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LuckyGuy's avatar

How should parents handle an adult child's shockingly messy room after he moves out?

Asked by LuckyGuy (29275 points ) January 16th, 2013

Messiness in the eye of the beholder so here is my definition:
The door does not open more than a foot because of junk on the floor. There are boxes of stuff piled up so passageways are barely wide enough to pass through. The floor is covered in layers of old laundry, old magazines (1994 to present), food wrappers, used tissues, returnable bottles and cans, dirty clothes, expired foods, old textbooks and homework, leaked AA batteries, unopened mail from 2005 to present, broken lap tops, crushed headphones, etc. to a thickness of 8 inches to 1 foot deep. It looks similar to rooms seen on the show “Hoarders”. Does that qualify as messy?

On the surface, he is competent and capable and has been living with his girlfriend for more than a year. When he visits home, his parents have asked him to clean up and he spends hours doing it but there is no visible difference. The place is still a disaster.
It is like he is overwhelmed and simply does not know what to do.

Should the parents start cleaning out the room? If “yes” should it be done with or without his permission and or knowledge?

Is there a possibility that there is a medical reason for this behavior? What can his parents do to help him? Do you know anyone in this situation?

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31 Answers

jca's avatar

Is this your son?

If it were me, I would clean the stuff up myself, box up what looks important, ask him to take those boxes to his new place so he can look through them and I would restore the room to it’s pre-adult-child status (probably paint, new rug, some new furniture or keep his bed and make it like a lounge room).

If he’s been out for a year, that’s long enough to wait for him to do it himself, and enough time has been granted owing to him probably working, etc.

jonsblond's avatar

I agree with @jca. Box everything up and toss the garbage.

If the adult child is no longer living at home they don’t need a room of their own for occasional visits imo. Now that our sons are out of the house our daughter has her brothers room. It is the largest of the two bedrooms we have for the children. The smaller room is now my husband’s studio/guest room.

Shippy's avatar

I would either gather it up, and call the junk collectors, or a needy organization.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I am asking for friends of ours with similarly aged kids.
My advice would be to just do it. Make 4 piles: laundry, books, mail, food and obvious trash. Pitch the trash, and maybe even wash the cloths. The rest go in boxes.
His parents feel this is a gross invasion of his privacy and just leave it. I feel sorry for them.

I am asking here because there seems to be an obvious problem. It seems that he just does not know what is trash and what isn’t. Everythng has value and everything has a story. Surely he sees that pop cans are trash, or used tissues are junk. How can he go into that room for hours and not see it?
The “child” is around 30 by the way.

jonsblond's avatar

Should the parents start cleaning out the room? If “yes” should it be done with or without his permission and or knowledge?

I forgot to answer this question. I would tell the adult child what my plans were for the room and ask if they would like to help.

rojo's avatar

Pretty much what everyone else has mentioned.

My initial thought was a shovel and a dumpster but upon reflection I remember how much I have enjoyed going back through things that my parents kept, either for sentimental reasons or because they were important, in the years since I have become an adult.

Same some of the things you think will fall into this category at some point, put them in a few boxes and put the boxes in the attic. He will thank you for it at some point.

Oh yeah, trash the rest.

Pachy's avatar

I would add only one thing to @jca‘s and @jonsblond‘s excellent comments: As a matter of courtesy, and I suspect you would do this, alert him to what you’re doing verbally so that he has one last chance to help you and, if he wishes, do his own parsing.

gailcalled's avatar

I would alert the son that he has two weeks (or a month, depending on the parent’s patience) to take care of the task. Otherwise, sauve qui peut. And the parent, or a local wrecking crew, does it anyway he chooses.

syz's avatar

Give him a deadline. “You have until the first of the month to get what you want out. Then it’s all going into the trash.”

gailcalled's avatar

^^^What excellent advice.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I have to criticize the parents here. How is it that this condition could fester and worsen and why have they done nothing about it earlier? This didn’t happen overnight.

The parents own the house – why did they abrogate their duties as homeowners and parents for what must be several years?

The adult child certainly has some responsibility, but the parents are at least as responsible. I would put a lot of the blame back on them.

Seek's avatar

First of all, how the hell did they let it get that out of hand in the first place, without a single “To avoid vermin infestation, you can clean the room or I will” lecture? And don’t give me the “he deserved his privacy” thing. If you can hide a dead body under your pile of crap, you’ve become a public health hazard. Clean your damned room.

But, to ignore hindsight, I like @syz‘s idea. I would add to the note ”...what you want and anything you don’t want me to see out…” Mostly because ignorance is bliss when it comes to your own child’s porn collection and/or erotic toys.

Coloma's avatar

I went through this with my daughter at age 16 after her dad and I split.
We had a knock down drag out fight about her not cleaning her room. I had called her from work several times that day and she assured me she was getting stuff done. When I came home from work she was sitting on the couch polishing her toenails in front of the TV ( typical teenager ) and all she had managed to do was move the clutter around in her room and toss her bedding on MY bed in my room to be washed!

