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Changing from within (not without)

Posted by alisande (My Page) on
Mon, Sep 3, 07 at 14:00

My son the antenna expert hooked me up with TV reception last weeksomething I haven't had for a very long time. This afternoon I turned on the kitchen set and have been half-watching, half-listening to a talk show called Greg. One of the guests was a woman whose husband and daughter gave her an ultimatum: They will stay away from her until she changes her pack-rat ways.

She, of course, had all the usual reasons for holding on to tons of crap. She was going to use it someday... somebody else might need it someday... she hated to waste anything, etc. Most of us have been there. But most of us took years, or at least months or weeks, to change. And the biggest thing that had to change was our attitude. We had to get ruthless with the crap, and then experience the satisfaction and relief that getting ruthless brings.

However, this was a one-hour show, and she wasn't the only guest. So they showed her that the day before their moving truck had pulled up to her house, and taken all the crap away. Then she was shown some of the stuff...like a huge pile of newspapers. A man said to her, "You're not going to read these." She said, "No...um...except for maybe the Travel Sections." He said again, "You're not going to read them. What should you say?" She replied, "Throw them out." He made her repeat it. Etc., etc.

So her husband was happy, and her daughter was happy. Their house looks infinitely better. As for the mother, she looked scared. I can't see that anything, really, has changed except on the surface. How is she going to keep herself from starting the piles all over again? I felt bad for her.

I have the feeling this sort of thing has been on TV before, in many guises, but I just haven't seen them. I can see that I haven't missed much. :-)

Susan


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Changing from within (not without)

I think that's a very good point.

There used to be a UK show on BBC America, called "Life Laundry". The host really dug into peoples' reasons behind their clutter.

And the thing was, there was ALWAYS a reason. I remember one family still had Mum's stuff everywhere because she had died in suspicious circumstances (there had been a police investigation, etc.). Dealing with her stuff brought up all kinds of very difficult emotions around her death.

Another woman had been very emotionally dominated by her husband and even as a widow of several years in her fifties, independence and being able to rearrange a room was still something she was wrapping her head around.

A lot of what the host did was therapy. Talking people through the emotions related to their stuff, grieving the old and holding their hand through the first baby steps of a new outlook on life. Without that kind of intensive work, no, I don't see how you could effect lasting change.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

That sounds like a much better approach, Trilobite. I'm sure one factor in my own tendency to hoard was the loss of my mom when I was nine years old. Expecting to die young (as most adult children in that situation do), I surrounded myself with evidence that I'd lived.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

I think if most of those "change your house in one day!" shows were to have an update 6 months or a year later they'd find the house in condition similar to the before picture, not the after.

I had a friend many years ago with a horrible cluttering problem. He just didn't throw anything way. He wouldn't let me into his house for many months after getting to know him. And then I was just astounded by the piles of junk and filth and dirty dishes and books and clothes and stacks of newspapers. He'd had the health dept. called on him by neighbors because of the junk on his porch and in his driveway and backyard.

I helped him for a few months, using my weekends and even some vacation days, and we made considerable progress. But then, about 6 months after I stopped working with him, I ran into him and he said his house had gone back to the previous state. Made me sad to think all my work had been in vain, but much sadder for him, that he hadn't been able to keep up with it.

There was obviously some things in his life he hadn't dealt with, and used the clutter as a fortress.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

The ultimatum approach is so tempting and so understandable, yet so doomed. There you have the combination of problems, one being the hoarder, and the other being folks' fantasies that they can control another person via their stance, their ultimatum or whatever. Overlaps with all kinds of other serious dependencies as well as the simplest habits and human frailties that we do not control in those we love and/or have to deal with.

Of course the family of a hoarder has a real problem in how to separate themselves in some way and not "enable" the person. But what is the proper result, or a reasonable result or goal ? Keep the house your way, or my way? No hoarding, or controlled hoarding? Become a different person because we're right and you're wrong? And what "degree" of problem warrants what level of action--the spiral goes on and on.

