How do I help a friend with cleanup and moving forward?
January 1, 2022 5:46 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is drowning in “stuff.” How do I help her get her place cleaned out so she can move on?

A friend of mine is in a bit of a pickle:

* She lives in northern Illinois and works full-time.
* She is also the caregiver to her parents - one of whom is in a long-term care facility suffering from advanced dementia and another who is slowly experiencing dementia as well.
* And her dog’s health is in decline.
* Up until a few months ago, she lived in an apartment in western Illinois.
* Her apartment is FULL of “stuff.” She admits she had a problem with overcollecting for years, and is now trying to clear it all out.
* She is paying for rent on both apartments.

Here’s my question: how can I help her?

She goes out to the western Illinois apartment every weekend. For a variety of reasons, she is not able to make a whole lot of progress on sorting through everything despite her best attempts. It can’t all be just thrown out, either. She thought she’d be done by now, and it’s taking an emotional toll on her.

Yes, I have offered to help, but I am also cognizant that I can’t let myself get sucked into the chaos. She has politely declined because I think she fees ashamed and embarrassed over how she let things go.

Is there someone she can hire to aggressively go through everything and sort it? Is it literally as simple as hiring a couple of strong college-aged young men she can direct (trash, donate, move to other apartment)?

I’ve thought about recommending a PODS or some sort of temporary garbage bin, but I’m afraid it would get costly quickly. She wouldn’t be able to finish in one weekend.

She’s got the right intentions. But I’m worried about her. She started with the intention that this would be temporary, but the reality is that if she continues to do it piecemeal like this, it could take years and just utterly consume her (emotionally, physically, financially). I and am trying to find a way to help. I think the best way forward is to have someone or some people come in, but I don’t know where or who to turn to.

Please be kind in your replies and advice.
posted by zooropa to Human Relations (19 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
There are definitely therapists that specialize in hoarding disorders and professional cleanup companies that will include therapeutic assistance along with the actual physical cleanup.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:25 PM on January 1 [3 favorites]


Search this site for “professional organizer” to find lots of threads on this topic. I also sent a note to user The Wrong Kind of Cheese who always has excellent ideas on organizing/cleaning and the emotions of hoarding.
posted by matildaben at 6:35 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]


I also sent a note to user The Wrong Kind of Cheese

Yes! The Wrong Kind of Cheese is a pro organizer and a good egg who will quickly give you her read on your friend's situation and suggest possible next steps, as she did in her comment on this question; it's one of the ones marked "best answer."
posted by virago at 6:58 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]


She sounds like a hoarder. To paraphrase my therapist on my mom, who also hoards, "the person has to actually want to stop." Like, theoretically you could hire someone to start removing stuff, BUT will your friend lose her mind when the stuff starts to leave? It sounds like she might if she can't sort it and she can't/won't just throw it out. Like anyone can call 1-800-GOT JUNK, but I don't think that'll go over well, you know?

For example, the most my mother has ever been able to clean out was my grandfather's storage unit, which she probably had after his death for a few decades. Everything in it was complete useless, unsave-able trash. I'm talking broken furniture, moonshine, stolen shopping carts from stores long out of business. It took her months (and even moving into ANOTHER smaller storage unit) to dispose of it all "properly," including trying to find somewhere to take the random metal to recycling and literally wheeling the shopping carts across the train tracks! (in her 60's!) to put them back in the approximate places the stores had been at. She will both beg for help from me and and reject help because then people see what her house looks like. I stopped "helping" her years ago when she refused to throw out MULTIPLE COPIES OF EMAIL FOWARDS SHE'D PRINTED OUT, and already had a saved copy. Those of us "in the know" about her hoarding have just given up on trying to help, and even if we're the only "acceptable" people to let in, she doesn't let us. Complete strangers coming in? HAHAHAHA NO.

