Author Topic: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator  (Read 1853 times)

themicrobe

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In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« on: April 17, 2019, 11:01:05 AM »
Hi,

I have been reading the forum for some time now, and have found it very educational.  Now I am hoping to benefit from your wisdom!

My husband's family is a bit odd.  Both parents are in their mid to late 70s. His mom, who is very sweet, is in a care facility with complications from COPD.  It's unclear how long she will be there or whether she will recover enough to go home.  His dad, a retired university professor, is also very sweet but really the epitome of the absent minded professor and an expert procrastinator.  From what I know, their financial position is good, the house is paid off and probably worth $350K or more, he has a university pension plus retirement accounts, and besides that he is very frugal.

The first problem is that my father in law is a bit of a hoarder.  Not the kind who buys a bunch of crap, thankfully, but the kind that never gets rid of a single newspaper, magazine, or receipt.   There are piles in every room of the house (except the living room, which is the only room I've seen for years).  There are also piles in the basement, along with a jumble of furniture and carpet which was never fully dealt with when the basement flooded a few years ago.  I am sure it is half rotted. 

When we were visiting my mother in law recently, she spoke to us in private and begged us to help do something about the state of the house.  She is afraid of hurting his feelings by bringing this up directly with him, as she is grateful for his attention to her in her illness.  They have really become a bit hermit-like over the past few years, partly due to her health, but now I am realizing she was ashamed to have any visitors due to the clutter in the house. 

My husband is proposing using her health as a rationale for decluttering and replacing the evidently very nasty carpet.  She will need oxygen and use of a walker and will not be able to navigate piles of trash.  I'd be OK with taking a more direct approach, but it is his family.  There are also other issues, one being that she is losing teeth and either has not been mobile enough to get out or has not been able to get him to take her to a dentist even though this has been going on for months.  I just recently became aware of this and it just seems shocking to me.  I am worried that other basic things, such as laundry and bills, may not be getting taken care of.   

I have been bringing over meals from time to time, mainly when I make a big batch of something and have a lot left over.  My husband and I both work full time so our time to help out is limited.  I think they have the financial resources to hire help, but my father in law is probably too cheap to do it.  We would have to arrange everything. 

I'd be very grateful if any of you who have dealt with similar situations could share any advice or perspective. 

There's also a whole other mess of issues to do with my brother in law.  Probably best to save that for another post. 

Thanks in advance for your help!

Cranky

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #1 on: April 17, 2019, 11:04:53 AM »
I would bring it up with FIL directly, taking the position that it's a health issue for MIL. His response to that proposal will let you know whether this is going to be easy or hard, and IME it could go either way.

Cassie

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2019, 11:56:20 AM »
I agree with Cranky. Hoarding is a form of mental illness.

six-car-habit

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2019, 12:02:34 PM »
 Get a note from a doctor / RN / PA or employee/management of the care facility, stating that due to her extra sensitive lungs and airways, she cannot be in an environment which either has, or might have - items that will irritate / inflame her respiratory symptoms -  Example : Moldy carpet , excess dust , decaying paper, etc.
  If she is going to be pulling around oxygen bottles the general household clutter doesn't work. If she gets some sort of machine that concentrates oxygen out of normal atmosphere, it needs to have a clean source. And that is not a room full of junk and old papers.
  Present the notes to FIL.  If he wants to argue, offer to take him to the RN's office, as they are the medical professional and not you.

Car Jack

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2019, 12:14:19 PM »
Get a note from a doctor / RN / PA or employee/management of the care facility, stating that due to her extra sensitive lungs and airways, she cannot be in an environment which either has, or might have - items that will irritate / inflame her respiratory symptoms -  Example : Moldy carpet , excess dust , decaying paper, etc.
  If she is going to be pulling around oxygen bottles the general household clutter doesn't work. If she gets some sort of machine that concentrates oxygen out of normal atmosphere, it needs to have a clean source. And that is not a room full of junk and old papers.
  Present the notes to FIL.  If he wants to argue, offer to take him to the RN's office, as they are the medical professional and not you.

This is even overkill.  She needs to move with a walker.  A hoarder house tends to have small, narrow paths through the crap.  (been there, had to clean it up after deaths)  Telling the FIL that his wife could come home tomorrow if the house was cleaned up, but otherwise, she may never come home might be just the shock he needs.

