Return to the Organizing the Home Forum | Post a Follow-Up

Helping someone else declutter

Posted by jenathegreat (My Page) on
Mon, Nov 27, 06 at 13:07

I had an interesting time over Thanksgiving. We spent a week with my mother in law. She's lived in her house for about 35 years and her DH has been dead for almost 20. She kept the house under control when he was alive, but it's been sliding downhill ever since. She has strong hoarding tendencies.

Over the last few months, we've been talking to her about doing some cleaning while we were up visiting. Slowly, she came to agree that it would be a good thing.

We started one afternoon while she was at choir practice with the spice cabinet. Now I prefer to not do things to her house when she's not there, but I was making lunch and pulled out some boullion cubes that expired in July 1980. Worse, this was not in the very back of the cabinet, but quite near the front and easy to reach. Then we found the sesame seeds that had turned into black powder and were from a store that closed many many years ago. My stepson and I grabbed some bags and started tossing stuff. She had a look through the bags when she got home and agreed that it was stuff she wouldn't use and could be thrown out - I'm so glad she didn't want to keep any of it, I don't think I could have eaten there again if she did!!

Anyway, after that she let me start going through the other cabinets. I didn't ask her to get rid of anything, just asked her questions like if she really needed 30 dinner plates (mismatched and most from goodwill)since she never has more than 4 guests and pointed out how the shelf was starting to sag. I was trying to be like Helen on that DiscoveryHome show, Neat - just ask questions about stuff and let her make her own decisions since I didn't want her cursing me when I left :) However, she really got on a roll and got rid of 4 huge boxes of stuff! We sorted through 7 cabinets plus a huge pile of tupperware.

There were quite a few trips down memory lane as we dug out stuff she hadn't seen in a long time. I think she's happy to have found some of her mother's things and to know she can get to them and use them now that they aren't buried under platic plates and other junk she didn't use (as evidenced by thick grime layers and dead spiders covering many things).

I don't really have any hope that the cabinets will be as neat and tidy as they were when we left (she stacks things randomly inside the cabinet, putting bowls on top of plates even though there's a pile for bowls). But I do hope that she can stick with her resolution to not buy any more kitchen stuff unless she really gets rid of something else.

But here's the best news.... she called last night to say she went through another 2 cabinets yesterday after we left!! Dare I hope that she'll keep it up???

- Jena

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Helping someone else declutter

I think you DO dare hope.

Sometimes people just need a jump start, even if they do have hoarding tendencies. And sometimes hoarding tendencies are just inertia, really.

She's also gotten a really big reward--being able to find and use her mother's stuff. That's always good for a dose of energy.

Way to go, and what a great strategy.

Now, when's your next visit, so you can get her started on the linen closet?

RE: Helping someone else declutter

That's great news! Sounds like a really great accomplishment!

RE: Helping someone else declutter

Sadly we only get up there about once a year (we're in Texas, she's in Maryland), so she'll have to hold the fort alone for quite a while.

Oh, the linen closet!! I'd love to get some old nasty things out of there! And I've already started working on the "animal shelters could really use some of those old towels" strategy.

I should have mentioned that she allowed DH and his brother to remove 2 giant broken console TVs from the 70s along with other assorted large trash items and take them to the dump - kinda makes me glad I don't have a basement so I can't be tempted to store large crap. (DH's brother lives close to her and helps her out, but these were things he couldn't lift by himself and he's too embarrassed to ask a friend to go into his mom's house).

RE: Helping someone else declutter


What a great time had by all! That is just SO wonderful that your MIL has realized that there ARE things she doesn't need. The "animal shelter needs old towels" idea was a good hint!

If you can make this your "thing in common" it might help keep her motivated until you see her again. Like if you can tell her, "Would you believe I found a shirt in my closet I haven't worn in 10 years??" might compel her to look in HER closet to see if she can clean out things she doesn't wear, too. Or if you say, I got rid of that ___ in the back bedroom, and then gush about how much BETTER the room looks to have that thing gone from your house. Or tell her, "Why did I find 6 butter bowls cluttering up my cabinet when I NEVER use them?" And tell her, "I just got rid of a fake flower arrangement Aunt Susie gave me 20 years ago... and I don't know why I kept it because as much as I love Aunt Susie it's the ugliest arrangement I've evern seen" so she knows she doesn't have to keep things just because someone special gave them to her. Little things like that might get her thinking more!

