Help Me Help A Sensitive Pack Rat
December 28, 2014 8:01 AM   Subscribe

How can I help my sister declutter? She's in her 40's, still living in the house she shared with my parents, both of whom have died. She is a very sensitive person and will get offended and push back hard and usually has a reason why she can't do things. I don't think I am being controlling, but she is sleeping on the couch because the house is a disaster (there are FIVE bedrooms, but the clutter and filth is too much) and it's keeping me awake at night worrying about her. She does have a job but it doesn't pay well and the house is much bigger than she needs or can afford (she is in a very expensive city). More detail inside (maybe more than necessary, but since it's anonymous...)

The house smells like cat pee because the cat litter doesn't get changed often enough and cat food is left lying around (I want to be clear that the cats are well cared for, receive medical care, are fed well, etc.). I have no doubt that my sister is depressed, but she has always been a pack rat. For a brief period she lived away from home and her place was neat and tidy. So I think part of the problem is the pattern she has fallen into in that house, which is where we both grew up, she is in a rut both personally and professionally. We need to sell the house at some point, and it is our inheritance. I want to be clear that I do not want to throw her out of her home, but I really feel like if she had her own place where she could start fresh, it would help her move forward with her life (as would her share of the inheritance, which would likely allow her to buy a smaller home outright in a less expensive area, and have quite a bit left over).

She gets herself into bad situations and then just ignores them because she can't deal with them (she has two vehicles which she can't afford, and a relative found someone who might be interested in buying one of them, but my sister won't call this person because she feels the relative is trying to control her, instead of help her (and because then she would have to take the time to clean out the car and do the car sale running around thing), so she would rather just keep spending money she doesn't have every month). It's extremely frustrating to see, and I fear for her future.

I really love my sister and I do not want to hurt or offend her, but I feel terrible that she is living like this, I want to spend more time with her, but I am running out of excuses about why I can't stay at the house (just saying it reeks of cat pee and is filthy is not an option, believe me, she would probably never speak to me again) when I visit. I have cleaned some of the house myself and paid for a cleaning lady to at least clean the kitchen several times, but things were a disaster again shortly afterwards, so I know that is not the core problem. Believe me, I am not a clean freak by any means, but some rooms in the house could be from an episode of "Hoarders". I think the sheer volume of stuff is just so daunting that she can't even begin to deal with it, she won't let me help her deal with it, and she just won't throw things away. I know she worked hard at cleaning for Christmas, but it barely scratched the surface. I know there are professionals who help with this sort of thing, but I don't know how to approach my sister about using one of them.

MeFi, can you help me figure out what I can do to help her? I am crying writing this because I feel so horrible for her. I love my sister, I want very much to help her get to a place in her life where she doesn't think sleeping on a couch in a filthy house is all she deserves, and we do need to declutter the house to prepare it for sale eventually, but I need to do it such a way that I don't embarrass her or make her feel even worse.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Based on your description of your sister's receptiveness this might be a hard sell, but she needs therapy. Specifically a therapist who has worked with hoarders. Because you are so right about how just cleaning doesn't fix the root problem. She needs to get help for the depression and the hoarding coping mechanism she has developed rather than focusing on the house or getting a new house.
posted by cecic at 8:15 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your sister is a hoarder and it's indicative of mental illness. If your sister were schizophrenic or bipolar or suffered from any other mental illness you'd have to step in.

I recommend this all the time, but perhaps an intervention would be in order. Here's a site that may provide information and resources.

Hoarding is so hard to address because the physical manifestations are so obvious and gross, but it's the inner monologue that's the real problem.

Hoarders lose all perspective, and it really is a mental illness. You have to address the suffering person, before you can clean the house.

This is above your pay grade, you need professional help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:15 AM on December 28, 2014 [26 favorites]

I'm not an expert by any means, but I've watched more than my share of "Hoarders" and have come away with these lessons:

1. Only the hoarder can manage the hoard. Well-meaning family members usually get impatient at some point and just want to clean up and throw out, while the hoarder generally has an idea/purpose for or sentimental/(shame) attachment to every single item.