Maybe the only acceptable ultimatum is in fact the plan to go together to counseling. Even that is a problem (and simply won't happen,unfortunately, in lots of cases), but probably better than changing the surface. But that would mean real counseling, in which immediate results (a clean house) are not demanded.

I believe it is hardest for a spouse, because of the limited choices, again, as in all serious problems--divorce? be compassionate but try to get some help for the person, if he/she might accept it, as well as support for yourself; or find a way to live your life, accepting something you wish you did not have to. The children can and should move away and create their own lives, and help more in the way of sounding boards, support, and ultimately, clean up at the end; but not become part of a parents' war.

Having had some of this go on between my own parents, and being a fan of "advice" columns that occasionally do a good job of getting beneath the surface, I have observed that as with many problems in families and marriages, it is not just the habit or problem itself, because there are many things that one spouse may do that really annoys or even troubles the other--it is either ( in extreme cases of hoarding) that there is true underlying mental illness that comes out in other dysfunctional ways (as in, I know hoarders who became recluses, burned up their relationships, etc), or in less severe cases, in which the hoarder generally lives a functional and well-rounded (and safe) life other than their hoarding tendencies, there feeling of disparity between the spouses, the feeling of the lack of consideration or of meeting other needs, that they are not equal partners and equally committed to trying to help and love each other.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Trilobite- I used to LOVE Life Laundry! I even got up early on Saturday mornings to watch re-runs.... (I was a psych major!) Very interesting stories of repressed emotions and filling the gaps....

My in-laws are absolutely wonderful people. They are funny, giving, talented, energetic, loving and the worst darned packrats on the face of God's green earth.

They cannot throw anything away. I can feel the muscles in my neck tightening as I type this. I refuse to eat a meal there, choosing instead to make a 120 mile trip to bring them to our house to eat. After you clear a spot to sit, you're choking on dust. Their refrigerator is full to the max, as are BOTH freezers downstairs. There are always foul smells in the kitchen. The 24 cabinets are full to the point where things fall out when you open them. There is a narrow pathway through the cellar to the washer and dryer. They use an illegal kerosene heater in the winter and refuse to "waste" electricity to cool their house in the dreadful heat.

I have given up. They do not want to change. SIL and I used to spend 3 weekends every June cleaning the house and then we gave that up about 25 years ago. Hasn't been cleaned since then. We'd clean and they'd go through the trash and remove stuff from the bags and bring them inside again. Then we took to placing the trash bags in our cars and taking them home with us! It's nuts. They haunt yard sales every weekend and buy other people's crap. Then they try to give it to us. Recently Dad tried to give us a box of 24 (used) fluorescent lights, the big, long ones shaped like tubes. Like we could use them! As if!

A year or so ago I tried to enlist another clean up brigade since it's now a health and fire hazard. With a full time job, grad school and my own mother was ill at the time, I knew I needed help cleaning the place. I was gently reminded that I'd be spinning my wheels, and that we'd clean it when we HAVE to. The siblings were right.

Oh, they have reasons for hoarding as they do. I could make you all laugh out loud at the stuff they buy (electronic flea collar, no dog, etc.) I can't change them. I love them and I will end up cleaning up after them. That's OK, I guess. We'll just rent a couple of long dumpsters and toss all the things that they had to have and keep. They are hanging on to JUNK and the final clean-out will be miserable for all of us on many different levels.

They are NOT going to change from within or from without! I have accepted that.

(Interestingly, their 3 children are all very neat in their habits!)