RE: Helping someone else declutter

Why not ask her if she would like a gift certificate for a professional organizer to help her continue? Now that she's on a roll, she may be very open to that and the "towels to the shelter" stuff would be forthcoming with other items.


RE: Helping someone else declutter

I just took about 10 big black plastic bags of clothes to a local shelter store. I can easily declutter someones elses stuff but mine is a different story. My big problem is storing it somewhere until I get rid of it.

RE: Helping someone else declutter

I enjoyed reading your success story.

I have a friend in your MIL's situation (probably worse) and she has been saying for years that she is going to get rid of a bunch of this 'stuff'. I have offered to help her in any way I can, but the day never comes that she wants to get started on it.

If I could just get rid of the piles of sale bills and junk mail, and box (by years) all the important things (receipts, etc), it would be a great improvement.

Not wanting to upset her, or 'make her nervous' about it all, I don't push the issue.

I do fortunately get to take off the recycles, but often cannot find where all the newspapers are, and it makes her nervous, if I even just look for them a bit.


RE: Helping someone else declutter

If you wanted to make a project of helping someone like Sue's friend, I wonder if they'd have less anxiety if you made it less a "let's get this stuff out of your house" and more of a "other people need things; let's see what we can give to them out of generosity."

You know, "the high-school art class is collecting newspapers--let's find as many as we can for them!"

Or, "the day-care center is collecting old margarine tubs to use when painting; wouldn't you like to help those cute little kids?" (of course, then they might save them even harder, so she'll have them to pass on)

or "a family at my friend's church just had a fire; could you give them some clothes? or linens? or extra kitchenware and tableware?" (whatever your eye tells you is most important)

RE: Helping someone else declutter


You have hit on something that I have found works with "hoarders". I have members of my family that are like this. You need to convince them that they should give their stuff away. It is less painful since many of them keep that stuff because they don't want to waste it.

Even if they give it to you, and then you go home and throw it away or bring it to goodwill.

Often times, churches will take your old furniture and clothes and stuff. They have lots of contacts of needy families, call them up and they can see if they can use it.

But the old food, that is just a health hazard... that's gotta go. I know one time I took 3 garbage bags full of ancient expired food in cans and boxes, like old soup, hamburger helper out of a family members pantries.

RE: Helping someone else declutter

Jena --congrats on making her get started. I like Talley's ideas about motivating savers. For some of us its hard to just throw stuff out or even give it to Goodwill--but I have found people who take clothing to Mexico for families who need help, and that makes it easier to transfer an item which is almost new.
Churches and the food banks collect canned food items this time of year thats a good destination for extra (not expired) canned food.
Its also a good time to go through the Christmas decor now and collect items which somebody else could use before the season is over.

RE: Helping someone else declutter

I tried the "generosity" approach once with my step-MIL. Turns out she wouldn't give anything away without proof that the recipients were worthy of, and truly needed, her donations. Quite frankly, it wasn't worth it to me to get a note from my son's art teacher that she needed EXACTLY "x" number of butter bowls, with a notation on EXACTLY what she needed them for so my MIL would know whether or not the teacher also TRULY needed the lids.

RE: Helping someone else declutter

Oh no Julie, that's horrible! Fortunately my MIL is very big on giving to charity - I swear she sends a check to any organization that sends a request, so playing to her desire to help society works on her.

But I know my grandma (who was a HUGE hoarder) would never have been convinced to part with stuff just to help others. Her argument was that if they needed it, they should have gone out and bought it - afterall, her stuff came from garage sales and goodwill anyway, so they had their chance to buy it cheap. Sometimes you just can't win. We never got her house cleaned out until she was in the nursing home.

 o Post a Follow-Up

Please Note: Only registered members are able to post messages to this forum.

    If you are a member, please log in.

    If you aren't yet a member, join now!

Return to the Organizing the Home Forum

Information about Posting

  • You must be logged in to post a message. Once you are logged in, a posting window will appear at the bottom of the messages. If you are not a member, please register for an account.
  • Please review our Rules of Play before posting.
  • Posting is a two-step process. Once you have composed your message, you will be taken to the preview page. You will then have a chance to review your post, make changes and upload photos.
  • After posting your message, you may need to refresh the forum page in order to see it.
  • Before posting copyrighted material, please read about Copyright and Fair Use.
  • We have a strict no-advertising policy!
  • If you would like to practice posting or uploading photos, please visit our Test forum.
  • If you need assistance, please Contact Us and we will be happy to help.

Learn more about in-text links on this page here