Thursday, June 28, 2012

Texts From Last Night

My mom has been texting me a bit lately; I haven't seen her in person for a few weeks.

June 17th
Mom -"Channeling you as I clean my bedroom closet...well at least a little, def NOT as empty as you would have it but at least a 1/3rd is gone. :)"
Me - ":)"
Mom -"Need any slippers, old shoes, books...? LOL Bet I know your answer in advance."
Me -"lol"
Mom -"But...they might be too good to throw out or let get out of the family! Lol."

I don't know that a text has ever made me feel so sad and hopeless before. Everyone who has ever said "lol" knows that it's a place holder, one that you use in an uncomfortable silence, or a segway for topic change. I know my mom thought she was joking, but I also know that she isn't. It's hard to be encouraging when I see so little change or action on any scale larger than a day.

June 27th
Mom -"GET OUT of my head! Lol. Threw away another full trash bag of "stuff" from the bedroom :)"
Me -

My boyfriend has become increasingly frustrated over the hostile working conditions as my parents bicker in front of him.While the three of them were having lunch next door at the pizza joint, my mother stormed out after my father upset her, and caused a big a small town. My boyfriend just told me that in a conversation about the job they're taking him to for the weekend, she managed to claim that 1) no one helps her clean and 2) my dad is overweight like his dad was. It's becoming more and more obvious that if my parents did ever clean up, they would have nothing in common anymore. Which, judging by their daily interactions -if you could even call them that- they would be better off apart.

Last night my boyfriend and I stayed up talking about the logistics of cleaning out their properties. We figure the shop would have to be cleaned out for it to be sold, but the garage would have to be cleaned out to make room for the necessary construction to finish it off for storage/garage/office space. But if it's unclear whether they would even stay together, there doesn't seem to be much of a point.

I am itching to clean something, though. After that statement from my mom about "no one helping her clean," I'm not going to lie; I feel like telling her to...*ehem* do it herself. Instead, I'll probably be feeling sorry for her again by Saturday, and because I don't have a 12hour day that day, I'll probably end up driving 45 minutes to their house and seeing if I can't get something done. Maybe if I work in the garage they won't notice, which will give me the room to do what I see fit. Of course, now I'm listening to myself and realizing I should take a break because I'm sounding jaded and self-important and everything that is going to probably prohibit progress with my parents.

When someone discovers/invents a way to *fix* their parents or problems or clutter...look me up.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Same Difference

It's been a while since I've posted, and that's because of a good reason, and a few bad reasons. After I left my parents' shop the last time, my mother said she went back and cleaned out more. She estimated that she threw away 80% of her aunt's things that were in the other room. That makes me hopeful. On the other hand, I worked with my parents on a filming location out of state the other day, and it was brutal. I rode in with my father, and I knew my mother would passive-aggressively argue with me to get me to ride home with her. During the job itself, it was very disorganized, both on my parents' part and the client/talent's. I'm still getting reports from my boyfriend that he is distracted in the unprofessional environment. He likened his experience to, if I had to hear my current supervisors bicker non-stop in front of me, to the point that I couldn't do anything productive. Very frustrating.

My life has also had a plot-twist that is keeping me very busy and a little stressed. I have yet to hear back on a single resume that I have sent out, country-wide. It's depressing, and making me feel very vulnerable. The stress comes from pressure I feel to make the decision, "to move or not to move." If I get a job out of state, we move. If I don't, we can't move. In my current job's meetings I've been fighting for a little recognition, and lately, I've been hearing rumors that I might see my extended temporary position extended again, for the next academic year. This could be a very good thing. We still have to find a home in the next two months, but at least we have a direction. I will continue applying elsewhere, but it's good to know that I have a backup (hopefully).

The possibility of staying another year means something else, too. It means I can/might/could/will/may help my parents clean out for a longer period of time. The impending deadline of July isn't really there anymore, but I doubt it was really helping anyway. I guess we'll see, and I'll take things as they come for right now.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two Kinds of Pain

Yesterday morning I met with a local professional who works with B.E.S.T. (Bio-Energetic Synchronization Technique) and professional organization. She (I'll call her T) was a lovely woman, and she took a genuine interest in my situation, even though we were at a coffee shop, off the clock. We talked for over an hour about what I'm facing with my parents, and she offered a lot of consoling for me personally, as well as tips for action.


