How can I keep up professional appearances at work, when my home life is a mess?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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mess.
How do you work when your desk is covered in crap? Or how do you find clothes, when they're strewn about everywhere? (Photo by: Katrina DeFrancescoCC BY 2.0)
I am a recently graduated newlywed with an awesome job in my field. But I have a secret: due to finances, the husband and I are living with his mother, who is a chronic hoarder.

This causes problems because I am expected to maintain a level of professionalism at work — from dress to work ethic. It is hard to do this when you are rooting through laundry baskets every morning for clean office clothes, attempting to get a good night's sleep on a futon holding two people, constantly cleaning the fridge of spoiled food so you can make a lunch, and generally dealing with a non-professional home life.

Any suggestions on maintaining professionalism (at work and life in general) when your living space is working against you? -Beatrix

We've talked about ways to cope with hoarders before. And we've talked about how neat freaks and pack rat partners can live together. But we haven't discussed how to live with a hoarder when you're technically a guest under their roof, OR how to maintain an air of polished professionalism when you're struggling upstream. Hmmm…

Homies, you've given great advice about similar topics before. Anyone else surfing those rough seas of trying to find the right work/messy home life balance?

  1. Tough situation.
    What kind of hoarder is she? Does she not like it when other people touch her belongings, or does she get overwhelmed and therefore can't really do any sorting or cleaning? Both?

  2. Oh jeez, that sounds awful, I am so sorry you have to contend with this. A couple of thoughts:
    Possible resources for you and your husband exist. Obviously, I don't know where you're located, but fingers crossed there's something nearby for you.
    Is there a way you can negotiate a space in the house that you control? "Our bedroom is off-limits. Husband gets the garage. I will do all the cooking if you stay out of the kitchen, no exceptions." Whatever. And then clean the fuck out of it, put a lock on the door, and enforce the boundary with an iron fist. Obviously, this will produce a lot of feeeeeeeeeelings on your mother-in-law's part. But your need to have a safe, clean space is a legitimate need.
    Captain Awkward's column on dealing with a hoarding parent one shares a space with is excellent.
    How is your husband coping with this? You're gonna need him on your side for talking with his mother and for making plans to get the fuck out.

    Fingers crossed for you!

  3. Do you and your husband have a room to yourself or is the futon you are sleeping on in communal space. Is there a way to keep your room a clean and therefore less stressful environment?

    A former roommate of mine was like a tornado that would blow through the apartment. After I cleaned it would quickly be a mess again, one thing that helped was keeping my personal space as clean as possible, a place I could escape from the mess.

    • I had a friend in a similar situation. she lived with her dad who is a hoarder. They would butt heads about it a lot but came with the compromise that her room was HER space and he was not even allowed to enter without her permission (he would try to hide things under her bed and in the closet)it made life easier on her to have a safe space of her very own.
      They had issues still in shared spaces like the kitchen, but it was easier knowing she had a place she could escape to. Maybe your husband can talk to his Mom about a similar compromise? Good luck!

  4. Rough.

    I would start by working some time into non-work hours to take care of the things you need for work. Make time to wash, dry, fold, and put away your work clothes on the weekend so you don't need to deal with them during the week. Set up a weekly time to clean out the fridge. Talk to your husband about how this is particularly challenging for you, he might have some ideas that surprise you.

    It may be exhausting, but keep your chin up and know that eventually it will get better.

  5. As I don't know all of the details of your situation, some of my suggestions might not work for you or be appropriate for you, but here are my 2 cents:

    First off, identify what it is about your situation that is the most distressing to you. Is it that you are not in control of your living situation to the extent you'd like to be? Are you embarrassed about the conditions of your living environment and are fearful of people at work knowing? Maybe it's something else, or a combination. Once you've identified the MOST distressing part, you can take steps to address that specific thing – or acknowledge that it's out of your control, and move on to something that is within your control.

    What within this situation is within your control and what isn't? If you can help yourself to let go of things that you really can't control or can't do anything about, you can give yourself permission to stop worrying about those things, and focus your energies on that which you CAN change.

