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Impasse
May 17, 2014 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Having a part practical/part relationship with my husband that boils down to the fact that I love him but I don't love his stuff, and I want to live with him but I don't want to live with his stuff. I'm asking because it's been 5 years and nothing has changed and I literally don't know what to do to solve the problem of constantly living in clutter and filth.

It's hard to talk to him about it because he has this "love me/love my stuff" belief and when he hears "She wants to get rid of my stuff" he immediately jumps to "She wants to get rid of me" and then he gets all angry and defensive. It's not true but it's turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the consequence is that our apartment is a filthy disgusting mess because every time I start to clean (which never gets past the bagging up trash phase anymore) I make a little progress until I come upon an ugly, dusty, useless item that can't be used, thrown out or stored (because naturally all the closets are packed) or even piled up and I lose all will to go on, knowing that as long as I can't reduce the amount of things, this place can never be clean. So what's the point. I'm in therapy, and I hooked him up with a therapist but he hasn't gone yet.

Contributing issues:
He has chronic pain which severely limits his mobility and energy. For this reason he legitimately can't work. We're planning on this being fixed this year, but nothing is guaranteed.

I work from home (from the couch, because the only suitable workspace is piled with stuff.)
We're planning on moving for my job in the Fall.

He's against hiring someone to help in any way. I would love some help. Any help.
I also run out of stamina fairly quickly.
Admittedly I also have stuff in piles, but that's because there's no place to store it. I could get rid of everything I own and the problem wouldn't be solved. He's older than me and has a lifetime of stuff.

We live in a 3rd floor walk up with no laundry, dishwasher, garbage disposal, garbage shoot, elevator, etc. everything has to be hauled up and down by hand. Therefore most of our energy is taken up just with laundry and dishes and taking out the garbage, which are all piling up because we're both depressed.

I know this is a lot but my question is that I want a clean house but I don't know what to do to make that happen. I also worry about having to pack all this stuff up eventually when we move.
posted by bleep to Human Relations (45 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can counter his "love me/love my stuff with "love me more than your stuff."
posted by Linnee at 12:03 PM on May 17 [18 favorites]


To be clear, you have identified a mutual problem in your relationship, you have offered suggestions (cleaning, storage, therapy) and he is unwilling to do any of them. He has been very clear that his priority is to keep his stuff over losing you.

I'd make plans to live a happy life, apart from him when you move for your job in the fall; separate your finances and belongings at that time. You can re-evaluate the relationship and his commitment to you from your new place after a few months. If he wants to move in with you to your new place he can take specific actions (cleaning his apartment, eliminating his belongs, being in intensive therapy, contributing financially/emotionally/physically to the relationship) before you can even consider sliding back into this dysfunctional relationship.
posted by saucysault at 12:06 PM on May 17 [76 favorites]


Can you rent a storage unit, put it in boxes, and then hire movers to put in in the storage unit? It doesn't solve the root cause, but it's probably easier and cheaper than getting someone to help around the house when he's against that.
posted by Houstonian at 12:11 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


This sounds like disordered thinking (hoarding?) not a relationship problem per se. We can tell you all kinds of things but we can't fix him. He has to want to do that for himself. But I think this is a much bigger problem than "cleaning". Only you can decide what your limits are. But this isn't going to be a quick fix. Even if he decides to get help, he may make 5 steps forward and 10 back as hoarding is a very difficult to treat disorder.
posted by Aranquis at 12:12 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


At the very least, when you move, move somewhere where you can have your own room and/or office, that you have ironclad agreement you can keep as clean and clear as you like, as a refuge and safe-haven against the rest of the house.

Also, moving is a great opportunity to get rid of useless stuff - tossing things out is easier than packing and moving them. Maybe get him to pack the best stuff first, so that the burden of moving has worn down his resolve to keep things by the time he reaches the stuff that really needs to go.
posted by anonymisc at 12:15 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


What kind of stuff specifically is it? Is it like broken TV sets or magazines? Or banana peels?

One thing that helped in our house was building a custom set of cubbies for all of us in the front hall closet. There is only my husband, me, and our kid, but when presented with 'where do I put this pair of slippers' or 'this bank statement' or 'this plastic tub of partially emptied seed packets', there's the destination. I'm guessing 'moving' isn't an option right now, but when you do, seriously consider looking for a place with separate offices/spaces so he has something he can crap up and you have someplace you can keep tidy.

This seems more a relationship question than a cleaning question though. His refusal to compromise in any way is pretty hard to take, considering you are willing to do it yourself, hire someone to do it, and find him someone to talk to so he ideally becomes less apathetic. The physical burden of living up three flights of stairs is also really tough, when you add laundry and trash and coming and going and groceries.

Is this one of those couplehood conflicts that becomes like background noise, and it never really gets resolved because it's like a radio station you occasionally turn to? If so, I think a sit down with him is in order where you spell out that resolving this issue is something that you need to be happy, in order to move forward in your life--that it HAS TO be fixed, as opposed to something you're willing to complain about forever but never resolve.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:17 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Specifically regarding hiring (cleaning?) help: why does he think he gets a say? If he's not able to help then the work is all your responsibility, and it's yours to deal with as you see fit.