Lookilu

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2019, 01:27:53 PM »
Get a note from a doctor / RN / PA or employee/management of the care facility, stating that due to her extra sensitive lungs and airways, she cannot be in an environment which either has, or might have - items that will irritate / inflame her respiratory symptoms -  Example : Moldy carpet , excess dust , decaying paper, etc.
  If she is going to be pulling around oxygen bottles the general household clutter doesn't work. If she gets some sort of machine that concentrates oxygen out of normal atmosphere, it needs to have a clean source. And that is not a room full of junk and old papers.
  Present the notes to FIL.  If he wants to argue, offer to take him to the RN's office, as they are the medical professional and not you.

This is even overkill.  She needs to move with a walker.  A hoarder house tends to have small, narrow paths through the crap.  (been there, had to clean it up after deaths)  Telling the FIL that his wife could come home tomorrow if the house was cleaned up, but otherwise, she may never come home might be just the shock he needs.

I agree with CarJack. Being very direct may be the way to spur action. I saw this approach work with some friends of the family: "Your wife/our mom can come home when it's safe for her, but all this stuff needs to go."
 
What's concerning to me is your MIL's lack of dental care. It may be time for a cognitive assessment of your FIL, or at least a more in-depth conversation about why she is not receiving the care she needs. 

themicrobe

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2019, 04:04:18 PM »
Thanks for all the replies.  I think the safety and health argument is the best one to try, and my DH will be more comfortable taking that angle. 

I was also really disturbed by the extent to which her teeth have been neglected.   I am trying to see if she can get some attention in the rehab facility.

I also appreciate the suggestion to consider whether my FIL needs to be evaluated.  His mind seems reasonable sharp, but it's like he has blinders on in some areas.  MIL also is reluctant or ashamed to ask for help, which amplifies this.  I'll try to convince him to get a physical soon. 

Thank you!

Chrissy

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2019, 10:57:12 AM »
Late 70s, walker, oxygen, and likely multiple medications?  Wouldn't she be better staying in a facility?  She sounds like she needs staff to assist with meals, provide a clean environment, keep up with haircuts, dental, etc, and your FIL is not the person to do it.

red_pill

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2019, 04:17:50 PM »
Are your in laws getting to the age where they essentially need parenting?  When my dad got older he needed a lot of help and I was surprised that he wasnít more resistant to it than I assumed he would be.  I think he had gotten to the point where he knew he needed the help but didnít ask so when me and my brothers gently guided him in the right direction he was very grateful for the help.  We did a big clean out.  Replaced a bunch of his stuff with new things that would be easier to care for. And then arranged a cleaner and also a meal service (none of us were living nearby).

Have you ever broached the topic with him?  Is he truly set in his ways, or is he just incapable of anything else  and would gladly take your help?

Frankies Girl

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2019, 04:48:24 PM »
My late father was a full blown hoarder. He died from a terminal condition and in the last year of his life had to move to a facility, but he was dead-set on the idea of NO ONE ALLOWED to touch a single thing in his house - he even had someone build a storage building in the backyard - that he never got to see by the way - he was so deeply in denial about his impending death and the idea that he just needed "a little more space" to get his house organized. He literally went to his grave believing he'd beat his incurable condition and move home and finally get it all fixed up. It likely hastened his death by a good decade as we discovered toxic mold in his bedroom and the dust on most surfaces could be measured with a ruler.

Your MIL can't live in that house as it is, and she needs real help with day to day health issues. FIL is not capable of providing as a caregiver or taking care of the house itself. She either needs to be in a senior living/apartment facility (where they have people come help with cleaning and basic care but otherwise is like living in a nice, private apartment but with amenities perfect suited for aging in place like wide doorframes, no thresholds/walk in showers and emergency pullcords in easy reach in every room and 24 hour on site responders) or else have a small apartment set up with caregivers hired to come in and help her a few hours daily. Her health is going to only get much, much worse considering the air quality of a hoarder house and the other health neglect happening already.

