No one used to talk about hoarders. They were just messy people with clutter all around– an embarrassment to the family.
My brother(BR) is a hoarder. He has lived in my parents’ house for over 20 years. Mom complained constantly about his “clutter”. She said it was too embarrassing to invite friends over to visit because every room was cluttered with his books and papers. It crept up over time. At first his clutter was limited to his room and the basement. That was their agreement. Yet as the years went by, slowly his mess crept into other rooms.
Mom and dad spent winters in their second home in a warm climate. While they were gone, BR spread out his clutter since there was no one to complain. He would put it away before they came home in the spring. For years it worked out for them as mom and dad didn’t have to look at the mess. It was contained.
Over the years, he slowly spread out his domain. He added bookcases in several rooms and filled them with books, knickknacks, etc. Mom didn’t complain loud enough and he started leaving his papers and books in the living room and the dining room. Mom said he was spreading out too much and he said he needed more time in the spring to get it put away. He got a storage locker to put his clutter in while they were at home. Each spring it took longer than the spring before for him to remove his clutter. Mom would postpone visits from friends until the clutter was removed.
Eventually he never removed it at all. Mom complained, he complained about mom’s complaints and nothing happened. Mom stopped inviting friends and relatives for visits. It was just too embarrassing. You might ask – where was dad when all this was happening? Dad is a quiet man. He would complain to mom, but years ago he stopped talking to BR and BR stopped talking to him. They didn’t get along and dad was losing his hearing. Slowly dementia crept up on dad and he became more and more passive as he aged. Mom handled the household and just left the big spending decisions to dad.
Mom gave up. Clutter overtook the entire house. It was in the living room. It was in the dining room – on the table and on the credenza. The garage was full too. Dad had some things (mowers, tools, and other items) in one-third of the garage. The back and one side were full of boxes that belonged to BR. BR shopped in the big box stores and bought dozens of each item and stored them in the garage and in the pantry. The basement was full of his boxes, stored over 20 years ago and never moved. The largest bedroom belonged to BR and was so cluttered mom wouldn’t even open the door to look inside.
Once mom was crying when telephoned me. She just had another argument with BR and he told her it was all her fault. If she didn’t nag so much he could clean it up. If they kept the house at a more comfortable temperature, he could clean up. If she didn’t stress him out so much, he could clean up. It was all her fault.
She talked about spending the whole year at their winter home in the south. But that was just a tiny apartment and they rented it. They owned the house full of clutter. I suggested mom and dad just sell that house full of clutter. Let BR buy it or move out. It is too late she said. “I made a deal with the devil and I have to live with it.” The extended family all live near the northern (cluttered) home. They wanted to be there in the summer where they could see friends and family, most of whom they had known for over 50 years. Mom said BR shouldn’t be able to push me from my northern home. “Dad and I own it. He has no right to push us out.”
BR tried to convince me to talk mom and dad into signing their home over to the 3 of us children in a tax maneuver that would allow them to qualify for Medicaid and us to inherit the house. I refused to go along because both (1) I didn’t want to co-own the house with a hoarder and (2) mom had already told me stories of her friend who did give her house to the son who then made bad decisions and lost the house. Mom was a good financial planner and knew how to make decisions. I discussed BR’s plans with her. She said “He already acts as if he owns the house now! How would I live with him if he did own it and I was just living in it?” She knew she couldn’t go along with his plan.
In many ways, mom was ambivalent. Some days she just wanted to go back to the south and stay there. Dad didn’t want to stay in the south and really she didn’t either. But she argued constantly with BR because of his clutter and because she had become dependent on him for transportation to the doctors and the grocery store. Dad’s driving skills were deteriorating and mom was hesitant to ask him to drive. BR took her to the store for groceries. But BR would only take her when he was ready. He wouldn’t say what time he would be ready. It would be when he was ready and then he would let her know. (Then she would drop everything to go to the bank and to get groceries. BR was the decider! He determined when they would go. She was like Edith on “All in the Family” and he was like Archie. He called the shots and she jumped.) She didn’t like it. But she felt trapped.
Dad sat in the background. He drove until long after he should have stopped. But he only drove when BR was out-of-town for awhile. Then he became confused as his Alzheimer’s progressed and didn’t remember the way home. Mom reminded him where to turn. They both realized dad had to stop driving. Then mom was even more dependent on BR.
I will be writing more about how the hoarding affected the living situation for my parents over many years and how it still affects my father even though he no longer is able to live in his own home. Mom passed away over a year ago and since then dad has been living in an assisted living facility.