-Donna


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

I am speaking as I am a horrible clutterer. I don't think anyone can cure another person's clutter. If you clean up for them, it makes them very edgy. Maybe you threw out something "good" that they will really need some day. At least that's what I'd think. I prefer to go thru my own clutter and make my own decisions on what to keep. Probably 90% of what is in my house is garbage. But what 10% is not garbage? . Only I can find that ten percent. My daughter once cleaned my entire house while I was away for a week. She threw away everything before I had a chance to "inspect" the garbage. She threw out her sister's drivers license, my dog's vaccination papers and some perfectly edible spices from my spice rack, including stuff I use once a year when I bake Christmas cookies. Please believe me, I was very upset by her "cleaning purge". I did appreciate her help and liked having my house clean for a short while, but within several months I had junked it all up again. I am certainly ashamed at how my house looks, but it really doesn't help to do all the work for another person. By the way, my house is not filthy. I have some good habits. I take out the kitchen and bathroom garbage daily, and I never let anything smelly remain, and I scoop my cat's litter box every single morning. But take a hint from me, you can't declutter another person's mess. What I would really like would be to have an offer of support. Hey, if I make sense of the piles, will you carry out the garbage and help me find a sensible place to store the good stuff? That's an intervention I would appreciate!!


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Those are such great viewpoints from both sides of the issue. I am sad to say I did the same thing to my mother while she was in the hospital for surgery. Part of is was done as helping, and part was because I knew I could only get control when she was not there. The place looked great (to me) but was back like it was in no time. However, I learned from that and finally began to accept, like donnamp, and to stop feeling guilty. People looking at it from the outside just don't understand and think (especially of daughters) why don't you help your (mother, father, etc).


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Well said, all of you.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

I had never heard of this hoarding problem being common until I saw those organizing shows on TV.

My brother is a hoarder.

I do not know what to do. It was always bad but I just recently found out that he is now renting a $150/mo storage unit to hold all the junk he has, plus what he has gathered since moving back to town. And I mean junk. J-U-N-K. He cannot afford an expense like renting a storage unit either. It is stupid. Ninety percent of it is old magazines and yellowed paperbacks some going back to the 60's. He won't get rid of anything. The rest is broken answering machines and crap like that.

He flew all of it from CA to WI when he moved back here borrowing money from relatives to pay for the move. When all this junk showed up at my parent's place they refused to allow it in. He called me to ask to "store his stuff" while he got settled and apartment hunted. I had no idea what it was and assumed it was furniture. I couldn't believe all the junk. NONE of it was furniture. All he had owned in CA was a bed and a desk, (Yes, true. He owned no other furniture!) and he couldn't load them into the Pods by himself so he left them behind. Ha. The ONLY useful things he owned, he left behind and shipped all this crap instead costing him THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. As he unloaded the Pods and carried box after box into my basement, I couldn't believe the money he wasted shipping it! I tried to reason with him and told him he could not get $20 for all this stuff if he put it out at a rummage sale. It is insanity. I have tried to plead with him to get rid of it all so he does not have to deal with it if he moves again. But he plans on bringing it all with him. Some other relatives have questioned the wisdom of this too. I am not being overcritical.

The weirder part of this is that he is very clean and orderly almost to an OCD extreme. All the crap is numbered or alphbetized in an orderly fashion. His apartments are not piled in filth or anything, it's just packed with so much useless stuff there is no floor space to move around. I have tried talking to him, and so have others. He gets resistent and then defensive and then non-communicative. I suggested councelling since if he won't listen to his own friends and relatives he may listen to someone who is impartial. No go.

I know this *thing* is ruining his life. He can't go forward with with his life with all this 'stuff' he feels he has to take care of. I don't know why he cannot see it. It is killing me to see him with a life like this.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

That's sad, Bud. How old is your brother?

It does seem odd when hoarding is combined with obsessive neatnessindeed, any neatness.

I don't know if this will help, but I'm posting a link to an article that appeared in AARP the Magazine. It provides some insight into why people hoard.

Susan

Here is a link that might be useful: AARP conquer clutter article


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Oh, Bud, that is awful. But it's not so strange that it seems to be tinged with OCD. The hoarding condition and OCD are sort of in the same family of behavioral disorders.

