Cleaning/Decluttering Help for a Hoarder- Columbus, Ohio
October 10, 2018 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Greetings, My mom had a stroke and I flew home to care for her. She needs help with getting her home to be safe, she can barley get to her bed without tripping. I need help taking about garbage, cleaning the fridge and other tasks that are beyond the scope of what a cleaning person would do. She has pets and the air smells unclean. Please help me. I am not sure where to start. I just started a new job and I have to go back out of state. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Thank you!
posted by TRUELOTUS to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you can't afford a house cleaner, they're often a great place to start. Cleaning services also offer a wider range of services in addition to what you might think. They definitely offer "deep cleaning" that would include cleaning the fridge and would get the house to a baseline state that could be kept up by a non-cleaning professional. You might also consider hiring them once or twice a month to come in and do the basic cleanings, too.

If you can afford a part-time home aid, that could also be good. They can help her with her own basic care as well as tasks around the house that she struggles with.

There are also pet services that will come in to her home and help once or twice a day with animals, but that can add up. I think any good home aid would help with these tasks as long as they aren't a significant portion of what she needs done.
posted by ancient star at 11:00 AM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry! This sort of thing can indeed seem overwhelming. But help is available.

I second the idea of a cleaner. Most services offer several types of service, including a deep clean. To have someone come out and help you with the things you mention might cost $300, but it will be worth it. In a city as large as Columbus, there should be several such services. For example, Merry Maids is there, but I'm sure there are plenty of others. Call around, tell them what you need, and select one. Once they have done the heavy work, it will be a lot easier getting someone else to come in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to keep things up.

Pets are more of a problem. How many and what kinds? If your mom lives in an area with children, and we're just talking a couple of cats and dogs, you can probably hire one of the kids to come over and walk them once a day. My animal-loving daughter, for instance, would do it for free, but paying something will make them take it more seriously.

Once the place is cleaned out and the animals are pooping outside or in a frequently emptied box, room deodorizers will take care of the smell.
posted by ubiquity at 11:14 AM on October 10, 2018

You might find resources through Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:16 AM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Call Adult Protective Services if she's over 65. They should have resources.
posted by Smearcase at 11:22 AM on October 10, 2018

If she is willing to declutter, then many cleaning services can help you. The best thing you can do is get her to accept to stop being a hoarder. That's the really hard part. Also it's best if they clean when she is not around, so maybe you can help with that too. Otherwise she will want to argue about every single scrap of paper.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:38 AM on October 10, 2018

Is she at home or at a nursing home right now? The Ohio Department on Aging is, fortunately, incredible. If she's in a nursing home or the hospital right now, get an appointment with the social services person ASAP and tell them that you need expedited senior services.

The social services staff should be able to help you with her living situation, too. They won't want to send her home to unsafe conditions, and you need to be really super 100% honest about the state of her home, no matter how upset she gets with you about it. When my dad was in the hospital after surgery, he was trying to tell the staff that his wife, my mother, was perfectly capable of taking care of him. In reality, she has several health issues and can barely walk, so once we were able to be honest with the staff, they decided that a nursing home was safer for the short term until he was more mobile.
posted by cooker girl at 11:54 AM on October 10, 2018

Also it's best if they clean when she is not around, so maybe you can help with that too. Otherwise she will want to argue about every single scrap of paper.

Try to avoid this if at all possible. With this stroke, she's lost a huge amount of her autonomy. Don't add to that by just taking her things when she's not there. Also, if she has dementia, having her possessions suddenly disappear will add to her confusion. People who work with hoarders hate TV shows where someone just goes in and starts tossing things. (I've had a number of family members who were hoarders, so I get how awful it can be.)

Hoarding is super complicated and a big problem among the elderly. The Council on Aging should be able to provide resources for that too.
posted by FencingGal at 12:02 PM on October 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

If she is really having a problem with hoarding, that is a mental health issue - it is an anxiety condition that needs help from professional therapist to help them work through the underlying issues. Otherwise you will get the house clean and it will be a disaster again within months.

If you want to understand the challenges that your mother would face in confronting her hoarding, there is a self-help book that I have heard good things about is Buried in Treasures, written by three psychologists who specialize in working with this population.

At the same time, if this is a relatively recent issue then maybe it is not true hoarding but just that she got overwhelmed by the demands of the household. In that case, a good clean and regular help would do the trick.
posted by metahawk at 12:27 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

People who work with hoarders hate TV shows where someone just goes in and starts tossing things. (I've had a number of family members who were hoarders, so I get how awful it can be.)

Yeah, but if they don't have dementia and still want to be a hoarder, you won't actually accomplish anything, because there will be an argument about every piece. You can take their 'stuff' (which is like 50% literal trash) without throwing out photos. I'm speaking from experience, not watching tv.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:47 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against what some people above have said.

