door while I cower in the chaos I once called my childhood room and it’s too late to hide.  Everything is just too jam packed.  The door begins to move.  It doesn’t exactly swing open, but nudges against a jagged wicker doll bassinet.  My heart is racing.  When she finds me here I’ll never be forgiven for invading her space.  She’ll disown me and play the “I once beat CANCER card, let me have my things” card.

I hold my breath.



And wake up.

Today is my Mother’s birthday.  I just got off the phone with her.  Yes, that’s right.  The Phone!  She finally got her cell phone and we’ve actually had a couple of conversations on it already.  Tonight was the first time to call her on her cell…and she was out shopping!  At 8:30!  Where?  The second hand store, her favourite place on the planet, of course.

She told me about a couple things she had put in her cart, thinking I might like them.  She described them to me, and they weren’t anything I thought I truly needed or wanted, so I politely declined.  I thanked her for thinking of me.  She thanked ME for thinking of HER on her birthday.

I admit I lost track of time and am late getting a birthday card out to her.  I made one myself, and will send it with a drawing Maddie did for her, too.  I’m always stumped for gift ideas for Mom.  She has everything…possibly triplicate of many things.  I don’t want to contribute to the pile.  I know many gifts I’ve given in the past are still in the original packaging.

Gift cards are not a good alternative.  Lynn & I have tried that in the past.  Mom can’t ever decide on something “special enough” to use them on, so they expire or get lost unspent.

If we lived closer to each other I would take her out of lunch, or on an excursion of some sort.  I like the idea of spending time with her and experiencing a memory together instead of exchanging material things.  She’s too tired to travel to me for a visit, and I know all the stairs in our split level home are tough for her to manage while she’s here.  But at least we have a bed for her here.  She can’t offer the same if I tried to visit her.

What I’d really like to do is pay for a month or two of a bill…perhaps her new cell phone bill, or a portion of her gigantic oil bill.  She has a fixed income.  I’m not at all sure how she manages to pay for anything really!  How far can one stretch an old age pension and a disability benefit?  But I’d need her account information, and she’s not about to hand that over.

So, I’ll send my belated card and try to be on time for Mother’s Day instead.  I really miss her.  I miss the way I remember her, before the walls of stuff grew so high.  I send the warmest of birthday wishes to a woman who drove me to all my dance lessons, music lessons, competitions and performances.  Who sewed 50 air freshener skunks to raise money to go to my competitions.  Who bragged about me to anyone who’d listen.  Who could just give me that “look” and I’d behave.  Who bought a book of Jello recipes and spent the summer with me trying out 50 ways to create desserts with the worlds favourite gelatine treat.  Who instilled in me a love of reading, art, creating by hand.  Who showed me there’s no limit to the power of creativity.  Who respected me, listened to me, cried when I cried, and laughed when I laughed.  Who embodied warmth & patience (and stubborness, too).  Who tried so hard to keep everything equal between her two daughters.  Who stowed away money for years so I could graduate college debt-free.  Who stayed with me and helped when my daughters were born.  Who shaped the person I am today.

For any faults I might find with her, there are many, many more qualities.  I’ll remember them not just today but everyday.  Happy birthday.


It’s been a few weeks since Mom told me she was getting a cell phone.  I was excited at first, but that wore off as day after day passed and still no call from her “new phone.”

I’m guessing she has procrastinated and has found other things to do instead.  Compulsive hoarders have a tendency to delay making decisions out of fear of making the wrong decision.  I’ve seen it time and time again with Mom.

She has a pile of boxes heavy with papers under the desk…the very same boxes she needed to move to check the phone jack on the wall.  She was attempting to go through these boxes paper by paper in case there was something important in there she shouldn’t throw away.  This meant ALL the papers got kept when only a handful should have been filed and the rest recycled (or shredded for privacy, which is another way of delaying because, um, she doesn’t have a shredder.)  The result of her dithering is a desk still jammed with paper boxes and no way to access the phone jack.  She’s still paying for the phone service, by the way, and because she wanted to keep the same phone number has maintained a more costly business line they had for my Dad.  The phone company also requires 30-60 days written notice of cancellation, so we’re looking at a loss of about $400 since November.

When I began this post, I thought about my own trouble making decisions.  My husband and I do research for a long time before making most decisions.  It’s a good thing to know what you’re getting into, but eventually you have to s*** and get off the pot (sorry for the crudeness).  My husband and I planned to get a new front door for over 18 months.  We had contractors come give us quotes.  We drove around the neighbourhood looking at other people’s front doors.  I visited several door & window stores looking at options.  If Pinterest had been around then, I’m sure I’d still be pinning to a “Front Door” board!  There were SO many options, we couldn’t pick just one.

Then, one day, Lowes had a sale on doors.  We walked in, pointed at one we both liked, and it was installed a week later.  We loved it!  It brighten the face of our house, is more energy efficient, and has better ventilation.  Why hadn’t we just done that from the beginning?  We make life too complicated sometimes.