(That's an actual question, not a rhetorical one: what does he say when you talk about it with him? Is he afraid whoever you hire will throw out some of his things?)
posted by egg drop at 12:20 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]


I can't advise you on what to do because this is so far out of the realm of what I'd be able to live with that I can't accurately assess. I can only tell you that for me this would be immediate, irrevocable DTMFA territory. He sounds awful, and your dynamics sound awful (you're the only one that earns but he makes the call on whether you can hire someone to help out around the house, even though he does nothing around the house but make it worse?)

He sounds like a losing bet. If somehow, some way my life had slid sideways to look like this I would hope someone loved me enough to advise me to cut my losses. This is the only life you get - do you really want to go through it like this? Heck, I'll advise you after all. You're moving for your job - that provides a natural breaking point. Leave him and his stuff behind when you go.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:21 PM on May 17 [34 favorites]


Can you rent a storage unit, put it in boxes, and then hire movers to put in in the storage unit? It doesn't solve the root cause, but it's probably easier and cheaper than getting someone to help around the house when he's against that.

It just delays the inevitable though. I lived in a similar way to OP where a few "personal items" were added to by hoarding in-laws who encouraged my husband's own hoarding and ended up crowding me out of my home. I got rid of every single one of my personal belongings (literally, I had one pair of shoes and five articles of clothing) and it did nothing to solve the problem because my husband refuses to work on his mental health. OP mentions that money is an issue; I recently spent thousands of dollars in a year on storing boxes of paper that were only written on one side (so they were still good!) and other broken, useless things only to pitch them all out instead of paying another year of it (fortunately, he was not motivated to find new space for the old crap because the space in our house created by removing a 20*40 feet storage unit worth of crap was filled within a few months with new useless items brought by him and his hoarding parents). That was money I earned as sole breadwinner that I did not get to spend on myself, and my husband will never repay.

This is a severe mental disorder the OP's spouse is responsible for; if they choose to not treat their mental health then the OP is justified in putting their own mental and physical health first.
posted by saucysault at 12:33 PM on May 17 [51 favorites]


Agree with the above commenters, if you want help then you hire help with the money you earned. He doesn't get a say.

I think its ultimatum time. He can get rid of his junk himself by x date (all of it), if he doesn't (or does an inadequate job - really, there should be nothing in your apartment that is dirty or broken), you will hire someone to clear it out, if he obstructs this person then when you move, it will be without him. And you need to stick to that. I know its hard but so long as you continue to put up with it he has no reason to change
posted by missmagenta at 12:33 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Can you move out and get your own place? I'm not saying you should divorce your husband, but I suspect that it's so fucking exhausting living in that place, dealing with him and his stuff and the garbage and the laundry and everything that you can't think straight. You need respite.

If you could spend a few months in your own place that he isn't allowed to visit (because he would probably want to stay there, as it would be fit for humans to live in, and then he'd start bringing his stuff) it might give you the strength to figure out the next steps for you both, either as a couple or separated.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:34 PM on May 17 [18 favorites]


In my experience, if he isn't up to dealing with this as a mental health issue, things will only get worse. You give him the choice "Love me OR your stuff." I see you have two options:

1. He sees his therapist and, with their help, allows you to clean with some hired help. In the aftermath, he actively works on his problem so things don't get like this again.

2. He refuses to seek help. You leave him when you move for your job without him.

I know how exhausting it can be to clean a hoarder's home. Only too well. I am a champion cleaner and, after 4 hours of work to clean a 3 ft sq section of floor and the constant arguments over saving that extension chord with the plugs cut off, I just fucking give up.

This is your life. He is foisting his shitty choices on you and you don't have to live this way. There is no easy way out of this but you do have options if you are willing to go that far.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:47 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


Your husband has an unhealthy relationship with Stuff that is negatively affecting your quality of life and your relationship. Any way you try to deal with the Stuff itself is just addressing the symptoms - he needs professional help dealing with the physical and mental health problems that are causing his hoarding behaviors. If he refuses to get that help, nothing will improve on his end. Can you live with that? You can't make him get help but you don't have to accommodate him either.

It seems to me like moving presents an opportunity to renegotiate the boundaries of your relationship such that his hoarding has less of an effect on you. My grandfather was a hoarder but his stuff was only allowed in the basement - the rest of my grandparents house was ruthlessly neatened. According to Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, a pop-science look at hoarding, this is a rather common arrangement between couples where one person is a hoarder, but it can be very hard and stressful to maintain.
posted by muddgirl at 12:49 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


I have relevant experience with this but without going into details, to make this work you probably need your own apartment. You can keep the relationship but not live together/work together for long periods in the same space, unless your husband gets help with the serious emotional issues causing the hoarding. It's very unlikely that he will. (requires will to change after hitting rock bottom, plus therapist, plus professional declutterer, plus regular cleaning firm to follow decluttering- a lot of help which he'd need to seek out for himself) You could use the job move to move only your stuff to your own place and then commence a two-home relationship. To deal with him importing stuff to your place/making a mess, get a cleaner, have small recognised spaces for his stuff - anything else he has to take back with him.
posted by Flitcraft at 12:51 PM on May 17 [7 favorites]


If you want to get insight into the psychology, I recommend watching the TV show Hoarders. It's really, really hard to watch, and it's really frustrating, because there are psychological motivations and barriers that run so deep for some people that they never get over it, and they eventually choose their things over people. It forces decisions upon people that are caught in the mess that are heartbreaking.