    Can you purchase better pillows, mattress topper or something to make the futon more comfortable? Is it possible to manage your own laundry or arrange for a different place for your work clothing to be stored? Would it be possible to plan and prepare your work attire a few days in advance, so everything is cleaned, pressed and ready to go in the morning? Could you store your professional clothes in garment bags or something similar to keep them out of/away from other clutter? Would your schedule/lifestyle accommodate going to a gym before work so you can shower and dress for work in a more neutral environment?

    If at all possible, having buffers between your home and work environments could help you to change gears and feel as if you are getting a clean start before entering your professional space: go to the gym before work, visit a coffee shop and take 10 or 15 minutes there before going on to work – anything like that.

    Does your husband share your concerns? If this is the environment in which he grew up, it may not affect him in the same way it does you. If he feels similarly to you, it may be more effective to talk about little changes you can make together to improve your current situation.

    I grew up in an extremely messy, borderline hoarder household. It bothered me the most when I moved back home after college for a while. I was miserable until I accepted the fact that it was not my house, and was not my responsibility. I did what I could to make my own space within the house comfortable for me, and realized that just because I know what my home environment is like, it does not mean that everyone I encounter out of the home knows. Good luck!

    • This! Also, a good workout at the gym followed by a nice hot shower in their (clean – make sure they're clean) facilities will help get you ready for the (organized, professional) day ahead.

      Other than that, I really can't contribute anything that has not been said here – but I want to reiterate points like handling the cleaning aspect on non-work days, doing something to keep your clean work clothes easily findable and away from the mess (such as a garment bag or even storing them in a suitcase – at least you know where they are), and taking as much control as you can where you can. Sometimes, the only time you're in control is at work, if that's the case, throw yourself into your work. And understand that if you're busting your rear, they won't notice if your clothes are a bit wrinkly.

  6. Thanks for the support and advice given so far. In response to the questions:

    MIL wants a clean house, but she cannot get over the physical and mental barriers of cleaning 40+ years if clutter. We can clean when she is out of the house (which is not very often). Ultimately it boils down to a power struggle: she feels helpless and tries to exert her power by dictating how things get cleaned. This has resulted in her throwing us out before due to the stress if cleaning.

    We are fortunate enough to have the upstairs (one large room) to ourselves. Unfortunately this is my husband's childhood home, so all of his stuff, plus some of mine, is up there. He is messy, which wouldn't be a problem in a normal house, but it is exacerbated here.

    My biggest issue is socks! I used to be so good about keeping pairs together! Now I just hope for two clean ones as they get lost in the shuffle.

      • Finances. If they're already living with MIL for financial reasons, it would probably not be a good idea to rent extra space just for stuff. Disclaimer: I feel very strongly anti-storage units so that's totally opinion-based.

      • I am totally pro-storage unit, especially for stuff you can't use right now but want to keep because either there's a fair chance that you WILL use it again or because of sentimental reasons, but I would go with one of the established companies, like Public Storage. I've used them for various reasons, and even in my market (Chicagoland) you can get a small, easily-accessible one for about $60-70 per month. Box old books and (separately) knickknacks up in liquor boxes (free for the asking at liquor stores), old stuffed animals and clothes in either plastic bins or those really big Ziploc bags (http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/BigBags.aspx) or fresh garbage bags. Then ask MOL if you can look around the clutter for an old dresser or bookcase to organize the stuff you're keeping in the room, or get one on Craigslist.

        Good luck! I hope that this is only a temporary situation, but even so, it's best for it to be a tolerable one while you save up for your own place.

    • Unfuck Your Habitat is awesome for helping you manage neatness on whatever level you are able. Specifically for the socks: wash, dry, and most importantly put it away! It's probably really hard to find homes for your stuff, but it helps.

      Can your husband get rid of some of his childhood stuff? It's so easy to donate to Goodwill if you have a car or access to one.