Where I am going with this is that while I am sure you can find and hire people to "help," will she let them in to help? Will she let them get rid of anything? I hate to be a downer on this, but that's the issue I've been dealing with since 2005 when the hoarder thing broke in my mom's brain and I have gotten nowhere. Frankly, I would try to see if it's even worth it to try to involve other people and pay them if she may be resistant to letting anything go. She WILL need to cooperate with anyone who's hired, or at least unlock the door, and you need to figure out if that's going to happen before money is paid to anyone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:15 PM on January 1 [10 favorites]


As a mid-strategy, which will save *some* money - if she had packers and movers box all her stuff for the new apartment would it fit? One rent sure helps.
posted by clew at 7:36 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]


[Thank you to everyone sending me texts and email, calling my attention to this post. You guys know I write super-long responses, and I want to make sure the links work, but at the moment I’m on my phone, not near my computer. I’ll have a detailed response with resources for zooropa within the next two hours.]
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:55 PM on January 1 [22 favorites]


She has politely declined because I think she fees ashamed and embarrassed over how she let things go.

If you think you can help without getting sucked in, I would reiterate to her that you are willing to come and help and that you are not going to judge her. You can explain that you see how hard the rest of her life is right now and friends need help from time to time. Even hint that you are looking for a project to distract you. It is very important that you don't judge her to her face and promise yourself that you will only push her gently.

Ask her what she would like to happen and work with her to find cheap ways to make that happen. The rent on a huge storage unit will still be less than the rent on that second apartment, for example. So, if you both went out 2-3 times to get a handle on the volume, movers might be the answer. Movers will pack and move it all and charge for it all, so you really do want to pare down as much as possible.

Is there someone she can hire to aggressively go through everything and sort it?
Yes, but she has to be okay with that and she may think/say she is but it may not happen that way when it comes time to make those decisions. This is why I think a friend helping a few times first is key. That way you have an unpaid person there to see if she is in a mental space to let things go or not. If she has no issues with filling your vehicle and letting you take it all to a thrift store, then hiring someone should work. If she can only find a few things to trash or give away in a full apartment, you need a professional who can help her with the mental process as well as the physical. As a friend, you can support her but you should not act as her therapist.

If she just needs someone there to keep her on task or help motivate her, you could suggest that you both tackle a single room at once, or a single category. Start with clothing, then toiletries, move on to kitchen items, then books and papers, furniture, etc. If she is on the fence about things, pack and move them as long as she has enough room in the new place. If you both drive out, that is twice as much she bring back each time. Going by herself is likely to be a slog, but if you go together, it can be some fun friend time.
posted by soelo at 8:34 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]


I have a stuff issue and contacted organizers. They mostly wanted to strategize for 60 - 75/ hour. I don't need strategies; I need someone to help me get the stupid mirror mounted on the wall in the stairwell that's too high, and help me move some big rugs. Also find and supervise people to come and do repairs in a Pandemic, when few workers in my area mask up, and it's really hard to schedule them. The organizers I spoke with were clear that they would not be helping me move stuff. I'm white-haired and not strong, and just need somebody on the other end of a dresser or mattress; there are strategies to make sure no one gets hurt.

I was able to hire a person I knew to help and we got stuff done outdoors, yay, and indoors, yay, and then she and I haven't been able to re-schedule lately, but hope to again. You are trying to hire someone who can be trusted in her home, can really take direction, can communicate, and probably who can work weekends. It's possible you might be able to agree to help supervise and assist 1 or 2 workers to do clearly defined tasks. That would make good use of your trustworthiness and understanding of your friend and maybe not get sucked in. If nothing else, go over with a meal and some encouragement when she's trying to clear out, and leave with some bags for Goodwill.

I got too close to hoarding because of illness; organization takes a lot of energy, and because family left stuff here, and that just adds to the burden. A friend and I planned to start a part-time business; the friend bailed, the stuff remains. At this point, your friend is likely emotionally and physically exhausted, I'm not sure she'd have energy for meaningful therapy. If there's a garage, basement, or attic at her new place, getting stuff packed is an okay idea. When I moved, I got rid of lots of stuff (freecycle for useful stuff, thrifts shops, recycle bins and trash bags for the rest). You are kind to be looking out for your friend; I hope she can accept some help.
posted by theora55 at 8:58 PM on January 1 [7 favorites]


Best answer: zooropa,

You are a great friend to care enough to ask this question. My answer will be a bit of a firehose, because based on past experiences, your question will be the basis of a lot of searches. I've put the essentials in bold, and you're welcome to MeMail me with questions or request clarifications once you've absorbed all this.