A year and some ago, we were contacted by our mother's best friend who said we had to intervene. Her home was becoming a serious health hazard. We had a family meeting (we are three siblings) with the friend and her cleaning person, and decided to clean her house behind her back. We got her to a spa for 10 days, and during those days, my sister and the cleaning person removed all the garbage stuff, and maybe a bit too much of other things. We had the apartment painted, and got her a new mattress (she has recurrent UTIs). We also contacted the neighbors and the local social security, and we got the landlord to pay for the improvements, since it was clearly in their interest.

This didn't go off entirely well. In retrospect I should probably have been there, because my sister removed some things as a revenge on her own childhood and she was very sharp in getting at where the pain would be for our mum. Also, my sister bought a really shitty new mattress that I had to replace when I saw it (I wasn't there because I was 200 miles away when it happened, I was struggling with serious anxiety and also I have a different set of trauma from my sister, so it would have been really hard for me).

When I got back, I went to the doctor with my mum for several appointments, to make sure she was getting the right medication and that she was telling the truth to her GP (she wasn't).

In spite of the difficulties, this has ended really well, for our mum and for us. She'll still complain that some idiotic special pen or pillow is missing, but at this point, it's clearly performative. In real life, her relationship with my sister has never been better. Really, never as since my sister was born. They talk, they laugh and they enjoy each others company.
When it happened, I said to her right away on the phone that what we had done was not OK, and that we had crossed several boundaries, but that I had felt we had no choice at the time because she was so stubborn. We argue a lot, but I have the privilege among the three of us to be able to honest and outright with her without drama, and she accepted the premise while hating the practice. My talks with her doctor have been life-changing for her, and now she waits till I'm in town to go there unless it's an emergency. It turns out that you get better help when you tell the truth to your doctor (I don't know how to make an eye-rolling emoji here)
I think the point is that we have never at any stage of all this pretended that she was not entirely clear-minded and intelligent. Our mother is not demented, she is super sharp. But she is a hoarder and an alcoholic and a user of prescription drugs. So when we removed her piles of garbage and insisted on controlling her drugs, we were consciously assaulting her. It was bad. And to get through that it was incredibly important to acknowledge that we had done it, that we knew it was wrong, and that we didn't feel good about it.
But family relations are complicated. Sometimes it can be OK to tell a 2-year-old they need a time-out. And sometimes it can be necessary to tell a 80-year-old they need to clean out.
The alternative for my mum was to get evicted from her home. It wouldn't have happened that day when her friend called me, but incidentally, it would have have happened just a few months later, when she set fire on her kitchen by accident because she is practically blind. If that had happened before we cleaned out her home, there is absolutely no doubt that she would have been thrown out if she hadn't been killed in the fire. Now we had established a line of communication with the neighbors, the local social system and the landlord, and instead of damning and evicting her, we worked together to make her home safe. And obviously, there wasn't any garbage that could catch fire.
posted by mumimor at 1:55 PM on October 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I forgot: my mother was and is obviously depressed, and I think anyone who is a serious hoarder is.
At one point she said to me: I don't care, I'm dying anyway. And at that point she probably was because she was getting the wrong medication and those UTIs were spreading to the rest of her. But we helped her live, and then I said to her: everyone in our family has lived past 90. Do you really want to live ten years more in this pile of trash? Well, she didn't, and she enjoys her new life, even though she misses all those of her friends who have died.
posted by mumimor at 2:04 PM on October 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're talking about the kind of conditions I think you're talking about, you might consider contacting a company that does restoration. As in from floodings or homicide or a ceiling falling in.

They are on-call services so they may come right away. They have seen it all, truly. No judgment. Just be honest; I mean really really honest all the way through and they can change your life.

Once the place has been restored you can choose a housecleaning service or aide for regular maintenance per the good advice above.
posted by ezust at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just want to second that if she has an actual hoarding disorder, moving her items without concurrent psychotherapy (CBT for hoarding can be very helpful) can actually be traumatizing to her. People with hoarding disorder can feel distressed by and ashamed of their behavior, and also potentially have comorbid OCD, depression, or other mental health issues. I would imagine that case management would be familiar with these issues so I agree that this is a good place to start.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:52 PM on October 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Start with the cleaner.

If she resists ... Our dad, who has failing vision and doesn't see how bad the filth is, absolutely refused to let us bring in a cleaner. So we tricked him: the next time he left town (e.g. to visit one of us), we got a cleaner to go in. She was instructed to not move anything, nor touch any papers etc. on his desk, but to totally go nuts on the floors and bathroom. He was none the wiser.

Then, a service to consider hiring is Visiting Angels. You may have heard their promo announcements on NPR. We've been using them with great success for about a year or two. We pitched them to dad as a way to get help on his projects (e.g. drill holes for mounting a shelf) and he bought it. And now we have someone that visits him at least once a week, does projects, helps with laundry, takes him grocery shopping and to the hardware store. They're not cheap -- $30 an hour (in northern California) and a four hour minimum. Ohio will probably be cheaper. And of course that's way cheaper than some of the alternatives ...
posted by intermod at 9:01 PM on October 10, 2018

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