Cutting the Emotional Ties to STUFF - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 06-23-2011, 11:43 AM - Thread Starter
 
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A little background -

 

My MIL lives in a 3500 square foot home by herself, with 5 bedrooms, a 3 car garage, and office space. Her husband died about five years ago, and her parents died the year after that. 

 

She decided she wanted to move near us, since we are about 3 1/2 hours away from her current home, and her other son lives about another 3 1/2 hours further from us.  The home she is building is about 2000 square feet, with a two car garage, and since her current home is basically bursting at the seams with STUFF, she obviously needs to downsize, she realizes that she needs to downsize, and while we've been trying to help her, it feels like we're just banging our heads against a wall.

 

The one major issue is that she has deluded herself into thinking that people are going to visit her so much that she has to have dedicated spaces/furniture/seating for them (and we've given up trying to reason with her on that one), but the bigger issue is that she's got a serious emotional attachment to things that belonged to her deceased parents and husband.   I guess I'm just looking for ideas/insight into how to better approach the situation, because it's extremely frustrating.

 

For instance, her father had a collection of 100+ lighthouse figurines.  She didn't even really like her father; he was apparently not the nicest person in the world, but every time she goes down to Florida to visit her sister and brother-in-law, she comes back with boxes and boxes of these lighthouses.  There are eight boxes of them sitting in a hallway (untouched) from her trip last year.  We've been asking her what she's planning to do with them (since she has a separate collection of lighthouses of her own that she and her late husband visited together), and saying maybe she could keep three or four of her dad's lighthouses and get rid of the rest.  She'd agree to that plan every time we brought it up.  But, a few months ago when we were at her house, she had two new curio cabinets delivered and put in her foyer that already holds three curio cabinets and a table full of pictures and figurines.  We asked what they were for, and she said, "Dad's lighthouses."  FRUSTRATING!   (Of course, said curio cabinets still do not have lighthouses in them, and sit empty, months later, and the lighthouses are still in their boxes.)

 

She just visited them last week and came back with six more boxes of lighthouses.  We had her go through them at our house (she stopped here for a couple of days on her way back home) and she only went home with two boxes full (which is still too many, IMO, but it's better than an additional six), but she also came back with an old lamp and a jewelry armoire.  We asked why she brought them back, since she has too many lamps as it is, and already has a jewelry armoire that she doesn't use (and neither of these things were anything special/valuable/anything like that) and she said, "they were going to throw it away, and IT WAS MY MOTHER'S!"  And that's about how every conversation about any of this stuff ends, with her screaming - it was her mother's, it was her father's, it was her husband's, she picked it out with her husband, or her husband gave it to her.

 

We realize that it's her house, and if she wants to live with so much furniture (most of this stuff is furniture, except for things like the lighthouses) that that's her business, but she's going to get all of this stuff to her new home and it isn't going to fit, and we're going to end up being the ones that have to deal with it -  she's already tried to weasel her way into using our garage as her own personal storage unit.  (And yes, every time she mentions it, we flat out tell her no.)  Plus, she wants to babysit our small children (oldest is 6) overnight from time to time so we can have time to ourselves, but if she refuses to get rid of the stuff that doesn't fit, there will be no sleepovers.

 

She refuses to see a therapist (which we gently suggested, because there is obviously something psychological going on), and nothing we say or do is working.  We blew up a copy of the floor plan of her new home and had her draw in where all of the stuff is going to go, thinking she needed a visual of it, and that got her to say that she'd get rid of some stuff, but nothing that previously belonged to anyone else, God forbid, and that is 90% of her "big" stuff, so her new home will have every inch of wall space with a piece of furniture on it, pretty much the way it is now.  (We even joked that she shouldn't waste her time picking out paint for the walls, since nobody will be able to see them past the curio cabinets and bookshelves and desks and whatnot.

 

We've tried googling stuff, but it seems every answer either goes to extreme hoarder (and she watches "Hoarders" and is convinced that because her house isn't dirty and loaded with TRASH, that she's not a hoarder) or just random clutter, and I can't find resources on how to approach an emotional attachment to so much random stuff.