I don't say this to discourage you, but to give you all of the information. The only good solution here, I think, is hard lines on expectations. Also, it's incredibly important that you frame this to him (and to yourself) as him choosing things over you, not the other way around. The reason being, there is no accounting for your preferences here even in terms of compromise. You can compromise with him by letting him have some things in an appropriate place, etc. But what almost always happens with hoarders is that this same level of compromise is not reciprocated, which is what you've discovered by being confined to the couch to work. There is no such thing as "space for you, space for me." It's all become space for the hoarder, often without apology. What is insanely frustrating about this as well is that there seems to be a blindness to the issue that literally cannot see the problem after awhile. When this happens, they also don't see that they are being selfish, because the problem literally is not observable to them.

I'm sorry, this is going to require some hard decision making on your part. In these cases for people I know, I wouldn't recommend "leaving" a person as much as I would recommend "moving." That is, you let the person know that you are still with them, they have simply made it impossible to live in the same place with them due to what they have done. Would they please get their stuff together so that it wouldn't be impossible any more?
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:51 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


You have a few options here.

You can decide that you love him more than you hate his stuff. Work through your negative feelings about it and accept it.

You can decide you love him AND you hate his stuff. You can either remain living together unhappily (not recommended), or when you can move to a new place you go by yourself but you stay together as a couple.

You can decide that this is a deal breaker and when you move you do not stay together as a couple.

Nowhere in there have I mentioned that you should try to get him to change. Why? He won't. Not until he is ready for it. Even if you get him to agree to get rid of his stuff through coercion and/ or threats, if the underlying problem is going unaddressed, it will happen again. Until he is ready and willing to change, nothing you do or want is going to make that happen. Therapy would undoubtedly help, but only if it is something he wants for himself and is actually committed to.

As with many of these type of situations, I suspect you know the correct, healthy answer but are looking for permission or are afraid of the life changes it will entail. I hereby give you permission to take whatever action you need to that is healthy for YOU. If fear is stopping you from getting out of an unhealthy situation, please spend some time reflecting on the consequences of not making choices (for you, for him, and for you both as a couple) that are in your own best interest.

I'm sorry. Good luck.
posted by ananci at 1:08 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


I agree that your husband sounds like a hoarder and that he needs professional mental-health help to deal with that.

I also agree that you should maintain separate residences until he's learned to better manage his mental-health issues.
posted by jaguar at 1:31 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I do not see this ending well in any universe. You've already mentioned he has no interest in getting help. He has no interest in making even the smallest compromises for you. You've tried for FIVE LONG YEARS to get him to change and still continue to grab on to the hope that he will. Even though he refuses to take even 60 minutes out of his NON-work week to go see a therapist. He's made it exceedingly clear over 5 long years how much you matter to him as a person rather than as a paycheck who supports him.

"my question is that I want a clean house but I don't know what to do to make that happen."

With him living in the house? You don't make it happen. Period. Unfortunately we don't get to have everything we want in life. Part of being a grown up is accepting this. After 5 years you must realize that this is a situation where you're simply not going to get what you want. He has no interest in trying at all. So either choose to live in filth and do not ever have kids please because no child should live in a house like that (and child services may take him/her away from the house too) or choose to break free from this man and start over so that you can live a decent life with someone who cares more about you than some trash items. I'm sorry, but realistically that is your choice here.
posted by manderin at 1:43 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


Let's assume this isn't a deal breaker. Hire a mover and let him know you did. End of story. Or, at the very least, accept that that really is a possibility and sit down and talk to him about the decision you want to make. You don't have to obey him on this.

I once heard the following phrase, which I'm not entirely sure I agree with, but is extremely powerful: A family is like a tyranny where the weakest person has all the power. You need to be aware of this. People that have problems, refuse help and over-personalize conflict are often resisting change out of fear and thereby subconsciously controlling the family to a much larger degree than the healthier members involved. This is a serious mind-fuck. Normal healthy people don't generate this much conflict, drama and codependence.

Just remember the problem is with you, don't concern yourself so much with his problems on a daily basis (take a break from it!), and you need to learn how to speak up for yourself in this relationship. Logic and reasoning (vis-a-vis "justifying" your feelings) is secondary. You want things, that's really all that needs to be said, and he has to be able to sometimes listen to you and give of himself, because you're in a relationship. This is an overriding truth. People sometimes have big differences and need to work things out with very clear communication. Give him that opportunity, and you ought to be kind about it. God knows one day you might be the crazy one on some issue. Tell him how the clutter makes you feel. List it out. No unnecessary finger-pointing. Be vulnerable. If he resists, fine, let him. Feelings-talk can be a little scary to the uninitiated. If you love each other, chances are extremely high he'll come around in a day or two.

