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ScottyMcGeester's avatar

What can I do to help reorganize the house to help my mom?

Asked by ScottyMcGeester (1897points) August 9th, 2017

Over the years I’ve become really neurotic about cleaning and reorganizing. This is because my parents are essentially hoarders. nothing to the extent of those you see on TV – but hoarders nonetheless.

I’ve single-handedly reorganized entire rooms over the past several years, clearing out all this junk and gunk and forgotten stuff.

However, with all the work I’ve done, there’s still areas of concern and it’s still showing some ill effects.

Every now and then mom forgets to pay bills – like electric bills or sewage bills. A couple years ago the township sent a guy to just shut off our water. I remember watching him out my window like “Huh, I wonder what that guy’s doing.” Mom has never done this before and, well, it must be age. She’s been more scatterbrained lately. She often takes the mail but then throws it in a pile to look at later, forgetting to check them and thus totally not realizing it’s time to pay bills.

My dad wants nothing to do with any of this. He’s always been stingy so he never wants to spend money on any reorganization efforts. I’ve always been the one to pay for stuff to reorganize the house, like new drawers and boxes, etc. He also never pays the bills. He has an aversion to opening bills and leaves all the “number stuff” to mom, which is the other factor in her slipping recently – just overload on one person.

I’ve been making sure to be the first one to get the mail so I can say “Mom, here’s something really important to take care of right now.” But things still slip through, because a letter today notified us of yet another overdue sewage payment.

Her office is where the biggest mess currently is. There are so many papers and envelopes lying around. Unlike other rooms, every time I clean this one, another wave of junk piles up over time.

There HAS to be an effective system to manage this automatically. I don’t want to do this any longer and I’m at the age when I’ll be moving out soon.

For starters, I’m thinking of saving up money to give her a brand new desktop computer. She hasn’t had a new one in decades (again, because my dad hates spending money). She’s been hitching on my old laptops from college, so she’s been going back and forth between two old laptops. A new desktop computer would greatly improve her efficiency.

As for the mail – she’s fanatic about wicker baskets and I tried before telling her to use one basket for incoming mail and sort it out that way. But it just didn’t stick.

I’m starting to get at a loss here. I’m thinking of what other creative ideas, material or methodical, to utilize.

The closet in her office is filled to the brim with plastic boxes, mostly consisting of old photos. There has to be a better way of storing these instead of in this cramped closet. The last time I tried cleaning out her closet, I found one plastic box at the very bottom totally crushed, since they’re all stacked one on top of the other. She also has a habit of saving boxes – just all kinds of boxes. She keeps saying they’re useful but she never actually uses them for anything. I can understand that boxes for some electronics are good to keep, in case you need to return them, but others are totally pointless. I throw them out when I can when she’s not around or looking.

Any and all ideas greatly appreciated.

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15 Answers

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

First, do you want to come and organise my house?

Second, do your parents mind you taking over and organizing their stuff? Do they want your help? I understand you are trying to be helpful, but your parents have managed to raise you to be the person you are, so they can’t be doing too badly. I’m just concerned they could feel you are being intrusive if you take over too much or that they feel you’re suggesting they incompetent (and perhaps they are becoming so with old age). If you want to help them, they have to want to be helped or you’re wasting your time.

Perhaps a good place to start would be to sit them down and talk to them about your concerns and see what they have to say. Would you be prepared to take over managing their accounts if they are getting on in age? That would be the simplest way to resolve things being cut off. Can you have the bills emailed to you? Most utility companies where I live will now email rather than post bills. If they make you a signatory on their accounts, you can pay the bills for them.

Other than that, keep it simple and try not to get too irate when they don’t follow your plan. You obviously like things neat and they would seem not to care. The not caring might be that it’s all got out-of-control and they don’t have the energy to sort it out. So having that talk will be a good way to figure out what’s happening and if your help is needed or intrusive.

And you are a great son. You obviously care about your parents and want to help them. Good for you.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Your description of the situation would seem to indicate that your hope of escaping your parents to live independently is an unlikely prospect. Someone is going to have to manage things, and as you well know, the odds of catastrophe increase rapidly with every day your folks aren’t monitored. As far as the routine bills are concerned, is there any possibility of having these bills paid automatically from an existing checking account? The same idea should be applied to the source of household income- direct deposit if possible. But these are only tools to ease a burden that must increase with time. If you have siblings, it’s time to enlist them in this effort NOW. Familiarize yourself with local resources and programs dedicated to the welfare of seniors. And acquaint yourself with local networks of people in your situation. You’re going to be pleasantly shocked at the numbers of people facing similar challenges and there are plenty of them that have become rather expert at juggling the difficulties. Such people can save your sanity.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’m a little confused. You speak of your parents as if they’re quite elderly, but on the other hand you still live at home and go to college.

How old are they?

jca's avatar

You can arrange to have utility and other bills like car insurance paid directly from your parents’ bank accounts or billed directly to credit cards.

If you just start cleaning and organizing, you are going to stress your parents out. One possibility if you want to help, is doing these tasks when your parents are out of the house. Perhaps a long weekend away will enable you to do some stuff.

As far as storage, if I saved every box for every appliance I ever bought, my house would be full of boxes. Throw those boxes out. For storing stuff, it’s more efficient to have things in plastic containers. That way, if there’s ever a flood, things won’t be soaked.

How old are you and how old are your parents?

Dutchess_III's avatar

I fully understand her obsession with boxes. My Mom did too. You never know when you might need one! So I do keep a few around. I feel the same way about empty glass jars.
It became much easier for me to toss those things when I started recycling. I didn’t feel so wasteful.

