What to do with this stuff?

garden_obsessedOctober 7, 2009

I have a problem. I think my sister in law is a horder. She is a widowed mother. My husband and I are both younger than she is. I know she's trying to get better. She's trying to get rid of some stuff because her house is so cluttered it's become difficult to walk around. Much of the stuff she's gone into debt buying for her child, toys, dvds, books, clothes, etc, but she also buys tons of stuff for herself all the time. The outgrown or old stuff is packed in plastic bins for "safekeeping" in case she or her child needs it for some reason.

She can't bring herself to clear stuff out. I think it's because she's gone into debt paying for it and also it holds some emotional value for her. Recently she had to change the carpet in a room because it was disgusting and causing health problems. She cried for days at the "loss" of the old carpet. She saved a piece for comfort.

She is aware of the problem on some level but rationalizes that she's just a "pack rat". Because of the debt and clutter, I suggested she have garage sales but she flatly refuses because she feels it's beneath her and she won't get enough money to justify her time invested. So, instead, she's been giving little bits of the stuff to people she knows or good will. I guess it's a start but it's hardly making a dent.

Here's the problem, we're among the people she wants to give her stuff to. My husband and I don't want ANY of it. We have said this so many times, yet, in the past she has brought over some stuff for us like patio umbrellas and patio furniture and just left it on our drive. She's brought over bags of stuff for "our children". Now she's suggesting she's going to do it again even though we firmly told her not to.

The even bigger problem is that she buys us junk we just don't want. We've asked her, explicitly told her, over and over and over again, NOT to do so but it keeps coming anyway. Whenever she goes on vacation we get bags of mugs, pens, figurines, picture frames, etc... She's gone to some concerts and brought us t-shirts, programs and whatever crap she can find to buy. She also gives us things "from her child" I think in an effort to guilt us into displaying it or using it. We don't want this stuff, it's trash to us. We don't want it in our house.

It gets worse! I have thrown out some of this stuff, "accidentally" broken mugs, "worn out" pens and thrown them away, "spilled bleach" on t-shirts. I've sold some stuff at garage sales, donated some to good will. We still have lots of stuff left. She expects us to DISPLAY this crap in our home! I have no place on my wall for the Heart (music group) licence plate, nor do I have a place on my car for the Van Halen bumper sticker, nor will my husband or I ever wear the mickey mouse t-shirts or cheese head hats she has given us.

It's not that we're not grateful, we appreciate the thought, but we happily and deliberately lead a simple clutter free life, and we are not interested in any of the things that interest her. We don't listen to the same music, vacation in the same places and we live a completely different lifestyle than she does in every way.

Lately, she is getting more and more upset that we are not displaying the stuff and will often come over and ask about things she gave us years ago. It's like she wants to "visit" the stuff. I am coming to the realization that she did not GIVE us anything, she's expecting us to be more like caretakers of this crap, probably because she doesn't have room at her home. We are not able or willing to be the caretakers. Some of it was bought while her husband was alive and she seems emotionally connected to it in some way. Much of the stuff she's asking about lately was thrown out years ago, before he passed. I've been putting her off by telling her it's still packed away in boxes in our basement (we do have a few boxes left after our move). This seems to satisfy her for the moment but I know the time will come that she will insist on seeing it. We don't know what she'll do if we tell her it's long gone.

I feel sorry for her because I know she goes into debt buying us stuff we don't want and it seems to make her happy in some sick way. She's emotionally fragile and we don't want to make her worse.

So, to sum it up, I don't know what to do with this crap she keeps piling on us because I've now realized at some point she'll ask us to "see" it or why we don't display it. I also don't know what to do with the stuff she's given us and we still have packed in the basement (mainly stuff "from her child"). How do we get her to stop? What do we do with this stuff? What to do about her?

I'm sorry for the long post and thank you for letting me rant about this difficult situation. It's so frustrating.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh, my. I wish I could give you some kind of useful advice.