      • Or even, if not give it away, get some cardboard boxes or rubber tubs and box it up to stack in one corner. Or even just clear out one area of the room for YOU and YOUR stuff, keep your laundry very very separate, and maybe even see if you can pick up a cheapo mini-fridge on craigslist (a lot of students throw 'em out at the end of semesters, though I know that's not for awhile.)

    • Okay. I am not a therapist, nor do I have experience with hoarding, so grain of salt, mileage may vary, object in rear-view mirror, etc., etc. That said:

      Definitely talk to your husband and agree on what the minimum standard of clean is. He probably has a lot of ~~emotions~~ around this space and around cleaning and whatnot. You need backup, you need clear boundaries, and you need to Use Your Words.

      I would very strongly suggest working with someone outside the family — a counselor, or a social worker, or someone who is trained to be non-judgmental but still get you to do things. I know it can feel REALLY SHAMEFUL to admit "I can't cope with this thing, I need help" especially when it's a thing that is SO FUCKING BASIC like keeping your house clean or throwing out the garbage on the regular or whatever, but yucky feelings are not fatal, I promise. I absolutely promise.

      If your mother-in-law admits there is a problem, that is AWESOME. You don't have to persuade her that X is Not Okay! And if it's just that she's overwhelmed by forty years of clutter, that is totally legit, forty years of clutter is a LOT of clutter. Praise her for acknowledging that stuff needs to change! Ask her what things you can say that sound least threatening, controlling, whatever makes her panic.

      Start small: Can we throw out rotting food for ten minutes? This drawer, what's broken in it? I'm going to take two bags of garbage to the dump, is there anything you want me to get rid of for you? And then when you're done with the thing you said — like in the ten minutes example above — STOP. It never ever turns into an overwhelming marathon of THROW OUT ALL THE THINGS CLEAN ALL THE THINGS WE'RE NEVER GOING TO BE DONE. It's ten minutes of an unpleasant task, and when you're done, it's over. And it hasn't killed anyone! Everyone is proud!

      Worst-case scenario, I still think "this bedroom is my space, it has to meet my standards of clean," is a fair statement to make, and you can see how to make that work for you.

    • So, here is something my Dad does that I think is kind of genius. When he takes off a pair of socks, he pins them together with a safety pin. When he puts on a new pair he takes the pin out and it is ready for later. His socks are washed and dried while clipped together! Maybe this could help you?

      • We had a problem losing socks in our apartment's shared washing machine, so we began putting them in a zippered mesh bag (like for camping, or reusable produce bags). We just keep the bag at the top of the laundry hamper or right next to it and all of the socks go in there and the bag goes straight into the machine. You might want to consider that for your socks alone, so they don't get mixed with other people's stuff.

        • Sounds like a mesh lingerie bag. I believe they even sell them at Target! I have two- one for dirty, one for clean. I use one to hold my little half socks and my bras when they get washed. The little socks live in the appropriate (clean or dirty) bag unless they are being worn. And the zipper keeps them contained.

      • When I take my socks off at night (or whenever), I hold them in my hands anyway. So I put the cuffs next to each other and fold one of them over so that they will stay together. Like this:
        http://pad3.whstatic.com/images/thumb/f/f9/Avoid-Losing-Socks-in-the-Washing-Machine-Step-1.jpg/670px-Avoid-Losing-Socks-in-the-Washing-Machine-Step-1.jpg

        It's important to do this WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF, not when you want to wash or clean or put away stuff – it will be too late then! Also, I JUST STARTED to do this last year!
        I come from a hoarder's home and inherited a few tendencies myself, but I'm actively fighting them. I had the sock problem, too, but you can totally start new routines and follow them, even if you're 35! Took me 3 to 6 weeks to make this a habit, now I don't even think about it anymore.

        Good Luck! This too shall pass.

  7. Do you have a place outside the home where you can keep some stuff? Like a locker at work, gym, or in your car? I would suggest keeping some tools there, such as Febreeze, lint rollers, stain sticks (even extra shoes / socks) — just so you can clean up a bit more if you need to before work. I also suggest changing your wardrobe to easy care items that don't require ironing, for example – which will keep you looking crisp. Check out some thrift stores.