But first some warnings. No, do not hire big, strong college kids to lift and carry and sort. Please don't hire or suggest she hire any random people without credentials. (There are so many legal, ethical, and insurance kerfuffles when people do this.) No, this won't be accomplished in a weekend. And yes, you're right to recognize that it would be easy to get "sucked in."

There are three elements to consider:

1) The specific situation your friend is currently in
2) What has contributed to this situation
3) What you can do (depending on your friend's preferences)

#1: So, the situation is that your friend:

--has two places where she's semi-residing, her old apartment where she's already been struggling and which she likely needs to eliminate so she can STOP PAYING DOUBLE RENT, and wherever she is living currently so that she can care for her other parent (the one not in long-term care). This is her financial situation, but it's also a situation where her mental energy is divided.

--has the emotional and physical OVERWHELM of taking handling a variety of essential (physical, financial, medical, etc.) tasks for two elderly parents; she may also be experiencing resentment of her parents because they did not adequately prepare for these eventualities (even if they did), and she may be experiencing guilt over feeling resentment. And she may or may not have the wherewithal to recognize all of these emotional drains, or even the physical ones. She's likely just trying to plow through.

--has a dog who is ailing, which not only exacerbates the pain of what she must deal with and adds to all that she can't control, but it reduces one of the elements in her life which ordinarily would be some small emotional comfort to her.

--is trying to hold down a full-time job, which in-and-of-itself can be a deal-breaker for one's focus, concentration, and ability to accomplish things.

--she is doing all of this AT THE CLOSE OF A SECOND YEAR OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC!

And none of these things even touches upon the "kind" of disorganization others have referenced (and which we'll get to).

Whatever she is feeling about her ability to keep her head above water, nobody (even you) can fully take into account that all of these pressures exist simultaneously and would create anguish for any human.

Why am I telling you all of this when it might seem I'm just extrapolating on what you originally said? Because the most important thing a friend can do is be there with a reality check and say, "Yes, this sucks. Allllllll of this is going on. Give yourself credit. Be gentle with yourself. But hey, there are solutions and people who specialize in fixing these problems for people EXACTLY in your situation." Please keep keep this in mind when we get to #3.


Item #2: How she got here

All of the above has obviously contributed to her situation, but the likelihood is that she had and has some type of disorganization unrelated to everything in item #1.

There are three types of disorganization. Situational disorganization is when the systems and skills we have been using to respond to the life demands on us no longer succeed, usually due to a change in the demands being placed on us (due to our health, the health of others, the economy, our jobs, environmental situations, etc.) Situational disorganization is largely caused by external forces. (But that doesn't mean our responses to these external forces won't involve psychological as well as physical responses.)

Chronic disorganization (sometimes called "challenging disorganization") is generally caused by internal forces, and is marked by a long-term or lifelong difficulty with, or inability to, get and stay organized on one's own. It can be associated with ADD/ADHD, executive function disorders, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, as well as a variety of life external life circumstances that contribute to one's internal senses of pattern recognition, the innate value of items, the over-personalization of the relationship between items and oneself, and much more. But at the heart of it, think "internal."

Both situational and chronic disorganization are considered (for lack of a better term) lifestyle issues. But a hoarding disorder is a medical condition; it's right there in the DSM-V. Nobody should be rushing to diagnose your friend's situation because, as with all medical conditions, only a physician can do so. (Study of this condition is still in its early decades, but it's a neurological condition with psychological and behavioral components. It's not something someone can get out of with just therapy or just organizational coaching or just meds.) Treatment/recovery for hoarding disorders are complex.

Let's also note that observing someone's space can't be used to interpret whether they have a hoarding disorder; a space owned by someone with a hoarding disorder could appear to the eye exactly the same as a space owned by someone with chronic disorganization or even (in unusual circumstances) someone with situational disorganization exacerbated by illness, catastrophic weather, a robbery, wackadoodle animals set loose, and quite a bit else.

[I had a client who had one room, originally a dining room, with so much clutter and no place to walk such that literally everything was hip-height. She did NOT have a hoarding disorder; she wasn't chronically disorganized. She'd just spent two years caregiving for two ailing parents and literally dumped everything (from incoming mail to newspapers to groceries she couldn't immediately find a space for in the pantry) in that room in the seven waking moments she was in the house each day. You really can't tell by the space.]