Does your SIL realize that she is suffering? Is she willing to get help from an expert in human psychology? She needs someone who can help her realize how to feel content with relationships -- not STUFF.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2009 at 2:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

garden_obsessed, your SIL needs professional help. She will not be able to get better on her own. IMHO debt+clutter are classic symptoms of hoarding.

I think you need to do some research in your community to see what mental health services your SIL is eligible for and then meet with a counselor and discuss how you should approach the problem as a family. He or she can assess the situation best and give you advice on how to handle the questions you have (such as what to do with the stuff she gives you and then demands to see).

It appears from your post that she knows she has a problem, but knowing is not going to be enough to fix it. Kudos to you for wanting to help, your SIL is lucky to have family who care about her.

Sorry, I cannot offer any better advice, but I think it's time to call a professional.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2009 at 6:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

People seldom go running off for psychological help simply because someone tells them they need it. You, however, do not need to be a secondary storage area for her hoarding.

You have told her time and time again not to buy you stuff, now it is time to get tough and refuse it and dump it back into her hands or onto her driveway. It sounds rough and unkind, but sometimes you have to (figuratively) hit someone over the head until they hear what you are saying.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2009 at 7:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Boy, is that ever a painful situation.
What makes it so difficult, even beyond seeing someone you love struggle with it, is that from what you describe, the volume of things is getting out of hand, and she's bullying you to become part of it, and you got stuck in a kind of subterfuge to deal with it, and that creates even more stress.

Agree with all the attempts to suggest counseling (hard hard hard to get anywhere --the person has to want to).
But, you probably have to develop some kind of loving boundaries and suffer the stress of those or weigh them against the other stresses.
So you might say, hi, sis, great to see you. Oh, dear, we're not taking on any new stuff now. If you leave it here, we'll be happy to donate it to Goodwill, but we want you to know that in case you want to keep it yourself.

That would be scenario 1, in which you would, in fact, be a "willing" conduit for her stuff to go to Goodwill. Not saying you should, but it's one way. Obviously, very hard and harder if is new stuff bought for you and not, say, hand-me-downs. but the purpose is for you--you can then say, we told you up front what we were going to do, we did it, that's why it's not here anymore. That has nothing to do with whether she will "remember"--it's just for your own sense of integrity, if that is less stressful. Also, not very feasible if she starts bringing over sofas and tables and not just a sack of clothing.

Another option is, whoa, sis, you can come in, but no stuff. Please decide if you can do that before you come inside. We'd love to see you (have dinner, talk, etc) but on the condition no stuff crossed the threshold with you. This actually has to be combined with # 1 as backup, because she will bring stuff in, and you're not likely to haul her out. Or take it to the curb, and say, sis, we'll have to leave it here--

All of that brave advice is based on the concept of trying to keep up some kind of relationship with someone that you love that's disturbed and not feel like you are enabling, or giving up too much or your own selves. It would be different if it were just a matter of a few small white elephants a year from a MIL or something--the little grin and bear it situations that we deal with variably, deciding whether to keep, re-gift, give away, or re-negotiate the gifting process, depending on the relationships.

Anything you do to protect yourselves risks more alienation, but there's no evidence that you're helping her by hurting yourselves. In a lot of these situations, you can neither help nor hurt her, really--that's the awful part. It may seem like you are "making" her mad, but that's the disease-control thing and you can obviously see that she's not doing what she does out of real love and generosity, but out of some compulsion.

The hardest thing is to try to stick up for yourselves with love but forget the preaching. In some ways, the more you are true to yourselves, the less angry you will be with her, so the less likely to explode with sarcasm, accusations, belittling remarks, starting to talk about her in bad ways--all things that happen when you "take it" for so long and then feel so angry and frustrated that you've got to blow.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2009 at 7:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hoarding is a recognized symptom of a mix of obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression.

Seriously, it's a DISORDER because it's interfering with her life.

Anti-depressants and anti-OCD medication with some counseling and help after the brain biochemistry is back in balance will do way more for her than you acting as a secondary storage.