2. The hoarders that seem to get "cured" on the shows generally are receptive (eventually) to professional psychological help, in addition to a cleaner/organizer. Maybe it's just the show, but more often than not there's some trauma associated with the hoarding. You say your sister lived with both parents, now deceased - the associated grief and loss seem like a logical place to start.

3. Ongoing "after care" is critical so the person doesn't revert back to old habits.

You are very kind to want to help your sister, but if you re-read your question I hope you can see that the hoard is a symptom of something bigger that she needs to work through with a counselor. Maybe she would be more likely to seek help if you went with her for the first few sessions, to talk about your mutual loss of your parents?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 8:17 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

The key sentence in your post seems to me to be, "We need to sell the house at some point, and it is our inheritance." (Emphasis added.)

So, much as you love your sister and much as you want to help her, the main thing is that her attitude is getting in the way of an interest of your own which needs to be protected.

It sounds as though you're aware of the law in this area, because you mention the possibility of "throw[ing] her out of her own home." Of course this is something you don't want to do - she's your sister, you're close to her - but given the likelihood that she will be unresponsive to your attempts to guide her towards a reasonable arrangement, I would encourage you to assume now that this is exactly how things will turn out in the end. You may lose her friendship for months, years, or forever.

There may be things you can do to prevent a rift while still getting what you need. If she's receptive to the idea of getting therapy, psychiatric treatment or whatever, help her pay for it. Offer to help her to sell the unnecessary second car. Find the new place where she's going to live. Lend a hand in rebuilding her life. And so on.

In all this, you should probably be upfront about the fact that it's not just about her, it's also about you and your financial future.
posted by Pechorin at 9:13 AM on December 28, 2014 [21 favorites]

Do you personally have enough money that you could put up the cash to engage the services of a trained professional who specializes in helping hoarders? Because that seems like the best bet. Maybe you can consult with them alone first and create a game plan for how to approach her about this so that she's more likely to be receptive to the idea.

Yes, hoarding suggests some mental health difficulties, but from my own experience with a family member, simply being under the care of (generic) mental health professionals does not stop someone from hoarding or help them start decluttering their home. (And also, you can't make someone go to therapy.)

Also, I'm sorry you're dealing with this. It's an incredibly difficult situation, deceptively so because people want to think it just involves cleaning up and tossing things. I've watched family members try, and fail, to help someone in this situation (they did not engage a professional's help), and have currently stopped trying to help a different close family member with this because I've realized it's beyond my emotional and financial resources.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, I agree with Pechorin's analysis of the situation (as presented by you), but I would draw a different conclusion about what you should do. Your sister likely has serious psychological issues, but given your personal interest in the estate, you are not going to be the best family member to help her. She will recognize this, and it will likely make her less willing to allow your intervention in the matter. While you may be selflessly concerned for her wellbeing, I imagine she will have a difficult time believing that.

If it were me, I would not let money destroy my relationship with my sister, but you will obviously need to prioritize your values as you see fit. I would, however, encourage you to think about a few things: did your sister do more than you to care for your parents when they were in need of end of life care? Was she closer to them and more traumatized by their death? In addition to the financial difficulties, does she also have difficulties with relationships? It sounds as if you have it together in life in a way that your sister does not. You might want to think about why that is and if you are secure enough, financially and personally, to put your claim to the estate to the side, at least for now.

These are going to be difficult waters to navigate; I wish you all the best.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:49 AM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's a UK-based site, but you might find Help for Hoarders useful. It's aimed at the families of hoarders as well as hoarders themselves. Good luck, sending you good wishes as you deal with this, it sounds really tough.
posted by penguin pie at 9:51 AM on December 28, 2014

Explore the resources of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, formerly known as the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.

She is a very sensitive person and will get offended and push back hard

You'll want to decrease her resistance, then. You can help prepare yourself to do this by reading materials written from a relatively sympathetic, non-stigmatizing perspective, such as this essay. Then show her you're on her side, by listening (which will also be useful in identifying what kind of stories she is telling herself about the things she won't throw away), and by giving her whatever kinds of help she is currently willing to accept.

I have cleaned some of the house myself and paid for a cleaning lady to at least clean the kitchen several times, but things were a disaster again shortly afterwards, so I know that is not the core problem.