Yes, how old are your parents?

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Parents are pushing 70. I’m 27. I finished college already. I plan on moving out next year with my girlfriend.

If they were annoyed or didn’t seem to care for my reorganizing of the house, I wouldn’t do it anymore, but I know they appreciate it. My mom has thanked me countless times and chalked up her mistakes to the same phrase, “Oh my, with everything crazy going on lately my mind just slips.” She has said the EXACT same excuse for maybe 3 years now.

Yesterday, my mom cleaned out the fridge and threw away any long-expired foods. That gave me hope because a couple years ago I decluttered our pantry and there was an embarrassingly large amount of horribly expired food.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@ScottyMcGeester, it is possible that some dementia is setting in. If they get diagnosed the state may be able to help with someone to check on them every so often.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

So I meant to post pictures of the closet space. This is really the most aggravating thing that I need to deal with. Clearing this out is not just for my parents but for me too – because I use stuff in this closet and always find myself spending thirty minutes trying to figure out where my mom put X, Y or Z.

The plastic boxes on the lower left in the closet allll have photos. The cardboard boxes are mostly receipts, dating back to the early 2000’s.
Just another angle of the closet – the right side. Mostly a collection of old cameras and video recording equipment. I honestly don’t know what’s in the plastic boxes on the lower right because everything’s so stacked up.
I don’t know if it’s apparent but like I said before – the lowest box is starting to collapse under the weight of everything else.

I try to keep some semblance of order on the top shelf. The top shelf has keyboards, tripods and any boxes of any recently bought electronics, in case we need to return them.

The annoying thing is that the stuff in the center aisle of the closet is where I usually need to get stuff – which include accessories for the computer and a bunch of manuals.

Stacking junk like this drives me crazy. There has to be some better way of storing and accessing these things. I’m pretty sure that I can at least consolidate the pictures into fewer boxes. Even so, there’s all this other crap to deal with. So if anyone has any storage ideas, by all means, shoot.

jca's avatar

@ScottyMcGeester: “Receipts dating back to the 2000’s?”

Why is she saving receipts that old?

I’d say put in some shelving, either the wire kind or some small bookcase-type of unit. That way, if you need to pull out a container, it doesn’t involve toppling the pile or removing many to get to something on the bottom.

Get some bins that are all the same type – all the same color and size, labeled. Put the containers on the shelf unit. Go through everything, condense, throw out. If it’s going to upset your mom, do it when she’s not around.

For the tripods and other stuff, see if you can condense it. Do you need all that you have now?

Dutchess_III's avatar

But is the rest of the house ok? Messy closets arent a health risk.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Ha. She’s always been fanatic about keeping receipts. Always. It’s just one of those things she’s set in her ways about. She has a near-insane desire to keep every receipt, no matter how old. If you ask her why she would just say “Just in case.”

For the most part, yes. I recently cleared out the guest room. There are really four areas of concern. The garage, the closet I just showed you, the basement and my parents’ bedroom. The basement and the garage aren’t a big deal because I have a simple solution for that. It’s this closet and also crap my mom hoards in her bedroom. I’m more concerned about the closet in her office though. It’s not a physical health risk as it is a mental thing and even a finance issue. Like I said, she’s been slipping lately in payments or just not paying attention due to the fact that her office is so cluttered. I’ve often found really important documents underneath all this stuff, and she has a momentary intervention of “Oh my God, I really need to do something about this,” only to get distracted again and not actually do something about it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think you need to find a way to get her evaluated.

LadyMarissa's avatar

Your Mom’s only a couple of years older than I am. For me, I didn’t forget that the bills needed to & be paid; but I frequently forgot what date it was & bills were suddenly past due. You’re still young enough that you may have not noticed it yet; but as you age time begins to fly. At 70, by the time you wake up it seems like it’s already time to go to bed & many things that didn’t get done are pushed off for tomorrow. Only problem, tomorrow ends up being a repeat of today & you push it off until the next day. After several days, you become so frustrated & overwhelmed that you just throw your hands up in disgust.. It’s really hard to admit to yourself that you’re getting to where you can no longer take care of yourself because you fear being put in a nursing home where everybody bosses you around. I have no children to watch after me; so I have to police myself. I was lucky in that my bank was bought out & the new bank offered me their bill pay service.I didn’t trust them at first so I had it set to where I had to schedule the bill pay every month. Then I discovered that I had the same problem as paying the bills in that I’d forget to schedule the bills to be paid. Now, I’ve slowly given my bank permission to receive my statements & automatically pay my bills for me. Now, they are always paid. This helps me to feel that I’m still in control of my finances while a third party is taking care of them & I stress less over whether the person doing it is stealing from me. In your case, you could have the emails sent to you so you can verify that everything is being done according to schedule & see that their checking account is still OK so you have no surprises. The bank will most likely also send an email to your Mom so she feels as part of the process & Dad doesn’t need to deal with it.

If your parents have the financial ability there are many elder care companies who will send somebody out weekly to assist with the cleaning, shopping, etc. Now, if they can’t afford the financial cost of paying a professional company to assist them, many states offer assistance for free to the elderly where they will send a caregiver out to assist with some of the daily/weekly cleaning duties. The customer is asked to assist as much as they can handle so once again, they still feel they have some control.

At some point, you will need to take control over their lives; but for both your & their sanity, I suggest you find a workaround for as long as you can!!! The key is to keep Mom feeling she is part of the process for as long as possible!!!

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LuckyGuy's avatar

@ScottyMcGeester I read this Q and answers with great interest. It’s been 2 years and you are a pretty proactive person. . How did this work out for you? Did you switch them to automatic bill pay? Any update?

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