If she were a drug addict or alcoholic, you would try to get her into counseling, right? Well, clutter and buying are her drugs of choice

    Bookmark   October 8, 2009 at 3:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You need to stop enabling this woman. Really, you do. Tell her you won't accept anything whatever anymore. It will hurt her, but it will help her in the long run.

Offering her a reference to the local mental health association or to a specific doctor might be in order, but again, it's really going to tick her off. Better to deal with that than enabling her to continue.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2009 at 10:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I was going to say just what graywings said.

a) Don't accept anything more from her if she's handing it to you in person
b) Give it back to her in the same fashion in which she gave it to you if she does it in your absence. If she drops things off in your driveway, bring 'em back over and drop them in her's.

I agree that she needs professional help and if you or your husband feel comfortable trying to talk her into that, I hope you are successful. However she needs to want to get better and until she takes the necessary steps and sincerely tries, there's not a whole lot you can do.

It won't be easy for you to stop the cycle on your end of accepting stuff and then not knowing what to do with it and not being honest with her regarding how much of it you don't even have anymore. But as others said, you're not helping her by sort of participating when you aren't up front with her about it.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 2:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm sure you realize that your SIL needs help, but that doesn't mean that she is willing to accept it at this point.

I assume that if she asked you to come over and take a carload of junk to goodwill or the dump, you would do it in a heartbeat. If that is the case, I would do just that with everything she gives you. Tell her about it upfront - every single item you leave here will be donated or disposed of. If she doesn't like it, she doesn't have to bring any of her junk to your house. If she continues to bring stuff, assume that she is asking you to do something she can't bring herself to do directly - toss out the junk!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 3:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Accept what she offers, at least it gets it OUT of her house, then give it away (sight unseen) to any charity that will pick it up. Or toss it in your trash. That's all i can offer at this point. If she asks about a specific item, tell her it was damaged or missing a part, so you had to toss it. Or say you never saw it at all.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 5:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's really too bad because she is involving you in her disorder whether she realizes it or not.

I agree she is visiting the stuff.

You have to make it absolutely clear that anything she "gifts" you is yours at that point and you have the final say in where or if it gets displayed or used in your home. Reference an etiquette book. Stay firm, and let her know that "everyone knows that". Just make sure you stay firm to your convictions. Do not be an enabler and feel guilt over anything she tells you.

I would not be shy about letting her know that you disposed of things she brought over. You already know she's is going to get upset whether it's an ink pen or a legitimate keepsake, or a gift from a child. I think you need to be consistent and don't hide what you are doing.

If she brings things over, I would be courteous in looking at them, and then ask her what she expects you to do with them. When she lays out her expectations, you can let her know what YOU plan do do with each thing...this will go to goodwill, this will be picked up with the trash, etc. She will likely display emotion and lay out guilt & justification, but don't cave. If she justifies, you can give her to option to take it back home with her. It can all be done very diplomatically and lovingly.

Not sure it that would work, but it's something I would probably do. If anything, it will give you a chance to pick her brain a little bit & maybe offer insight into how to handle her in the future.

Anytime you accept the stuff, you give more fuel and incentive for her to bring more things over. You are probably one of many she is using to do this to.

I thinks the hardest part is she is family and not co-worker, neighbor, etc. I feel because she is family, this is not the time to hide your feelings and intentions. You have to be stronger because you cannot walk away.

She does need help. I'd suggest baby steps like go see someone for depression. The hoarding will come out.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2009 at 8:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ditto Mary C.

She's addicted to stuff, she uses it as a way to meet her emotional needs and this obviously goes back to before she lost her husband, and giving her an outlet for it only enables her to avoid facing the fact that she has a problem. Definitely stop enabling, but replace it with directing her to resources. Maybe she needs to call a crisis line the next time she wants to shop for something.

Or maybe she does need to dwindle into one of those old women who is so surrounded by stuff that she feels enough comfort to drown out whatever feelings of anxiety otherwise beset her. It is her life, she has a right to live it that way as long as she can afford it. You still don't need to share the journey, Just as with a drug addiction, you may have to sacrifice the relationship. Tell her you're still storing tons of stuff she's given you, and ask if she wants it back or wants you to pass it on.