If you can afford the time and money, keep doing this. It will keep some of the chaos at bay, lend her some hope (since she tried to do a lot of cleaning herself before Christmas), and establish a pattern in which you are helping her in ways that she perceives as helpful rather than threatening. Don't assume there is a single core problem or magic bullet.

What's happening may be a vicious cycle with many ingredients, including self-disgust and social isolation. The cat pee sounds like a major barrier. Try working on that, IF you're able to do so gently, non-judgmentally, and effectively -- that's a major challenge, so your best bet may be to use a cleaning service that specializes in such work -- not just cat pee remediation, but specifically working with people in your sister's situation. Try phoning regular cleaning services and seeing if they have anyone on staff accustomed to this sort of client -- they'll be cheaper than therapists, but may also be more skilled in relevant practices. It's a delicate art.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:52 AM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

What Pechorin said. It's one thing for her to live as she's doing, but she's taking you down with her in many ways, not the least of which is your own future financial health. She probably can't help it, but there it is. You shouldn't minimize the impact on yourself.

I had a money-drunk relative try to do a grab on my mom's condo years ago when I put it up for sale. Fortunately the real estate agent turned right around and told me about it (and was not shy about expressing her low opinion of the proposed arrangement). I sold the condo to someone else at market value and am no longer in touch with the relative.

Now, it sounds like you're much closer to your sister than I was to this relative, and that your sister is in far more desperate straits than my relative was. However, you will help yourself and probably your sister as well if you can gain some objectivity and distance from the situation.

I would advise that you speak both with an attorney AND with a social worker or psychologist ON YOUR OWN BEHALF. That way you have an arena for your own feelings on the matter, and you'll get some solid advice for your own well-being.

Remember that sometimes you have to break some eggs to make an omelet. What seems like kindness and concern can actually be enabling a situation that hurts everybody.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Upon further reflection, I suppose that rather than concentrate on your sister, you can broach the subject by saying:


I know you've been living here for X years, and I want to be sensitive to that. The house is both of ours and frankly, I'd like to sell it and get the proceeds out so that I can start getting my financial affairs in order. So that we can maximize our profits, we'd need to do some updates and stage the house. I'd like to work with you on this to make the transition as easy as possible. What do you need from me to get started on this?

This way you're re-framing the discussion away from her, and towards YOUR needs. There are no accusations. She may want to move the hoard to a storage locker, and if so, that's her prerogative. You're allowed to tell your sister that you want your share of the estate. Right now, her inattention to it is actually causing it to be worth less, and is putting your portion of the estate in jeopardy.

I'd even say, "I love you, and this situation is costing me money. I need you to get help if your mental health is keeping you from doing what needs to be done, but I'm done walking on eggshells about this."

It's a very tough situation, but if your sister were doing crack in the house, as much as you love her, wouldn't you handle it in a similar fashion?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:39 AM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]

I know of an example where a house has lost all its value because of a hoarder. While this is a long-standing situation, it is a lesson nonetheless.

This woman inherited her home from her parents and at this point the house is valueless because it hasn't been maintained for many years. When I looked at my county assessor's valuation of the house and property I was shocked at how little it is. Anyone who purchased the land would be best served by razing the house.

It is amazing how quickly real property loses value when it is neglected. Yes you love your sister...can the two of you really afford to waste this asset?
posted by Altomentis at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I would not present this as both concern for her well-being and a request to deal with the house as inheritance, for the reasons girl flaneur described. (That, and the car situation suggests your sister's tetchy about being told what to do.) I think you could do one or the other. Maybe, dealing with the house would be a prompt for your sister to get started again, and set up a more manageable living situation.

If she's sleeping on the couch, though, and isn't taking care of the litter, I'm not sure she's in a position to be clear-headed about a conversation about inheritance. Perhaps there's a chance she might be, though, if she comes to her own conclusions about how the money might free her to live differently and better. (Though, if she's depressed, as is likely, she might be locked into certain patterns of thinking and find herself unable to see past what's around her.)

Still, I think, frame it as about selling the house. Because you can't force her to get therapy. Your interest (and only place of real leverage) is in the property, and your right is indisputable. Having it out in the open off the bat, in a friendly way, might be less bad than approaching your sister about her health, and your sister deciding you had ulterior motives.

