#1216 and #1217: The Weight Of Parental Love and Things And Time And “Help.”

Dear Captain Awkward;

Hello! I am 48 years old, pronouns she/her, and having trouble with my parents, specifically, my mother and her hoarding. My mom is trying to give more stuff to me than I can handle, and the lever she pulls to make it more painful is, “but it was your grandmother’s.” if I take everything that falls into this category, my home will be a literal shrine to my grandmother, and that’s spooky.

A year and a half ago, I quit working full-time to take care of my parents. For various health-related reasons, they couldn’t care for themselves anymore. They are due to move into a retirement community in about six weeks. My mom’s hoarding problem has been Bad since the 90s, and worsening since. They can still use normal sanitation (toilets, trash cans), my mom can bathe and groom herself when she wants to, they have clean bathrooms available, my mom can prepare meals and do laundry, as long as I’m there at least three days a week to clear her clutter away from high-traffic areas.

My father’s mother was a nearly perfect person. She was a perfect hostess, wife, mother, friend, volunteer, grandmother, great-aunt. Everyone who knew her loved her. She was always generous with time, effort, money, support. I look a lot like her, and apparently a lot of my mannerisms are similar.

My father’s mother died when I was 23. I went into a spiral of unhealthy behavior for about ten years after that, but managed to pull myself out.

When I was growing up, my mother’s mother died when I was about five, and my father’s mother filled that void for my mom. When my dad’s mom moved into a retirement community, we inherited most of her furniture. When she died, we inherited the rest of it. My mom developed a fascination with antiques and ceramics, and a bad shopping habit. She started volunteering at her church thrift shop (as my grandmother did), and brings home stuff every week, unless I’m there to stop her from doing it.

My husband and I moved into a new house, to take on the responsibility of having my brother (who has autism) move in with us. My mom feels that “part of the deal” is that I will take her furniture and collectibles, most of which were my grandmother’s. This “deal” feels like I’m taking on all the physical and emotional responsibilities that my grandmother did in the past: being the family maternal type who does all the physical and emotional labor, creating the perfect home, etc.

So, now, “but it was your graaaandmother’s” is an argument that’s applied to everything from the armchair upon which she stitched the needlepoint cushions, to warped Tupperware from the 1950s. It’s bad enough that my mom thinks she should save everything (jars, twist ties, junk mail, anything) and re-use it, because my grandmother was always thrifty. My grandmother wasn’t a hoarder. She used the same wrapping paper for Christmas every year, she had a “waste not, want not” mentality, but that was an exception to a general rule.

I’m already getting therapy for my own hoarding tendencies. My husband gets exasperated with how slowly I sort out a box of stuff, but I have practice getting rid of things that I don’t need, and I’m getting to be good at it. I like making a box or bag of donations on a Saturday or Sunday morning, taking it to a donation center and going for brunch at the diner afterwards.

The rock-and-a-hard-place moment happened a week or so ago. I said that I regretted not being able to develop my own taste. That made her really mad. I have said to my mom that I need to make my own living environment look the way I like it to be. I’ve said that I need to make my home comfortable on my own time table. These statements made her angry. She expects that I will furnish and decorate my home with my grandmother’s things, in my grandmother’s style. She wrote me an angry email saying that I have no taste, that I need to develop an eye, and that someday I would come to realize that my grandmother’s furniture was better than anything else out there. When I asked my mother about it, she pretended it wasn’t a big deal and laughed it off.

If I accept all of the stuff that my mom is pressuring me to take, my house will look like an overloaded furniture store from the 1920s, with framed family photos on every wall and surface, and my grandmother’s wedding dress on a mannequin. I don’t want to live in a shrine or museum.

Behavior, rather than stuff, is an issue here too. Because of my dad’s health issues, he behaves like a child most of the time. If I treat him like how his mother would treat him, we get along fine (i.e., “sure, you can have another cookie before your nap.”), but if I treat him like a daughter, he gets angry, My mom needs me to indulge her rather than give her structure, i.e., “we don’t have to fold the laundry, you can take a nap.” I think they expect me to take care of them as my grandmother took care of others.

I miss my grandmother every single day, and no objects will change that. I’d rather remember her for the things she did and said, rather than the things she bought and kept. I’d like to move on with my life and do new things.

So, how do I say to my mom, “please stop expecting me to be Grandmom?”

Thanks for your time and consideration.
Shackled To Heirlooms

Hi there Shackled, aka LW #1216:

 This isn’t a fix-it-with-the-right-words problem. A lot of hoarding behavior is tied to grief and anxiety, and I imagine your mom’s anxiety is at a record high with the prospect of relocating out of her house, and it’s bringing all the grief up, too.

This is so hard and I think you have to go in knowing that your mom will not accept any reasoning or explanation that you give her. She wants you to take everything that belonged to your grandmother (so that she doesn’t have to feel so bad about parting with it) and probably a good portion of the stuff she herself has collected, and every time she ever visits you she’ll bring or sneak in a little more. She wants your new house to be the annex of her old house. Anything you accept that is less than that will provoke an emotional reaction from her, possibly a very extreme one. Any explanation you try to give she will try to argue you out of. So even though you want to be gentle and reasonable, especially since you recognize that moving out of her home into a new environment is very stressful, you’re probably going to end up in much more of a “Sorry, I don’t want anything, you’ll have to make another plan” position than you intend. It’s okay, you have to take care of your home, your own mental health, your own well-being, you don’t have to abdicate and take every single thing that is being passed down, neither the physical objects or the baggage that comes with them are your burden to bear.

I think the right path is for you and your brother who is coming to live with you to each choose one thing that was your grandmother’s and say no to everything else. That one thing should be:

  • To your current taste, where you actually love it and will use it.
  • Portable, small, able to be transported and displayed and fit into your current home as is. Think: framed artwork, a ceramic pot to put a plant in, or something that makes you think of spending time with her. My late grandma got her ears pierced for her 80th birthday, and I have the very first pair of earrings she picked out for herself, blue topaz studs in 14k gold.
  • Think of taking One Thing (even if you don’t particularly want one thing) as a defensive talisman against the rest. “But I have grandma’s very special ______ to remember her by, and all the memories we made together, so I don’t need or want anything else.” Quite honestly, your mom will see you taking anything as a reason you should take everything, your mom will see you taking nothing as a reason you should take something (and therefore everything), there’s no magical way to defeat this thinking, so use your judgment, but I think having one symbolic venerated object to continually reference might help you stay firm against the rest.

Your overall script for your mom is probably some variation of: “I know it’s hard to let go of anything that’s Grandma’s, but if we sell it or donate it we can put it in the hands of people who will use it and love it. If it comes to me, it’s going in a bin and eventually in a dumpster, because I refuse to live in a Grandma Museum. She wouldn’t want that for me, and even if she would, I don’t want it for me. I get to pick out the things that go in my house, and I need you to stop pressuring me about these things.” 

I am sure you already know this and that your mom doesn’t care because she wants YOU to take it all, but there are people who would be delighted to have nifty old furniture and ceramics, there is a whole second life that is possible for your grandmother’s things. I’m writing this on a very beautiful secondhand desk, our couches and dining table and chairs and bookcase and bar and dresser are all things that somebody loved very much once upon a time and then let go. There are tons of resale shops that will pounce on the furniture if it’s good quality, you can either donate the lot or sell it. In Chicago where I live, here are two places that accept donations for resale for good causes, you mention the church thrift shop where your grandmother and mom worked, that’s a great starting point, they basically have to take her stuff, and maybe she has friends who would love to have something of hers, specifically. 😉 There are apps and marketplaces where you can sell furniture, you could also do an estate sale of some sort. To that end, you and your mom could clean up and photograph the things for sale and put the the photographs in an album to remember them if you wanted to, you could talk about your grandmother and your mom’s memories together as you pack it all up. (Or you could not do that if it’s too much work, the goal is to have fewer obligations and tasks, not more!) I know this doesn’t solve the emotional problem between you and your mom but I’m telling you anyway so maybe you will feel less guilty and more empowered to let it all go. Those big ticket items? Someone will love them. Someone will use them to start over. Someone will use them to build their dream home, their welcoming space, their small quiet room. If they’re outlived their usefulness? They were useful for their lifespan, that’s good, too. You don’t have to hold onto them like a life sentence.

You can re-craft it and repeat the script as needed, but I wouldn’t repeat it more than once or twice. The longer you argue about this, the more it seems like there is something to argue, and therefore something to negotiate. Say your piece, then skip to “We already talked about this, Mom, I’m not taking the stuff.” Ignore future weird emails. There will be weird emails. If she accuses you of having no taste, okay? You have no taste. You’re still not taking the stuff. She’s blowing off a bunch of her feelings, you don’t have to follow them like orders.

See if your spouse will step in and run interference when things get tense. Does your Mom behave a little better around your spouse? Can he deal with some of this without so many #Feelings, like, “That sure is a nice table but we can’t use it, let’s get it to someone who can!” and not open the same floodgates of heredity and filial obligation? There are enough unfair “Oh, you’ll listen now Because A Man Said It” situations in life, I won’t fault you for using one to your advantage if it is an advantage here.

