Mom and Dad are a Mess!

by francy Dickinson

Dear Francy; My parents live on their own in their home of 35 yrs. They have now succeeded in making that home a haven for every newspaper printed in the last five years, mail, books, everything in and around the house. They live amount stacks of boxes and stuff. It’s a mess and every time I try to clean it up they have a fit. What can I do?

CLEAN. You know there comes a time in life when someone makes a decision to be child-like in their thinking. If they do that, they have opened the door to be treated like a child, with love and consistent attention. I don’t think I have to remind you, of your own childhood days of bedrooms so messy you could not walk without stepping on clothes. Your mother would tell you to clean or not to come out until you did…remember that part? Well, the shoe is now offically on the other foot and you get to do the same to your parents.

Do not waste your time telling me your parents resent your obvious cleaning frenzy. I understand that part, they want to live in peace in their own home- it is their home and you are just their daughter. When did you get so bossy and they have even called you on your arrival back home to tell you what a nasty overbearing girl you are and they are re-thinking their will.  – Sound familiar?

Well, if they are living in a home with so much junk that it causes a fire, health and bodily harm hazard – they better re-think their will, they will be needed it sooner than they think. So put that talk away, put their threats away and get over there with a shovel and get the place cleaned out. But before you do so, let’s talk about what it is really saying about them:

  • When you are feeling tired and unable to jump up and return a coffee cup to the kitchen to be cleaned or pick up the newspapers after you have read them – what does that say? Do they have a heart problem that is slowing them down? Do they get dizzy if they move from the sitting position to the standing position or bending over? Could the dizziness be a side effect of a medication?
  • If the mess has become a hazard in all the rooms, does it say that they have stopped thinking about clean? If that is so, do they bath regularly or wash their hands during the day or when they prepare food?
  • If the room is so overwhelming that they sleep on a messy couch or in a Lazy-boy chair instead of in their own bed – is that because their bed is piled high with clothes that need to be cleaned, or are clean and not put away? Does that not tell you that things have started to get out of gear in their interaction with each others care?
  • Do they think that people coming in to their home are guests and should be quiet about garbage dropped here and there? Because they have the right to be messy in their own home? Does this say that they are not thinking properly about their home ownership, should you check to see if they are paying their bills – or just letting the world go by without attention?
  • Could the laziness of cleaning and caring for their own selves be related to depression or other medical reasons?

It is so easy to just think a good clean will change things. But if they have become hoarders and feel safer when they have things surrounding them, there is a problem. If they feel that one is one but a dozen shows that they can afford things and have things that others would like to have and that makes them better than other people out in the world. Or it may make them feel they are not getting older and losing power. Do all of those stacks of things bring them a feeling of safety? No one can take safety away if they have their stacks of stuff! They have issues.

It may be one or both of them. One may have started to hoard or stack things and the other allowed it out of love and fear of angering a person they love. And soon the other submits to the hoarding or inactivity in cleaning. It becomes a way of life that they joke about and think is really no one else’s business but their own.

WRONG. Hazards are hazards. A fire is a fire, a health issues of rodents and bugs infesting a home is not a joke. The idea that any open wound no matter how small could get infected when there is dirty kitchen counters where meats have been prepared and old food from dirty dishes builds up without cleaning is nasty. That is not a joke, nor does it say…I can do this because I own this house. Well guess what? They do not get that luxury. They can cause a fire to their own home and a neighbors, the repair men could trip on the things on the floor and they would have hurt someone else and gotten a law suit to boot. The rodents and bugs go from their house to the neighbors. The smallest infection, cold, flu etc. could be deadly with germs on every table, phone receiver, or faucet handle around. Dirt and germs, old newspapers and things thrown around are a danger. If your parents are unwilling to change those things than you have a job to do.

First, you tell their doctor. If you go to the doctor with them, go and tell him in person. If you do not – then write it down on paper in a letter and fax it. On the top of the letter, “ask it to be noted into their chart”. that is like telling a doctor that abuse is taking place, he has to respond to this information.  Tell the doctor what is going on and better still take a couple of pictures with your cell phone so he can see what is happening. He might be able to diagnose depression and with a simple change of medication and it could remove all the stress they are under and make this problem something simple to solve. But he will have to take note and mention it during their next appointment. There is something about a doctor telling a senior person to do something. Not their daughter, but a doctor and it goes in and is acted on easier.

If not – you go to other family members and tell them you want to talk to your parents and help them clean up their home. You feel it is a sign of them losing their Independence and you may have to take legal action to have a judge determine their mental health. 

If you have brothers and sisters, it will take a family intervention to talk to your parents and tell them if they want to live on their own. They will have to not only clean up the mess (which you will help them with) but they will have to have someone come in at least twice a month to keep the house clean.

There is no love lost when older people start to have problems that manifest into a home filled with things of no value that are being kept in strange ways. That is a sign of something. It is not to be ignored anymore than a sign of diabetes or cancer is to be ignored. They may have dementia, depression, leg pain, back pain, dizziness, breathing problems, which may signal Alzheimer’s or heart problems or some other real condition that could be treated.

The whole world acts odd when they age. This is gone beyond odd. This is dangerous and you have to face up to it and get it taken care of for their own good. Now, if they threaten you with financial rebuff and take you out of their will. So be it. Or would you rather stay in that will and find out they were both suffering  for years with a condition that could have been treated?

Cleaning up the house is the easy part. But to clean it up and think it will stay that way is foolish. There are reasons behind the clutter – emotional, physical, mental. You have to find those reasons out and then get those issues into the light of day with a doctor, counselor or family members and then clean out the house.

I am sorry that caring for your parents can be so uncomfortable, but life is rarely a breeze through. If this is what you are faced it, do not ignore it, it will only get worse. It is your turn to start to make decisions that can help both of them find ways to handle this behavior. It might be as easy as a doctor’s appointment or a family counseling session. But it has to be taken care of right away.

Thank you for your keen eye and willingness to face your parents for their own best intersts. It’s not an easy thing to do, would you please go and visit my website and click on the products section and look over the Care-Givers Workbook 101, I think you will find it has so much more information that can help you through these situations in the future.

Thanks, francy

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