I wouldn't do it with an ultimatum, though, I think that would be poorly received and might get her to dig her heels in - present the idea very, very gently, and without urgency (if you can afford the time). Maybe starting with RB's "I know you've been living here for X years, and I want to be sensitive to that. The house is both of ours and frankly, I'd like to sell it and get the proceeds out so that I can start getting my financial affairs in order [maybe give her a timeframe - 'within the next few years or so']", and then, maybe "I don't know how much you've thought about it, and I don't want to tell you what to do, but I sort of had an idea selling might give you some different options, too. What do you think?" Hear her out, so you can see where her head's at, and let her sit with the idea for a while. And then, just completely drop it until you approach the end of your timeline, or she herself brings it up (hopefully with some ideas), or it comes up naturally.

It's a tough situation. Good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:24 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, what happened? Why is she so fixated on others controlling her? To the point that she must maintain control of physical objects around the house?
Good luck!
Oh, and have a doctor check for nutritional deficiencies. The brain can do very kooky things when it's not getting the proper nutrients.
posted by Neekee at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible (possibly not, I am totally ignorant of the law here) for you to buy out her portion, and assume full ownership? That could give you the leverage to get her moved to a better place/be able to start fixing up the house. It would also take a burden off of her to have to make those decisions. And in proposing it to her, I would frame it that way; you will be doing all the work. All she has to do is take her money and take care of herself.

That may be too extreme or too expensive. I would definitely try to encourage her to get therapy before anything else, she obviously needs it. But it might be good to know what your legal options are, not so you can kick her out in the street, but so you can both benefit. If she ends up in her own place, without a hoard, with treatment, and with money to live on, her life would obviously be in better shape. And that's what you want for her, not for her to suffer more.

It's not going to be easy, and you should prepare yourself for the real possibility that she won't willingly go along with anything you propose, in which case, you need to know what your legal options are. You have the right to protect your share of your inheritance, but how that works out legally may be very complex.
posted by emjaybee at 11:35 AM on December 28, 2014

Please note that the "tough love" approach is not effective, and can be extremely destructive, for people in your sister's situation.

Of course it's your right to pursue whatever legal measures are available to you to force your sister to relinquish your shared property.

Just don't kid yourself that you'll simultaneously be helping your sister.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:45 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a similar issue with my mother, who is slowly destroying the house my great grandfather built that my siblings and I will inherit. I asked a similar question a while ago and got similar answers. Feel free to Memail me if you need to vent.

Where are we now? Last time I was there six months pregnant and jet lagged and crashed in the spare the middle of the night my husband put his arm under my pillow and discovered cat pee. We stayed with my dad and she made snarky remarks about it. Lately she's been cross with me for not seeming to want to talk much about her using her inheritance to make repairs to the house (or sell it; we all keep voting to sell it but it's clearly not the answer she wants to hear). She's also weird with money, and every repair she's had done so far has been a disaster (interior wall is damp and caving in). She jokes about being on Hoarders. It definitely is putting an increasing amount of distance in the relationship, especially since the house is far too filthy for a baby.

The irony? She has a Master's degree in psychology and is a board certified behaviour analyst.

If I have any luck at any point, I'll let you know.
posted by jrobin276 at 12:31 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

As I see it, the concerning issues here are 1) that the house is both of your inheritance, and 2) your sister's hoarding will eventually devalue the house. Altomentis pointed out that a hoarder house can eventually get in such bad shape that it's essentially worthless. Since this house legally belongs to both of you, I think you do have a right to a say in the outcome. And if the house loses value, and Sister is un-or-underemployed and/or is going to be low-income for the foreseeable future, the house is a key part of her financial future, too.

The sticky question is how to do this without alienating your sister. I think it would be a good idea to bring in the pros - it would be more of an objective opinion "The house belongs to both Anon and their sister, here is the best way to go forward" rather than Sister perceiving it as Anon bossing her around.