If you know what your friend's space looks like (that is, you've seen the clutter), you may be able to use this information when you get to step 3. There's something called the Clutter-Hoarding Scale (please note, the name predates the understanding of hoarding disorders, and it's a more general term). It breaks down five levels of clutter, from the least to most problematic. It also looks at the issue across five categories: structure and zoning, animals and pests, household functions, health and safety, and the necessary protective equipment that might be needed. From the page I linked, you can download the scale as well as a reference guide to it. Why would you want to read this? Because knowing this may help you help your friend.

So, let's all not assume that we can say what has and hasn't led to what she might or might not have as the basis of this problem.

All we know is that she DOES have this problem. That said, the fact that she recognizes it would lead me to approach this from the position that she most likely has chronic disorganization that has been exacerbated by the external stressors already listed. Most (but not all) people with untreated hoarding disorders are unlikely to self-identify as having a problem, or see that problem as being mostly caused by other people or entity's unfair expectations. In 20 years, I've only had one person with a hoarding disorder contact me about themselves; it's almost always loved ones who recognize the problem and seek help.

And, although I respectfully disagree with jenfullmoon's suggested diagnosis and the premise of making one, she's absolutely correct that you can only help your friend if and when she's willing to allow you to do so, and only in the ways she's willing to accept, which means it probably won't look like the ways you are inclined or prepared to help. That's OK, for her and for you. She can only do what she can do; and you can only do what you can do.

OK, enough of the touchy-feey stuff.

#3: What you can do to help?

First, recognize that you do not have the skills to help your friend purge, organize, and relocate materials from a space that would seem to reflect chronic disorganization. This is not a matter of her needing brawn or someone to sort and carry. Or, that is to say, that's not her immediate need. (This doesn't mean you can't help physically. But it means that you haven't been trained to project manage this type of situation.)

Second, recognize that what you can do is dependent upon what she is willing to let you do. If you can take as much labor out of her hands WITHOUT TAKING AWAY HER AGENCY, that might be the best approach.

To that end, here's what you can do:

1) Do some research about working with a professional organizer and possibly narrow down some options for her. This initial step requires no input from her, costs nothing but your time, and while it may not be put into action, it sets possibilities in motion.

* Visit the website for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO).
* Scroll slightly down the page until you see the field to put in her zip code.
* Then change the radius to 15 miles. (You can always change it later.)
* Click on the search button.
* On the ensuing page, select "Chronic Disorganization" from the drop-down menu on the right labeled Residential Organizing and Productivity Categories.
* Click on the search button.
* Scroll down and look at the names listed. Too many? Tighten up the radius. Too few? Expand.

From here, you can follow links to the individual professional organizers' NAPO pages, see their other specialties, get a sense of how long they've practiced, and note if they have any credentials. For example, I'm a Certified Professional Organizer, credentialed through the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers. That's good, but for your friend, someone with a CPO-CD, credentialed by our sister educational association, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD), may be even better.

Note: Most ICD subscribers are also NAPO members; you can search the ICD directory as well. However, I would strongly encourage you to only work with NAPO or ICD people because of the continuing educational and ethical requirements. One can call oneself an organizer; that doesn't mean one has the training and skills necessary. Having a Facebook business page or a business license doesn't make someone a professional organizer.

There are more than 40 sub-specialties within professional organizing, and many of us have more than one (or several). Someone who works with clinically disorganized clients and relocations would be great, but I'm not familiar enough with the geography of Illinois to know whether her two apartments are close enough to use the same organizer. For now, focus on one for the old apartment.

When you see some individuals who look like likely candidates to help, click through to their web sites and get a greater sense of them. If you can identify three professional organizers, that's a good start.

Contact them via email, explain your friend's situation briefly and that you are doing legwork in advance of broaching the idea of working with a professional organizer, and get a sense of how they work. Some of us work on our own; others have teams. Some charge by the hour, others by the session, others by the project. Get a sense of their rates, their backgrounds, their work styles.

2) Understand why you're doing this legwork. It's not to make your friend do this, but to arm you with helpful information to explain to your friend. The most important thing for her to know is that even though all of this is overwhelming for her, her story is a common occurrence among the clients of professional organizers. We see these things all the time -- the family situations, the procrastination and inability to move forward, the delay in moving, and of course, the disorganization. Your friend needs to know it's not just her. She can let go of any sense of guilt or shame or embarrassment or ickiness.