    • It's pretty common in many professions for people to keep one entire outfit in their office/work locker. If that doesn't work, can you toss a backpack in your car trunk with "emergency" professional items, for when the house is too overwhelming for you?

      • I very much agree with these suggestions. In most jobs I've worked, I've kept a small bag with a few essentials in my desk. Spare tights, nail file, comb, hair pins, handcream, painkillers – that sort of thing. Plus my tea/coffee of choice, if it wasn't provided by the office. A few cereal bars or small packets of crackers can be handy when you need a quick breakfast or lunch too. A spare pair of plain shoes can also be handy – especially if it's the sort of office where you might be expected to wear heels or very smart shoes that you don't want to travel in.

        Being efficient like this saves time and money too – since you don't need to rush out to buy something every time you have a hectic morning or unexpected problem.

      • I would chime in as well with "what resources do you have at work?". I work in a large professional office so we have a small gym with a locker room and showers. It's not weird at all to shower at work and get ready there, many people do. You could keep a few essentials in your locker. We also have full refrigerators and freezers in the break rooms. You could buy your lunch items for the week and store them there. I pre pack frozen lunches into gladware and go get one each day. It sounds like you might be in a home office environment sometimes. Consider a workstation that can be collapsed for storage. I use two TV trays. One fits my laptop, the other is my writing space. Then laptop goes in its case, trays get hung back on the rack and my living room is a living room again. For you this means nobody can pile junk on your work surface.

  8. So there's the logistics and the emotional stress, which can thankfully be tackled separately.

    I think there have been a lot of good suggestions for the logistics. Maybe you want to start taking your clothes to a laundromat? You could also consider getting a mini-dorm fridge for your lunch food, or buying shelf-stable lunch meals (Trader Joes has some healthy and yummy ones). Or on Monday morning you could swing by the grocery store and get a salad that would last you for a few days at least and leave it in the work fridge? Could you replace the futon with an air mattress if that would be slightly bigger/more comfortable?

    The emotional piece might be harder – it's exhausting to live in a less-than-ideal environment. I suggest that you take it one day at a time, as cliche as that sounds. Rather than saying to yourself "Gah! I can't handle work because I've been dealing with all this shit at home" you can try saying "Thank goodness I can go to work and have a space from the mess." Try to compartmentalize – when you are at work, you can't be worried about the laundry or kitchen or bathrooms or whatever. It's not helpful to you, and actually detracts from your ability to focus and be happy at work because you're always "on." Also, is there any way that you can have some sort of countdown? Are you living there indefinitely or is it more of a 6 months to a year type situation? Because you can comfort yourself with milestones if you know they're coming.

    Good luck.

    • Go Picnic! makes tasty shelf-stable meals, they're sort of like Lunchables for grown-ups. They're a bit wasteful, because every item is packaged individually, but are a super-convenient option for lunches at work. You could even keep a stash at work and that's one less thing to worry about on the home front.

      • And they run frequent sales! We make almost all of our own food, but I do try to keep some Go Picnics around for busy times.

    • Similar to the salad idea, but I know someone who would bring an entire loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter to work. He would make his sandwich right before he ate it, and he had no tupperware to clean each day.

  9. I had to live through a summer of home renovation while working in an office and here's how I did it: Use Sundays to plan everything. I know, it sucks, but apparently, people with kids have to do it too, hehe. So every Sunday, I did those two things:

    -Plan and make lunch for the week.
    -Put aside, iron and make sure I had 5 different outfits appropriate to my week schedule

    Good luck!

  10. Since you have a space that is your own, I would focus on decluttering that area first. I know it's really hard for my husband to emotionally part from his childhood stuff too, so that this may be a challenge.

    A lot of storage areas have a first month free policy. It may be worth it to rent one for one month. Put all of his childhood stuff that is causing clutter but that he really doesn't want to get rid of in the unit. At the end of the month, go back and see if a little separation plus the new found awesome of the additional space in your room makes it easier to donate some it.