The only thing I can say is to suggest neither you nor the family become "enablers". He does have a disease and he needs to get professional help. You cannot change him, and he probably can't change himself either, for that matter. You can only change yourself in your reactions to this behavior. Yes, you love him. Yes, you will help him get professional help, if he wants it. Discarding their "things" causes severe anxiety. What if they need it someday? But you have to distance yourself from this just to preserve your own sanity. From what I have seen, these people don't change without professional intervention. The right therapist needs to be one who focuses on hoarding disorders, otherwise it's just an exercise in wallet-lightening.

One of my dearest friends went through a divorce caused primarily because of the husband's hoarding, which was, as it turns out, a manifestation of Asperger's Syndrome. He paid movers 25 years ago to move empty bleach bottles, and that was just the beginning. Broken springs on a new Audi because of the newspapers and magazines in the trunk. Closet shelves that collapsed in the middle of the night from the weight of magazines. It just got worse and worse, and after ignored ultimatums and thousands of dollars in therapy, nothing changed, except his home address.

You have my total sympathy. Truly.

-Donna


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Years ago, I dated a guy that was a definite neat freak -- but was also a huge collector (hoarder??) He collected Star Wars toys -- would buy 6-10 of the same thing. He would buy two books -- one to read, one to store. Kept everytihing that he would perceive to be of value.

I realized the relationship was never going to work -- was when he had 15 toliets in the middle of the living room of a house I was trying to restore (NO -- Living room was empty of furniture and walls and windows!!! But was full of toliets!) Why? Because they were going to be worth "something".

Two minutes and he and his toliets were out the door!!!

Cathy


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

So tell me ---
A couple days ago I bought a Texas Lotto ticket. The drawing was last night. Needless to say, I didn't win. So why is it still on my desk in front of me? Both the trash and recycling are within arm's reach. Do I need to scold myself for wasting $1. Do I have a problem getting rid of a "new" piece of paper? Why do I feel a resistance to throw it out? I buy a lotto ticket a couple times per year, and this happens every time. And of course, this problem is repeated with many other papers.

OK, I just put it in the recycling. Thank you for helping me talk myself into it. :)


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

I agree with donnamp.

So now that you've got the stuff, you're not obligated to keep it forever. It will help your own sanity and sense of humaneness to try to set reasonable goals that revolve around YOUR needs and wishes and be compassionate, but firm. And, think ahead to building in delays or second chances if you intend or are likely to do so--by planning on this, you'll be less frustrated. And possibly putting it in writing, since it involves his property. Meaning, hey, bro, I'll let you store these things here for 3 months (or whatever seems reasonable), but by then you need to find them another home. Then the 30-day "warning"--but done as friendly sibling reminder. It might have to include the alternative--"I'll assume you don't want them, either, and that I am free to handle it myself" The "myself" is an important issue--you have to be completely independent of him (even if you hire someone) and not be saying, he won't help me move them; plus, any help you hire, you should hire at your own expense and not waste energy trying to get paid back. That is all part of detaching yourself from his problem and not staying tied up in it. Then, up to you, a 30-day extension or whatever--frequently someone like this will say, I'm just about to..... so you're vulnerable to being painted as unreasonable, and each person has to find the balance of feeling that they did go the extra mile and were not trying to punish the person--all simply depending on what feels right to you.

But in all of this, you have to help yourself not feel you are going to change your brother or improve his life or care one whit where or how or at how much cost he moves it out, as long as it moves out and you don't pay for it UNLESS you pay for it as the final solution of moving it out yourself.

If YOU are fine with keeping the stuff for a long time, by all means do so. The point is to find a balance with being a caring sibling, but not being pushed into something you can't accept and then having all the anger and frustration eat at you.

It won't necessarily be a win-win solution and you might make him angry. That's the hook in these situations--we all want the hoarder to "realize" it's his problem and he is being unfair to us and we are not to blame and have a happy ending in which the stuff disappears and we're still the good guy, but it doesn't work out that way.

Now, you might get lucky and he'll move it all out. But that's the reason for taking a deep breath and beginning to think, what could I reasonably put up with, for how long, before deciding it isn't working. And if you've decided to wait it out awhile, try not to focus on it or stew on it meanwhile.