Consult an estate lawyer - a good one is worth his or her weight in gold in untangling inheritance matters. A social worker or therapist would be another professional to add to the team. It sounds like Sister is employed, and not on disability or elderly, but your local Department of Adult Services (often called a Department of Aging and Adult Services) just might be able to help, or at least point you in the direction of help. (Google "Your County Department of Adult Services.")
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:15 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have said, you can't help her on your own. I've been there. It wasn't a family member, but a hoarder hired me to help her organize her house. She was a very nice person, but it was a nightmare, because she had the most irrational reasons for holding onto stuff that was making her house unlivable. You won't be able to reason with her because you're not trained in dealing with hoarding. Also, I have been there with a family member as well. It's impossible to reason with him. He just keeps accumulating new things and refuses to get rid of anything because "It's a waste of money"(even though it's a waste of money to keep buying things, but that just goes to show you how difficult it is to reason with a hoarder).

I think all you can do, realistically, is either a) to suggest to her that she sees a therapist that specializes in this disorder. You said you don't know how to bring it up- is it possible to frame it as an issue of the value of the property itself, rather than making it about what she needs to do? She needs to take responsibility eventually, but it doesn't sound like she's at all there yet. At least at first she needs to be willing to acknowledge that something needs to be done about it for the sake of both of your inheritances or b) report her to the city/town. What you've described are unsuitable conditions for humans and animals. I don't know where you live, but, at least in most parts of the States, I believe authorities should step in if they've been notified. This will obviously be unpleasant, but maybe you can tell her you will be reporting her to the authorities if she doesn't get the house under control in X amount of time and that this is for her well-being, not because you're trying to be mean.

And don't try to clean for her anymore. She needs to be willing to do this, or else it'll just be wasted time and effort on your part, and that's not fair for you.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 1:26 PM on December 28, 2014

Ultimately, you can't make her not be angry. She's already demonstrated a serious lack of insight into her own behavior and seems likely to respond irrationally to your behavior. If someone is determined to make themselves out to be a victim, there's not much you can do to stop them. Don't be held hostage by her inability to handle reality; don't tie yourself up into knots trying to approach her the exact right way. Ultimately, your responsibility in this situation is

1. First, to do what you can to guard your mutual inheritance and put it into a form that is not subject to her mental illness
2. Second, to ensure she has the continued option of mental health treatment as long as she's capable of making decisions (this requires money)
3. Third, to take appropriate legal measures to secure services for her should she become incapacitated

You cannot be responsible for keeping her happy or for ensuring she never gets upset. Unfortunately, mental illness often creates situations in which doing the healthy, reasonable thing is extremely upsetting. That's why it can be so disabling. Don't get caught up in the thinking that places avoiding upset at the top of the priority list.

Good luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you offer to clean and sell the car for her? If it goes well it might be a template for cleaning and selling the house.

It sounds like she's incredibly overwhelmed. I think you need to accept that you're going to have to of all the heavy lifting on selling the house. Maybe you could offer her a furnished rental for a few months, paid for by you, no stress, to her to get her out of the house long enough to sell it. If the new place is pleasant and clean maybe she'll jump at the offer.
posted by fshgrl at 2:00 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Altomentis pointed out that a hoarder house can eventually get in such bad shape that it's essentially worthless.

Especially if there's a significant cat pee problem. There was a house in my town--a cat-hoarder house, not a thing-hoarder house, but a similar issue--that had to be condemned because the walls and floors were so saturated. Your house may not be anywhere near that bad, but why wait for it to get worse?

Good luck with your situation!
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 2:34 PM on December 28, 2014

Here's the thing about hoarders: Their garbage matters to them. It has meaning to them. Clinical hoarders are irrational because they are mentally ill. Any attempt to tell them what to do with their stuff is usually met with anger and hostility because It's Their Stuff. And for whatever reason (there can be many), their stuff is seen as more important than anything else, including their own comfort and living conditions.

My dad's a hoarder, I've interviewed hoarders, I've interviewed experts in hoarding. You will not be able to fix your sister. That's up to her. You are not going to be able to get what you have coming to you--that is, your inheritance--and also keep her happy. That is not in the cards. My advice?

1. Work on developing loving detachment about your sister's plight ("How can you take care of yourself even if the person you love chooses not to get help?")