Your mom can’t force you to take these things, so this is more about holding firm with yourself than it is about convincing her of anything. You have to move forward knowing that your mom won’t accept or agree or even see your point of view, but that still doesn’t mean you have to take the stuff, so, don’t take the stuff. Your mom can feel, think, or say anything she wants, as long as you don’t take the stuff, you’re free of the stuff. That is the territory of this conflict. You know you’re not taking the stuff. Keep not taking the stuff. She will stay angry and upset about it for a long time, maybe, but you still don’t have to take the stuff. Ultimately your mom has choices about the kinds of conversations she wants to have with you, if they’re all about a 60-year-old fainting couch* that’s up to her but you don’t have to have the thing in your house.

You are doing a very big job these days, taking care of everyone in your family. Your grandmothers would be very proud, and they’d probably tell you not to forget to take care of yourself in the middle of all this. Be free of their furniture, the love you shared doesn’t live in things.

*Someone will want this fainting couch.

Hi Captain Awkward,

I read through several letters that touch on similar issues to the one I’m having (eg, #352), but don’t quite capture it, so I’m writing in.

I recently moved closer to my childhood home so that I can live in a relative’s mostly empty apartment (they are in the process of retiring and spend the majority of their time elsewhere) a few minutes away from where my mom lives. The plan is currently that this is temporary measure while I am on a one year child-rearing leave from my main job and taking some classes, although my parents have both started pressuring me to consider staying in the area long-term so that my mom can help with childcare since I will be a single mom by choice. I’ve already emphasized to them both that that is being premature and that we will need to see how things go during this year.

Since moving back a few weeks ago, it’s become apparent that my relationship with my mom was awesome because we had the boundary of 4 hours of travel time between us. I’m 30 and have mostly lived away from my childhood home since I was 16, between school and work.

She definitely still treats me like a child. Any decisions I make that she disagrees with are met with sourness and commentary every time they come up, regardless of whether they have anything to do with her or not. For example, she disapproves that I’ve chosen a chiropractor who isn’t in my insurance network because they could see me sooner for some pregnancy-related issues, and even an offhand mention of an appointment is taken as an opportunity to express yet again that she thinks I’ve made a foolish choice. She comments on what I’m eating or not eating, she tells me I need to rest for the baby during the few times when I have any energy and am trying to get things done since I’ve just moved and nothing is ready, and she’s incapable of not repeating herself multiple times any time I disagree with her in the hopes of wearing me down. Sometimes she does succeed in wearing me down, and then it’s “Well now you’re saying the opposite so I just never know what you want.” I’m usually pretty good at setting boundaries—not necessarily with grace and poise, but definitely with firmness—but the more she comments and repeats, the snippier I get, and the snippier I get, the more we revert to the dynamic we had when I was a teenager.

I hate feeling so negative all the time, and I realize some of this is stemming from my own anxiety about the upcoming birth and general moving stress and that she is also probably feeling some anxiety about becoming a grandmother and having an infant to help take care of for the first time in a long time. But also, this pattern is going to really kill our relationship, especially if she applies it to every decision I make about the baby that she disagrees with (probably almost everything based on how some of our discussions have gone).

Is there any way to convince a parent that while you’re their child, you aren’t a child?

-At the screaming point and it’s only been three weeks

Hi At The Screaming Point aka LW #1217:

I do have some suggested steps. They probably won’t be new ones for readers of this blog, but let’s review them anyway.

You need short, regular rituals with set beginning and end times. What is the ideal frequency you’d see or visit or talk to your Mom? Set up a routine thing at that interval. A weekly phone call to check in.  Lunch every other Sunday. Something enjoyable and ironclad but not overbearing. Something where you can have a pleasant meal or chat and then leave before things get intense.

You need boundaries around visits and your living space. NO spontaneous visits, pop ins, “I was in the neighborhood so I thought I’d drop by.” Some relationships can handle that. Yours can’t right now. Maybe you need to hire some help with household tasks and see your mom on neutral territory right now. No keys. And you need to observe the same courtesy for her, no dropping in on her without notice.

You need pleasurable, safe things in common. A show or author or hobby or game or activity you both like. Find one. Make one. Get a theater subscription, join a book club, take up a sport, ride bikes, get really into a community organization or cause. That way, you can always talk about _____________________. You can always get together for __________________. Find a thing that’s not your body, pregnancy, childhood, family stuff, that two adult human people can talk about.

Maybe judgmental people don’t get to know details about you for a while. Also known as “an information diet.”Don’t tell your mom about food, medical stuff, energy levels, how much you’re resting, don’t ask for her input on things you don’t want her input on, don’t give her ammunition about anything she harps on in a way that makes you angry and upset. Give her less information! She’ll say “You should be able to tell me, I’m your mother” and you’ll say “I should be able to tell my mother that stuff” but clearly you can’t, so stop for now. Start answering questions with “Nothing new to report.” “Fine!” “Same old same old.” “All good here!” Want to talk reverting to feeling like a teenager? Get ready to be vague as fuck about the things she grills you about.

She’ll notice and she’ll be weird about it and your answer could be “Ok, let’s figure this out. If I tell you details about my life, you start an argument with me and tell me I’m doing it wrong. If I don’t tell you the details, you start an argument with me and tell me I’m doing it wrong. When we go two weeks without an argument about something that has to do with my body and not yours, maybe we’ll try that again, but I think my doctor and my eating and my sleep are just going to have to be my business for now. How’s [safe fun thing] going?”

You need local friends. Find people your own age, groups for pregnant people, volunteer stuff, community organizations, swim classes, a choir, theater, I don’t know what you like to do but I know that you will be happier if you can find a gathering or activity or social outlet with people who aren’t your mom. If you’re going to maybe stay here for a while, you need to see if you can really live here, this is part of it.

Practice saying ‘no’ once and once only. You say “and she’s incapable of not repeating herself multiple times any time I disagree with her in the hopes of wearing me down. Sometimes she does succeed in wearing me down, and then it’s “Well now you’re saying the opposite so I just never know what you want.” 

Sometimes the longer we discuss something, the more up for discussion it all seems. Not everything is debatable and it’s okay to put boundaries around specifically that. This is something you (and LW #1216) can both practice. You can say “No thank you” or “I don’t think I want to do it that way, but I will consider it and let you know if I change my mind” or “I’m not asking for advice, when I want some I will ask” to your mom the first time she suggests something you don’t want to do. After that, when the repeating game starts, don’t get sucked in to rearguing your point. BE BORING. Don’t give her the argument she’s looking for or the chance to repeat things. Shrug. Change the subject. Tune her out. “You already know my decision.” “I haven’t changed my mind, so please stop.” Cut the visit short if she won’t let you change the subject. If it escalates from there? Leave and say why. “Ok, you’re obviously not listening to me, so that’s all for today, let’s try this again next week!”

If you change your mind, so what? Say that. “I thought about it once I had some peace and quiet and you know what, I changed my mind.” But don’t repeat yourself or your arguments or try to talk over her. Just go, “Yep, I heard you, thinking about it, you can stop trying to convince me now.” If she gets sour, let her be sour. Don’t apologize or smooth everything over, especially if you’re sure you’re being reasonable and she is overstepping.

It’s okay to level with people who are hurting you. “Mom, it’s only been three weeks and we’re fighting constantly. What’s going on with this? How do we change it?” 

“Mom, you’re worried about what’s ‘good for the baby,’ but arguing with you is stressing me out so much, that’s honestly my biggest stressor. I need you to back off and wait until I ask you for help or advice.” 

Her answer CAN’T be “Well, if you would just do everything I say it would be fine.” I mean, it can be, but if it is, pack your shit now and move, this isn’t going to work. It would be good to know, why does she think you’re fighting? Is she enjoying this? What isn’t she telling you?

Scripts to keep in your back pocket: “What is it that you are so worried about?” and “Ok, what would you recommend that I do?” and “In a perfect world, how do you see this working?” and “What’s the worst thing that happens if we do this my way?” and “What would it take to get you to change the subject?” 

She has choices about how she interacts with you. Constant conflict and “sour” words and commentary over stuff that’s your decision is a choice, and she could make a different one. I once had luck with “Mom, pretend I’m someone from work, a fellow adult, someone you recently met, someone you like. Great. Now, for the rest of my visit, don’t say anything to me you wouldn’t say to that person.”

Sometimes over time things get better. You find positive ways to interact with formerly contentious people and push down the negative patterns into memory, sometimes people learn that you can’t be pushed around, sometimes your parents learn that you can actually live with their disappointment and worry and concern but you can’t & won’t live with them being mean to you, so if they won’t change how they interact with you, you’ll have to be around less. Sometimes they don’t get better, which leads me to:

You need to be realistic about whether you’ll be happy here. There’s a reason you moved away. Family help with child care is amazing and valuable and irreplaceable…unless it stresses you out all the time and sets your teeth on edge and makes you feel like you’ll never be listened to. And there’s a reason you moved away. So try to be happy here, but be honest with yourself about whether this is the place that you are really set up to have the happiest life. Maybe you needed that 4 hour drive in order to have a happy relationship with your parents. Maybe you can withstand some stress for a few years until kiddo is in school because the tradeoffs are worth it. Some readers might say “the childcare help from family is worth it” and others might say “the cheapest way to pay is with money, don’t subject yourself and your kid to constant arguing and stress” but only you can know what will make you happy and how likely your parents are to chill out.

Don’t default to anything yet, ok? Keep your moving away options open, keep your career options open, keep all the options all the way open. Some help isn’t helpful and it’s okay if you are still evaluating which kind your parents are offering. Best wishes for a smooth pregnancy and a general chilling out.


120 thoughts on “#1216 and #1217: The Weight Of Parental Love and Things And Time And “Help.”