This is all very akin to, but maybe less traumatic, the boomerang child or relative who moves in and then does not seem to be getting a job or apartment. Choices have to be made in terms of living with it, or setting limits, and taking the consequences.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Alisande, that was a great article.

How many of us have this same sort of stash (remnants from the authors' family home)?

"Left behind in their vacated home was yet another subset of that stuff, the stubborn dead-enders. For several weekends I labored at this archaeological dig until the last holdouts were donated, auctioned off, or stuffed into my garage and basement to await some uncertain fate. And there they rest: the steamer trunks full of tweed, the old rugs, the boxes of papers and toys and camping equipment. Sometimes I poke into a box and pull out some bit of family ephemerathe 50-year-old receipt to my grandfathers watch, photographs from a trip to Europe in the early 1970s, the original architects drawing of the home I would grow up in. They have the familiar, earthy scent of that houses basement, transplanted into my own."

And how many of us have the following fantasy?

"I am plotting a garage sale, of course, just as you probably are. I will not inflict this curse on the next generation. Everything will go, and I will live as I did in my 20s, when everything I owned fit in the back of my car."


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Frankie- You are very, very wise.

Bud, I hope you can take this all in. Give a lot of time and thought to what Frankie said.

Just know and understand that you cannot change this behavior. This is the face of mental illness. He is not rational, and however he chooses to perceive you and your actions will be his problem. Make sure the relative are all on the same page with you on this.

I really wish you the best in all this.

-Donna

Here is a link that might be useful: Compulsive Hoarding article


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

4 keywords that are found when talking about Hoarding are.: Indecisiveness, Perfectionism, Procrastination, Avoidance.

Oh, no!!!

Those are MY cluttering problems.

(But I don't think I am a compulsive hoarder, or packrat)


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Alisnde, thanks for the link. It was VERY informative. He is 47y/o BTW. Single. (Of course.) No kids, to help either.

Frankie, my post probably was not clear in the timeline. I was trying to be brief and it may have lost clarity. As of now, my bro does not have his stuff filling my basement to the ceiling and garage anymore. That was four years ago. I had done exactly what you suggested. I gave him a 6/mo time limit when he brought it all over and he did remove it in a timely manner, when he got his apartment. It all now resides in his apartment, his apartment storage unit, and a rental unit I just found out he has (from one of his friends). I had assumed he had gotten rid of at least some of it, but found out he is renting a storage unit for most of it. That is nuts. Just nuts. He also used his car for "storage" and what worries me is that he just three weeks ago bought a van to replace his auto. I tried to talk him out of it as he does not NEED a van since he does not do any handywork where he has to cart tools around, or a family, or stuff related to homeownership. I told him using a van to drive back and forth to work was stupid with the way gas prices are. I am afraid he bought it for "extra storeage" and it is going to be filled with junk in no time, like the trunk and backseat of his car was. Really. I am embarrassed to even write about this.

Donna, Funny you should mention AS. I came across it once on the internet and my first thought was "That sounds a lot like my brother." Not entirely though, but close on a lot of points. He also fits a lot of OCD traits and ADAH traits but not entirely either. Maybe a combo? His orderly, regimented ways with extreme attention to detail is a plus for what he does for a living. He works in the electronics field. He had tried for a lateral move into electronics design work at the last place he worked at but his design work did not suit his employers needs. He worked best as a quality control inspector checking and rechecking and rechecking and checking and rechecking electronic equipment making sure everything is *perfect*. I can see something in that being rather "related".

Talley, Indecisiveness, Perfectionism, Procrastination, Avoidance. Yup, that's me! I have my own demons too I guess. I should be doing something else more important right now rather than nurturing my procrastination and avoidance tendancies.

I am really wondering if this sort of thing IS inherited. I've never been a packrat OR a horder but I have to battle those tendencies. It's hard and takes a lot of energy that could be directed elsewhere to something more productive. I've been helped with the FlyLady.com site to keep myself organized. Well, sort of.......