    Additionally, it may be wise to invest in a small portable closet (like this one from Target http://www.target.com/p/portable-storage-closet/-/A-11678116?ref=tgt_adv_XSG10001&AFID=Google_PLA_df&LNM=%7C11678116&CPNG=Furniture&kpid=11678116&LID=PA&ci_src=17588969&ci_sku=11678116&gclid=CPD38Iy29LsCFTJp7AodJFcAtw). It would be big enough for you to keep you work clothes and shoes in, so as soon as they come out of the laundry, you at least have a safe place for them to go so you don't have to hunt for them.

  11. Three thoughts that may or may not be helpful, in order from probably hardest to probably easiest:
    1 – it kind of sounds like you and your husband might need to get more strongly on the same page before going to your MIL with a plan. Maybe he doesn't see the mess like you see it, or maybe it just doesn't stress him out like it's stressing you, but you don't want to come out of this with a MIL who hates you because you rocked the boat. And your husband is the one who is going to have to make sure that your MIL doesn't see it that way.

    2 – I lived with a roommate once who was really, really big on cleaning. She wrote up a schedule, and then each week by monday evening, we all had to finish cleaning our area for that week. (The apartment was small, so on the list were kitchen, living room, bathroom – all the shared spaces.) It might not work for you because it's kind of your MIL's house, but maybe it could be a way to avoid the power struggle of cleaning if you present it as "I want to help maintain the common areas. I need to feel like I'm doing my part as a full member of this household." So letting you clean is helping you solve one of your problems, and it stays far away from her problems. This sort of structure might open up the possibility for having conversations about how things get cleaned, hopefully leading towards "this is my week for the living room, so you have to stay out of it until I'm done, and you don't get to tell me how to do it – do it your way when it's your week."

    3 – for socks: get 10 pairs of identical work socks. Stop wearing the socks that don't look like those. That way it is very, very likely that you'll always be able to find a matcher.

    I personally tend to be as messy as whoever I'm living with, and if I'm living with more than one person, I tend towards the messier one, not the cleaner one. For me, it would take a huge amount of mental effort to combat living with a messy husband and a very messy MIL. So I'd try to set things up to be as easy as possible to maintain in an orderly state so that you don't have to spend mental energy on every single little thing. (Like with the socks…if you can find 5 clean socks, but they're all identical, then you have a pair for today AND a pair for tomorrow. Woo!)

  12. If you're finding your clothes are rumpled and less-than-fresh, I can't recommend a fabric steamer enough. You can get handheld ones for less than $40. I just absolutely can't with ironing clothes. With a steamer, you just hang the garment up and blow steam at it, kind of tugging at hard-set wrinkles. It's not a perfect solution and you can't steam all fabrics, but it's great for me. If you already have an iron and it has a steam function, you can use it as a steamer if you don't have space to lay out the clothes to be pressed.
    If you have personal storage at work, keep a few accessories, nice shoes and pieces of makeup there and box up the stuff at home. Have one pair of work shoes that you wear in and out, then swap when you get to work if they don't quite go. Put on a few accessories and touch up your makeup. If you're like me and you have a lot of shoes, accessories and makeup, this will save you a bunch of space at home.

  13. My husband and I use the cheap milk crates from target for clothes instead of a dresser. This way my husband can easily see what he has clean. And it makes putting clothes away easy, just toss 'em in the crate. For nicer clothes we use hangers so they don't get rumpled…do you have somewhere you could hang up your work clothes? If you don't have a closet maybe you can hang thin rope or twine in the corner of the room and use it…kind of like you might for drying clothes. Regarding socks, the earlier suggestion of getting multiple pairs of the same kind is good. But if you can't go buy new socks, try spending a little extra time before you put a load of wash in to make sure you are washing maching sets. Then, fold the socks together…this is hard to describe in writing but you lay one sock on top of the other, hold at the ankle openings, with your thumbs open one sock and roll insideout over the matched sock. This is how I keep mine together. Best of luck!

  14. Maybe try to find a way to have a space away from home that you can use. I believe many YMCAs offer scholarships for membership to low income individuals. I believe you may also be able to trade volunteer time for a discount on the membership. That way you could have a locker to keep your work stuff in and a clean place to shower every day.