  1. #1216: You said your grandmother was generous with money and support. That could be something that could work for you here. Your mother desperately wants to keep your grandmother’s memory alive, and she’s trying to do this by getting you to keep all her possessions (and, apparently, be a Grandmother Mark II). But… what if you reframe this as keeping her memory alive by being like her?

    “Mom, I’ve been thinking. Grandma was always so generous; remember how kind she was in giving things to people? [one or two specific examples might be good here, because you’re trying to put this across on an emotional level rather than a logical one and so this would be good for invoking memories of her] There are so many people who would love this stuff. I’m going to give this to (donation point) so that her legacy can be passed on to other people.”

    It won’t be a magic argument to make her change her mind, and you will still have to be VERY FIRM about repeating it and sticking to the boundary, but it might be an easier and kinder way for both of you. Instead of focusing on the fact that you don’t want the stuff, focus on how much you want to help bless other people with it (as Flylady would put it) and how good a way of honouring your grandmother that feels like. Once again… bear in mind that this isn’t going to convince her logically. It just might ease things emotionally. It’s a way of getting to where you want to get to in this, while framing it as an honouring of your grandmother instead of a rejection of her (which isn’t what you’re doing at all, but is clearly how your mother is seeing it.)

    Also, if you get anything more along the lines of how your taste isn’t as good as hers, then the best response is “I’m sorry you feel that way” followed by a redirect (“Well, better get lunch ready”) or a reiteration of the boundary (“Grandma would want people to benefit from her lovely stuff. She wouldn’t want me to keep it all to myself when it could help so many other people.”)

    Good luck.

    1. This is so smart. Grief can cause irrational attachments to things and sometimes what it needs is not to confront the irrationality but redirect to “but Gram would have been so thrilled for me to give it to someone else who needs it and will cherish it.”

    2. Invoking “honoring grandma” can be very useful.

      I came here to suggest you sell the things and then use the money to have an experience, maybe one you share with your mom. “I think it best honours Grandma and her memories if we make new, good memories togather. So let’s sell her [everything] and use the money to [take a trip, go out to brunch every Sunday, buy a book each month to read togather, go to the movies, get regular pedicures, etc].”

      That approach also lets you set up a) a reward for dealing with all the stuff, and b) a pleasant, neutral thing to do with your mom, on the regular. (As Capt suggested)

      Also! It’s also ok to split the profits however best helps you! 50% to the “Mom and me memories” fund,” 25% to a “Hire a respite worker to stay with brother so I get a break” fund, and 25% to a “Spouse and I take a vacation” fund. (Adjust numbers and funds to meet your own needs, mine was just an example.)

      Finally, I do most of the caregiving for our family. It helps me to a) stop work at a set time each day (there’s always more work) and b) take an out-of-town trip a few times a year.

      1. The activity suggestion is lovely advice, and I wanted to add a practical note about selling stuff. It is WORTH IT to hire a pro to set up an estate sale (or whatever type of sale) to handle the process, so you only have to do it once and all the emotional weight isn’t on your shoulders. Just imaging trying to sell 20 things individually, and that’s 20 experiences of haggling and Mom trying to manage how it’s done and complaining about how it’s done wrong, and 20 times that Mom suffers the experience of “I didn’t get as much as the object was worth, I’ve been taken advantage of on an existential level, argh!” Versus experiencing it once.

        1. Oh! Yes! It IS worth it to hire a pro! Around here, I’d look for “estate auctions,” they come in, take everything you want them to, sell it, take a commission, then cut you a cheque. And if things can’t be sold, they handle the donation process.

          Good call, tortillachipmonster!

        2. YES. And as someone who recently emptied a parent’s home, see if you can find a company which handles the sales, donations AND then empties the house of anything left. You will not make as much money (after paying their commissions) but the emotional labor component is worth a high price.

        3. Amen. If you read enough nineteenth century literature, you’ll come across the phrase “disinterested party.” That is not a synonym for uninterested. It’s a person/company who handles highly emotional/expensive situations as a neutral entity and absorbs most of the aggravation for you.

  2. LW 1216, I don’t know what culture your mother is from, but don’t underestimate having certain people listen “Because A Man Said It” ! Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and occasionally, invoking traditional gender values can be useful! “Sorry Mom, I’d love to take on this enormous physical and emotional burden, but my husband said no, and we all know that Father Knows Best! Too bad, so sad, nothing to be done!”

  3. 1216, fistbump of solidarity on the Hoarder Mom thing. I’m still figuring it out myself so don’t have much advice to offer, but you are definitely not alone!

    1. I came here to say the exact same thing! I don’t have solutions, only solidarity. I second the Captain’s observation that there are no magic words that will convince your mom of the reality of her hoarding problem, though. Bummer.

    2. Hoarders gonna hoard; I’m dealing with it by planning to rent a dumpster when my mom dies, throwing everything in her house into it after the extended family members have a chance to take anything they want (and any unclaimed big items of obvious use, like furniture, are sold), and not dealing with it at all before or after the approximately two days it will take to move everything out of a house and into a dumpster.

      I don’t have someone insisting I take anything with me, but if I did, I’d take the approach that I’ve adopted for most gifts since I got fed up with trying to convince people to stop saddling me with objects I don’t want- accept them (after attempting a refusal; it’s kind to give someone the opportunity to listen to and respect your wishes once) and then donate them or throw them away (regarding concerns about one’s own hoarding tendencies or moving things twice: I mean immediately, as in drive straight from the parents’ house to the donation place or the city dump, as this provides little opportunity to become attached oneself and only involves the one move). Once something is given to you, it’s yours, and you can do whatever you want with it, including get rid of it. If the person who gave it becomes upset, good, let zir be upset: this is an excellent positive punishment (because it’s a natural consequence, not an unrelated, imposed punishment) to condition zir to avoid the behavior that caused the unhappy feelings.

      1. Hard agree that once a gift is given to you, it is yours to do with what you wish. If it had strings attached (including that it must be kept and/or cherished), then it’s not truly a gift.

  4. Apologies if I’m missing something, but for #1216, but what’s the harm in taking everything and then immediately donating it? Is Mom going to visit? That’s how I deal with my family but also, they don’t really come to my home. It gets the stuff gone and I acknowledge that by doing the donating myself, I let my family get rid of stuff without feeling bad about getting rid of it.

    1. There could be a few things. A retirement community is not necessarily the same as a nursing home, it depends on the overall levels of independence of LW #1216’s parents – they may have trouble taking care of themselves for certain aspects of their lives but still be perfectly fine driving themselves over to LW’s house for visits.
      Also, LW stated they have their own hoarding tendencies to manage; possibly once the stuff is actually *in* LW’s home it will be much harder to do the work of getting it out again.

    2. Some things that may apply come to mind:
      1. OP may not actually be able to donate the items that easily (working through their own hoarding tendencies)
      2. There’s a huge difference between accepting a handful of items and a houseful of items, this sounds like it’s on the houseful side. Especially if an estate sale is the best route, so much easier to do it without moving stuff first.
      3. If OP accepts something and then donates it, they may then get the emotional guilt trip of “how could you get rid of grandma’s things” or the stress of feeling like they can’t be honest about it without the guilt trip.

      Ripping the bandaid off sometimes really is the best option.

      1. Thank you (all!) for responding. Specifically with regards to #2, frankly, I can’t imagine that an estate sale will happen until after OP’s mother dies. I just can’t imagine her ever consenting to one. Is your idea that OP would hold the sale once the parents have moved?

        My feelings on subclinical (and maybe that’s the key?) hoarding parents is that you’re never going to change them, so you have to either wait for them to die or accept/donate. My chosen brother’s mom has five storage units and a full house of stuff. He wants her to go through it. Frankly, it’s never going to happen, and I’d rather see him resign himself to hiring someone for a massive estate sale once she eventually passes.

        1. My mother had a lot of stuff; she was also physically incapable of bending down, sitting for long periods, or lifting things. In the past I had asked her to sort through things, I offered to sort things with her, and at some point I made the decision to make her a gift: Instead of expecting her to do a tedious and potentially painful task and have that pressure hanging over her for the rest of her life, I resigned myself to inheriting that task. It was a lot of work to clear her flat after her death, but since I was not attached to most things in it, I could do the job a lot quicker, and she could enjoy her retirement without constant tension. I don’t think asking her to do more would have made much of a difference to me, but it was a source of pressure and unhappiness she did not need in her life.

    3. My husband’s mom was a hoarder, and by the time she moved into assisted living, her house was uninhabitable. She had tremendous anxiety about all the stuff before she moved. We left it all in her house and then dealt with it once she moved. It was a little more expensive as we were paying for two homes for an extra few months but sooooo worth it. Once she was relocated and settled, she had WAY less attachment to her old home and all the old stuff and was happy with very vague responses about what happened to specific furniture, etc. She had moved on. I wonder if this is an option for LW? If the furniture and house stays and the idea is that LW will move it all afterwards,”” and then instead of moving it to her house, gives it away?

    4. what’s the harm in taking everything and then immediately donating it?
      They shouldn’t have to live a lie or take on the massive work, on top of the work of caregiving for three people and the stark change in switching to parenting her parents. It’ll be good for Mom to know who her daughter really is, what her taste really is (I am thinking of Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride), and that it’s possible to adore and admire people without the Sisyphean maintenance of the ancestral hoard.

