How to Convince Somone of Need to Clean

guest123February 14, 2009


I need some advice about how to convince someone that they need to do a better job of cleaning their home, in the interest of their own health and the long-term value (and safety) of the home. It's an older person (almost 60) who travels regularly for work, but unfortunately over almost three decades the home has become extremely cluttered, with spider webs likely across the ceilings in every room, with decent but certainly not the best lighting, with oscillating levels of humidty that need to be addressed, and with a decluttering and deep cleaning of the entire place needed, not to mention sensible things like water filters on the taps and shower head, etc.

The other day I cleaned the main hallway - it's a very nice older bungalow with a finished basement - of spider webs along the ceiling and cleaned the entire surface of the ceiling, walls, floors, and lights with a natural cleaning mixture. There are a lot of traditional cleaners sitting around the home (from years past) which give off very mild but cumulatively harmful fumes, so I am using all natural cleaners for everything.

The problem is the homeowner, a relative, does not appreciate the need to do any of these things and does not appreciate the cleaning when I do it. Every idea I raise from checking the humidity level (which seems too high) to changing the lightbulbs to decluttering is met with very strong resistance, wihch is understandable, but the fact is these things really do need to be addressed, sooner rather than later. I'm not great at convincing folks to do something - we all want to do what we want to do, no doubt, and that includes yours truly - but I hate to see someone end up sick or worse several months or only a few years down the line because they failed to handle some very simple things and get into a routine of cleaning regularly.

As a person gets older, my sense is that some of the things that a young person can handle without health consequences is less true for someone who is older, and I've already had one elder relative pass away due, in part, to circumstances where the home was cluterred and I've seen a former client (I'm a lawyer) pass away because she did not care for her home at all.

How do you convince someone of the need to do this? And when I just do it anyway, the response is so negative that it's hard to continue doing it for them.


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You probably can't convince her and she probably isn't going to change. There are no children involved so it really isn't anyone's business except your relatives. Is it your mom's or dad's place? Late 50's is really not that old.

I have a friend with a place like that and I have tried over the years to help her and it always goes back to being dirty and a mess.

Sorry, I know you want to help but if she doesn't want the help it probably isn't going to make any difference.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 6:59PM
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Ahem, speaking as a 57 year old, 60 is hardly old. In fact, it is the new 50. But I digress.

Nothing that you described is a health hazard - spider webs, poor lighting, high humidity, clutter, need for water filters, old cleaning products sitting around. Lots of people live in conditions like that and far worse.

The best thing you can do for this relative is accept him as he is and chooses to live. Trust me, I have been in your shoes and there is nothing you can do.

You might want to consider reading David Tolin's book on hoarding, not because it will change your relative, but it will guide you in what NOT to do.

Here is a link that might be useful: Buried in Treasures

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:38PM
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I'm not sure if you are talking of someone living in pure squalor or just someone that doesn't clean frequently and is unorganized?
Thirty years in one home will almost always result in some sort of clutter. It doesn't mean their health is in jeopardy.
Now if this person can't walk through a room, has dead animals under piles of junk, or can't function in their home due to severe filth and hoarding then there is a problem that needs to be seriously addressed.

In all honesty, I wouldn't be appreciative of someone coming into my home to chuck my traditional cleaners, change a humidity level that they feel is too high, change out my lighting because it isn't what they feel is the best, and putting filters on my taps. None of these are life threatening or going to decrease the value of their home.

I can almost guarantee the reason you are met with resistance from this relative is because they do not appreciate what you are doing. Not to mention they are probably peeved when you do clean/make changes but possibly too nice to tell you to pack it up and go home. They probably feel as if you are invading their home on an eco-friendly crusade, when in fact they are perfectly content with disorganization and traditional products.

Unless there is a serious issue of hoarding and unlivable conditions, I would drop the issue or interest in trying to change their home/ways. I would do this out of respect to someone in my family not to mention someone that is my elder.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:47PM
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60 is by no means old. But I have seen two people pass away who were around that age, and one of the commonalities in both instances was the prescence of a profoundly cluttered home, one of which was very moldy as a consequence. By themselves, humidity, poor lighting, clutter, or other examples are not meaningfully harmful to one's well-being, but the conflation of these and other factors (i.e., moldy wallpaper) is not helping anyone's health. My sense is that basic cleanliness can only contribute positevely to one's well being, otherwise one turns to other medical aids (and their side-effects) to address problems that might have been averted. It's a bit like exercising the body - not everyone does it, but doing it isn't hurting you.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 7:53PM
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Graywings- that looks like a great book i'm going to see if our library has it.
TLC showed an hour long show about hoarders last week and definitely worth watching. Also a documentary channel has one called "7 Dumpsters and a Corpse"- worth watching.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 8:13PM
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Guest123- mold can be very harmful in a living situation and that is something that should be treated/removed if in that persons home. If this person is on medication due to being affected by mold then it would make sense to remedy the mold and quit taking medication to band-aid the problem. I would express to them the health related risks and the course of remediation.