If you're at all like me, lists are our best friends. More often than not, I'd rather make a list of everything I have to do, than actually do said tasks. T actually encouraged list making, especially for those who are in the middle of their mess. Sometimes it's easiest to see a light at the end of a tunnel, if the tunnel has walls, and, you know, an end! Since a lot of my mother's problems are psychological, and she hasn't pursued much in the way of nourishment in that area (i.e. therapy/counseling), lists will help focus her mind and efforts. My mom had a bad accident where she was thrown off a horse, and down a bit of a mountain. This was a few years ago, and then her mother passed in the last two years. Physically, she had therapy, but mentally she didn't, and would go between being indifferent and capable, to being self-sympathetic and a vegetable.  My mother has suffered two connected and yet different kinds of pain, and yet she has only asked for help for one of them.

Back to lists. Lists will also help keep me, or anyone else helping a hoarder, out of trouble. My mother will have a focus and goal, and I will have guidelines by which I can function efficiently. For instance, rules that you make together might include

*One building/room/box at a time
*No Touching (see below)

T also suggested that when she has worked with clients, not allowing them to touch things seems to help them beak their obligation to keep everything. If I show my mother a serving spoon that was her grandmother's, her first instinct is to reach for it and hold it. If we agree early on that this is not allowed, that she has to reconcile that serving spoon as just that, she will (hopefully) be more likely to let it go. Touching, as one of our five senses, tends to add to the memories and stress that can be avoided by only seeing an object.

Another topic to cover before digging in, is the definition of trash. When I've cleaned out without my mother, trash to me was very simple, but to her, it's just as difficult to throw away an old ice cream bucket as it is to throw out the clothes on her back. Making some clearly defined explanations as to what trash is, will help the process in speed and accuracy. For example:

Trash: torn/broken down cardboard and boxes, loose heads of silk flowers, used  disposable utensils/dishes, broken glass, loose screws or hardware, etc

After discussing all this with my boyfriend last night, he even suggested a journal activity for my mom take the time to envision her goal for a specific space. What needs to happen? What would she like to happen? Imagine if everything in this room was out in the yard and you get to start from scratch, what decisions do you make? Allowing my mother the time to express herself might help her realize that she is capable.

T also extended an invitation through me to my mother for her current case study. She is working with clients who have been diagnosed with OCD, ADD, or depression and also exhibit symptoms of chronic disorganization, and treats them with B.E.S.T. free of charge in exchange for her documentation and analysis of the process.

I did hear today that the rolling rack that was holding a table and a half of my mother's aunt's clothes snapped and broke today. I asked my boyfriend if she had at least been going through and throwing things out when it happened, but he said she hadn't touched it yet. My mother told me everything is back on the table, which means I wasted money buying hangers, and the fact that she didn't take advantage of it while it was up for three days, means she wasn't going to anytime soon. She now wants to just tape up the wheel that snapped, rather than get a new rack, or just sort the clothes as-is. Why didn't she just sort them as she was picking them up off the floor?! 

I may be going in again tomorrow, we'll see. If I do I hope to initiate some of the more thoughtful processes this time, and set her up to be productive on her own. I am not, after all, her merry maid. T's resounding advice was that my parents have to be willing to change, that no matter how much I want to do it for them, I just can't. She had a very sobering phrase: "the pain of staying the same has to be more than the pain of change."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Progress in the Process

I took Monday off, for myself like I said I would, but it was spent on the couch in and out of naps and a migraine. Old-School Law & Order got me through it, and the excitement for going back home again in the morning. So today, we got in at around 10am again, but I wasn't sure what I'd actually do. My parents were in fact gone for the day, so that took some pressure off. But once we got in the building, I was disappointed to see that nothing had really changed. Sure, there wasn't a lot of new stuff around, but there were some things on her front desk, that was supposed to remain absolutely clear. The stack of boxes to be donated were still in the foyer also. Under my mother's desks, were the boxes of tupperware and kitchen goods that she fought to keep. Those, and a few things that needed to go in her van were still there today, five days later, even though I tried to encourage her deal with them immediately.

The good news is, I made progress in the back room. Real progress, and you can see the floor, lots of it.