    5. I agree with twistcsc. If you’re dealing with hoarders (I say this from family experience) and particularly if there is a time limit (they’re moving house in just 6 weeks to a situation that probably involves some downsizing!) then sometimes the priority has to just be getting stuff out of the house by whatever is the path of least resistance. As other commenters have said there are some very good reasons why LW might not want to do this, and she absolutely shouldn’t feel she has to do it. But. If she feels like it could work for her to take some stuff without saying anything, and just get rid of it herself, and even if she maybe needs to tell a few white lies if those items are ever asked about later (I put that furniture into storage for now/lent it to a friend, oh those spare broken tupperwares are all in a box in the attic), then she should absolutely give herself permission to do so.
      I love that the Captain’s response was about empowering the LW to say no and to understand that she doesn’t have to take the stuff and I really hope that that works. But this isn’t a bad strategy to have in the back pocket in the run up to moving day.

      On a related note, I think it could be a good dynamic for this relationship if all the visiting is done at mom & dad’s place for a while, and not at LW’s.

      1. If LW has the money (or the space), taking All The Stuff and putting it in storage to deal with at a less emotionally high-pitched time would be a really GREAT way to deal with this.

        1. That money can add up pretty fast. For Reasons, I had to move quickly, and wound up with a much-smaller apartment, and a storage unit large enough for a lot of furniture, books, and miscellany. The monthly cost of that is about an extra 10% on top of our rent. That was two years ago, I’m moving to a larger place on Tuesday, and maybe next month we can start emptying the storage unit.

          In our case, it was worth it–but that’s stuff we *know* we want much of, not paying a monthly fee to postpone clearing out someone else’s stuff we don’t want.

        2. This is what I was thinking. Just load it in a U-Haul and take directly to storage with no stop off at OP’s house.

        3. Protip: Most reputable moving companies will store things for you in crates that you frequently can pack yourself at a fraction of the price for self storage. If you only need it for a couple of months, self-storage is great. If you need frequent access, self-storage is the way to go. But if you have [lump of stuff] that needs to go into storage fast, and which you can retrieve as a lump mass, movers are the best solution.

    6. This is our family’s official rule when dealing with my hoarding grandmother. If she offers it, SAY YES, and chuck it out at the first opportunity. SOME COROLLARIES:
      (1) we all live a 7+ hour drive to her, and she is unable to travel, so she does not visit our homes to check if we have kept the items,
      (2) we are all very comfortable lying and/or changing the subject if she asks about the stuff she gave us, and
      (3) none of us is battling hoarding tendencies ourselves.

      If this approach works for LW #1216, go for it! But there are lots of possible personal and interpersonal dynamics which might prevent this, so know thyself.

      1. This is what we do with my FIL. Sometimes random boxes of junk will be shipped to my office. If I can smell the musty, dusty contents before I even open the box, they go directly into the dumpster without even opening them. I once made the mistake of opening a heavy box, only to find it full of waterlogged books and silverfish. I take a picture of the box when it arrives, text it to him with a Thank You! and get on with my life.

        Admittedly he lives on the other side of the country from us, and does not travel. So he won’t be at our house ever.

    7. The main problems I see with that suggestion are:

      1) It will add “my daughter lied to me” to the list of slights as perceived by the mom, in addition to “my daughter does not care about her grandmother’s legacy”, which is only going to make her even more of a pain to deal with if mom finds out, and the chances are good that she will. Whether she’ll come for a visit at some point, or someone will send her a picture for Christmas where the living room behind daughter is suspiciously missing all of grandma’s stuff, or something else. Secrets like these are hard to keep for a long time.

      2) More importantly, the LW has stated that she herself is in therapy for hoarding tendencies. The last thing you want to do as someone with hoarding tendencies is to bring unnecessary stuff into your house with the justification of “I will get rid of it immediately”, because it is almost certainly not going to be “immediately” and the longer the stuff is there, the harder it is to get rid of it.

    8. Exactly. The key is to end the discussions and just handle the stuff the way you need to.

      My mother remarried at 79 and moved from the house where she had lived for 40 years into her new husband’s condo. She had a houseful of stuff to consolidate with her new husband’s stuff, and fit into a large condo that was still quite a bit smaller than her house. It was hard for her, and she coped mostly by giving almost all of it to her daughters.

      We all three had a practice of just taking what she wanted to give us and dealing with it however we saw fit. For example, my mother would give me a large load of things, mostly housewares, some furniture. I would admire it, thank her, load it into my minivan and drive straight to the charity resale donation door to donate. I kept only a few things with sentimental value to me personally.

      My mother doesn’t visit our houses very often; geography and health issues mean that we mostly see her at her house. If she had ever asked where X-thing was, I was prepared to be vague. But it never came up, she never asked.

      I think seeing us hauling the stuff away was enough. We just thanked her for the things, such nice things, and took them away without arguing or even discussing whether we needed or even wanted the things. Her part was done, her concern was allayed, and we didn’t have to talk about it anymore.

      1. I just this weekend gave away the china and crystal from my second marriage. I felt the same way. I told the second cousin I gave it to that she could wash it in the dishwasher, treat it bad, enjoy the hell out of it every day – but *I* couldn’t. So I gave it away.

      2. Honestly? I think my hoarder mother knows I’m not keeping the stuff she gives to me, but just doesn’t have the strength to get rid of it herself (too much conditioning about “wasting” useful things). She knows I will, though (to a greater degree anyway – my sewing/scrap material pile is dreadful). So she gives them to me and we pretend I’ll use them, and then she never asks again – or maybe she just forgets (it’s a LOT of stuff). With hoarders I’ve found that it’s mostly out-of-sight-out-of-mind anyway. She just wanted a “safe” place for it to go, and once she’s ok with handing it over to me, the issue is settled in her mind so she never thinks of it again. Then I do for her what she can’t. I do keep little, actually-useful-to-me things here and there, and when she sees them it’s a nice memory for her that completely overrides any thought of what else was in the boxes and boxes of stuff that I didn’t keep.

  5. LW #1216, you know your family and what they might be open too, but would it be worth trying to get your mom some professional help? I’m thinking this should definitely be separate from any conversations about taking/not taking the stuff, and could be couched in terms of her seeming anxious about the move and would she like to talk to someone about this big transition?

    You might also want to seek out some counseling for yourself, if possible, as this sounds supremely stressful. It’s just a lot to deal with on your own. If you have an EAP through work or support available through a religious organization, now seems like a good time to seek out those resources. A social worker might be another resource to consider. (I know that in my county there are social services specifically for seniors.)

    On a more practical level, could some of this stuff go into storage? It’s not ideal, but could be used as a bit of a stepping stone. (On the other hand, that stuff might stay there for the rest of your mom’s life. . .) It might be wise to make sure the contract is in your mom’s name and the payments come from her, so you’re not responsible for maintaining the grandma archives.

    1. could some of this stuff go into storage?
      Storage is like twisting the knife in the wound. Hoarding is all-or-nothing, life-or-death. It’s my favorite Fury: Christine. Either you love no one else or you escape with your life, but the enormity of the fact she would’ve happily murdered you means you must never go back.

  6. Captain, as someone who’s inherited a house-and-all-the-trimmings a year ago (I’d rather a turkey), thank you for a lot of the advice here in #1216, including the links! (I’ve been sorting out the attic and having the same “but it’s great-gram’s!” thoughts.)

  7. LW #1216: If your spouse is on-board with being the point person for all discussions about “Grandma’s Stuff”, there is an additional advantage that family-by-marriage members are much harder to push buttons with since they weren’t raised in that family system.

    My husband and I went through a smaller version of this soon after we married. His grandparents’ estate was settled and there was a basement full of domestic goods that they had acquired over a few decades. Our plan was to take a few items of sentimental value – some tools from Grandpa, some afghans made by Grandma – and nothing more. The plan of the women of the older generation was to divide up all of the stuff among the granddaughters and granddaughters-in-law (in spite of the fact all of the younger generation was in the “take 2 things and send the rest to Goodwill” camp.

    There were three arguments that were on repeat – so I came up with replies for each of them.

    Argument One: “Oh, this doodab was Great-great Aunt Katty’s who was married into the family before Great-great Grandpa died and isn’t actually related to any of us!”

    Reply: “What an interesting story! I don’t need a doodab, though, so I’m gonna pass..” (There might have been guilt-trips after this, but my family didn’t do that so I miss most of them.)

    Argument Two: “Oh, it would be a shame to throw out this set of pans from the 1970’s when they still have years of good use in them!”

    Reply: “Well, we’ve got two full sets of pans – and pots – since we each had our own set before we married! But I bet another family would love to receive them through (insert names of local non-profits who work with issues around housing and resettlement)!”(There might have been guilt-trips after this, but my family didn’t do that so I miss most of them.)

    Argument Three: “Oh, here’s items from a hobby that you and Grandma shared! Please take and use 90 cubic feet of sewing notions from the 1960’s.”

    Reply: “Oh, no…. I sew quilts, not clothing. I have no idea how to set a zipper so 3 pounds of previously used zippers are not going to work. I did like this quarter-pound of fabric remnants I set aside while creating the “craftable, farm rags, burn” piles so can I take these home? Oh, thank you!”(There might have been guilt-trips after this, but my family didn’t do that so I miss most of them.)

    Honestly, I didn’t say anything that my husband wouldn’t have said – but I was much harder to push emotional buttons on.