Just Make Up Your Mind!

I want to be better at making decisions.  I think it could be a learned skill, and I want to model decisiveness for my daughters.  So I Googled “how to make decisions” or something like that, and saw a wealth of information out there.  It seems there are some common factors why people can’t make up their minds:

  • Too many advisors
  • Too many choices
  • Fear of worst case scenarios
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Talking yourself out of a decision

But there are some things you can do to help yourself.

  • Set a deadline for making the decision
  • Accept you might make a bad decision, be ok with it, and learn from the failure
  • Manage your emotions

It seems people make decisions with their hearts more than their heads.  Emotions aren’t rational and can confuse you from making a good decision.  If you struggle with a bossy heart, consider these:

  • Imagine a blank slate in your head.  Don’t allow any other thoughts or feelings and start from scratch.  (I’ve seen this work…I mean, it works for a character in the Pokemon graphic novels I’ve been reading with my 6 year old, Maddie, so surely…..)
  • What’s your body telling you?  Take a breath, calm your nerves, and still your movements to focus.
  • Visualize the outcome of your decision, and evaluate what would work and what wouldn’t.  Is it really so bad either way?
  • Ask do you need it, or just want it?  This is especially important for hoarders, or compulsive shoppers.  If it’s a basic need, it’s easy enough for your brain to make that decision.  But if you want it, well, that’s desire.  Desire is an emotion.  Emotions colour our thinking with all sorts of confliction, and we find we’ve talked ourselves into buying/eating/bringing home something we really didn’t need.  It could lead us to a temporary high, and then the all-too-familiar emotion, remorse.  And that…is just a bad decision.
  • Practice makes perfect.  Apply these methods often to get better at them.  Decision-making opportunities come up daily…sometimes, several times an hour!

You might find other useful ideas online.

I’m going to have to give these ideas a try.  Let me know if they work for you.  And remember, not all decisions are life or death.  What to have for lunch, what colour socks to wear (I choose black almost always), what route to drive to work…these are examples of ordinary low-risk decisions.  I want to get really good at making up my mind in these situations, and I’ll be better prepared for bigger, higher-risk decisions.   No more dithering or waffling.  No more sweating the details while missing the bigger picture.  No more fretting over beautiful, energy efficient front doors while the old ugly one lets in drafts.

In the meantime, I realize I can’t fault my Mom her indecision.  I recognize it’s part of who she is.  It’s part of her illness.  And perhaps she was never taught the skill of quick decision making.  I know she didn’t teach it to me.  I’ll find the patience next time I’m waiting for Maddie to choose between Raisin Bran & Cheerios at breakfast time.  We’ll work on the wants vs needs issues if they arise.  I’m sure they will.

While I can’t control the choices of others, I am in full control of my own choices. Knowing that is empowering.

It’s been decided.  Just a mere 4.5 months since her home phone line failed, Mom has announced she’s getting a cell phone.

She called me from Lynn’s house 2 nights ago to ask what would be a good deal for her to get.  She can’t afford an expensive plan, and doesn’t want to be locked in, but also doesn’t want a pay-as-you-go type either.  I told her about the plan I have through Koodo which is very affordable.  She doesn’t need a smart phone; she just needs something that makes and takes phone calls, with easy to read buttons and screens.  If there was a cell phone that looked and behaved like the rotary phone from my childhood, I think she’d pick that.

Mom is a bit concerned she’ll lose this phone, like she did the one I bought her about 5 years ago.  I’m concerned about that too, and also that she’ll forget to charge it or take it with her when she goes out.  But I DO think it’s good she’s finally making a decision about this…she must deep down know that there’s a bigger problem here.  I won’t push it for now, but support her in making the move to join this era of new fangled things.

Mom wasn’t always an extreme hoarder.  The illness didn’t settle in until after I moved out of the house to live on my own, but she WAS unorganized and had a lot of clutter.  Even though she was employed as a housekeeper, she wasn’t great at keeping our house tidy.

My Mom is incredibly crafty…she is skilled in just about any handicraft you can imagine, and she has all the supplies for each of these hobbies.  And she was brilliant at starting a new project, but often didn’t finish them.  These half-finished crafts still exist in limbo around the house at various stages of completion.

As a kid, it was normal to have the pile of laundry sitting on the sofa, and if you needed something to wear, chances are you’d find it in that pile.  There was extra stuff pushed to one end of the dining table that always seemed to be there at every meal.   I was never really required to put my toys away, so I missed out on learning that discipline early.

The only time we really did a major clean was when guests were expected.  Then the whole family would rally and whirl about the house shoving stuff from the public rooms, like the living room or bathroom, into other rooms people wouldn’t see.  The walk-in closet did not facilitate “walking in.”

No one would ever know this was an issue, and as I kid I didn’t know any better either.  I figured that’s what you did!  You lived with your comfy chaos until company came.