BEFORE :: The view into the backroom from the offices

BEFORE :: The accordion door/wall, exercise equipment, clothes


BEFORE :: More equipment, dresser, old retail merchandise, boxes of stuff

AFTER :: Still large piles of old merchandise and stuff mom needs to go through
BEFORE :: Bedroom headboard, boxes of stuff, shelving with great aunt's stuff


AFTER :: More of great aunt's stuff on shelves, we hung a table full of clothes on an unopened clothing rack
I am really proud of the progress I made, and when I think about the big picture, it's not a lot, but it's visible and necessary, and this one room took two days, of about 4 hours each day, one day with my mother (which slowed things down, but hopefully helped her), and one day alone. The biggest help, was when my boyfriend found an unopened box that contained a rolling wardrobe rack. He put it together, and we started hanging anything up that we could. I ran out of hangers early on, so we ran to the dollar store and I finished up with everything I thought the rack could hold weight-wise.

I really took care not to throw a lot out, just the absolute trash, and debris the I swept up every so often. I even left the garbage bags by her desk so she could see exactly what I thought was worth throwing away. There were...some unpleasant findings, however.  More tupperware. I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't have named this blog something clever like "Tupper-Every-Where." (The boyfriend made some weak joke about being "Glad" when it's all gone...*eye roll*) So, in addition to all the unending mountains and bags and boxes of unopened or unused tupperware, is the gross. The ick.

There were so many things that were covered in mold. Mugs, cups, bowls, silverware, and yes, tupperware. A pumpkin plate with four round things, was wrapped up in two layers of plastic shopping bags, in a box. A lot of things that haven't been dealt are stored in this manner. It's like, as soon as there is a layer of plastic around it, it's gone from memory and lost. So back to the pumpkin plate with forbidden fruit, and moldy dinnerware. I had three boxes full of this stuff, and by this point (the end of the day), I had had enough. These things found their temporary home on my mother's front desk. The front desk that I told her to keep clean, if nothing else. We hope that this makes a statement to my mother, that this is not okay. It's not healthy on any level to have moldy dishes hidden away, let alone spoiled food.

I'm a little nervous about what my mom might say about what she see's at the shop, because of what she said about her refrigerator the other day. I have to draw the line somewhere, and the minute she tells me to stop everything, and not come back, that's exactly what I'll do. As long as she allows me to help, I will do my best.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Yesterday we went to the shop, and heard the responses from my parents. My boyfriend had cleaned up some cables and equipment for my dad, and he didn't really seem upset or grateful, just indifferent. My mother hadn't seen the shop yet when we got there, so I went up to the house to start lunch with her. My father warned me not to let her push bad tomatoes on me from her garden. She is pretty delusional when it comes to food and cooking, getting recipes wrong, and holding on to bad food too long. I looked in her fridge for BLT ingredients, and sure enough, brown lettuce, moldy bread, three month expired mayo, and unwrapped bacon, along with a large assortment of improperly stored foods. A rock-hard piece of pizza was naked and balancing on the edge of egg cartons stacked two-high.

She was clearly offended when I said I was going to the store for ingredients, because she was very proud of her "garden" tomatoes, even though they had clear rot spots, and one even had a store bar code sticker on it. I couldn't believe it, I left to go to the store for ingredients, and hoped I'd find some fresh air. The house reeked. the dining room and kitchen were much less full of tupperware and things than last time, but I found out that was because she had thrown it all on the couches in the living room. More was sitting in the sink with stale, greasy, rank smelling water. They were out of town the day before, and who knows how long it had been in that condition. All of the open public places in the house (i.e. kitchen, dining room, living room etc) smelled like this funky greasy water.

Eventually, we all went down to the shop, and my mother saw her clean desks for the first time. I don't remember exactly what she said, but she stammered a bit, but she didn't cry, or scream. So far so good. The next several hours I walked her through sorting through her aunt's belongings in the back room, but I had to reiterate every few minutes, that if nothing goes out, you have no where to put the things you keep. After a while she got overwhelmed so I had her sit at her clean desks, and brought her one box at a time. She still had two keep boxes and two maybe (i.e. what does this lid go to) boxes of tupperware alone. Tupperware is a huge weakness for her (as evident by even just the amount visible in the pictures, plus several closets and piles not included), she has hundreds of mismatched pieces, and claims she uses them all because she makes meals for her father who is out of state. We got all the pieces of clothing on some table tops, off the floor, and began sorting her holiday decorations into their own boxes. You can see some floor now, and there's a corner established for the martial arts gear.