Hoarding is an anxiety disorder. Thinking that throwing away a person's things means you want to get rid of them is called a "compulsive thought." In general, it is a very stupid conclusion derived on past experiences whose only value is that it is irresistible and immediate for him. It is hard for him to identify this. But it may be worthwhile to ask him to start having second and third thoughts.

To be honest, simply knowing a lot of this, and communicating this to your partner, may not help. There is definitely a big emotional issue going on underneath this, but it (or its solution) doesn't necessarily have to be any of your business today (because trust me, it's way too complicated to solve in a day). This is a process, that will take some time and you feed it with love and acceptance and by encouraging improvement from a positive place. That's the stuff we need to work on, so that we can be resilient and effective and happy.

If you have an easier time identifying and talking about your husband's feelings, an easier time making decisions based on how he's feeling, and you have a much harder time talking about your own feelings and making your own decisions, I strongly suggest staying in therapy and talking to your therapist about just that, and you can mefi mail me if you want a 12-step program suggestion. Everything's going to be ok. Hang in there!
posted by phaedon at 1:49 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]


I've interviewed the authors of Stuff, mentioned above by muddgirl. They know their stuff and the book is well worth reading for anyone who is hoarding or loves a hoarder.

Hoarders are frustrating in part because they don't recognize that they are ill. Just as an underweight anorexic look in the mirror and sees fat, a hoarder looks into the mess and sees treasures, opportunities, possibilities.

Hoarders (who are often more creative and intelligent than the norm) may have hundreds of thoughts about individual objects. Some researchers think part of the problem may be one of categorization. If you perceive lots of qualities in a single object, it's really hard to know how to organize. Also, horders tend to be terrified of making mistakes so hanging on to everything feels safer than the possibility of wrongly getting rid of something.

So read the book. Or not. In any case, you need to take care of yourself. Your husband can't do that and isn't doing that. No one is looking out for your own best interests. I wish you all the best in figuring that out and then setting the limits needed to have a healthier and happier life. You are not obliged to support someone who is squeezing you out of your own home. You are not obliged to live under miserable conditions.

Changing the rules will be a shock to his system. He will get angry. Your job is to make a plan to get what you need, including support from others. And to be prepared for the backlash. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:55 PM on May 17 [12 favorites]


"I want a clean house but I don't know what to do to make that happen"
You do know, you just don't want to be the bad guy.
Either he sorts the stuff or you do.
Either he gets help for his hoarding or you move out.
It's you or the hoard.
There's help all over the internet.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:14 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


Boundaries.

Designate certain parts of the apartment yours and certain parts of the apartment his. Start with designating just one location yours. Possibly make it a chunk of the kitchen that includes the sink. Don't make it a huge location, but make it one that you need to use. If the kitchen is too much of a lost cause make it the location where you work.

Then concentrate on just this one location and for the moment write off the rest of the place. If there is stuff of his that naturally and reasonably belongs in your space include it in the cleaning and maintenance you do, but if you don't need it or want it in that location remove it and just pile it in his area.

Ideally your morale and habits will make it possible for you to keep this one work station clean and tidy. Let's say you chose the couch where you work. Do you have a work surface, a place to put away your laptop and any papers? Figure out how to tidy this one spot so that it looks good and feels good and is easy to use. As for the rest of the apartment.... Regard it as a space for storage of his stuff. To keep yourself sane, make very clear boundary dividers. For example you can write a line in chalk or mark it out with tape. If his items tumble out of the pile into your section, pick them up and toss them gently back into his section far enough back that they won't fall out again.

If you can get one spot under control and happy with that spot then you can pick a second spot - also ideally a work station and add that to your daily maintenance routines. Eventually you might, potentially have a bunch of spots, kitchen up to the middle of the table, bed, your dresser, bathroom except for one corner, the table where you do jigsaw puzzles.

You don't need to be punitive about this, or disrespectful in any way.

His stuff and the dirt is going to still be exhausting. One thing you can do is get cardboard boxes (Most liquor stores get rid of tons of clean dry old cardboard boxes) and put his stuff in boxes which stack neatly and are at least not a cultch pile of mixed clothes, videos, garbage, computer parts, books, empty bottles, etc. Just stack them up to a level that is stable. Another thing you can do is put dust sheets over the piles and stacks and unusable furniture. This will cut down on the visual clutter. You will permanently look like you are in the middle of a move but it will be possible to clean.

Since you are about to move in a few months this will be a proactive way of starting to pack. You need to end up with enough storage space for everything.You can't possibly be clean and tidy if there is no place to put things away. This may not be possible if there is too much cubic cultch but you can make some basic rules to help your brain deal with the clutter such as that all books go in the living room and all computer parts, linux boxes, printers, etc. go in the hall beside the computer table.

Dividing the space the way Korea was partitioned is an idea that can be used when you have two kids in a room. The idea is not to make it hard for either kid, or for you and your husband, but rather to put an end to the bickering. Generally the untidy one is actually quite happy for the tidy one to move his or her stuff and prefers it over endless wails of dismay and will reasonably cooperate if the arrangement seems fair. It doesn't mean that the untidy one will stop making messes but that they will vaguely attempt to limit the damage out of the designated clean spots.

