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.

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?

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 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?

  • I thought the worst of it was when the raccoons moved in, but I’ll talk about them in a different post.  I started writing my thoughts about Mom’s phone problems before I started the blog, so this is a bit of back story.

It’s January 25, 2012.  I’ve not been able to phone my mother for about 7 weeks.  7 weeks of not hearing her voice.  7 weeks of wondering if she’s okay.  7 weeks of fearing she’s buried alive (or dead) under a pile of her belongings.  You see, a few weeks before Christmas Mom’s phone line just stopped working.  Her towering piles of stuff keep her from getting in close enough to any wall jacks to see if the phone cord has fallen out.  She wouldn’t dream of calling in a phone repairman…not that they’d get anywhere anyway.  My best guess is a mouse has chewed through the wires in the wall, but I have no way of knowing.

Mom has created a comforting nest around her of treasured belongings, but in doing so, has built a barrier to rival the Great Wall of China and I’m on the outside.  I miss her.  I’d like to be able to call her every Sunday night like I’ve done every week since I moved away from home.  I’d like to give her updates on what her grand-daughters have been up to; discuss birthday party plans; and ask how her doctors’ appointments have been going.

I didn’t realize right away her phone wasn’t working.  I had spoken to her on a Sunday night as usual.  Then I wanted to call her again a few days later to talk about a shared Christmas gift for my sister, Lynn.  No answer.  I figured she was sleeping (her medications make her very sleepy).  A day later I tried again.  No answer.  Maybe she was out shopping, as she frequently does.  By the time the next Sunday rolled around and I STILL hadn’t gotten a hold of her, I began to worry.  Lynn hadn’t heard, and people were starting to wonder.

Since she lives nearby, Lynn went over to Mom’s house.  I’m sure it was with a knot of dread in her stomach.  Her van was in the driveway.  The lights were on.  No one answered the doorbell.  Moms dog started to bark.  The emergency key Lynn had didn’t work in the door.  I guess the locks where changed at some point.  Lynn was able to force the garage door open, and picked her way through a garage crowded with all the molds, tools, concrete, and debris from my deceased fathers statuary business.  She was able to get to the door that lead into the house, but piles as high as her shoulders kept her from going any further.  What effort that must have taken to get even that far.  I’m sure she was afraid she’d run into a raccoon!

Calling out at the top of her lungs finally caught Moms attention.  She was alive and awake!  But somehow didn’t hear the doorbell?  Or maybe was hiding from it, thinking it was a stranger?  Who knows.  Lynn says Mom stood at the top of the stairs and didn’t let Lynn in, but assured her she’s ok and it’s just that the phone is broken.

And it remains so to this day.