Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Overwhelmed By Stuff

Dear Jocelyn,
My mother lives by herself in a large house filled with stuff, a lot of which is my late father's. She knows that she needs to get rid of it, and she’s not even that attached to most of it…but she doesn't do much about it. We both think she would be better off in a smaller place without always having to worry about mountains of clutter. I am out of ideas to help. I offer to go through stuff with her, and we’ll get a few boxes done, but I live hours away and this is infrequent. Her friends offer to help and she says she’ll take them up on it when she gets her act together. I know she is overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff and I’ve even thought of calling one of those home makeover shows, but I think that would make her very upset. It’s her stuff, so she has to be the one that goes through it. Help?
     -Way Too Much Stuff

Dear Stuff,
What you're dealing with here is not simply the issue of a pack-rat who does not know how to get rid of things. Your mother is not only overwhelmed by the large amount of clearing out she needs to do, but she is possibly also dealing with grief and depression. You did not say how long ago your father died, but I assume it was in the last several years. It is very difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one, and to get rid of their items can feel like losing them all over again.

However, while this can be difficult, it is an important step. Living in a cluttered environment with old reminders is not healthy. Sit down with your mother (whether in person or over the phone) and gently tell her you are concerned. Explain to her why you think it is important to clean out these items. Offer hope that, once the house is de-cluttered, she might feel better and begin to move on. Since she is probably too overwhelmed to oversee a clean-up crew, you might arrange a time for you to visit where her friends can come over and tackle the mess. This way, you can be there if her feelings of grief become too strong and she needs to take a break. This is a time for, not “tough love,” but firm love. Help her make a definite plan and stick to it.

In addition to all of this, you should encourage her to see a therapist to deal with her possible depression. A therapist can guide her through her grief and help her develop a plan for moving on.

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