Enforce your boundaries (no stuff here) and allow her to run full force into others. Whatever the constraint is that will eventually drive her to the point where she has to face her problem, let it close in on her: the limitation of what her home can hold, the limitations of her bank account, etc. (Does she hold down a job?)

Except here's the thing: is the child still living at home? Then the child's needs have to be considered, especially if she is so emotionally fragile that she might hurt the child. And perhaps the child's needs could be the angle you use to discuss her problems with her. That can be done in part by creating an environment in which you make it OK to be imperfect - this is done in part by not seeming too perfect yourselves. If the child is older, perhaps the child could be the one who guides her to counselling, even if a pretense has to be erected that it is for the child's sake.

It's also possible that any help you can give her to live a richer social and emotional life in ways not related to stuff (invite her to your parties or whatever) might help her chart her own course out of this. So might watching that program on hoarders!


    Bookmark   October 11, 2009 at 2:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

She'll keep bringing it no matter what. Make it clear that you're donating EVERYTHING. You can't make exceptions. And do it. Then tell her you did it. Hey--it's a tax deduction, at least!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2009 at 2:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Melissa Houser

I originally read this message several days ago and it keeps weighing on me that I need to reply to the original poster.

I agree with the others that are telling you that your sister in law is a hoarder and needs help, however, it is impossible to "force" someone to get help unless they are a danger to themselves or others. I don't see any mention that she has children in the home, or anything about her house being a fire hazard (although it may be). So, there's nothing you can do about how she deals with stuff in her own house.

However, when she tries to bring her addiction to your home, you have control. This is going to sound really harsh, but it may be the only way to stop her. The next time she brings something over to "give" to you, tell her up front that the item will be going directly and immediately in the trash. If she still insists on giving you the item, you need to walk it out to the road/trash pile right then, in front of her.

Yes, she will be upset, but she will eventually stop bringing things to your house. She will also know that she won't be able to visit her stuff at your home because the stuff leaves immediately.

The only reason I recommend doing this is that it will end the donations from your sister in law. That's the ultimate goal, I think. Of course, it would be nice if you could get her some help, but I think that's not going to happen now. Perhaps your tough love in not accepting the items will make her realize that she is creating a burden on you and that might be incentive, but you need to stop her from dragging you and your home into her addiction.

I may not have phrased the above very well, but I'm afraid it may be the only way to get your sister in law to quit pushing her addictions onto your household.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 10:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

let her bring it over..and after she leaves call love INC or another charity and ask them to come and pick it up..tell them the situation and that the only way that she will part with it is to give it to you..don't even open and look through it..just have them take it away..

thank her and tell her that you will pass on anything that you don't want to others that can use them

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 11:34AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
How to get your kid (young, or young adult, or adult) to declutter
On one of the other threads (the "madwoman"...
Can I get rid of my wedding gown?
Hi everyone. We went to spend the weekend with my parents...
New cubicle. Organization and decorating help
Recently started a new job and now have a cubicle....
Are Lazy Susans useless or is it just me?
I'm in the process of revamping underutilized areas...
under sink organization (kitchen)
Had to share this photo. It is perfect use of the dead...
Sponsored Products
Yellow and Gray 18 x 18-Inch Pillow
$27.00 | Bellacor
Justice Design Group ALR-8815 - Pendants 1 Light Mini Pendant - Cylinder with Fl
$124.20 | Hayneedle
Justice Design Group POR-8864 - Pendants 3 Light Small Cluster Pendant - Square
$420.00 | Hayneedle
Prichard modern sectional sofa
Interior Define
Stick & Pull Tape Dispenser
$16.99 | Dot & Bo
Abacasa Kids Baseball White Round: 3 Ft. x 3 Ft. Rug
$109.00 | Bellacor
Chooty & Co Saxony 18 x 18 in. Pillow - CS18S923
$46.99 | Hayneedle
Natural and Black Valances
$13.95 | Bellacor
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™