2. Do research on your legal rights and the region's regulations (is the property a fire hazard?) and

3. Don't rely on MeFites as your sole source of info. Do more research before you make a move. Reading the book Stuff is a great place to start. Good luck!

Think about the one thing you own that you would grab first in a fire. Now imagine feeling that strongly about every single possession. What drives those of us who just can't throw things away? Like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items almost lost him his home?

Stuff is the first comprehensive book about compulsive hoarding, a disorder that affecs far more people than is commonly known. Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first scientists to study hoarding when they began their work; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of people and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore this behavior through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks. With vivid portraits that show us the particular traits of the hoarder - piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, homes that have to be navigated by narrow "goat trails," stacks of paper that are "churned" but never discarded, even collections of animals and garbage - Frost and Steketee expose the causes and previously ineffective treatments of the disorder. They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us: whether we're savers, collectors or compulsive cleaners, none of us are free of the impulses that drive hoarders to extremes.

posted by Bella Donna at 2:42 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is LITERALLY LIFE CHANGING.

You completely change the way you think about your stuff. Not sure how well it works with pathological hoarding, but it's a beautiful book and has helped everyone I know who has read it.
posted by airguitar2 at 3:46 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

report her to the city/town. What you've described are unsuitable conditions for humans and animals. I don't know where you live, but, at least in most parts of the States, I believe authorities should step in if they've been notified.

Actually, no. Appeals to various authorities are often made by relatives of hoarders, but these authorities generally can't force people to stop hoarding stuff indoors, especially not on their own property. (A guy I know used to work on a social services board, and wound up saving himself time by creating handouts on hoarders' rights, for distribution to inquiring families.) The OP has already stated that the animals are well cared for. There are various legal proceedings that may be effective, detailed in this Rutgers Law Review article.

This will obviously be unpleasant, but maybe you can tell her you will be reporting her to the authorities if she doesn't get the house under control in X amount of time and that this is for her well-being, not because you're trying to be mean.

I realize this may seem counterintuitive, but threats to call in the authorities will not increase the OP's sister's well-being.
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Remember, you and your sister are both grieving the loss of your parents. Her manner of grieving happens to be destructive to both of you. She is not doing it on purpose, but her behavior has an abusive effect on your life. How much of this unintended abuse will you take?

You need allies. You needs allies to give you practical advice on the problem. And you need allies to help you gain perspective against the emotional quicksand of your sister's illness.

1. Consult an attorney. You need to know your rights and liabilities regarding the property you share with your sister. Does the house have current homeowner's insurance? As part-owner, you are liable if anyone is injured on the property, or trips on the sidewalk in front.

2. Consider joining a support group. NAMI has groups for families of the mentally ill.

3. Find a real estate agent. Someone experienced, and compassionate, with high integrity. Don't use an inexperienced agent. The agent won't need to go inside the house. They can give you a clear idea of what the property is worth. They can compare the strategies of repairing/staging for sale vs marketing the property "as is". They may have ideas from their previous experience with hoarder houses.

One way to find a good real estate agent: Phone the regional managers of the biggest agencies in your area. Go with full service agencies. (Coldwell Banker, Prudential, Sotheby, Windermere, Weichert, etc). You need the knowledge and experience. And it won't cost you to talk to them. Tell the Regional Manager the qualities you are looking for (experience, compassion, savvy, high integrity). Call the recommended agents and ask for their success numbers (number of houses sold per year, days on market). A good agent with have those numbers ready. See who you feel comfortable with.

4. Consider communicating with your sister's neighbors. (This is risky, as she may see it as a betrayal. Or a neighbor might be hostile.) Tell the neighbors that you are part-owner and are getting ready to sell the property. They are likely to want to assist you. A hoarder house negatively affects neighboring properties. Neighbors would be motivated to assist the transition of the property. A neighbor may even want to make an offer to buy the property "as is".

Good luck. Wishing the best for you and your sister.
posted by valannc at 5:46 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider that while many are pointing out that in their eyes hoarders think that "stuff" is more important than people... it's clear that most people here think the situation with the "stuff" is more important than the sister's well being.

It's fine if you want to choose financial assets over your sibling, but don't pretend it means you're more advanced or loving than a person who has a crutch that may be all that's currently holding them up, that you want to kick out from under them.