If nothing else, learning more about professional organizers, our skills and expertise, our ethical grounding, and our nonjudgmental approach to helping clients will help you talk these issues through with your friend.

Yes, she's probably embarrassed; we all want to feel like we have it together. But my entire profession (in NAPO in the US, in POC in Canada, in Europe, Asia, and South America) -- we all do what we do because the need for our skills is so common. Each client is unique, but the situations are common enough that we have a commonality of training and know how to deal with these issues.

3) Think about whether you can help her pay for professional organizing services.

Once she gets past any sense of embarrassment or shame about her situation, there are practical considerations. Can she afford help? How much help and how often?

You asked about PODS, but you're putting the cart before the horse (but understandably so). A professional will be able to eyeball the situation and determine the next steps.

4) Think about whether you can participate as labor, with her permission, and under the guidance of a professional organizer.

As I noted, given your statements, neither you nor your friend are probably up for project-managing, but can you be there and take guidance from the PO? Can you spend three hours gathering all clothing from the floor and surface of every room, sort it by category (sweaters, pants, etc.), fold, and stack things as prep for the PO and your friend making judgments or packing?

Can you be a runner and carry things to the trash, to recycling, to the donation center?

Can you work in the background, non-judgementally, and let the PO and your friend work without you giving your take? These are important considerations, as many people, no matter how well-intended, can't always do this.

5) Can you offer to pay for storage in her "real" city so that all of the items she decides to keep or can't yet make decisions about can be neatly categorized and stacked in a climate-controlled, secure location?

6) Can you take other tasks off your friend's plate? Can you do her grocery shopping while she's working, pay for a cleaner at her current home, take her dog to the vet or walk the dog so she can focus on other things? Can you sit with her parent that's not in long-term care, or pay for a set number of hours of a home care aide to give your friend some respite?

In particular, can you make a list of the things you can do for your friend and let her pick from the list instead of saying, "Hey, what can I do for you?"

Yes, this doesn't have to do with purging, organizing, or moving directly, but literally anything you can do to give your friend a breather will be a kindness.

======================
Still with me?

I've got twenty years under my belt as a professional organizer. It's a combination of knowing pattern recognition and space planning, psychology and project management, and a million other skills. But at the heart, it's being able to guide people to make decisions, not force them or make them for them.

It's very hard for friends and loved ones to serve in this capacity. Which is why I've listed a variety of ways you can help. But the key in all of this is, over and over, being patient with your friend and understanding that she may not (and probably will not) work on whatever timetable that makes sense to you. It could take her months to feel ready to even decide to work with a professional, and she might not ever do so.

But what you can do is be there for her, without judgment, and will a list of things are willing to do (again, without judgment). You're already a great friend for wanting to help.

Finally, I apologize for any typos or open parens. We're having tornado warnings/watches and I'm trying to get this up in case the power goes out.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:48 PM on January 1 [170 favorites]


Response by poster: Oh my goodness! Thank you, everyone. Not only for your answers, but your kindness and compassion. There’s a lot to unpack here (no pun intended). I’ll go through it all tomorrow in the light of day.
posted by zooropa at 9:53 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]


There are many good ideas here, but my original thought was a self-storage facility in her new location would, even if it held _all_ that stuff, and with the purchase of some shelving, be more cost effective than continuing to rent the old apartment.
posted by TimHare at 10:48 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