    1. What a blessing to befrom a “doesn’t do guilt trips” family! I hope that you’re able to pass that on whatever iteration of family you have going on now

      1. I only have one family that guilt trips to draw conclusions from – but the differences seem to be that 1) people in my family are allowed to say “no” (although adults can override minor children on certain issues like “you need to do chores” or “vaccines are non-negotiable” etc; but not “I don’t feel comfortable around so-and-so”) and 2) everyone is allowed to have feelings.

        My in-laws run a small fruit stand during the summer. I worked there from the summer before I married my husband through the 3rd summer after we married. Planning is not a strong point in my husband’s FOO – but I’m a natural planner. At the end of one season, I recommended spending a few hours packing up the stand, winterizing it, and setting a date for getting the stand ready in the spring. No one else wanted to do it so I didn’t push it.

        Fast forward 10.5 months or so. The fruit stand is scheduled to open on Tuesday. It is Monday morning in the last week of June. The sun is shining, the high temp is forecasted to be 75F with low humidity for Monday followed by 90F+ temps with, oh, 120% humidity for the foreseeable future. Essentially, I have 24 hours to get all of my cold weather crops harvested to make room for my warm weather crops – and the more of those I can plant before the weather changes the less miserable I’ll be. It’ll be a long day, but two 6 hour stints should do the trick with time off for lunch and a nap when the sun is highest.

        Alright. I’m collecting one last tool I need when my mom-in-law flusters into the garden. She starts talking about how far behind everything is for getting things ready for fruit season. (In hindsight, this is where I was supposed to volunteer for free to get the shed ready, but I wouldn’t realize that for another few years.) I make suitable sympathetic noises and say something like “Today looks like a good day for you to clean out the shed though!” She looks a bit shocked and tells me that she was planning on doing this whole photographic thing for a local church today and she needed me to clean the shed.

        I said, “No. I need to harvest the garden today.”

        She looked like I had slapped her. She repeats how far behind they are on being ready. I make sympathetic noises. She tells me that I need to clean the shed. I reply that no, I have other things to do.

        I kid you not; we went through that cycle 5 times before I asked if the photographic thing that she wanted to have done by Sunday HAD to be done by that date.

        She equivocated and talked in circles – but the answer was that there was no firm deadline since she had just thought of the project the night before and she was the only one who knew about the project. That sounded a lot better than “Photography is more fun than cleaning up the mess that rodents made since we didn’t pack up last year” – but the idea was the same.

        Finally to end the conversation, I explained that between the two of us we had two needed activities to do and one wanted activity that could wait. I was going to do the important event on my list – and she could do whichever of her two events she wanted to – but I was not going to put myself behind schedule so that she could skip doing what she needed to do.

        Was she happy with me? Oh, no! I didn’t comply with what she wanted and she was snippy and aloof for a few days. Cool beans. I had my garden harvested without dying of heat stroke so I was perfectly happy.

    2. This is a variation on what I was going to say, which is that the OP’er does not have to accept as true the emotional attachment her mother invests in all of her grandmother’s things. So “but it was your graaaandmother’s!” can be met with “Yes, mom, I know it was Grandma’s but I still don’t need or want any more tupperware.” “Your grandmother crocheted this!” “I know she did, but we have enough blankets so [suggest Plan B].” “Your grandfather bought that sideboard for your grandmother on their 25th anniversary!” “And I know they enjoyed it for years, but I’m not going to enjoy it because [it’s not to my taste/I don’t have space for it/we already have a sideboard].”

      Of course, the unspoken insinuation is that if you do not lovingly preserve every item your grandmother possessed, then you didn’t really love her. This is your mother’s implication, and it’s a crappy one, but it’s one of the levers she will use to try to make sure the stuff she is trying to retain is not given away. Why would she use emotional blackmail over things like a 1972 colander? Because she’s a hoarder. Please remember that you are entitled to think about and treat and handle stuff as just STUFF, no matter where it came from or how much or little it may be worth in terms of dollars or emotions. Your MOTHER invests value in all stuff, but you have decided you actually don’t want to do that. So for each and every item, ask yourself what it is worth TO YOU (not to your mother), and if it’s not worth enough TO YOU for YOU to keep it — then dispose of it, it’s just stuff. And remember that your mothers disorder is not a referendum on your relationship with your grandmother or the depth of love you felt and feel for her.

  8. #1217 I didn’t live in the same town as my mother for more than a few months at a time between the ages of 19 and 40, and when we did spend time together I had a lot of feelings about how she was treating me like a teenager rather than an independent adult. Which was partly because the last time we had lived together, I had literally been a teenager, and this was the version of me which was cemented in her head. It felt like that she knew, theoretically, that I had had grown up, but because she hadn’t been around to see it happen she didn’t know how to treat me like an adult. The worst bit was that I would eventually get so frustrated and angry and she’d then say something like “You always act like this!” when the only time I still acted that way was around her.

    The only way I was able to deal with it was by limiting the time we spent together, particularly doing things like making sure that I wasn’t dependent on her for a ride when we did meet up. I also adopted the idea that being bored was better than fighting, so instead of talking about stuff that I care about, I’d direct conversations to stuff that she likes and make enough encouraging noises to keep the conversation going. (Many thanks to Captain Awkward for the regular advice to let things be boring!)

    I’m not going to tell you that everything got better in our relationship, but over time things did get a bit easier, and she hasn’t played the “You always act like this!” card in a long time.

    1. This sounds a lot like how I have conversations with my mom right now. How do you deal with the frustration of spending hours “talking” to someone where they get 90% of the conversation time?

  9. 1217: It sounds like your mom’s proximity is more of a coincidence. I would look elsewhere for childcare because she will undermine you at every step and save her biggest strikes for when you’re at your most vulnerable and overwhelmed. You’ll do well to build up a support network strong enough that you don’t have to rely on her, of people who will happily and more easily resist her, so she can be strictly scheduled and supervised special visitor Grandma, possibly forever, but at least until the kid’s old enough for sabotage not to be devastating.

    1. This came to my mind as well. If OP’s mom already isn’t cool with any of OP’s decisions pre-baby, I don’t think this will go away on its own after the wee bub is born.

    2. This.
      If this is your hometown then maybe there are other relatives around?
      “Thanks but I want Offspring to have a good relationship with Auntie Supportive and Cousin Minds-her-own-business” is a pretty good explanation that doesn’t require bringing up anything Mom did or didn’t do.

      I hope you have people like that nearby.

      1. And, if you don’t have Autie Supportive, sometimes the very best way to pay for things is with money. If you can possibly swing it, I HIGHLY recommend not leaning on undermining family for anything – the entire dynamic is such that it’s never , the POINT is to keep you needy and uncertain. Don’t. If you can avoid at all: avoid.

        1. My bilingual keyboard erased part of my comment via wonky quotes, sorry! That should have read : ‘the entire dynamic is such that it’s never ‘a few weeks of help until you can catch your balance’ , the POINT is to keep you needy and uncertain. Don’t. If you can avoid at all: avoid.

    3. Agree – I literally just went through this with my own mom. She moved from across the country to be nearby and help take care of the baby, and I had some magical thinking that maybe somehow once the baby was here our relationship would get less fraught/stressful. She said things like “It’s your baby and you can do what you want” which lulled me into thinking this could work out okay. He was around 8 weeks old when it was suddenly revealed that every time what I wanted didn’t match what she wanted, she was making a mental tally in her “reasons I’m secretly angry at daughter” book, ending in a huge blowup with her in which she said, and I quote, “Well if your baby gets sick, that’s on you.” So now we’ve gone from seeing one another several times a week to maybe once a week. She talks a lot about how she misses the baby, but so far every time she comes over it’s less than 5 minutes before she’s criticizing me about something I’m doing wrong w/r/t the baby. So for me, until she’s able to come to my house and not treat me like a irresponsible child, once a week is all she gets.

      1. Oof. Once a week sounds pretty generous given her behavior. I hope she comes to appreciate that you’re making it possible for her to have a relationship with your kid.

    4. LW 1217, if there’s one thing I, a person with no kids, know about kids, it’s that they’re a great way to meet people. Pre-natal yoga, weekly workout with baby, fellow moms at the playground, local community group… I would bet there are resources in your community where you can meet people who can provide some relief & balance from overbearing mom.
      Other than that, I can only echo valentine’s comment… if it’s this bad now, it likely it’ll get worse before it (maybe) gets better.

    5. LW 1217: people go INSANE around pregnant women. It’s like they feel a responsibility to your fetus, and if they don’t give you urgent advice about avoiding deli meats, THE HUMAN SPECIES WILL DIE OUT OMG. Creating a plan to deal with the specific relationship you have with your mom is a great idea, but I’d also suggest creating a plan for dealing with unwanted advice from the rest of the world, for the duration of this (and future ) pregnancies.

  10. this is helpful advice, but while my long-term options are definitely being kept very open, for this year, things are already set in motion. I’ve moved, my mother will be helping with childcare (or I can do this 100% on my own with no breaks and no ability to keep my contract side job, which has other long-term professional consequences), and we need to make this work for the time being. Financially, there are no other options for right now.

    I can’t really keep my mom on an information diet when we’re trying to plan things like childcare and scheduling and the delivery, and it’s not like I can never eat in front of her again or avoid doing anything that will bring commentary. So I guess what I need is to know how to respond when that opening is a reality of our situation, not how to avoid giving the opening, if that makes sense?

    We do enjoy some common TV shows and have tried to get together for a couple of events at the library (pregnancy exhaustion has not helped with that). While we have keys to one another’s places, no spontaneous drop-bys have occurred on either end. And I’ve already done a meetup with a local group of moms and have a few others on the horizon for after the baby makes his debut. So there’s a few positives!