My hoarder has been making efforts and having some success since he watched a bunch of episodes of "Hoarders" and realised there were some parallels but even that didn't do the trick; it also requires his anti-depressants to be optimized. This doesn't mean he is now tidy, nor that he is no longer an accumulator, but that he is now able to get rid of stuff, aware that his space could be better, more unhappy about his space, and able to sometimes spend a weekend on his study and bedroom.

Consider paring down the stuff that is in current use. That is, if you designate one cup, one plate and one bowl each and pack the rest up and put it in a box under the kitchen table you will be forced to wash your mug every time you want milk or coffee or orange juice and will end up washing as you go. This will be much easier than having thirty dirty mugs on the kitchen table and the stove needing to be cleaned at the end of the day. The trick is to make rinsing your mug easier than digging for the right box under the kitchen table.

Do the same with laundry as you do with the dishes. Pare it down to the essentials and put the rest into storage. (The carton boxes on top of his dresser.) You need seven pairs of underpants each, however many pairs of jeans and so on. You don't need more than three sweater/jacket/vest/coats, just one each for bitterly cold, one for darn chilly and one for long sleeved days. Since this is May you probably only need two each and can pack the bitterly cold stuff. For storing clothing use transparent garbage bags if you use garbage bags so that you won't mistake the clothes for garbage.

Whatever you do don't get any pets.

Make some small cleaning routines that only take a few seconds or minutes at most. Last one out of bed makes it without tucking the corners in properly. First one out of bed gathers up the discarded clothes from last night and stuffs them into the laundry basket you take to the laundromat.

Whenever you crap, flush, and then take a toilet brush to the toilet and paper towel to one other tiny section of bathroom, such as the back of the commode or the bathroom sink, and then wash your hands. (To save on having to store a bottle of cleaner in a bathroom that has no cupboard space I use a dollop of the shampoo that got rejected. It may not disinfect but it doesn't breed resistant sorts of bacteria either.)

Turn post dinner dish washing into a social time between the pair of you and find a positive relationship building thing to talk about. For example: Things I would like to do for you but will never be able to afford: I would like to be rich and take you to London and show you the British Museum and the embankment. Keep it light and affectionate. Another example: My three favorite jokes. The great TV show I saw this week. Where do we go if global warming floods our district. Don't try to wash the huge backlog of grubby dishes, just make the kitchen a tiny bit better than you found it. This should only take a few minutes, especially if you drip dry your dishes.

Where is all the garbage coming from and what is it? My hoarder drops at least one two-litre pop bottle a day. Our housecleaning-impaired daughter drops at least one empty package of cookies. It only takes a few seconds to pick these up but it can feel like the house is buried in other people's food garbage. Make a routine to deal with the bulkiest part of the garbage problem, such as whenever you put the kettle on to make tea you also go and grab the bottles.

The idea is to shoot for five days out of seven you make your environment better than it was so that at bedtime the place is just a fraction better than it was when the day began. But when it fails to happen every now and again, maybe two days out of seven, you don't count it as a failure but as one of your freebie days. Depression is a medical condition, like arthritis or a compound fracture, so firmly remind yourselves that you wouldn't expect yourself to run across the street if you had a broken leg, so hobbling about slowly is perfectly reasonable.

Make a point of never leaving the apartment empty handed. It is better to take a small grocery bag worth of garbage down to the garbage room than it is to keep running out carrying nothing and have a huge amount of garbage to gather up and take down on garbage day.

Check if not having the cleaning supplies accessible is part of the problem. If you don't know where the vacuum cleaner is you can't vacuum. If there is nothing to wipe down surfaces with but a slimy kitchen sponge you won't be encouraged to clean the stove and certainly won't be able to make any headway on the baked on stuff around the burners. One of your designated under control areas can be the under the kitchen sink, or a plastic bucket where you keep those minimalist supplies necessary for cleaning.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all the hoarded cultch represents hope. Someday I am going to go snowboarding. Some day I am going to set up that Linux box. Someday I am going to get into painting. Some day I am going to read this book... Or else it represents good things from the past: I loved this book when I was younger. I once wrote the coolest most elegant code. I used to go snowboarding with my sister... Or else it represents security. All those old clothes can be used to save money by being used as cleaning rags. I will not forget all the coding I used to be able to do because I still have the books to remind me... So when you reduce stuff you have to work within those parameters. Your hoarder might be able to commit himself to reading the book, and sorting through five bags of old clothes and paring it down to one all-cotton bag of cleaning rag and getting rid of an entire bag of old ski jackets that would make lousy cleaning rag. Or not. But if you can do anything to emotionally convert the hoarded cultch to resources from a burden it will be the least painful way of dealing with the mess.

Your hoarder might also be willing to share his stuff. If he is keeping masses of computer parts because they are too valuable to throw out he might be delighted to put together one good working system and give it to your acquaintance Dave who needs a computer. There is a big difference between "Get rid of this garbage!" and "Can we give all the dog's old stuff to my niece who has finally gotten permission to get a puppy?"