Hoarding is a mental illness. You can't talk them out of it, you can't come in and just clean it while they're out or demand or reason with them. You could cause a complete estrangement in the relationship or even get him so angry as to have a heart attack/stroke. My father would get so irrationally angry about his "bit of clutter" that he looked like he would pass out he turned so red/angry when discussing - he would go from perfectly calm to red faced SCREAMING in denial. This would the equivalent of trying to talk someone into not having diabetes or other health issues. Hoarders need serious therapy and help to deal with the deep seated need to hoard; usually it's triggered by some trauma - death/job loss/divorce/sickness. The hoarder most always has a bit of the clutterbug beforehand, but the trauma ends up tipping them into full blown hoarding as a method of insulating/surrounding themselves with material things that create a feeling of nesting and safety and control (as strange as that may seem).

So you'll really need to focus on MIL and see if she is able and willing to leave and seek alternate living arrangements for her own safety/health/comfort. You can absolutely then discuss as a group with your FIL that MIL (with her present) that you all love him and want him to be healthy/comfortable too, but in MIL's case this is non-negotiable and she needs to move out. He has a serious issue, this is a safety and health hazard and it a terrible way for them to live. Either of them could hurt themselves and be trapped, could trip and fall, it could cause the house to be a fire hazard or make repairing basic things harder to do so they just stay broken or messed up, EMS may not be able to properly reach them in the event of an emergency, the air quality for someone with a serious lung condition must be better than average but with the amount of paper/dirt/dust/vermin attracted to all - this is even worse than an average home... And then hope that FIL will be open to the idea of therapy and eventually getting help to clean out and deep clean the house itself so MIL may eventually be able to live there again.

I was given the suggestion of reading the book called Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding & The Meaning of Things and it's a great book for you and him, especially if he is a reader. I got a copy from the library (for free! also not to clutter up my house with things!) but you could buy it if you feel it would be of benefit.
« Last Edit: April 18, 2019, 04:49:56 PM by Frankies Girl »

Finances_With_Purpose

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #10 on: April 20, 2019, 11:18:02 AM »
As someone who's dealt with and helped others walk through things like this, I highly recommend this book

This is a situation where it's largely out of your control: FIL can make the decisions he wants.  You can have some discussions about the consequences of those decisions, impact on him and your MIL, and so on.  But the consequences, too, are largely out of your control. 

On that note, @Frankies Girl already made the most salient point here, from what you posted: this isn't something where rational discussion is likely to win the day.  Most people make decisions based upon gut instinct and deeply-ingrained habits and/or decisionmaking pathways, and this guy has a lifetime of decisionmaking (possibly based upon trauma - I leave that to the experts) leading him down this road.  It may in fact go well, but don't be surprised if it takes more than a gentle conversation to see any movement, or, if a hard conversation ends in no movement at all (especially thanks to that human flaw of pride).  The older you get, the harder it is for most folks to make changes in their decisionmaking methods; it's part of how we age. 

It's a challenging situation and I don't envy you.  :/  I, too, might focus on MIL and things in terms of her health. 

Roadrunner53

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2019, 07:58:48 AM »
Themicrobe, I have been watching Hoarders on Netflix. If you want to get a perspective on how mental health people 'treat' hoarders this could be a little window into the problem. I have been horrified on how these people let the junk and crap take over their lives. One show I saw, the house was so bad the old woman was sleeping in an outdoor caged area with her cats! From what you have said it may not be to that degree but clutter is clutter. Most times when a person is released from a nursing home or a rehab place they send out a social worker to look and see the house the person is going home to. They determine if ramps are needed, safety rails to go up stairs, cleaned out paths for walkers to navigate.

Some of the hoarders on this tv show are living in conditions that cause illness. Some homes are infested with mice/rats with poop and pee all over the place. Some people have non working bathrooms and some people are living in homes with deadly mold. Some houses are so bad they cannot be saved and are condemned mostly for health issues. Some homes can be repaired but homeowners have no money to repair the places. You also need to check out the refrigerators and freezers. Some of the shows have come upon absolutely disgusting situations with mold and mice in the broken down refrigerators. Not to mention old rotten food. They find some that are so bad that they just chuck out the whole fridge and stoves.

These social workers will not allow the person to return home until things are corrected.