  15. My fiance and I went through a similar situation, though she instead had an abundance of animals. At one point it was definitely hoarding, though it has lessened since then. As a result the house is in horrible shape (majority of bedrooms don't have flooring, just the fraying sub-flooring; incredibly dusty from the animals; the counters constantly dirty from the cats; sheets covering the minimal living room furniture furniture that never were clean; badly damaged door frames, floors, bathroom fan, you name it) and we had to structure our lives around the animals. We could not leave anything in the common area for too long, or overnight, or it was SURE to be peed on or chewed up. Don't get me wrong, I love her and am very thankful for taking us in when we couldn't afford it ourselves. But it did get stressful often.

    We made sure our room was off-limits to any animals except a few chosen few (our cats and a couple others). There was always a lint roller in the car. Lint rollers are awesome. If anything ever smelled, I had a tiny spray bottle of homemade "Febreeze" that I would spritz it with (50/50 vodka or rubbing alcohol/water, sometimes with a few drops of essential oil) to kill smelly bacteria. Minimizing my own possessions and keeping them in check was also important, since we only had our bedroom to keep our things in. Reading different books and blogs on a minimalist wardrobe helped me with this.

    I know it's hard, but keep a steady head. Look for a way out, but don't make yourself crazy wishing for one.

  16. My partner and I lived with his parents, in his childhood bedroom, for 10 months. His mother was a hoarder, and there were 9 cats and 2 dogs in the mix, along with our two dogs. It was a mess, and extremely trying, but there were a few things that ended up being helpful. My partner and I did a lot of cleaning and purging of there things while we there there, but it honestly didn't make a dent.

    There were several tasks that I claimed, not only to be helpful, but also to help with my sanity. I took over laundry for the household – I could make sure my items were being laundered properly, and not washed with things that were, say, soaked in cat urine. I went grocery shopping with his mother each weekend. I would make a menu, create a list, and thus temper the amount of unneeded items (that would just spoil) that were being brought in. This had two upsides for me – I cleaned out the fridge each week to prevent rotting items, and I could control the healthfulness of the shared meals. Disclaimer – I did end up cooking most evenings.

    The other thing that helped me keep my sanity was my YMCA membership. After work, I would go have a least an hour of me time at the gym – yoga, running, etc. – and then take an undisturbed shower in a clean place before I returned home. Not only did this help me de-stress, it gave me time to mentally prepare to walk back into that situation. And I didn't have to wait in line for a shower in a gross bathroom. Win-win.

    It's a tough situation, but you've got to find ways to remain positive and see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • "My partner and I did a lot of cleaning and purging of there things while we there there, but it honestly didn't make a dent."

      This so much. The turkey that was old enough to vote and the chocolate cupcake wrapper from her 53-year-old son's fifth birthday were some of the highlights when we did our last purging.

  17. Just wanted to say thank you all for the emotional and logistical support here (but what else should I expect from the awesome OBE?). Some of the advice is applicable to our situation, some is not, but it is all great. Thank you!!

  18. My partner and I lived with his parents for a year and a half, and the only saving grace for the mess was that his mother needed a wheelchair and so walkways needed to be kept clear for her to move through the house. It was a constant struggle, and we didn't even have the "it's not my space, it's not my problem" savior, because taking care of his parents and getting the house in order was our entire purpose for being there. We made some strides, but within a week of us being gone you couldn't tell at all that we'd spent 18 months cleaning and organizing.

    Some things that really, really helped:
    We had our own shelves in the fridge, and they were above their shelves. If they wanted to leave food to rot, it wouldn't drip onto ours, and I could clean ours more regularly. (The fact that "I" was in charge of all the food was very helpful in this arena, but still, there were issues with them wanting to keep food far past it being safe to consume.) It meant that I could always find what I wanted, when I wanted it.

