General Question

Ammolite's avatar

Cleaning home after the loss of a loved one?

Asked by Ammolite (72points) May 1st, 2010

So, I’m wondering how the rest of the world might feel about this.

I recently moved in with my Fiance, into his existing apt. (now ours) that was once owned by his Mom (deceased since December). I love it here, and what I’m about to say does not detract from my happiness—it’s just a minor situation.

The place needs a moderately major clean-up and tidy-up. I’d go ahead and do it, only I feel very uncomfortable handling his Mother’s things, which are all around. Her papers, her chatchkes (sp), her books, her newspapers, etc. I see his discomfort and upset when he is in a situation where he has to touch them, and really don’t want to harm him, as I love him so deeply. His feelings about it matter more to me than my shallow OCD tendencies. I don’t want to ruin the sanctity of his space, nor make him feel ashamed of how it is, nor change the way the place was when she died if it is helping him emotionally.

We are very communicative, but I tread carefully and gently when it comes to his Mom, as I would never want to reopen wounds.

However, it really does need to be organized and cleaned. Today, I decided to meet my brother elsewhere instead of here, because I don’t want anyone to think we’re living like frat boys.

What should I do? Clean it myself? Or make it a joint effort, so that he can work through the feelings of touching those things? Quietly clean it, without mentioning it too much and making such a big deal?

Any ideas would be really helpful.

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16 Answers

Allie's avatar

Try to do it together. Ask him to pick a few things that he’d really like to keep that belonged to her, and then get rid of the rest or maybe donate it if they’re things others could use. You could donate them to a woman’s shelter and assure him that they’ll be used to help others. If he’s not ok with that, maybe you could give them to family members. Last suggestion would be just to dump them if he’s not open to any other suggestions.
I think you have to make it clear that this is your space now – for the two of you. You don’t need to hold on to her newspapers. Again, tell him to keep a few things (key point being few) that are sentimental to him. The rest go away.
If he doesn’t want to be part of the giving away/dumping process, then once he picks out the items he wants, maybe you could offer to do it for him. That might just not be something he is capable of doing and he might need your help with that.
Through all of this, you will, of course, have to be very supportive. I can’t imagine how he must feel. It’s going to be very hard for me to go through what he is going through. Just remember to be there for him.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I would quietly clean it, box up the personal papers, and leave the tchotchkes as they are. Next cleaning, move the tchotchkes around, then box up a few. Buy new dish towels, a new tablecloth, etc, and start making the place your own. Start moving the things out of sight in bits and pieces.

You’re not married, and you’re living in a space that comes with the boyfriend. It’s a bit different than the two of you going out and finding your own place. Even though you’re living together, it is his place.

Ammolite's avatar

Thanks for the replies so far…I appreciate it. It’s a difficult situation for me.

I also hesitate to pick up the estimated 10,000 water bottles and beer bottles located in his old room. Again, I don’t wish to invade his personal space…

PandoraBoxx's avatar

@Ammolite, that’s awful. You may want to address the fact that he may have a hoarding disorder.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

What does he say about you doing the work and clearing it out? It may be that he has a hard time parting with things, but isn’t really attached to them.

Perhaps the idea of repurposing things, like recycling or donating, would be easier on him?

Ammolite's avatar

Well, I’ve mentioned it a few times, and he’s either responded in acknowledgment of what the cleaning situation is, said we’d do it (but not today), or snipped back and seemed very overwhelmed and frustrated by it. I could honestly understand why.

He is fine with repurposing things like her clothes, bedroom furniture, and collectible dolls (all but a few), and he is more comfortable than before about being around her things, and I am not concerned about any of that, as it remains in a room we don’t need. But there’s dust all over the side tables under her tchotchkes, her mail/old bills everywhere…stacked up on table 1’ high, newspapers to my knees in a basket, crumbs, dust, etc. Not as bad as hoarders or any cleaning horror show, but it needs work.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Then take a day when he’s not there, and just tackle the dirt and the newspapers, old magazines, etc. Who’s her executor? All of the bills and mail should go to that person. Box it up and send it along. Get all the paperwork into a box, wash, dust and scrub. He may be embarrassed that you would ask to do it, and feel overwhelmed and embarrassed by the prospect of doing it with you.