Providing resources and care to people with disabilities can literally cost millions of dollars. People with illness and disabilities can spread disease and even death without meaning too.

Addressing all of those problems is great, but the person who has the disability is still a human being too and most often their condition is really truly not their fault, and their needs a human being still matter even if it's painful and difficult and sometimes health damaging to try to support them.

It sounds like you really love your sister. If you want to chose her... can you set aside concerns about the house and really look into how to support and accept her? If the house is NEEDED-- if you need to sell it to stay afloat, have a really compassionate talk about those needs and how you wish she could just stay there if that's what she wants but that you're not financially able to deal with waiting (and pick what your limit is on how long you can wait... months? A few years?)-- and also discuss the issue of keeping the house in order so it can be sold when needed.

Let her know you can help her get compassionate household help that will not be shaming of her-- she may need two kinds of household helpers-- one to deal with the hoarding type messes who could come once or twice a month and keep the worst weirdest messes in order, and another a weekly cleaner- and specify they will need to do cat litter-and possibly dishes, laundry and picking up which are not always available with traditional cleaners so you'll have to look for it. Have a conversation about finances, and how there would be a lot more money for resources to help her too if you both sold the house, but that you do understand if it's helping her cope you willing to try to make the transition slow and as easy as possible.

My point is.. start at your sister mattering more than the house, or the mess. Start there. Start with the love. If you start from anger and that fixing the mess and the house is the top priority, all else will just add to the hurt, pain, and retreat.

You have all legal right to choose the immediacy of your financial interests over your sisters well being and that is certainly in line with cultural values at this point in time, but... if you can survive without doing that- it's also ok to choose your sister instead.

Hoarders aren't the only ones blind to the heart self of people around them. People who think about equity and real estate and investments and money ALL THE TIME.. I have found... also have blinders to understanding ... or caring about... the emotional needs of others as actual real needs.

People didn't ask to suddenly be given a list of life duties that they must comply with or be pummeled with horrible suffering for failing. And some people do not have the energy to carry the load of life. They may literally be having physical problems with energy levels, fatigue, emotional exhaustion etc, or they may emotionally need more love and support and be finding it in material items that connect them to the past and loved ones who aren't here anymore to share their love. The "stuff" is all they have left of the real love. It's not about valuing "stuff" it's about valuing the love the stuff connects them to- emotional needs that are very real and that she may injure to have simply removed without acknowledging how they may be helping and supporting her.

For me, I keep little boxes of magical items that connect me to people I love who are far away. I have lost so many... so many loves that are so far away, little items can help me remember, keep the memories and the love alive. This is a human trait that likely has been with us for thousands of years, finding myth and meaning in tokens that symbolize our pasts and experiences. She doesn't have the energy to process and store in a smaller fashion all of those items so the process is larger and messier than it is for other people.

That doesn't mean others are getting those needs met, but with higher energy levels you can process and store (both within the mind and psychy and the physical house around you) those memories and items connections, into smaller and more manageable forms that are then even more usable and less burdensome. There is a LOT to work on to help your sister rebuild her health- but the truth is, even in the helping professions- a lot of people are focused on the person with this problem as having a "pretend" or "not real" or "pathological" need for the "stuff" that is meaningless... when their needs are real and often similar to others, but the processing speed and ability to compact and asses which items will serve that purpose best is too low to address all those projects in a timely manner and eventually the lack of energy to deal with the task load leads to totally giving up because it never seems to make a dent anyone for all the exhausting attempts. There are multiple different things that can be going on, but often it's really not as simple as a misperception about the level of need for things or a misperception about the level of energy or mental ability to deal with the sorting and tasks of daily life.

It's not your fault she is dealing with this, or that you are dealing with this. Having disabled family members is really really really hard and unfair. It's unfair that anyone has to deal with disability. And you CAN just focus on getting the house sold, get your money out of it and walk away. And it's not your fault if you try to figure out how to help and you just aren't able to without getting to angry and frustrated about things or pushing her away. That's not your fault either if it's what happens. But, you know find out what you're able to do if you try.