If you can sit down and list what problems you've got and then rank them in order of greatest inconvenience you can focus on the one that is causing the most problem: 1.Clothes. 2. magazines. 3. Dirty dishes.... etc. Then you spend a week with the number one item as your priority and figure out just why it is being a problem. It may be that you actually do have room to store all the clothes in the closets but the snow board and the computer parts are making it impossible to reach the closets and by consolidating the sports equipment you can make a path to the closet and get all the clothes away... which magically opens a spot by the wall where the sports equipment can get stacked. Or not. It all depends on how badly buried you are.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:36 PM on May 17 [13 favorites]


I think people are being a little cut and dried here. I don't think Bleep can just summarily throw out her partner's possessions, even if they are being hoarded. This is nearly impossible to do with an oppositional co-resident. I think what Bleep actually needs help with is engendering some level of cooperation from her other half.

I would use moving as the ideal opportunity to do this. The apartment needs to be emptied to be cleaned, and unless he has another plan, everything needs to be boxed to be moved anyway, right?

So box it and store it (Battle Phase I) and then when you get to the new location, only un-store specific boxes (Battle Phase II)

I make a little progress until I come upon an ugly, dusty, useless item that can't be used, thrown out or stored

Dust it and box it. You're going to have to anyway.

But, none of this is going to work if he's bringing new stuff in while you are packing up old stuff to ship out to storage. Is he bringing in new stuff?
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


I want to reemphasize what Foam Pants said: "You don't have to live this way." I feel stressed just reading your description of your life. It is highly unlikely it will ever change. You deserve an easier life, where doing dishes and laundry and simply living is not so overwhelming. He may love you, but he is sick and self-absorbed, and love is definitely not enough.
posted by ravioli at 2:48 PM on May 17 [14 favorites]


If he gets to the point he agrees he needs to change (and I agree with all here that he sounds like a hoarder) but he just feels overwhelmed, the Flylady system might be helpful. But it sounds to me that this is bigger than Flylady.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:51 PM on May 17


I would start looking (now, pre-"move for work") for a small place of your own.

Take all of your stuff to your new place and let him deal with his house full of crap--maybe give him a gift certificate to some sort of heavy-duty cleaning service (hopefully one that is in some way refundable so it's not money wasted* when he decides that he will never use it).

If he gets the place clean (and keeps it so), that's one thing (and you could re-visit your thoughts on moving back with him then) but I'm assuming that with his hoarder mindset, autumn is going to roll around with no change in the filth. But if and when it comes to that, you will have experienced several months of freedom, a crazy amount of reduced stress, and you'll be pretty much moved out anyway, so the split when you move away will be done in all but the saying.

Honestly, I lived with a hoarder/pack rat and the sense of relief after moving out was exhilarating.

(*but really, it would be a small price to pay to get you out of an unhealthy situation)
posted by blueberry at 2:57 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I want to thank you for your kind advice. If you're stressed out from reading this I left out the unrelated fights, the yelling and crying that resulted from everything I've tried to do, the complete lack of sex (which is at least great for not bringing a child into this mess), the fact that I have no girlfriends, the cat who pees on our bed all the time, the fact that I don't know how to feed myself. But I believe that he's doing his best -he cooks, washes dishes, folds laundry when he's up to it. If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight, then I'd just be gone, but I'm sticking it out til then because I love him. Getting my own space is my daily fantasy but I've tried to mention that and he can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up. In the meantime I will carve out spaces and be content with small victories instead of all-or-nothing and try to frame bigger stuff around the move.
posted by bleep at 3:14 PM on May 17


His best doesn't have to be your best. Love yourself.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:24 PM on May 17 [46 favorites]


" If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight, then I'd just be gone, but I'm sticking it out til then because I love him. Getting my own space is my daily fantasy but I've tried to mention that and he can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up."

I don't think you can make it any more clearer that this relationship is doomed to failure. First you mention that if the finish line for his physical disability weren't in sight you'd be gone, but that you love him?? In no way is real love contingent on whether or not someone's physical disability get's better. What if it doesn't get better and he isn't able to work again after all?

If by disability you're referring to his hoarding I'd be interested to know what "finish line" you mean since based on everything you've written it would appear there is currently no finish line in sight for that.

He can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up with you?? I'm so sorry that you're dealing with this, but I'm having a hard time believing you're looking at this 'relationship' realistically. It seems you need as much therapy as he does. You've spent the last 5 years or more with a man who refuses to compromise and can't even fathom moving out without breaking up with you. I hope you realize you're worth more than this. I would hate for you to waste another 5 years of your life. You can't help someone who is not willing to help themselves.
posted by olivetree at 3:32 PM on May 17 [9 favorites]


I was about to write a longer answer, but the most important thing is this: take care of yourself first. Are your vit B, D and iron levels okay? I mean you say you are depressed, spend a lot of time indoors, get drained by simple chores and it sounds like eating healthy and sleeping in a comfortable bed could be problem areas as well. If your body is not properly taken care of, your mind will suffer as well. Treat yourself kindly, start with the basics today. You are worth it.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:40 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight, then I'd just be gone, but I'm sticking it out til then because I love him. Getting my own space is my daily fantasy but I've tried to mention that and he can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up.