In some situations the show has convinced people to donate stuff to charity. In another situation they were able to get an auction guy to come in and take truckloads of stuff away to auction off and gave most of the proceeds to the home owner. So, you need to convince FIL to donate, throw away, sell and keep a reasonable amount of stuff. The psychologists on the Hoarder show make the hoarder go thru some of the stuff so they feel as if THEY are making the decision to get rid of the stuff not the psychologists. It is a very, very difficult process. The hoarders want to keep it all, even the most stupidest, dirty, filthy, disgusting things. They seem to think that everything is valuable and useful. They are always 'going' to make something out of it or use it or sell it or give it but not now. Later...everything is always later and they want to carry the stuff back into the house. On the show they usually have a tent set up with tarps on the ground. They bring out all the crap for the hoarder to look at and decide on what to do with it. It gets really nuts because they always want to keep it all. There are tears, anger, swearing...it never goes good. However, so many people are so thankful in the end when they see the house after it is cleaned up and organized. At the end of the show they usually do a follow up and say how the person is doing. Some do well and get psychological help to deal with hoarding tendencies and others revert back and drag crap back into the house.

Whatever you do, you will need a plan of attack. The hoarder show always brings in children, sisters, brothers, friends to help the hoarder cope during the clean our process. You will need to line up dumpsters. If there is an auction potential, contact a person who does this as a business. We have Picker people in my area who will take the stuff and sell it. They get 40% and the owner of the stuff gets 60%. There is usually a time frame of maybe 60 days and if the stuff doesn't sell you can go pick it up or they will dispose of it. On the show they use 1800 Got Junk. Those people will come in and physically remove the stuff for you. I hired them one time and they are a bit pricey. They claim they donate some stufff and recycle other stuff. If there is a mouse/bug problem you will need to get an exterminator in. If there is damage to the home like rotten floors, leaking roof, then you need someone to come in to diagnose the problem. And, hopefully, you find no mold. That is the kiss of death and can cause a house to be condemned depending on the severity of it.

On the hoarder show they talk to the hoarder and tell them what to expect. Then they basically start with one room and remove contents to the tented/tarp area. From there stuff is either determined keep or toss.

One of the most amazing shows I saw was a 31 room house filled to the ceilings with stuff and they managed to empty it out. Of course they had like 35 workers and other people carting stuff out. Good luck and keep us informed of your situation.

« Last Edit: April 21, 2019, 05:48:29 PM by Roadrunner53 »

BicycleB

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2019, 04:03:09 PM »
Son of hoarder here. I don't think you'll get a hoarder house cleaned unless the hoarder wants it cleaned.

What actually happens can boil down to whether it can be proven that the hoarder is mentally incompetent. Are you ready to prove that Dr. Hoarder, PhD is mentally incompetent?

That is what my sister and I did, but the case wasn't just about hoarding. The issue that moved us was the visible advance of Alzheimer's. We could tell that he was slipping. We researched and came to conclusions before it reached the stage where incompetence could be proven. Taking action early was critical. We persuaded him (via family visit at Christmas) that he should get will, living will, and so on made. Then every few months, we took turns visiting him and helping him, with his permission. This help included scheduling and keeping an appointment with an attorney who drew up power of attorney papers as well as the wills.

The power of attorney papers were critical. "When will they take effect?" he asked. "When a doctor says so," my sister said, clearly acknowledging that Dr. Dad's life was not to be taken over by his children at their own say-so (even though the powers of attorney would put us in charge once the doctor spoke). In our state, an attorney cannot sign these papers will the children present. The attorney must discuss privately with the client, to determine that they understand what the papers mean and that the client is not being controlled by others. Thus doing this before his mind decayed completely was key.

The following spring, Sis took Dad to an appointment with a psychologist who tested his memory and concluded that he could not take care of himself. We became his guardians. He was invited to "visit" us and test out an assisted living facility while doing so. Thus began his 2+ years in assisted living. Only later was the hoarder house cleaned...because recently acquired Mrs. Hoarder was still a hoarder, and she stayed in the house for several years, hoard and all. She was not provably incompetent and could not be moved.

Your case may be different. For one thing, no one said Alzheimer's. So whether you get agreement on powers of attorney or you force your way into results by medical intervention depends on details of the case and your family and your state. I do suggest moving with love, but also with dispatch. Mom needs care, and Dad may need some too. In practice, the children's generation needs to step up now and make sure they get it.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2019, 04:07:19 PM by BicycleB »

SwordGuy

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Re: In-law issues: father in law is a hoarder and procrastinator
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2019, 06:25:31 PM »
Best of luck.   Sometimes you get lucky.

But don't expect reason to work with someone who is, by definition, irrational.