Therapist or Organizer for a hoarding parent?
May 8, 2014 5:35 PM   Subscribe

My father died a week ago and due to the present circumstances, I was able to get my mother to agree to see someone about her hoarding. She is willing to confront it and realizes it is an issue, but part of getting her to agree to this was me volunteering to find someone to help. I have found multiple resources and would appreciate any advice on who I should be contacting first about this. (Special Snowflake, yada yada, you know the rest)

I have been looking at the various resources and they seem to fall into three distinct categories:
a.) Therapists specializing in OCD and hoarding. It seems that the key things to ask about for this is using CBT and EPR therapies. I know she saw one approximately 20 years ago when things almost fell apart in the marriage, but somehow that never went anywhere and the hoarding continued.
b.) Professional Organizers. They seem to be more likely to deal with terrible disorganization, which she also has, but may not be the best to help someone dispose of potentially two or three dumpsters worth of stuff.
c.) Clutter Removal Business. They actually take stuff away, which is great, but it seems that they only take the stuff you point out to them, and that things must be sorted first, if they are not sorted, there is a risk of losing something important. (The cynical side of me thinks that she would not notice, but I am doing my best to treat this with respect, given that this is an issue I have been fighting with on and off myself for years.)

Time is also a factor here, she needs to make the house and surrounding property showable to potential tenants or purchasers in only a couple of months. I feel like I should have tried to address this sooner, but trying to sort through my dad's stuff and watching her freak out as I asked her to tell me yes or no on a cheap paperback book finally drove it home. She keeps saying that she will finish the house in time, but given that my father's room has been "almost complete" for four days now, I am very worried.

Ideally, I'd love it if there was a therapist who would help remove stuff at the end of the session, but I realize that this is like asking for the location of the nearest unicorn. Also, given that my dad was the principle earner for the house, any advice on doing this inexpensively would be appreciated.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
CBT. Preferably in home but that's most likely a unicorn or out of price range. This is a slow process.

The other two options put a bandaid (for you not to her) but don't fix the actual problem (an unhealthy emotional attachment to objects for whatever reason).

You are dealing with a time crunch and may have to go for the throwing things away while she is hysterical. It is not not not a good option. There will be so much emotional strain. And generally people with hoarding get extremely anxious and immediately start filling again. So it will be ongoing without the CBT.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2014

Also though one week for a death is Waaaay soon. For sensitivity and grieving purposes her husband's stuff should be the very last thing she deals with. Focus on her things first.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:51 PM on May 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

A addresses the cause; B and C help symptoms.

So a combination can be very helpful, but if you do B and/or C without also doing A, it won't do anything in the long run and could even make things worse (if she reacts badly to it, which is very common).
posted by randomnity at 5:51 PM on May 8, 2014

I want to say when I made the first comment it really didn't click it had only been a week since your father's passing. Both comments still stand. I do want to say in addition that some people take more than a week just to process that that person isn't coming back. Emotional shock can last weeks. Regardless of how expected the passing was.

I understand hoarding is a medical issue and it needs to be addressed. Just please be conscious that hoarding is a coping mechanism and she is going through major life transitions.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:05 PM on May 8, 2014

Yes, especially if she's trying to get rid of your father's stuff first. That can't be easy at this point - I don't think I could handle it, even as a non-hoarder.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:07 PM on May 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Get a therapist, and please please consider renting a storage unit and packing things up into boxes and storing them for 6 months or a year and then dealing with it later. Tell your mom - drive her to the storage unit to see the stuff is there, and just shift it so the house is sellable.

I know you want to get the stuff out of the house, to do something, but that is at any time a big emotional challenge for a hoarder, and so close to your father's death is the equivalent of trying to climb a mountain after a marathon.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:20 PM on May 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

Time is also a factor here, she needs to make the house and surrounding property showable to potential tenants or purchasers in only a couple of months

Given this time crunch, and the fact that your father's passing might still be a little too raw, you may want to consider going about this differently.

1. The house needs to be empty/clean.
2. Nothing important should be thrown out.
3. Your mother needs help figuring out how to tell what is important and what is not.

In an ideal situation, you'd have enough time for (1) so that (3) could come first and (2) would happen by default. You're not in an ideal situation though, sadly.

I think that before you can start looking for a therapist/professional organizer for your mom you need to arrange for sufficient storage locker/POD space/moving help to handle everything that's in the house now.

When the house is clean/rented and everyone's in a better place emotionally, then your mom can work (with professionals) to try to go through what's in storage and toss/find permanent homes for everything.

This sucks. I'm generally very anti-storage locker (I think that 80% of the time they are a waste of money in that you could re-purchase everything you store for less than the rental fees if you keep them long enough). And the "out of sight, out of mind" aspect of the locker will lower the urgency of dealing with the problem in everyone's mind. But it will get you through current crisis.

Just remember, that once the clock is ticking on the storage fees, you need to be on your mother to pursue the help that she needs so that the locker can be empty in say, 6 months to a year.

I don't think that you need therapy OP, and I'm sorry for the loss of your father and what you are going to have to go through with your mother.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:45 PM on May 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Every case of hoarding I've read about or heard about has been triggered by grief or loss. This is an excellent time for your mom to start therapy, and a horrifically awful time for her to empty the house. Are there other options here?
posted by jaguar at 7:15 PM on May 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Given your time frame that you need to get the property viewable, I would vote for putting everything in storage, and then starting her on grief therapy. You (she) can work out a plan for disposal later, together with her therapist. Disposing of all of her stuff just after such a major loss would be counterproductive I think.

Very sorry for your loss.
posted by vignettist at 7:31 PM on May 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was not a hoarder exactly BUT I was awash in North American Affluenza (in part because the ex and our kids were kind of hoarders) and not sure how to get free of that. I spent some time watching episodes of HGTV's Mission: Organization. I did a lot of this for a few months before it really sank in that I needed to just get rid of stuff and not get more stuff. I had already gotten rid of craploads of stuff and yet I was still trying to shoot for a less cluttered life and more clean design by buying more crap only, you know, IT WAS CLEAN LINED CRAP, so I guess that was supposed to fix it. Or something.

I had always wanted a more spare lifestyle and somehow I honestly thought I was going to buy my way there. I have like college and everything and somehow I just didn't quite get how totally broken that mental model is.

So I think that's a cheap approach. See if you can get her to start watching videos of this show. In every single show, no matter who did the organizing, they started by making three piles: 1) Keep, 2) Give away or sell 3) Trash. In every single show. Please note that two of those piles are what we are not keeping. Two out of three.

I had to watch a few dozen of these shows or something for that to really sink in and it was really helpful.
posted by Michele in California at 11:08 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the goal is to have a healthy Mom who's as happy as possible, so therapist with experience with hoarding 1st. I would add a professional organizer who can be a spare pair of hands and ideally compassionate. I'm sorry for your loss, and that you and your Mom are facing this pressure. A storage unit for stuff she can't decide about might help; it would provide some distance, so that in 3-6 months or so, when the house is selling, and it's time to get rid of the storage unit, she might be able to get rid of the stuff with less difficulty.
posted by theora55 at 11:58 AM on May 9, 2014

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