Yeah, I said this exact same thing every day when I lived with a man who put his needs ahead of mine every single moment, too. I loved him deeply and two years out I still miss him daily but I am free. He wouldn't let me live my life on my own terms - including getting a place of my own while staying together - and so I ended up painted in a corner with only one option.

Reader, I dumped him, and it was the hardest and smartest thing I've ever done in my life.

I'm sorry you are going through this. Your husband is not treating you well. You are putting your entire life on a back burner for him, and he is not moving even one centimeter for you. I'm afraid you have very few options here. I would suggest couples counseling to him as a last-ditch effort but I don't think he's likely to attend with you, based on what you've written.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 3:53 PM on May 17 [26 favorites]


Sweetheart, it's not fair. I need some space of my own, for work, for my own stuff, or to keep empty if I choose. I need some sense that it's my home, too, that my needs and desires will be considered. This has to happen, and it has to happen pretty soon. It's not about your needs only, it's about my needs, too.

It does sound like hoarding, and I hope he gets treatment. You've been admirable, hanging in with him, but at some point, you can/ may/ must? meet your own needs.
posted by theora55 at 3:59 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight, then I'd just be gone, but I'm sticking it out til then because I love him.

Hmmm, by all means, wait to cross that finish line, but I counsel you OP, that things may change a little less than you're expecting - I know how chronic disability can affect life and quality of life, bu only this sounds a lot bigger than his disability, and even if the issues are resolved, changing habits built up from years are not easy at all. You may be seeing a mirage, not an oasis, on the horizon OP.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 4:01 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


Do you fundamentally understand that you do not need his consent to move yourself to a new apartment?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:03 PM on May 17 [25 favorites]


If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight

Your previous question mentioned a surgery so I'm assuming this is what you mean by "a finish line." Perhaps the physical problems will be fixed, but there's obviously a lot of psychological issues going on here, and no surgery is going to fix those.

I would not suggest couples counseling unless he fully acknowledges his part of the problem and is willing to work on it.

I hooked him up with a therapist but he hasn't gone yet.

...and there's the answer to that.
posted by desjardins at 4:05 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


This is only a solution to a tiny, tiny part of your problem, but could you do some/all of your work from another location, like a coffee shop or the library? If you're still in Chicago, there are tons of great spaces for this in just about every neighborhood. Before the kiddos get out of school the libraries are very quiet, and you'll be surrounded by other people hard at work.

It'll get you out of the house at least, and into a space that is more organized and relaxing. Plus you can spread out a lot more than you can on a couch.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:09 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


This definitely feels like a "put your own oxygen mask on first" kind of situation.
posted by salvia at 6:06 PM on May 17 [11 favorites]


A small solution to a tiny part of your problem. Is there a kid in the apartment block that you could pay $2/pop to take down your garbage? If they're on a different level, you could just text them or their parents. I would have been thrilled to earn easy money when I was 10.

But honestly, unless he wants to change, I can't see this lasting.
posted by kjs4 at 6:24 PM on May 17


The cat that pees on our bed all the time needs to be looked after. That's a miserable situation for you. Are you able to get in enough clean cat sand?f you can afford it there are places that do cat sand and cat food deliveries, so as to deal with trying to get the cat sand all the way up those stairs.

My first step would be to make sure the cat has at least one clean cat box available. If your cat box is in the bathroom it makes it easier to tie cleaning the cat box to your own elimination routine. Basically, every time you go pee, rake the cat box. I am assuming you are using clumping litter and can get the pee out of the box. If your cat pan or cat pans are not in the bathroom it's harder to turn it into a several times a day habit, but worth trying hard.

My second step would be to take the cat to your vet and get it scoped out for bladder or kidney problems. If it has had a dirty cat box it can easily have picked up an infection and may have developed an aversion to the box because peeing hurts. Also, cats will piss in very awful, very noticeable places when they are trying to tell you they have a bladder problem. So rather than react like you have a bad cat, first assumption when it pisses somewhere bad is that you have a sick cat.

If you can stay in control of the cat boxes it can help to have one in every location where the poor wretched abominable creature is soiling. This would be a temporary measure until it got into the habit of using just one or two boxes. I feel confident that the last thing you want in your bedroom is tracked cat sand to be gritty underfoot, but putting a box on the spot where it shouldn't leak but does often works to get the cat to use the box instead of the carpet or the floor. Not so easy with a bed.

A cat that pees in your bed is a very troubled cat. They normally love to sleep on their person's bed and wouldn't dream of peeing there any more than you would pee your bed on purpose.

Would getting an incontinence pad for the bed be helpful, do you think? If the cat has only ever peed on one spot and the mattress is salvageable you might be able to put the pad on that part of the bed and at least make the situation a little easier to clean up.

Feeding yourself is another issue: Is it basically that the kitchen is so daunting that thinking of food and cooking defeats you? If so it might help to get an assortment of food for times when you have to eat, but can't think or deal with it. I am suggesting keeping a stash of juice boxes, crackers, dried fruit, granola bars, fruit like apples that will keep a few days without being refrigerated. None of these require dishes or preparation or make a mess other than having wrappers to throw out.