It was quickly becoming clear that there is too much stuff...just, too much. But I was working, doing something actively, and this time with her! Since I've been considering pursuing professional organizer certification, it was good experience to be thrown into the situation, and a challenge to keep her from making a bigger mess in order to sort things. I worked hard with her to make sure that for everything that came out of a box, that thing then went into another, the trash, or in it's home. She only asked about one thing the whole day, that I knew I had thrown out, and that was only because she found one tiny piece of it. I was able to skirt the topic for now, even as she said herself "I can't throw this out, what if my aunt asks for it, I'd feel horrible." When my boyfriend and I cleaned up alone, we took out over a dozen garbage bags in five hours. With my mother and I working, I maybe got five out. She was suspicious, even though we explained that we didn't throw "things" away, just garbage (I don't consider two pairs of my sunglasses that she had borrowed in succession and then sat on and broke, "things", but rather trash). She noted that she had just had the business's dumpster dumped the week before, and knew it wasn't nearly full when they left. But she didn't go through it, so we were still on the right track.

So, a long day, a lot of hard work, but before we left for the day, I told her we needed to put everything we had been sorting in the office area, away. Trash goes out, donation boxes are stacked in a corner or go in a vehicle right now, maybes go back in the back room, and keeps go to their homes asap. She said she was tired, and would do it later. I insisted, saying this is not an option if she wants my continued help. I then encouraged her to make decisions to find homes for everything she had put on her front desk just since being there that day. She laughed, and asked if I was going to come in and clean off her desks every other day. I wanted to tell her that if she has time to even think about all the projects she thinks she's going to do with all the junk in her buildings, she has the time to clear her desk off before she leaves every day. My boyfriend confided that he wanted to remind her that she was a grown woman. My mother really only flipped once during the process that day, she argued with my dad over my boyfriend and what he should work on at that moment. My mother purchased a receipt scanner, convinced it would simplify her desk (even though we tried to explain to her that she would need originals for tax purposes anyway). Who knows how long ago she bought it, but I found it in the mess that was her back desk, and she suddenly had to have it installed and in use. I understand the urge to use what she has, it validates the things she keeps, but it was impractical. On top of that, my boyfriend had projects he was working on for the business already. They argued, and she yelled, he just ignored her after a while. I tried to mediate by explaining to my mother that not only was my boyfriend already busy with what he was hired to do, but that when considering the proportions of an already sorted pile of receipts, versus two buildings of stuff, she needed to choose her battles.

The day ended on a positives though, with having the desks still cleared off, the backroom in a better state, and a sense of direction so that if she were to work alone before I can get there again, she could. Then today, we were at a festival downtown, and she told me never to clean out her refrigerator again. I was flabbergasted. I didn't clean out her refrigerator, my boyfriend and I did the dishes after I made everyone lunch, and I threw out the three things that were rank (lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo) but only after I replaced them with what I bought that day. She said she is capable of cleaning out her own refrigerator, and this infuriated me. If you can clean out your own refrigerator, because you're a big girl, DO IT, damnit! She even said "Your sister always tries to do that when she's in town, too." Again, I'm thinking it should mean something if your grown daughters are taking it upon themselves to clean your refrigerator. She started laughing, in that uncomfortable laugh that is ill-fitting for the tense silence between an accusation or threat, and the rebuttal. I was not in the mood to listen to this, after having devoted 12 hours of my week to helping her.

They're actually going to be in town Monday and Tuesday, the days I took off in order to work more in their building, but after what my mom said today, I am going to take Monday for myself. I'll run some errands, clean my own home, apply for jobs, maybe even use the massage certificate from my boyfriend from graduation. Tuesday, I'm not sure, maybe I'll go in, maybe I'll change my mind. What is painfully clear, is that she needs professional help to aid her mental stability, and to clean up, but there is also, a huge element, of laziness. There was so much trash, she found it hard to believe that all we threw out was garbage, but for us, after cleaning for twenty minutes, we realized that was all we could do, because we couldn't even get to the "things." She's so severely attached to things that aren't even hers...the house is a can of worms I couldn't begin to wrap my mind around.

So, until I decide about Tuesday, I'm going to take a break from worrying about her. Her lack of gratitude has helped thrust me into a less-willing-to-help perspective, like those who have tried before me, and given up. I'm sharing all of these intimate details with you, so that you might share in my education during this process, but this, as I'm finding, might be something that most have to experience for themselves. If you have questions, advice, or want to talk about situations like this, as always, leave a comment or email me.

 Racks of great aunt's things, martial arts stuff corner, and holiday boxes of great aunt's and mom's, mom's bedroom headboard
 More martial arts equipment, unsorted boxes, and table of old retail merchandise
 Yet more martial arts equipment, tables covered in clothing, to be sorted, two tubs (more in the back) of yarn