    1. My mom and I had a blowup argument because I wasn’t always doing what she said and she claimed I was “believing random people on the Internet instead of me.” After that, whenever I had decided to do something differently than what my mom said and I didn’t want to deal with an argument, I invoked The Doctor Card. Note this can be done with both your OBGYN pre-baby, and your Pediatrician post-baby.
      “You shouldn’t be eating XYZ.” “I talked to my doctor about it, and they said it’s fine.”
      “It’s bad for the baby for you to do thing ABC.” “Thanks mom, but my doctor said that isn’t true anymore.”

      Obviously this doesn’t apply to all cases. My other methods are not really long-term solutions, but they keep my stress low and let me avoid conflict with her right now: ignoring and lying.
      “Did you do random thing X I told you to do?” “Yep.” (Nope!)
      “You’re going to the doctor with the baby still in his pajamas??” “Yep.” (Ignoring her unspoken judgement)
      Sometimes she complains about me via the baby, e.g., “Your mommy hasn’t Done Y thing yet?? Silly mommy!” HARD IGNORE.

      I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I know it’s hard, but my big piece of advice is to try to make sure you aren’t letting your stress with her prevent you from enjoying time with your baby.

    2. Is your mom going to be your support person in the hospital? A great resource to have on your side can be the nurses. Explain to them what is going on and that your mom is going to criticize you/ insist that she’s right/ try to be in charge and that it is really stressing you out and you could use some backup. They can affirm that you are in charge and doing things right, and can insist you get some space to yourself when you need it.

    3. Cap got traction from a variation on “Would you say this to anyone else? Someone you liked?” That’s something I had great success with.

      See, many years ago, my mom came to live with me and Mr. Needles, because she needed medical treatment she could’t get in our hometown. Mr. Needles told me that of course we would do this, but that he needed me to stand up to my mom on her commenting/criticizing on everything. Like, it was easier to NOT EAT when she was visiting then deal with the comments.

      So I hear you, LW, that this is the reality for now.

      For me, the process of actually dealing with the comments was HARD. Here are some things I said or did that worked (still hard):

      “Stop commenting on my eating,” or, “We’re not discussing my food choices.”

      And then Mom’s reply of, “I’m just worried about you.”

      Me: “Fine. But we’re still not discussing my food. I need you to stop.”

      Sometimes, I ended up leaving the table, with my food, and finishing dinner in my bedroom. I did this a few times before Mom gave up. Will your mom change her behaviour? Dunno. But you can always leave the table. Even if dining out, you can get a to-go box and finish eating outside. Strategically make things awkward.

      Or another time, I was driving Mom back to our hometown and her home and my dad, about an 8-hour-drive, and I told her I was stopping for food, coffee, and to wash my face.

      Mom: “I don’t want to stop!”

      Me: “I need to stop.”

      Mom: “No!”

      Me: “Not discussing this, just giving you a courtesy head’s up. Would you argue this with a friend, or just me?”

      Then I stopped. Mom sulked. We lived through it. She didn’t again try to stop me from breaks.

      Each time, lots of times, I had to shut the comments down, refuse to engage, walk away. “This is not a discussion” was my go-to.

      You can do that, too. It does get easier with practise and even though it was hard, it was less work than NOT dealing with it. At least I didn’t replay the conversation and wish I had stood up for myself.

    4. I think this is just going to require a lot of boundary enforcing from you. Which sucks, because that’s exhausting and you’ll have enough going on that you shouldn’t have to deal with it…but it is what is.

      What that looks like: “no” is a complete sentence. You make your decisions and then do them, without explaining or justifying them beyond “this is what I decided”. They’re not open for discussion. When she tries to discuss them anyways, you repeat “this is what I decided” and change the topic. If she keeps pushing, you repeat “this is what I decided” and add “and it’s not open for discussion, please drop it.” If she still won’t leave it alone, you leave the room/hang up the phone/etc. and refuse her the space to keep pestering you.

      She will probably be mad about this. Ignore her. She will probably say it’s rude and ungrateful. She’s the one who made the situation rude, by disregarding your stated boundary; if she doesn’t like the outcome, she’s free to stop doing that. The thing to really watch out for is if she gets mad enough to start going behind your back to get her way (e.g. does what she wants with your kid even if you said no)—if it gets to that point, you may need to accept that she’s not actually a help to you after all, and you and your kid might be better off on your own. But hopefully she just sticks to being a pain in the butt, and some sheer stubbornness on your part is enough to deal with it.

    5. From what you describe, it sounds like your mom is completely uninterested in being respectful or helpful. You mentioned that she disagrees with a lot of your parenting choices, and it doesn’t sound like she cares about you enough to take your wishes into consideration when she’s watching your child. She’s not going to be a resource for you. She’s only going to be a burden.

      I think the best advice I have is to think about what you’d do if your mom got hit by a bus. Like, assume for a moment that she’s entirely incapable of helping you. What would you do then? Then do that.

    6. Not sure if this will work for you, but I’ve had pretty decent luck with “interesting- I’ll think about that!”

      It’s not a lie; I am thinking about it- anything from, “that is ridiculous” or “I’m sure that works for some people but not for me” or “wow, what a rude/judgy/impractical/bossy ass thing my mom just said!”

      And then I do whatever the hell I want.

      That response usually (not always) stops the immediate argument because it sounds like a concession, but isn’t. There might be some follow up where a ” thanks, I dont need more info. I said I’d think about it” / hard change of subject is needed.

      Minor topics frequently get forgotten later. Any recurring ones, you can go with either, “still thinking about it- but I’m ok with this in the meantime” or “I thought about, and decided this works best for me.” My mom still thinks I’m wrong, obviously. But doing this, she usually doesn’t have the whole “you’re just being stubborn or saying no because the idea came from me” reaction, because time has passed from initial advice/instruction/order/judgy mcjudgment, and I’d thought about it so I seem and feel like a thoughtful, considerate adult.

  11. For #1216, I was surprised to her that LW’s parents were moving into a home, since it can be pretty hard for a hoarder to move out of their space and let go of all their stuff. It sounds like the mom is trying to avoid the psychological stress involved by passing the stuff on to LW – because then the stuff is still there for her to hold on to, it’s just stored at the LW’s house.

    I would expect a major uptick in mom’s distress/unkind words/hoarder behaviours the moment LW holds the line and it becomes apparent to mom that yes, she really is going to have to give away all of that stuff. This will be tough for LW to deal with, but there is really nothing for it than for LW to stand her ground until mom realises that she isn’t going to get her way with grandma’s stuff.

    There are professional cleaners who could work with LW’s mom to separate what can be thrown out from what she really wants to keep. Stuff that is genuinely valuable or meaningful can be stored, at least temporarily. But that’s up to what the LW can afford and how involved she wants to be (my own preference would be to stay clear).

  12. #1216: thanks for writing the letter I would otherwise have needed to write in a few years’ time. Much love to you.

  13. I haven’t been through this but people close to me have: estate sale people are professionals in the emotional labor of sorting out houses with elderly people and families. It may be worth contacting some local estate sale companies and asking about their process.

    If things do come into your house, I can’t speak highly enough of finding a professional organizer whose rates you can handle. Someone I know found a professional organizer who was an expert in helping elderly people with a lot of sentimental objects downsize – it’s a long shot whether that specific service is available near you, but it was apparently completely amazing,

  14. To At The Screaming Point (LW #1217)—The baby’s arrival will force you to make quick choices, so I’d suggest you be prepared for making a change. As Captain says, “You need to be realistic about whether you’ll be happy here.” It sounds like you will have a year where you don’t have to go to school full time or to work, and that you have a secure place to live that is too close to your mother, but is actually your own place for now—which I would suggest means that you do not actually need your mom’s help. I have been a single mom and a married mom, a broke young mom on welfare and a not-that-worried-about-money mom later— and I always found friends to exchange childcare help with. I never had to pay for it until I went to school full time and later to work. When my oldest was born I was living with my parents, and my father was my biggest ally. He died when my baby was 3 months old, and his plans to help me died with him. I’d been going to night school to get my GED a couple nights a week and he and my little brother had taken care of the baby, but my mom worked nights and I was under a lot of pressure to keep my daughter quiet so she could sleep during the day. It got hard, quick. I was seventeen then. I had a girlfriend who’s oldest sister also had children without being married, and she turned me on to how it could be done—you just exchange with other moms, she said. You just take turns. I will help you. I moved in with another young mom, and we did fine together. When my youngest daughter had her baby, on her own, by choice, not quite two years ago, she had my husband and I to help the first ten days—and then off and on after. (She lives four hours away.) Many of her friends did not have that, but she, and all of them, had a troop of friends who did round robins of cooking for whoever was the newest mom or set of parents, who would do some cleaning as well when they dropped food off, and also took turns coming to spend time with the new parents when wanted—sometimes to baby sit and sometimes just to visit. Her friends who were sort of put off by babies and honest about that offered to do grocery shopping and other errands. They had spreadsheets of who was coming when to do what—because new mom-hood can feel so Twilight Zone at times. You go from being just you to never being alone, hardly enough time to go pee by yourself.—and a person who is hard on you can make what feels difficult feel insane. I’m not exaggerating when I say this—if your mom is hard on you now, you will not like having to deal with her while you get used to your new baby. Your mom’s friends know this, my generation knows this, that we only get to be with our daughters when we behave—that is how it is supposed to be for grandmas and grandpas. We do not criticize or even advise really—we reassure and take the baby and tell our daughters that they can go back to sleep now, we will change the diaper and get up and bring the baby to mom for nursing, or do the bottle ourselves. We reassure and reassure and take all of the housework out of the equation—my husband has done this for both our daughters and grandsons as well. We do this right, or we don’t get to be there. All grandmothers know this. Because we have friends who are grandmas also, and we all exchange grandma stories—everyone hears from the grandma who just can’t understand why her daughter/son does not want her around when she knows exactly what these kids should be doing with that baby. “If they would just listen to me,” she says, and the other grandparents say, “you know, new moms really don’t like to be told what to do.” So your mom does have a society of people who will know what is going on if you have to push her away, and they will at least tell her what they do differently—if she is interested in what anyone else has to say, that is. And if she is not, she will still have this society of people to complain to. It doesn’t have to be on you. Your mom will be fine if you need to keep her at a distance.