I think The Wrong Kind of Cheese and others have some good advice, but most assume your friend will accept someone else helping them sort their stuff. I will assume this is not going to happen. I would like to share the most logical "path of least resistance" for her get this accomplished. What you might be able to help her with up front is to establish a game plan that should include at least these three things:
1. A budget.
2. A timeline.
3. What she hopes to accomplish.
While these are not necessarily in order, I put the budget first because ultimately this is what is driving this effort to organize and downsize. If money was of no consequence she would leave things as they are, but she needs to stop paying that second rent. But as others have mentioned, a month of rent is likely close to a year's worth of rent of a storage unit, so a realistic money saving measure would be to through away only the trash and move what needs to be sorted to storage in her new city. One big consideration for the budget not mentioned is the lease status on her old place and if she would face any penalties for breaking it. The budget should consider this, the cost of physically moving the "stuff," storage and the cost of materials such as boxes.
Timeline will be driven by a bunch of factors, but rent\lease will probably be the primary factor. With everything that I know about her situation, there is no reason she couldn't be out of that apartment in 2 months by the end of February, and the end of January might not be impossible. To be done with the storage unit or greatly reduced size, 6 months may be possible, but a year may be more realistic.
That leaves what she wants to accomplish, and in reality, no one can really answer that but her. She may not be able to answer that herself. What she is facing is mentally exhausting, but it is also physically exhausting and can lead to real pain (and not a physical manifestation of stress kind of pain, but a ruptured vertebrae type). People have a lot of reasons for collecting "stuff," a lot of which are valid, or were valid at the time they started. I would not consider it hoarding or a mental condition unless it got to the point of saving actual garbage or bodily waste. Reasons for collecting "stuff" could include:
-The belief the item may be needed in the future and would then have to be replaced at an unwanted cost.
-The belief the item has collector value or will have value in the future.
-The belief a broken item could be reasonably repaired.
-The belief a broken item may be useful for parts to repair other items or as part of a future project.
-The item has sentimental value.
-The item was intended to be kept for a reasonable amount of time (receipts, manuals, etc.) but are past the required time of need (taxes, warranties).
-Papers are kept due to privacy concerns.
-The item has sentimental value.
-The item is used frequently (furniture, appliances).
-The item is being kept for someone else.
So for this stage the goal would be what mix of reasons she had for keeping these things and if they are still valid now. For a lot of people, these decisions can be made without much thought, but for some each decision adds a little bit of stress, and 1000 of these little decisions can add up to a debilitating event. On the other end of the scale you have psychopaths that would throw away a perfectly good paperclip without blinking. But assuming she is more towards the other end, here is what I would recommend to get her to the point where she would accept help more quickly while keeping the stress level to a minimum.
First, the big stuff. Furniture. It either has a place in her new apartment, has some monetary value (possible but rare), or gets donated or trashed. This may be the easiest or the hardest part, but essentially, if it has to be moved and stored it will cost money. But as far as the shame of having others see it, the furniture should be the least problematic because it can be left until everything else is boxed up.
Garbage. Get some big, thick contractor bags. Put in anything that is garbage. Anything no one could reasonable use.
Papers. People can be funny about papers. It can be stressful to sort through papers. Papers can be bulky and heavy, but can also be important or sensitive. I recommend getting some legal file boxes and putting anything remotely important or useful in them to be sorted later. Really important docs (birth certificates, tittles, etc) in a separate box. If it needs to be shredded, in a box. That is time consuming and can be done later in storage. When that time comes she can get a crosscut paper shredder start going through them one box at a time at the new place. Everything else, in the trash. Also, when it eventually comes to the sorting phase, there are phone apps that can turn piles of paper into a searchable pdf very quickly. So if she wants to keep the agenda from her trip to Rome in 1986 or her phone bill from 1992 because it might have Aunt Betty's phone number that she might need someday, she can snap, save and discard. Don't forget to backup if she goes that route.
Appliances. Most useful things should probably have migrated to the new place, but maybe she has a second blender, hair dryer, etc at the old place. If it works and she does not feel like donating, box it up and deal with it in storage.
Nnick knacks/decorations. Donate it or box it up and box it up and deal with it later.
Clothes/shoes. Donate it or box it up and box it up and deal with it later.
Now at this point there is a practical concern about what "box it up" means. The best thing I have found is the 27 gallon storage bin. There are a few companies that make these, but they will typically have a black tub with a yellow lid. They are strong, durable, stackable, and the lids can be secured. They are great for storage units as you can stack 5 or 6 on top of a dolly and roll them in and out. They are relatively cheap, too. The cheapest usually being at Costco, Sam's, etc. The biggest problem is they can be heavy and I assume if your friend had parents with dementia they are not young themselves and a heavy box may be an issue. However, they can pre stack them one at a time at their old place and fill them in place. I recommend labelling with a Sharpie marker on white duct tape. They do make smaller boxes like this, but they are not much cheaper. Rubbermaid type containers are typically more expensive and are softer so they are more likely to buckle if heavy ones are stacked.
Hopefully, before long she could have everything in her old place will either be boxed up for her new place or storage, furniture to be moved, or garbage in big thick black bags that can not be seen inside. At this point, it is a simple moving problem which you could help with, get a "two guys and a truck" type to help, or a professional mover.
I know some will say this is not fixing her problem with sorting her stuff, just postponing it, but that is kind of the point. Even with professional intervention, it may not happen soon enough and the stress it taking it's toll on her. By taking away the stress of the decision making on what to do, she can box everything up and move it closer to home where she can deal with it one box at a time at her leisure and spend more time dealing with her parents and dog right now.
And I would also agree that if you did not want to get sucked up into all of this you can always help by helping with her burdens here while she is there taking care of this.
I would also like to add a safety note. I mentioned boxes that might be to heavy to carry safely, and back injuries are a real concern when tackling something like this, but so is moving lighter boxes repetitively when you are not used to it, and also sitting on the floor or hunched over going through drawers for hours. I recommend having some sort of table to sort things if she goes the storage route, and also a small step ladder so she can remove things from higher boxes safely.
I wish you and she good luck.
posted by Short End Of A Wishbone at 12:14 AM on January 2 [8 favorites]