Surprisingly, we actually seemed to host somewhat often back then.  Mom’s sister and brother-in-law would come to play cards and I’d hang out with my cousins.  Gramma would come and stay the odd weekend.  And I’d have my friend from down the road over all the time to play in my room.

I think the frequency began to trickle as I got into my teens.  I didn’t bring friends from high school home.  And once I went away for college, it was hard to squeeze myself back in.  My old room was repurposed as a ‘craft room’ and I got the spare room.  The spare room that served as a mausoleum for the beautiful porcelain dolls my Mom had lovingly created.  And all the spare parts that had “potential.”

After I graduated college and returned home to try to find a job, it wasn’t too bad.  There was room to relax on a couch, after I moved the laundry.  I could shove a pile of magazines aside to put a water glass on the coffee table.  I had access to a computer and (38,000 bpm) data/fax modem for internet.

After a few months, I got a job in another city, and moved away.  That’s when the small avalanches started; and there was no going back.

Mom called again last night!  At 9:55 pm!  I guess she was able to visit with Lynn for a little bit, and thought to call me.

I was glad to talk with her.  I learned she’s heading in for surgery in 2 weeks, on a Friday before we were hoping to host a birthday party for my husband and soon-to-be two year old.  I don’t know how she’s going to cope afterwards…it’s surgery to repair her wrist from carpal tunnel syndrome, and she won’t be able to use her wrist for 6 weeks.  It’s not likely she’ll get to clearing out under the desk to fix her phone after that point…she’s not even managing to do that now.  I guess having no phone access to my Mom is the new normal.

Backdate to January 2012: I actually got a call from Mom the other night!  Sure, she was at my sisters and only had 20 minutes.  And of course it was during tuck in time for the girls, which has a certain window for success.  I rushed through the bed time routine and sacrificed treasured time with my own daughter to catch a few minutes on the phone with Mom.

And it was unfulfilling.  Because I had so much to say and not enough time to say it, I ended up saying nothing of importance.  We spoke of trivial things; pleasantries; generalities.

Mom promised “I’m devoting this weekend to getting under the desk to check the phone jack.”  I know it’s hard for her to get down that low, and that there’s a ton of heavy papers and books under the desk.  But I thought she said she’d already done that weeks ago.

I suggested she get a cell phone.  She said everyone else has suggested that, too, and if she can’t get this phone fixed she’ll have to consider it.

Others are starting to notice.

It’s not just me who’s left wondering “Where’s Mom?” My half-brother called me mid-December.  He wanted to know if Mom was okay.  He had tried to send a floral arrangement to her for Christmas and the florist told him there was no response when they tried to arrange delivery to Mom’s house.  My brother wondered if she’d moved!

Nope.  She’ll never move from her nest.  Can you imagine the work that would take?  But Tim doesn’t know about her hoarding, and so once again I preserve her reputation.

“She’s having trouble with the phone lines.  You know how it is in an old house, and how terrible the phone company’s service is,” yada yada yada.  So Tim was satisfied with that, although sympathetic.

And you know what?  I’m not sure the flowers did ever get delivered.

More recently, Lynn tells me the doctor’s office has been calling to find Mom.  Mom and Lynn have the same GP.  I guess they were trying to set up appointments and need to touch base with her.  It’s things like this that make you realize how important a phone line is…emergencies aside, you need a phone to just organize your daily life!

All these weeks later, and I’ve only spoken with Mom a handful of times.  She came for 3 days at Christmas, but with the flurry of the holidays, I didn’t really get to “talk” with her.  And she called once from Lynn’s house.  That’s it.  I wonder if it pains her as much as it does me to not have this contact?

What if?

What if I couldn’t reach my daughters one day?  Would they wonder about me?  Will they realize it’s been a long time since they’ve heard from me, but assume I’m okay?  Would they picture me dead, tangled between boxes of vintage knitting patterns and bolts of dusty fabric?  Would they cringe fearing “someday” they’ll have to go through all my stuff and cope with mouse feces, raccoon carcasses, disintegrating plastic bags, and mold?  I can’t imagine doing that to my kids…but I suppose Mom didn’t start out thinking like that either.

But here we are.  What to do about it?  I’m at such a loss.  I live 3 hours away, have a full time job, a husband and 2 children.  I can’t just pick up and drive over to help her troubleshoot her phone problems.  Lynn is busy with work, too, and besides, Mom won’t let her in the house.  I don’t want to travel that distance just to be turned away.  I don’t want to stand outside my crumbling childhood home and see the chunks of fallen plaster on the lawn.  I don’t want to force my way through the door because it only opens a crack.  I don’t want to pick my way past piles on the stairs and trigger a landslide.  I want the door to open wide, like my mother’s arm, as she greets me with a huge hug.  With the insistence I sit at the table with a cup of tea while we lose track of time chatting about life.

But, we don’t always get what we want, do we?