  15. Another possible thing for LW 1216 to say, once, and remember afterwards, is “this isn’t just my house, it’s Spouse’s, and he doesn’t want to live in a shrine to a stranger” or “so we’re going to furnish it with things we both want and like.”

    A couple of possibly useful thoughts, for you but probably not to talk to your parents about: A few years after my partner and I set up housekeeping, my mother moved to another country and didn’t want to take much stuff with her. So she offered us things, which meant Partner and I talked some about what to take. Some specific dishes I liked were old-fashioned–my parents may have gotten them before I was born–and I asked if that was okay. It turned out that those specific Pyrex bowls were enough like his mother’s mixing bowls that he was delighted to have them. But with the furniture, I thought not just about what would be useful ,but about whether/how much I was comfortable with my apartment looking like my parents’.house.

    Two decades later, my father-in-law is trying to declutter, and has been urging his children and grandchildren to take dishes, artwork, etc. Partner and I have limited it to one small thing he loves, a few things we both like, because we already have enough artwork we’ll never put up because only one of us likes it. (Our tastes overlap, but much of what delights one doesn’t appeal to the other.)

  16. When turning down gifts of hoard, it helps to answer to the underlying anxiety: “I can understand why you’d want to hold on to this. Such good memories associated with it! Let’s take some nice pictures so we can see them whenever we want to walk down memory lane.” Spend a moment engaging your mother in taking the pictures. Accept the couch with pleasure. Then turn around and donate or sell as you like. Note that you will not succeed in making your mother less anxious about letting go. That’s not your ultimate purpose. You’re only trying to smooth over the moment.

    Something I learned about the elderly hoarders in my own life. (The mother in this letter isn’t the classic elderly hoarder since she’s been doing it since before she was elderly, but I think the lesson holds.) There’s tremendous anxiety about thinking about a thing being thrown away or being there while it’s thrown away, and there’s anxiety in the moments after it’s thrown away. BUT ONCE IT’S GONE, the anxiety melts. So even if Mother visits and can’t see Grandmother’s furniture, she probably won’t mind too much. If she does ask, it’s okay to lie. “The upholstered furniture is fine! It’s at my friend’s house where they love it.” Meaning that you sold/gave it to an antiques dealer, and they sold it to people who presumably wanted it.

    This works for your own hoarding tendencies. See the desire to hold on as a temporary anxiety, something that will dissipate if you can conquer it for a moment. This can be applied to taking on your grandmother’ emotional qualities. Can you see them as something that’s being hoarded, something that can be let go of, and then let the anxiety dissipate once they’re gone.

    Something that’s important to remember is that it doesn’t matter if your mother is convinced. It’s not a matter of convincing your mother that she’s wrong so she’ll stop making you crazy, and then you can go on with a carefree non-crazy life. It’s more a matter of moving on with your own life saving the things you want from the old– those emotional qualities of your grandmother’s that you want, those physical heirlooms that you want– while letting go of the rest. Your mother shouldn’t be involved in that so you leave off arguing, stop trying to make her happy. Just do your reasonable best to keep her safe. The retirement community is great for that.

  17. I think all the scripts — both for saying to the mothers and for the LWs’ self-talk, both from CA and from the commenters — are great. They’re logical and kind and thoughtful.

    But at the end of the day, and, sadly when dealing with mothers, sometimes boundaries are the need and the need trumps desires to be kind and to be loving and to avoid hurt feelings.

    If someone, even a mother, is steamrolling you in the name of love and caring, there’s no choice but to be firm. The mothers in these letters aren’t focused on their daughters; they’re focused on themselves. So the daughters, in my view, need to protect themselves — and their own families — before protecting their mothers feelings.

  18. LW1216, you’re getting lots of great practical advice from Cap and readers who have experience with hoarding.

    I want to offer you a hard but necessary piece of relationship perspective (which may be relevant to LW1217 as well):

    You want your mother to approve of your choices, and you want her to make choices you approve of. It may not be possible for you to have those things.

    It sucks! She’s your mother. You don’t want to have to *manage* her. You don’t want to have a conditional relationship with your mother.

    But most adults do. Even those of us who are lucky enough to love *and like* our mothers have to do some managing.

    This is a thing that adults have to allow themselves to grieve over. Unlike your dear friends, your mother doesn’t automatically respect your autonomy, acknowledge your right to make your own choices, and hold her tongue when she disagrees with you. It sucks, and you have a right to feel sorrow and anger about it. But it’s the reality of your relationship.

    1. This is really helpful to me in dealing with being in my 30s and newly out to my bigoted mom. Thank you.

  19. For both LWs –
    There is nothing you can say, no dance you can do, that will MAKE your parents understand and stop doing the crappy thing.
    You cannot make them. You just can’t.

    Maybe they’ll eventually get it and stop with the pressure and the stress and the GRAAAH but, it will have to come from them.
    Making your parents see you as YOU, a person and not a blank canvas for them to project on, is not your job. It’s theirs.

    All you can do, with the Captain’s advice or any other approach, is deal with it.
    Put down the weight labelled “But if I Daughter the right way Mom will finally GET it”

    Good luck, parental stuff is *heavy*.

    1. Yes. “Put down the weight labelled “But if I Daughter the right way Mom will finally GET it”. Yes!

      I had a hoarder mother, and she probably had more mental health issues than she ended up being diagnosed with formally, but that is what it is. She also loved me fiercely, was my biggest fan, and tried to do well by me. She was abusive, and she was loving, and she didn’t have the benefit of perspective and insight into this.

      I think my life would have been much less stressful with better boundaries — heavens, how much difference that would have made. This clear line, the division of responsibility, and the allowing of situations just to be without believing you have to fix them to be a good and loving person — that is gold.

      And may I say, in all the years I have been reading this column, this is what made me absolutely fall in love with it: ” If she accuses you of having no taste, okay? You have no taste. You’re still not taking the stuff.” 😀 May I someday be able to go back in time and tell a little girl, “Okay.” That it can just be, and you don’t have to fix it. That’s the option that nobody ever brings up, not in dysfunctional relationships and harmful socialization. That’s all of it.

      Thanks, Jennifer.

    2. Yes. “Put down the weight labelled “But if I Daughter the right way Mom will finally GET it”. Yes!

      I had a hoarder mother, and she probably had more mental health issues than she ended up being diagnosed with formally, but that is what it is. She also loved me fiercely, was my biggest fan, and tried to do well by me. She was abusive, and she was loving, and she didn’t have the benefit of perspective and insight into this.

      I think my life would have been much less stressful with better boundaries — heavens, how much difference that would have made. This clear line, the division of responsibility, and the allowing of situations just to be without believing you have to fix them to be a good and loving person — that is gold.

      And may I say, in all the years I have been reading this column, this is what made me absolutely fall in love with it: ” If she accuses you of having no taste, okay? You have no taste. You’re still not taking the stuff.” 😀 May I someday be able to go back in time and tell a little girl, “Okay.” That it can just be, and you don’t have to fix it. That’s the option that nobody ever brings up, not in dysfunctional relationships and harmful socialization. That’s all of it.

      Thanks, Jennifer.

    3. I’m nearing 40 and I’m still in a war with trying to put the “But if I Daughter the right way Mom will finally GET it” weight down. It’s not easy!

      I love this and feel it so much: “Making your parents see you as YOU, a person and not a blank canvas for them to project on, is not your job. It’s theirs.” It’s so easy to fall into magical thinking that the relationship would be so much better if I were just able to fix that when I just can’t.

  20. pack your shit now and move, this isn’t going to work.

    This stood out to me above the other advice the Captain gave. You know you can’t trust your mother, and you know she doesn’t respect you. It’s dangerous to try to raise a child with someone like that. If you were planning to raise a child with a partner and your partner treated you this way, I think my advice would be the same. It doesn’t change just because she’s your mother. In order to be a safe person for your child, you have to be able to protect yourself from dangerous people in your life. Then you can be happy and healthy and ready to give the child the attention they need. If all your energy is sucked up by a relationship with someone who mistreats you, you’re not going to present for your kid, and you’re going to put them in a bad situation.

    1. Yeah the description of the second LW’s mother was pinging the Mr Right description by Lundy Bancroft for me. It sounds like the parent was only good at a distance because they knew LW could walk away/hang up and now that they’re in ‘well she cant leave now right’ proximity she’s restarting.