My uncle is the exactly the same way as my brother. The only difference is that my uncle makes a lot of money and he BUYS stuff. New stuff. Expensive stuff. He brings back decor and collectable stuff from Europe all the time. Stuff he will never even use. Expensive clothes he does not wear with the tags still on. Stuff. It is stacked all over. Most of it unsed and a lot of is still in the boxes and wrappers. Years ago he actually moved out of his house and bought the house across the street. >>> The kicker here is that he did not sell his old place and left it PACKED with stuff FOR YEARS (Yes, years. I am NOT making this up.) while he accumulated more new stuff for the new place. His old place literally had no room to walk around in it. (I think that is why he moved.) Most of it was stacks and stacks of expensive art books. Boxes of dish sets, Clocks. Candle sticks. Cameras, sewing machines, typewriters (he doesn't sew or type). Doodas. He was paying property taxes on both places and everyone told him to empty the old place out and SELL IT! He wouldn't do it. Finally, his gentleman friend, who is a sort of life partner to him, went in a did it and made him sell the place he was just using as a storage unit. A lot of the stuff his friend brought over to give to me to keep or give away to friends. He had seven vacuum cleaners - Three of them still in the box unused! Old stuff that can't be used any more like a BetaMax and a LaserDisk machine. But he still has piles of stuff and still buys more and more. His friend now lives with him and is taking a proactive approch to the situation. He orders him not to buy more stuff but I guess my uncle sneaks it in. The friend won't allow cable in the home so that my uncle does not watch QVC and those selling stations! I really think his friend would have moved in with him decades ago but there was NO ROOM for him and he could see my uncle's problem as becoming a problem for him too.

Amazingly my uncle did the same type of work before he retired, as my brother does. At least this type of behavior does not interfer with employment and may even be an asset in certain fields.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

bud, I guess I am saying, why are you trying to influence your 47 y/o brother's choice of vehicles, analyze his gas use, or any of that? Of course if it's a friendly sibling conversation or ribbing, or he's asking your advice, or things like that that families do, and both are enjoying it, that's different. But you sound like you're trying to "fix" him.

So, maintain your focus in trying to make your own life better! Use insights from your family to help you.

I described some of my "tendencies" in another thread and how that's more than enough battle for me!

So I'm just saying, use the release valve and the input from this forum as a means to just letting go of the relatives' problems.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

You are right. I can't fix him. His old car broke down and I had to drive him around to the car lots to look at new ones. He has to drive 30-45 miles per day to commute to work. He needed an economy car not a van. I gave my unsolicited advice (repeatedly) and then finally just shut up and let him go through with the purchase. It killed me to do so.

You give good advice Frankie. I should focus my energy on my own foibles. I can't change the world and I could use a bit of improving myself. Thanks (everyone) for letting me vent my worries. Thanks for the links too.


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Bud, it's not so much that you should concentrate on your own foibles (although we all have them!), but that you should not take on your brother's problems. I know how wildly frustrating it is to watch someone you care about behave in ways that are self-defeating or self-destructive, but a) you're not going to change him, and b) the act of trying, or even wanting to try, can have a detrimental effect on you and your health.

Putting emotional distance between you and your brother's hoarding will take time and practice, but your blood pressure and various organs will thank you for it. We on this forum will be happy to cheer you on.

Susan


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RE: Changing from within (not without)

Yea, bud. That's the thing that perhaps others who've had the same experience can offer--we know just how it feels when you do shut up--necessary, but not necessarily good. So, hopefully you are getting some reinforcement that you are not alone in this kind of struggle, and it's a fairly common and very human experience.

Like, wise of you to begin to separate offering to drive to shop for a new car, from the actual purchase. Car breaking down happens to everyone (well, there can be times when it occurs "unnecessarily," so being stranded can get complicated, but let's say this was unpreventable); driving the bro is a good thing to do--something we'd all like to be able to count on in our families. So that is the type of thing I tried to identify that I could freely offer that was part of "normal" helping and separate from other frustrations and control issues I might have.


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