You are taking what you "sense" is the right way to live and transferring it to someone else that has no problem with the way they live. Just like exercising- everyone should know their limits and stay in a range in which they feel comfortable.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 8:33PM
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Thank you for your feedback everybody. This post is now closed, but I direct your attention (if you want further information on this subject in a general sense) to the new New York Times blog

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 10:42PM
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I'm kind of troubled by this. Before I can really comment too much I need to know a few things.

You think the humidity is too high. Have you measured it? What is causing it? Leaking basement? Plants? Or are you just used to an arrid environment that a more normal level seems damp to you? Some people are overly concerned about having humidity in the winter in a northern climate fearing mold, when in fact the lack of moisture can be harmful.

What's the problem(s) with the "cumulatively harmful" cleaners of their choice? Or is it just that you think everyone should use "natural" cleaners?

Do you have some other motive for the concern? You express concern over the long term value of the home. I have trouble with lack of water filters on faucets and some cobwebs being a concern about the long term well-being of the structure.

Is there a problem with the water supply that requires water filters? I'm wondering about the concern about that. I'm also interested in the health/safety concerns on the lighting. What are the other safety issues about which you're concerned?

I'm reminded of my great-uncle, a bachelor who lived on his farm until shortly before he died. House hadn't been painted in 40 years or more and people kept hounding him about it. His response? "The house will last as long as I do!" And you know what? It did! He lived to be 93 as I recall.

Is there a reason for the issues, if in fact they ARE issues? Does this person have disabilities preventing them from doing some of the housework? Can they not afford to hire someone to come help clean?

It doesn't sound like there's piles of dirty dishes and laundry around. Doesn't sound like animal feces, rodents, insects or anything. I guess I'm just not sure there's the problem that you fear. And, I guess I'm trying to avoid saying what I am thinking but really, thinking they "need" a water filter on a SHOWER HEAD??? I really need some more information here to be convinced that they are the person who needs to be pursuaded to see things differently.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2009 at 10:58PM
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I don't have filters on my showerhead or faucets...maybe I am senile and don't know it...or do I??

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 2:05AM
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If one of my relatives came in to clean my house, without my permission, I'd have much more than a "negative" reaction to that! I'd make sure that relative never had access to my house again.

Nothing you described sounds like a health risk. This is an adult, capable of making his/her own choices, and you are a busybody.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2009 at 12:23PM
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What a weird post. Clutter contributed to someone's death? What does clutter have to do with mold? And why do you need water filters on your shower head and tap?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 12:12PM
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"And when I just do it anyway, the response is so negative that it's hard to continue doing it for them."

It looks like you have a clue to your answer right there. Stop doing it. It is their home and they do not want you to make the changes in it.

Nothing described sounds like there is any danger to the occupants and no intervention is needed.

I know where you are coming from, and sometimes it is hard NOT to intervene with relatives who do not clean to the same standards or who do not "see" the same things that you do. My elderly mother does not see the lipstick on all of her glassware, or how dirty her coffee pot has become, or the crusty dust on her beloved knickknack collections. I tried to help out and was met with venom. Now I just let things slide. It hard, but you gotta do it.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 2:15PM
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Sorry, but this post has me laughing! My parents are kind of hoarders, and I would NEVER say anything...usually. Last time I was there, things just seemed to have gotten a bit worse. I was poking around in my mom's room--actually a true treasure trove of neat books and photo albums. I looked at her a said--"Those pastel books over there look interesting, but I can't get to them." She didn't miss a beat--"You should start doing yoga with me and you'd be more flexible."

The thing is, and I know my mom well, my thinly veiled sarcasm was totally lost on her. She was sincere. What I got for my sass was one of her beginning CD's and a new hobby.

I've lost three pounds.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 10:15PM
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awww! Your mom sounds too cute!

I see some of the posts from this thread have disappeared, thats probably a good thing...

    Bookmark   March 4, 2009 at 11:29PM
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