I recently watched a hoarder deal with family intervention taking a lot of her stuff away and she came down with cancer during the process. Honestly I'm not sure that some people realize emotional needs are actually physically real in some cases. It's like a group of family "intervening" with someone whose been layingin bed and forcing them to walk despite them saying "But I'm in terrible pain when you make me do that" and then finding out they actually have a condition that is being harmed by that. Like. Not just a pretend pathology that they aren't able to walk like other people that you can fix with therapy session and an attitude change.
posted by xarnop at 10:35 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I personally do not value stuff over a person's wellbeing--but I do think, and I think many here likely agree, that "stuff" as in money is invaluable to someone who has a disability. There's no way around it--being disabled, homeless, and broke is about a million times worse than being disabled and having a home and money. OP, your sister is heading towards being disabled, broke, and homeless. She cannot continue to be the steward of her own inheritance, or of yours.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:10 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I second the above. One of my extended family members that people failed to help actually is homeless, despite owning a home outright, because she slowly let her house fall into such mess and disrepair that it was condemned and she can no longer live in it.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:26 AM on December 30, 2014

By the way, it seemed it may have been unclear from responses, I think the most loving thing to do is to bring in help and to transition your sister to a new place. I just think you can prioritize your sister through that process, and try to provide supports as she is without assuming you need to force her to start doing things she isn't able to do with punishments or consequences or shaming or "tough love".

Sometimes, without help, if you need to be able to walk and you can't, it means that you die because you can't get to food or shelter or do needed self care things. That reality doesn't change the fact a person may be too disabled to do that-- or make it their own fault that they die or some deliberate choice to hurt people around them who wish they would do more.

All I'm saying is that if you offer to help accept that this is her current ability and don't try to add strings or judgement to your help that essentially attempt to punish her for being disabled with certain tasks. Cleaning the house once will not fix that she can not deal with the daily load which will continue to pile up each day. She may need a higher level of care than that. It does not necessarily mean she is deliberately trying to build the mess back up (then again I do not have experience with the more sinister forms of hoarding that involve deliberately storing dangerous waste items and garbage, which even if you are prioritizing your sister might require making some decisions for her that she might not like in terms of interventions).

Having a much smaller living space absolutely would be helpful for giving her a chance to learn to manage it and require less or possibly no outside assistance to maintain. I'm just suggesting that when you approach her, and you really do care about her and want to show that, that you focus on why selling and maintaining the house really will help her, and help you help her, even if she stays exactly the same. And if she is scared or upset about that process, offer her understanding and emotional support that her needs for extra support for her emotional upheaval over this and remind her that if the house has emotional value for her, that she can absolutely pick special objects from the home to take with her and make her new smaller place carry bits and pieces of what makes the old home special to her. You can also get photographs or paintings done of the inside of the house so that she can take the spirit of the house with her or make a photographic book of memories and stories that keep the memories alive.
posted by xarnop at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I also think, in terms of urgency, you don't need to add more urgency to the move than is necessary. If you can handle waiting a year or two and making the transition easier and talking how to keep the house from becoming damaged if she stays longer, this might be helpful.
posted by xarnop at 12:15 PM on December 30, 2014

All other things being equal, your sister would indeed likely be much happier in a smaller home, with more money.

However, if this transformation is achieved forcibly, the same results are unlikely to follow. Here's an excerpt, via, from the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. (Although the book is written for a popular audience, the authors each haz PhD, have published extensive peer-reviewed work on this topic, and have tenure -- respectively, at Smith and BU, in psychology and social work.)

One of the worst experiences for someone with a hoarding problem occurs when another person or crew arrives to clear out the home, usually at the order of the public health department or a frustrated family member … These scenarios almost always leave the hoarder feeling as if his or her most valued possessions have been taken away, which in fact may be the case. Beyond this, most hoarders have a sense of where things are amid the clutter. When someone else moves or discards even a portion of it, this sense of “order” is destroyed. We know of several cases in which hoarders have committed suicide following a forced cleanout.

The time, expense, and trauma of a forced cleanout are not worth the effort if any other alternatives are possible. Although conditions in the home may improve temporarily, the behavior leading to those conditions will not have changed. Moreover, the likelihood of obtaining any future cooperation after such trauma is slim.

posted by feral_goldfish at 12:50 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

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