    This was also very effective for living with my grandmother, who will buy a new carton of milk and immediately start to use it because the other one is "old" even if it is only two days older because she used a lot of it cooking something. But she won't throw away the old milk. When my dad cleaned out the fridge for me before I went home for a visit, he threw out 8 half-gallons of milk with various levels of milk inside in various stages of decay. Yuck.

    We had designated cleaning days for each room. The minimum standard for cleaning was to take care of any mess created since the last time you cleaned it, but the goal was to have it look better than last time. So let's say, clean up 10-14 days of mess every 7 days. For the living room this meant: Pick up trash, vacuum (including vacuuming one piece of furniture every week so they all were done monthly), straighten the chair nests (you now, the area his parents nested in around their TV chairs), and fold the couch blankets, then do Just One More Thing. One time it means dusting the mantle, one time it's dusting some other piece of furniture, cleaning the windows, laundering the curtains, straightening one drawer of yarn so it closes. In the living room this was very effective. Bathrooms too. The library/dining room for some reason this was less effective, but I think that had more to do with our day assignment for it than anything. We usually didn't get to the Just Do One More Thing in there. But it made a LOT Of progress in the kitchen so that within a couple months it was practically spotless and pretty easy to maintain.

  19. First of all, I'm so sorry that you're having to deal with this, it's rough ­čÖü .

    My BF of 5+ years lives with his mother who is a hoarder, at this point it is bad enough that you have to turn sideways to walk in her areas. I don't stay there full time, but I live about 2 hours away, so anytime I want to visit him I have to stay there.

    This is what we did for him to help him stay sane, it might not all work for you, but maybe it would be helpful.

    1. Carve out space for yourself:

    When I first found out how he lived, we cleaned out his areas. His rooms used to be full of childhood items, his mother's bedding, his sister's things from high school (she's 26 now), and countless 'gifts' his mother had given him over the years that he never wanted or needed.

    Take everything out, go through it, throw away what's not important and save what is. Have a box to put sentimental things in, don't let them crowd the room.

    Purge everything that's not his, if it is his mother's and is in his area, she should figure out her own place to put it in her own space.

    What I figured out pretty quickly is that my boyfriend isn't 'messy' because he wants to be, he's messy because he has known no other way to live. There was never structure in his life for his belongings. My boyfriend took pretty quickly to an organizational system, the problem he had before was that he was never able to create one for himself because it was never modeled for him.

    Anything that he's not willing to take with him in a move we threw away. It sounds rough, but we know that once he moves out she is going to PACK that room full of things, and whatever he leaves behind is as good as gone and we are not seeing it for years.

    2. NEVER let your things out of your space:

    She used to do his laundry, this was one of the worst things for his clothes because they were constantly disappearing. They would fall out of baskets, or she would dump them on piles in the dining room table, there was no way to keep track of anything.

    He does his own laundry now, brings it upstairs, folds it himself, and puts it away immediately. This means that nothing disappears because he is the one controlling it at all times.

    If you don't have a lot of space for hanging clothes, buy racks you can hang over your door, or a garment rack.

    http://www.walmart.com/ip/Organize-It-All-1714-Ultra-Capacity-Adjustable-Garment-Rack/10569418

    4. Buy food you can keep in your area

    He eats a lot of ramen, protein bars, foods that don't have to be prepared with pots and pans that are impossible to find, or too dirty to use.

    If you're going to be there for a good amount of time, I would suggest finding a small fridge on craigslist.

    3. There is nothing you can do now, but plan for the future

    We cleaned her entire kitchen twice, 10 hours of throwing expired food away in black trash bags. Dozens of them.

    Three weeks later it was exactly as it was before we cleaned. Both times.

    She doesn't listen to either of us, and believes that her hoarding is because she's sick and eventually she will feel better and clean her house. Obviously the problem isn't that she doesn't clean, if it were she wouldn't have filled her entire kitchen floor to ceiling with food in three weeks. That's not normal.

    Her hoarding has nothing to do with the 'stuff' in her house, it is a mental illness and we can't force her into therapy. One day we will have to call Adult Protective Services to intervene, and she will never forgive us for it. There is nothing we can do at this point.

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