It might also help to sit down and come up with a list of things that you can prepare when you go into the kitchen and you quail at the thought of eating. For example breakfast cereal only requires a bowl and spoon, some milk and a box of cereal. A bag of baby carrots means that you can grab a handful and reassure yourself that you did actually have something nutritious to eat. Another thing you could try is muffins or buns. Another thing you could try is salami or cheese.

Dealing with a kitchen becomes much easier when you have a clear work space. If the first thing you do when you enter your kitchen is make sure that the half of the kitchen table that is reserved is clear and the last thing you do is make sure that half of the kitchen table is clear then it leaves mental space for thinking about food. It may not be as nice as actually washing the backlog of dishes, but the object is to get yourself fed, not worn out and distressed and resentful, so simply piling the dishes out of your way is reasonable when washing them is not going to happen.

Sometimes the reason why a kitchen is daunting is the smell and in that case your clean up might always start with hunting down the source of the smells and dealing with them first. Your routine might be to start with the table and to wash a bunch of bread and butter plates and to ignore the cat's food dish, but if the cat food is smelly from sitting out since the morning dealing with that can help make the kitchen bearable. It needs to take priority over the plates that only have crumbs. Similarly if you have, say, a frying pan that was used to fry sausages, it might sound much more efficient and reasonable to knuckle down and wash the frying pan, but running scalding hot water and detergent into the pan until the grease is gone and then putting it aside to wash later is better than either avoiding it altogether, or forcing yourself to scrub the thing until it is clean if it will use up all your energy and leave you still unfed. This is especially the case if it is your husband's frying pan and something that you feel bad about cleaning. You can leave it in a state where it is ready for him to wash but not offending you by reeking of old sausage spice and grease.

One rule of thumb I came up with for myself was that if I don't use up a roll of paper towel every day I am not doing enough cleaning. This is because my mother used to get hysterically angry about us wasting paper towel when I was a kid. Some how I started out with a mindset that paper towel should be hoarded. Now there are lots of days when I don't use up the entire roll but it got me over the idea that it was wrong to use up cleaning supplies or to be lavish in using them.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:50 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


...he can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up.

Try to make your next home a duplex, or side-by-side apartments in the same building.

He gets his place and you get yours, but you're still under one roof.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:57 PM on May 17 [3 favorites]


If the finish line for his disability weren't in sight, then I'd just be gone

I consider his willingness to live this way to be a disability, and there's no end in sight for that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:08 PM on May 17 [10 favorites]


As far as I can tell, nobody's really come up with a way to deal with hoarding. It's a mental issue and you see how well it works to try to deal with it. Hell, even if he wanted the house clean (which he doesn't), the wanting doesn't matter if the mental problem is so bad that he'd rather lose you than a broken plastic fork. Honestly: you're either gonna have to put up with it or move out and stay married/get a duplex or move out and get a divorce. Sorry. I know you don't want to because he's disabled, but you have to choose between him and the stuff too.

I did read the book Her Fearful Symmetry once. It's a freaking horror novel that's mindblowingly bad on the subject of twins (no twin should ever read it), but oddly on the side, there's a subplot about how a neighbor man has OCD and his wife got so fed up with it that she literally moved back to her home country, leaving him a note saying that she couldn't take it any more. She wouldn't divorce him, but if he wanted her back he'd have to come to her, and in the meantime she wanted to do crazy things like have a cat. He actually starts to recover from it on his own with the assistance of a neighbor. Reading that might give you some ideas....
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:09 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Jane the Brown has some really lovely practical tips for dealing with this on a day-to-day basis. But these tips also put 100% of the burden of his problem on you. Not to mention how exhausted I feel just reading them, let alone having to do them. Would you ever have time for anything else? Have you not been burdened enough by living this way already? Your follow-up about the screaming, the lack of sex, the lack of friends... this does not sound like a mutually satisfying relationship or a partnership. It's something else, and that something is no good.
posted by sockermom at 3:34 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]


Dearest bleep, you are not obligated to leave your husband any more than you are obligated to stay with him. Before I left my husband, I fantasized about having my own place. It was so great when I finally got one. I don't know what you can afford or what is available. If you could find a live-work space, that might work well. You could call it your studio and work there while you figured out what you want to do--and still live with your husband.

I spent years believing that my husband somehow had veto power over my life. It wasn't true. I gave him veto power, which is something else entirely. Somehow I couldn't bear to make him angry or unhappy with me. I wanted him to like me even when I told him no. Most humans aren't like that. Most of us get angry and then we get over it.

Stay with your husband or don't stay. Either way, you need more support. You need to learn how to love yourself and care for yourself even as you love your partner. One does not negate the other. It's not easy but it can be done. We're all rooting for you. Just start with baby steps. And reward yourself for every single accomplishment, no matter how small.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:06 AM on May 18 [15 favorites]


> Getting my own space is my daily fantasy but I've tried to mention that and he can't wrap his head around moving out without breaking up.

Sounds like you're part of his hoard.
posted by needled at 10:09 AM on May 18 [8 favorites]


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