It’s not like his mom is going to come back and do it herself.

Ammolite's avatar

Admittedly, I did get him to begin dishwashing our dishes on 2 occasions, as he was a “rinser”, before. He got the message when I began using aluminum foil over old plates, because they weren’t done in time.

Also, we scrubbed part of the kitchen down with baking soda…but it still needs work on the other ½.

We had fun cleaning, really, as it was a bonding experience, but it was only one small area of the whole apt. and I don’t know how to proceed.

I also spent an evening a few weeks ago cleaning the floor of the dining room. He was appreciative, and didn’t complain at all. I just don’t want to invade further.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I’d give it time.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

It’s very likely that he has no clue how to keep house. How old is he? Has he always lived with his mother?

Ammolite's avatar

No, he lived on his own before (and with past girlfriends – unsure of their cleanliness) and with friends, and only came back when his Mom fell ill with cancer and needed help. He’s 33, and lived away from home since maybe 18/19.

He knows how to clean house, he’s just lazy and embraces male squalor, and I can’t say I’m not lazy either…only I get brief periods of OCD to balance things out a tiny bit.

My parents were clean to a high degree (not as ridiculous as some, but still pretty clean), so I am used to only light maintenance cleaning. I don’t mind doing more, but it has to be a short-term project, and it can’t do any damage to anyone, because that’s not worth it to me.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I would start peeling the onion. A little each day, one room at a time. Get all the newpapers out. Sort the mail, get rid of the junk stuff, save what looks like a bill or statement. Box it. Take all the nicknacks and put them into a box. Dust the furniture, vacuum the rugs, wash throw rugs, mop hardwood floors. Put the nicknacks back, a few at a time. Take down curtains and wash them. Living amongst the possessions of a deceased family member is one thing, living amongst their refuse is quite another. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just do it. Make it a rule that every time one of you goes out the door, a bag of trash or recyclables goes with you.

I personally would tackle the beer and water bottles first. If you’re not using the room now, it won’t be noticed, and it will give you space to move other things into as you clean.

augustlan's avatar

You probably need to tackle the two issues separately. Cleaning would be step one (I agree with @PandoraBoxx on where to start). Clean alone or together, whichever works best, but leave all of the mother’s stuff in place for now. Maybe straighten it up a little, but don’t take it away. Then work on removing her stuff. Offer to help him decide what goes, what stays, what to sell or donate, what to box up and store for sentimental value. Then help him do it.

tranquilsea's avatar

Having lost my mother in the not so recent past, his mother’s things may be a tough issue. I had to pack up my mother’s belongings (and there were copious amounts of them) due to the fact that she lived with my head injured sister who now lives with me and the house had to be sold. I hated that I had to disturb her things so soon after she died. It would have been ideal if I had had a good amount of time to emotionally come to terms with dismantling her life.

As @PandoraBoxx and @augustlan have stated this is really two different issues: cleaning and then dealing with his mother’s belongings. Talk to him about it and work at it together. I would be cautious of embarking on this on your own just in case the reason he is reluctant has to do with his way of mourning.

thriftymaid's avatar

“I don’t want to ruin the sanctity of his space, nor make him feel ashamed of how it is, nor change the way the place was when she died if it is helping him emotionally.” This is exactly what needs to happen. I don’t know how much time needs to go by. I lost someone in December and have given away some of her things. My personal goal is to complete that task by the end of the year.

Ammolite's avatar

Thanks for everyone’s feedback and tips.

He and I had a good talk about cleaning yesterday, and I am somewhat more comfortable doing so now. I proceeded to clean up about 15 garbage bags full of trash from one room, but my work definitely isn’t done.

I would’ve sorted through the kitchen table this morning, but he wasn’t keen on that idea.

One day at a time.

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