I have a few small things to add. I used to say my mother was a hoarder, but reading The Wrong Kind of Cheese's wonderful post, I'm thinking maybe not. I'd describe myself as someone with hoarding tendencies.

One very compassionate book I read by a researcher (can't remember the title) said something that has stuck with me, that, in a way, hoarders can be seen as people who are creative. A hoarder can look at an item you think of as garbage or useless and see that item's potential. A broken chair can be fixed. A broken plate could be a cool collage. That old teddy bear may be worth something on eBay. My mom saw a bunch of deflated balloons I tried to throw away as a happy memory of someone's homecoming dance (for me, parting with anything that belonged to my now-adult children is the most difficult - because I see their little faces and miss those little kids).

Also, if she grew up on stories of the depression or has ever been in a financially unstable place, she might be imagining a day down the road when she really needs something and can't afford it. This is my problem with getting rid of clothes I don't wear. Of course, it's not logical to pay rent on two places so she can keep things she might need in the future, but who among us is always logical?

On a more practical note, I started a downsizing project and what helped me the most was setting very specific goals for the day and, once I met those goals, I was done. The first thing I decided to do was donate or trash three things a day for a year - this meant I would be getting rid of 1000 things (I had donate boxes, and when I had a few filled, I'd take them to Goodwill). I had my own rules for counting - for a group of bangle bracelets, I counted each individual bracelet as a thing, but for something really small, like paper clips, the box was a thing. After that year was up and I had a bunch of paper to deal with, I moved to twenty minutes a day. Once I did my twenty minutes, I was done (I also gave myself stickers on a calendar for all of this. I found I am weirdly motivated by stickers and use them for all kinds of goals now). While these particular goals probably aren't best in your friend's situation, if she can set some kind of goal, then the end is in sight and she can feel like she accomplished something by meeting that goal rather than looking at the whole mess and feeling like this can never be done. Maybe get rid of ten things, then go for a walk. Or work for an hour and then have a cup of tea. Then work for another hour and follow with another reward.

You sound like a wonderful and compassionate friend. I hope she is able to accept your help.
posted by FencingGal at 5:33 AM on January 2 [20 favorites]


I would reiterate to her that you are willing to come and help and that you are not going to judge her.

As someone who has hoarding tendencies (along with the disorganization that comes with my ADHD), please consider following The Wrong Kind of Cheese's excellent suggestion to "make a list of the things you can do for your friend and let her pick from the list instead of saying, 'Hey, what can I do for you?' "

I have had a partner (who did not live with me) and a close friend offer to help me tackle piles of clutter and then say deeply hurtful things (Jesus Christ, my partner muttered, the minute he walked into the room I needed help with), which impelled me to throw their asses out of my place. I had enough shame all on my own and did not need an extra from people who loved me but couldn't handle the piles.

So do not reiterate that you are willing to come and help, without judgment, unless you know for a fact that you will not. My partner and my friend both promised to be gentle and kind toward me and they just couldn't help themselves. And this was in a situation that was maybe a 3 on the hoarding scale. No bug, no vermin, no trash, no old food. It was just a bunch of stuff that, because it did not fit together logically, caused my friends to lose their shit when they were supposed to be helping me.