 

Is there a trick to getting her to lose the bizarre emotional THING that she has with everything that any of her deceased relatives has ever touched?  I'll take ANY idea at this point!  Or is it just a lost cause that we need to try to let go of on our end, and let her figure it out once she moves and realizes that she can't fit all of her stuff into her house?  We're trying to be HELPFUL, so it doesn't get to that point (because she has to pay to get it all down here, and then have to get rid of it), but she just sees it as us nagging and/or being mean.


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#2 of 10 Old 06-23-2011, 03:15 PM
 
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Couldn't read and not offer a *hug*.  That is a very tough situation.  Hopefully someone on this board could  recommend a book that deals with letting go of the emotions tied to stuff, that you can save the memories, without holding onto the "stuff".  If you could get her to read something like that it might help? 

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#3 of 10 Old 06-26-2011, 10:06 AM
 
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could you find out about rental storage spaces where her new house is? she's obviously ok with the stuff being stored since she wanted to use your garage. she could get a big space for 50-60/month. that way she wouldn't have to throw away what she feels are her ties to the past and her loved ones, but it wouldn't have to clutter up her house. the storage unit could even be set up like a room and if she needed to she could go visit the stuff sometimes and still feel connected to that part of her identity. i don't think without therapy that the attachment will break...seems like it's part of her grieving process, and that just can't be rushed. but rental storage might at least solve the short term issue. if she balks at the rental price, you could gently tell her that it is the cost of being able to have her grand kids spend the night.


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#4 of 10 Old 06-26-2011, 11:23 AM
 
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I second the storage place.

 

I have similar issues with stuff, that belonged to family members, which have died.

I recently moved to a much smaller apartment, put many things into a storage place- it is cheaper than renting a bigger place and slowly, very slowly I go through every box and will need a much smaller place next year or maybe eben before.

 

 

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#5 of 10 Old 06-26-2011, 12:25 PM
 
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I used to be like her when my Mom passed away. Then one day someone asked me "Would your Mom want you to keep all this stuff?" and I sat and realized that absolutely not. So I found places to donate it that meant something to me which helped A LOT!. The thought of just throwing it away, or just sending it off anywhere freaked me out really bad. So the furniture went to a womens shelter for when they move into their own place, her business clothing went to a charity that provides outfits for low income women for interviews, etc. 

 

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#6 of 10 Old 06-29-2011, 01:14 AM
 
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is she the "last one standing" meaning she alone is alive, amid her contemporaries who have passed away? 

 

think of a storage space as being charitable.  I agree you can't rush it.  But neither can she live with it ....


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#7 of 10 Old 06-29-2011, 11:40 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the responses, y'all.  I appreciate the insight.

 

We tried to talk to her again last night, because she says she's too exhausted to do anything, and it turns out, she's not getting rid of stuff (she has to downsize at LEAST 1/3 of her STUFF to be able to even begin to fit into her new house, whether that stuff is actual STUFF or furniture or both), she's packing it in boxes.  Sigh. 

 

The house she lives in now is paid off, and she's putting it on the market even though we have gently - and not-so-gently - told her that you can't see the house for the STUFF, and she's going to have a hard time selling it in the condition that it's in.  She's terrified that she's going to have to pay a mortgage on the new house, which is what is going to happen if her current home doesn't sell.  She asked us again about using our house for storage last night and we told her no again.  (We just combined houses and are working on paring down all of OUR stuff.)  We told her that she's going to end up paying for a storage unit, based on the way things have been going, and if she's worried about paying a mortgage, now she also has to be worried about paying for a storage unit to store things that she never touches.  (Which, of course, then becomes, "Well, I wouldn't have to PAY for a storage unit if I could just put the stuff at your house.")

