Dear Annie: My three grown sisters and I have a widowed mother with a severe hoarding problem.
Due to numerous roof leaks and animal infestations, her drywall and ceilings are collapsing. When her neighborhood association took legal action against her, we managed to get a new roof installed. It was the first time in years that we’d had a glimpse of the inside of her house. The trash, clutter and other “junk” (unworn clothing with tags still on, rotting food containers, bags of groceries never put away, refuse thrown in piles, etc.) reach heights of six feet. A small “cow path” exists to navigate from room to room.
We have tried interventions and counseling, but Mom refuses to acknowledge the problem. We have offered to help her clean or find another place to stay. She says it is her business and we are to leave her alone. We do not have a clear picture of Mom’s personal finances, but we know the mortgage and monthly utilities are being paid. The furnace, air conditioner and water heater, however, are no longer in working order. When we get together for family outings, her clothes smell of mold and mildew. She cannot shower in her home, as every bathroom is completely unusable except for one toilet. We fear she may one day fall and be unable to call for help.
Mom has two part-time jobs and spends a great deal of time traveling. She doesn’t suffer from dementia and so is not considered a danger to herself. We all live close by. Should we continue to offer assistance? Should we seek legal guardianship or just honor her wishes to stay out of her business?
— Frustrated Siblings
Dear Siblings: Your mother’s hoarding has reached epic levels, and “honoring her wishes” could cause her great harm. This is a form of mental illness, and Mom needs professional help. Please contact the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (ocfoundation.org/hoarding) at P.O. Box 961029, Boston, MA 02196 for information and a referral to a therapist who specializes in these disorders.
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