Don't be a hero. Make an offer that you can actually honour rather than assuming you will be able to help and discovering, too late, that you just cannot handle your friend's apartment. It is better to assume you probably cannot and find other ways to help.

Also, adults get to decide if they want help or not. So please be gracious if your friend is just too exhausted to accept help from you because saying yes is also a lot of work for your friend and potentially work on a schedule that simply adds to the feeling of overwhelm. It's okay if you cannot rescue your friend from the situation. As noted above, being able to emphasise about how much is all sucks is also helpful.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:26 AM on January 2 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure whether someone has already mentioned this, but here's another idea. One way or another (the more expedient the better), just get everything moved to a storage unit near your friend's new home.

1 -- Given that the stuff will be so much closer, it will be that much easier to deal with.
2 -- A storage unit is so much less costly to pay for than an apartment

To me, those moves would make the situation so much easier to deal with.
posted by NotLost at 9:49 AM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Sideways thought from someone with ADHD who acquires “art supplies” (junk/trash) and never gets around to using them. (I also have issues with our ideas about trash/throwing things away as a culture)

When I hit an overwhelm point (and/or my hand is forced by outside circumstances), I declare temporary amnesty days. I tell myself I don’t have to change my habits/mindset forever, but TODAY I can be ruthless and throw out/recycle things I’m probably never going to use (and can replace cheaply if need to).

Like everyone else has said, the will to downsize has to come from the stuff-holder, but maybe temporary amnesty is an idea you can offer your friend in some conversation sometime.
posted by itesser at 11:16 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Someone can come over with a shredder, big flatbed scanner, and robust two-sided sheet-feed scanner, and a laptop. ALL PAPERS can be made to disappear without any decision as to value. (This presumes that the obvious garbage of newspapers and non-collectible magazine piles is tossed without any intermediate scanning.)

If there are a lot of books or potentially collectible magazine runs, advertise a book sale. The used book market has become ridiculously efficient. Two or three people will show up and buy anything of any value. Any book or magazine run they won't buy is worthless and can be trashed.

And, yes - what's left:

(a) a giant stack of big post-its. Go around every room and tag everything that isn't to be kept.

(b) movers come in and take everything tagged to the dumpster, and everything not tagged to a storage facility.

(c) storage facility dealt with at leisure.
posted by MattD at 1:34 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


i am with theora55, above - sometimes momentum is what one needs, and physical help .. be wary of organizers who only want to strategize and other approaches that dont actually lead quickly to progress in the vein of items-actually-getting-a-move-on. its amazing in these situations , as i many gordian knot life situations, what experiencing a little victory can do for making one able to see the light at the end of the tunnel more clearly.
posted by elgee at 1:40 AM on January 3


For a variety of reasons, she is not able to make a whole lot of progress on sorting through everything despite her best attempts.

I think a fair bit hinges on what actually happens when she tries, and what is stopping her. Is she overwhelmed with the volume of stuff and doesn't know where to start? Is she overwhelmed with negative feelings (guilt/shame/anxiety) when she tries to get rid of things? Is she just so tired from everything else going on in her life that she ends up sleeping or watching TV? Each of these situations suggests different problems and different things that might be helpful.

I've assisted with a few moves for people who The Wrong Kind of Cheese would probably say were chronically disorganised. For this kind of person, they are more likely to know that they have a lot of crap they don't want, and are more likely to just feel overwhelmed by the task of going through things. Things that have seemed helpful have included helping to group things, e.g. gathering all the shoes in a pile, gathering all the papers in a pile, etc. When the furniture has been removed and there are only random items remaining, literally using a broom to sweep them together into a pile can help them be dealt with efficiently. For family members I've tended to have some latitude to just throw out things that are obviously rubbish (e.g. dried out filthy sponges on the kitchen floor) while I've been careful not to throw out anything that might have a value to the person, even if it's not something I would personally want to keep. Having another person present can help keep the momentum, and at the point where there is decision fatigue, can help keep the process going.

This is a difficult situation for your friend and I hope she will soon be free of this burden. However if your friend is the chronically disorganised type, I'd really encourage her to try to avoid moving things to a storage facility - although the monthly fee for storing the things is small compared to the double rent, things that are both unpleasant to think about and out of sight are very, very easy to ignore, and the financial calculus changes if you end up paying that monthly fee for the rest of your life.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:08 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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