 

We did find something else out last night that's interesting in regards to her mindset.  She was talking about how she doesn't have anywhere to put the stuff that lays all over her kitchen countertops (ALWAYS a point of a contention when we're visiting, because she has a ton of counter space, but none of it is usable for all the stuff that's on it, because she lives by herself, but shops at Sam's for food.)  We reminded her that she told us that she got rid of a lot of kitchen stuff during her yard sale a couple of months ago, so she should have room in the cabinets for the stuff from the countertops - if for nothing else, than to hide all the stuff while the house is on the market.  During this back-and-forth, we determined that she didn't actually get rid of as much stuff as we thought she did, and then we mentioned her small appliances that she never uses that she said she kept - two blenders, a food dehydrator, a panini press - and she broke out with, "But YOU gave me that panini press!"  (DH gave it to her several years ago, for some holiday, because she asked for one.)  It was all we could do not to bang our heads on a wall.  He was like, "You haven't used the panini press in well over a year, get rid of it."  To which she continued to argue for 20 minutes that HE gave it to her and that's why she couldn't get rid of it, and he had to tell her several times that she had permission from him to get rid of anything that he had ever given her that she didn't need or want.  I'd bet $10 that that panini press is still there when we go back up to visit. 

 

So we discovered that this all goes deeper than just the deceased loved ones.  At least 95% of the stuff in that house was either purchased with a deceased relative, purchased by a relative/friend, or belonged to someone prior, and that's going to be the constant argument.  We've been discussing going tough-love on her, and just telling her that she's on her own with this, since she refuses to get rid of anything, and when we try to help, it always becomes an argument, and she's just going to have to live with not being able to move around her house for all the stuff, and maybe that's just how she wants to live.  Her other daughter-in-law made a comment once that when MIL dies, she's just going to light the house on fire, and that really hurt MIL's feelings.  We don't want to hurt her feelings, but we can't handle the stress for much longer.

 

ETA:  Her parents both died, and her husband died, but she has four brothers and sisters that are all alive.  One of the brothers lives in the parents' old house.


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#8 of 10 Old 06-29-2011, 01:10 PM
 
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I think she's a hoarder. Hoarders are incredibly resistant to change, and they will defend the hoard, and resist change, at all costs. 
 
You can't stop her, but you can stop yourself from enabling her. You're doing all the right things: Don't let her store things at your house. Don't let her host sleepovers if her house is unsuitable. _Don't_ be the ones to "deal with it". Make her hoard her problem.
 
I realize that that may sound very offhand and simplistic. Sadly, that's generally what hoarding issues come down to - after years of trying this and trying that and analyzing and reading books and trying to understand and understand and understand, the conclusion generally is: You can't do anything. It's that simple.
 
Understanding is achievable, but _persuasion_ is not. Until the hoarder really wants to solve the problem, until they're ready to stand up and face the anxiety that they've been avoiding all their lives, nothing will change. The hoard is generally about avoiding anxiety, avoiding it at any cost, so getting them to face anxiety is darn near impossible. I compare a hoarder's addiction to anxiety avoidance to an addict's addiction to his drug. I think that everybody knows how hard it is to get that addict to go clean, how little they'll care about arguments like "but it's unhealthy" and "but you're going broke buying it." A hoarder, similarly, cares little about the rational arguments against the hoard. Dealing with the hoard means dealing with anxiety, and that's an absolute dealbreaker for them.
 
So you should severely limit the amount of time and resources that you pour down that black hole. It's simplistic, but it's not simple to get there.
 
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#9 of 10 Old 06-29-2011, 01:11 PM
 
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I forgot to add: As the spouse of a child of a hoarder you would qualify to join the Yahoo Children of Hoarders group. As the child of a hoarder, of course your husband would as well. You might want to give it a try.

 

 

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#10 of 10 Old 06-29-2011, 08:24 PM
 
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Have you suggested making a scrapbook of the things she gets rid of? Maybe she would be open to getting rid of some of the stuff if she could she pictures of it. Would she be open to donating it to charity to help people who need panini presses and furniture?

 

Ultimately she needs to decide to get rid of the items. If she feels like she is being 'attacked' she will just dig her heels in further. Maybe you could start by trying to find a charity she might approve of and seeing what types of household donations they need the most. 

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