Heh….mama was not happy!
It ensued from there and she went to her dads in a huff and I simply cleaned up everything myself, boxed up a bunch of stuff and told her if she wanted to come back for her things if she was going to live with her dad that she would need to take her own dirty laundry too. haha
Yeah, I wasn’t on the popular parent list for awhile, but, no way was I going to clean up her mess and hand her washed & folded laundry over to her. Don’t think so. Thank god she is 25 now and those crappy, bitchy, teenage days are over with. Whew!

LuckyGuy's avatar

It is apparent the parents were not parenting – at least in that aspect of the kid’s life. From all appearances he is normal ans successful. The whole situation is strange.
Is there a name for a mental condition like this?

@Coloma That is more along the lines I am suggesting but some people feel that is harsh. So, at 25, are your daughter’s living quarters neat and organized now? Did she figure it out herself?

Coloma's avatar

@LuckyGuy She’s middle of the road, sometimes still really messy, sometimes not.
Depending on her work schedule and other things going on.
I agree with the tough love approach though, sometimes it is necessary.
As always the issue is never what it appears, it wasn’t so much her messy room as it was her defiant attitude and lack of respect for my time and her need to start behaving like an adult and being responsible for her own mess and laundry at age 15–16.

ucme's avatar

He’s not named Wall-E by any chance is he?
At least that little fella stacked shit in neat piles…hang on, “shit” ...“piles”, that came out wrong!

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ucme There’s a saying: “One man’s shit is another man’s heat.” At least that’s true in this area. I would burn the mess and convert it to BTUs and a little air pollution. .

In the kid’s mind everything has value. He can’t bear to part with any of it. “Those old car magazines are interesting.” “Here is the ticket stub from when I saw XYZ.” It is sad.
The trash and dirty laundry are a different story..

ucme's avatar

@LuckyGuy I’ve seen documentaries about this kind of thing, compulsive hoarding I think they call it, normally really old folks who look like Gollum on a bad day
There was this one old timer, from NYC I believe, his entire apartment was stacked to the walls & ceiling with old newspapers/magazines & gawd knows what else.

jonsblond's avatar

@LuckyGuy Just this past weekend a local elderly couple died in their home during a house fire because they couldn’t get to their front door to escape. They were living in their basement because the first floor was filled with boxes and who knows what. A bulldozer was needed to open the front door to the house. so sad

I’m curious. Is it only the son’s room that is a mess? Do the parents like to hold on to items also?

Seek's avatar

@ucme @LuckyGuy

There was a woman in my area who was keeping her dead grandmother in a storage unit for 17 years, right next to the broken TVs and banana boxes full of old magazines.

Ah, Florida.

ucme's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Fuck me sideways & call me Susan!!!
Not to be taken literally of course…I rather like Sharon :-)

Seek's avatar

But don’t call me Shirly.

gailcalled's avatar

@ucme; You might be thinking of The Collyer Brothers

Police removed 103 tons of stuff.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@jonsblond No, the rest of the house is fine. Just that one isolated disaster area.

Bellatrix's avatar

This person is moving out and leaving this mess?

Text to child…

”[Insert child’s name], your room is a pig sty. Your dad and I have set aside Saturday to clean it up. We would appreciate your help. If you aren’t here we will do it ourselves but we will then make decisions about what happens to your stuff. I hope to see you on Saturday”.

It’s the parent’s room in the parent’s house once the person moves out. I would go in there with big bin bags and anything worth keeping that I think he would value in one pile, clothing sorted, washed and packed up and given to charity or binned. Rubbish in the trash. Clean room and paint.

If said child wants to move back in, it would be on the proviso that they don’t leave their room in that state again.

Coloma's avatar

@Bellatrix Yeah!
When one takes a stand make it grand!
I think every parent and child have at least one showdown at the not okay corral.lol

hearkat's avatar

I haven’t read other responses yet. I would tell him that it has been over a year, and I want the room emptied. I would give him a two-month deadline and tell him that whatever is still in the house by that date was going to be discarded.

muppetish's avatar

I’m not a parent, but what I would hope my parents would do is call and give me notice. “Hey, just so you know, this weekend we’re going to town on your room. If there is anything you are afraid we might mistake as garbage and toss out, now is your chance to grab it.” If they can’t be motivated to pitch in by then, anything is game. Toss out whatever is deemed unnecessary.

Both of my siblings have extremely messy rooms, both adults mind you, and I may or may not be waiting for a day when I go in and start chucking stuff…

augustlan's avatar

I’m with everyone else. Give him a deadline, then do it yourself. I’d pack up everything that isn’t clearly trash, including unwashed clothing, and make him take the packed up stuff out of the house.

ucme's avatar

@gailcalled No it wasn’t them, same kind of thing though, amazing really.

jca's avatar

I think if you are going to offer to let him do it himself, it would be reasonable to give him a few weeks time, (assuming he works full time) which gives him a few weekends and allows for him to have a life other than this. I would tell him right off the bat that if he’s not interested in doing it himself or participating in the cleanup, he should tell you, so that you can get right on it ASAP. If he wants to help, a few weeks gives him time to come over in his spare time and do it or go through the crap himself.

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