      1. I moved home to help with my grandmother and attend grad school. My relationship with my mother was fraught even when I was 5-6 hours away. It did not get better. I am currently on an extreme low dose of Mother for the foreseeable future, even though she lives five minutes away.
        1. Do not give your mom a key to your house if she is like mine, and will just walk right on in after appearing without the courtesy of a call beforehand.
        2. Do not tell your mother anything whatsoever if she will abuse that knowledge to emotionally or verbally or financially abuse you later.
        3. Do not rely on your mother to keep any commitments or promises if she is anything like my mother, who will conveniently forget them and call you a liar when you try to hold her to them.
        4. I’d recommend not leaving your support group of extended family and friends to move back within five minutes of your mother when you are poor and struggling, but that ship has sailed for me, and I urge you not to let it sail for you. Keep your options open. (What I’d tell myself FIFTEEN YEARS AGO if I knew I’d end up stuck here and struggling: It is HARD making new friends once you hit a certain age, especially if introverted, so don’t take lightly a circle of friends you are comfortable with, or easy proximity to young nieces who love you and v. versa, if you know yourself well and realize it is difficult for you to make more.)
        5. Do not bother to argue with your mother if you decide to go low or no contact (or grey rock). It will be utterly counterproductive and merely open up another conduit for abuse. (What happens: “You say I do [horrible things that make you feel bad]? Well, you’re not perfect! You did [things here that may or may not be things I did years ago, and which may or may not be even remotely relevant or on the same level as the things she currently does to me that I am trying to curb].” WASTE OF TIME.)

        Good luck. Some people are difficult.

  21. 1217: I live 5 doors down from my parents, as a single mom by choice. It can work if you set good boundaries and your mom responds well to them. Have a script for parenting advice, cuz that’s even worse than the pregnancy advice. I used “I’m following doctor’s recommendations, thanks” with a LOT of “things are different now, including LAWS” when it came to car seat arguments. You may have to say “you’re not my co-parent”..We’re still more enmeshed than I’d *like* to be, but we’ve reached a happy equilibrium.

    But once you get it to work, free help is better than expensive help, and you get to see a beautiful grandparent relationship blossom and that’s a sight to behold. So there’s definitely benefits to the hard work of getting them to treat you like an adult.

    In my experience, standing Sunday dinner and information diet are key pieces of advice from the Captain. Along with safe subjects and stuff you do together so she does feel like she’s still part of your life.

    This may not work for you, but we use Cozi, the shared family calendar/app. I can put on there the days my dad picks her up at school so he remembers. Also, when my mom plans events that impact my/my daughter’s time, she’s been trained to check the app for conflicts. Now, everyone is about to yell that’s “too much” but it works well for us. I don’t put everything in by name, sometimes it’s just blocked as “unavailable . It’s not my real calendar, just a shared tool. But it works for us.

    Get her on one of those Grandparents dot com email lists that give them ideas for things they CAN do with the grandkids, shift conversations where you don’t want input (discipline stuff) to a topic where you’re open to advice (we need to take a snack to school next week, have you seen any good recipes lately?)

    Good luck, I think it’s worth it to try to get on solid footing, there are definitely benefits to having the grandparents nearby!

  22. LW1216

    One particular kind of energy really stands out to me in your letter, beyond the hoarding, beyond the drama of Belongings With Baggage.

    And that is: Legacy Obligations.

    It sounds like the role you’ve been given in your family, the one you’ve been taught to see yourself through the lens of, is “just like grandma”. The helpful one. The generous one. The self-sacrificing one. Avatar of An Honoured Ancestor. Keeper of The Ancestral Flame. And All Their Stuff.

    You’ve been expected to fit in a role that sounds more like it’s been decided for you, than that it’s something you chose.

    So I’m guessing, from my own experience of dealing with Legacy Obligations, that you’re feeling the weight of that pretty hard with every single item you’re being asked to take on.

    I can’t offer you much advice – over the years I’ve taken on heaps of Stuff-That-Was-My-Biological-Father’s. And then quietly got rid of all of it as and when the opportunity arose, and enough time had passed I knew no one would remember to ask about it. This works only because I life away from family and none of them ever visit.

    But I do want to give you a message. It’s one I had to learn myself and wish someone had said to me.

    You do not owe anyone this. This duty is not yours to fulfill. The burden is not yours to carry. Your purpose is not to be a living memorial to someone else. You get to be You. And that includes having the right to reject the knick-knacks of the past without guilt, shame or coming up with a “good enough” reason.

    However you choose to fight these battles with your mother, remember that this burden you’ve been given isn’t right, and isn’t something you have to accept.

    1. Right on!

      LW, something I learned, in my caretaker support group,* is: If I wasn’t doing the job, the family would figure out another solution. I was NOT the only answer to the problem. And that was really freeing and it helped me make the active choice to continue caregiving and to ask for help and respite.

      As long as this is a choice, not a legacy obligation (excellent phrase!).

      *I found mine through the Area Agency on Aging. It was great to get some mental tools and to meet other people in the same boat. And to get the 2 hours off from caretaking.

  23. LW 1217, you have all of my sympathies and best wishes.

    Your mother sounds similar to mine. Boundaries are really important. When I was pregnant with my eldest child, my mother was anxious about a lot of things – she worried about how I would cope, she worried that my home renovations hadn’t been completed, she worried that I wasn’t eating enough or eating too much… so I get it.

    The moment I knew I would be able to work through this with my mother was the time she touched my baby bump and I, in a rare moment of assertiveness, said “We’re not doing that.” And… she listened. She respected my decision. She didn’t challenge me or tell me how saaaaad she felt that I didn’t want her to touch me. She didn’t make it about her at all, and I felt so much relief that there could be light at the end of the tunnel and it meant daylight and not an oncoming train.

    I think you need to find out sooner rather than later if your mother is going to be trainable. If she’s not, you have time to relocate before baby gets here and re-jig your childcare plans, if she is, you can work on your boundaries so that by the time you give birth your relationship should be watertight with you in the driving seat where your baby is concerned.

    Obviously I don’t know where you are located, but I would also look into whether Grandparents’ Rights is a thing in your state/country, and what standing a grandparent would have to have to sue for access to your child. These laws are getting wider in scope, originally to preserve the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren in cases where one parent has passed away or the parents have divorced, they are now being routinely abused by angry grandparents who want to hit back at their adult children, and are using the law and little kids to do it.

    You are already at a disadvantage as a single parent (two-parent families where the parents are together or amicably co-parenting are often, but not always, protected from GPR) and if you plan on your mother being childcare for a significant portion of your baby’s life, you could end up handing her a golden ticket to interfere in your life for the next 18 years. If you are locked into a court ordered visitation schedule, your mother could prevent you moving away or saddle you with the costs of transporting your child back to your mother or be in contempt of court. Protecting yourself against this possibility is crucial. Definitely know your rights here, and know what you could be on the hook for.

    1. +100 for this. My husband and I spent nearly a decade (and tens of thousands of dollars) being dragged through family court by my… unstable mother. And we didn’t even let her look after the wee babe at any time! Unfortunately, where I live a lot of judges are grandparent age themselves, and assume every grandma is a cookie baking sweetheart.

    2. Absolutely check your area’s grandparent rights laws! Here’s a website that breaks it down by US state: https://considerable.com/grandparent-rights-united-states/

      For our part, we decided that the best solution was for our parents to never know that they have grandkids, which was easily accomplished by moving to a different state. We’re not happy about this, but protecting our kids from abuse was more important.

      It’s not in your letter so I’m projecting a bit here, but I know that a lot of parents, but especially parents with “nontraditional” family structures (I hate the term but it gets the point across) get pressure, both internally and externally, to ensure that their kids have grandparents, even (maybe especially) when said grandparents are difficult. I just wanted to tell you, in case you’re getting that pressure: PLEASE RESIST IT. No grandparents is far, far better than a grandparent who belittles or micromanages or throws hissy fits or whatever, and also, the question of “why are my parents letting this happen to me, I guess that means it’s okay for people to treat me like this” is bad for both the child’s mental health and for the parent-child relationship.

  24. #1216 I highly recommend finding a Baby geared group in your city. Public Libraries and the YMCA can be a great resources for this (My library offers Mommy-Baby Yoga). This does two things: 1) You start to meet people more people who can laugh about the wonders of infants 2) You get people you can ask baby questions without worrying about complicated family dynamic. When baby is first born, you will need to physically heal. My hospital would not release me after my (relatively quick, easy, no tearing) birth unless I could demonstrate there would be someone taking care of me. Your mom will probably want to be the point person for taking care of you and be with you 24/7. If you are ok with that much mom time, great! However, if you are not ok with that, you might want to look into hiring a post-partum doula or getting Nice Cousin to come out for two weeks. They will do light housework, cook you meals, and change diapers with no mom guilt added. This gives you the ability to tell your Mom, “I’m so happy for you to meet baby! We will be happy to see you at x until y when baby will need to go nap.”

  25. LW, hugs to you both.

    LW 1216, I’ve been going through the same stuff with the antiques and heirlooms from both sides of mine and my spouse’s families. That’s 4 generations of stuff from 2 families. There is no way to even fit that much stuff into a house. So my advice is to keep what you want of the stuff and sell or donate the rest. There are companies that just do estate sales and definitely know what pieces will sell and which ones have the most value. You can then arrange for the rest to be hauled off for charity– if there’s enough stuff, esp furniture, many charities will pick up.

    If you can throw some money at the problem (I’m assuming an estate sale will probably just pay what it costs for someone else to do the labor of pricing, staging, and removing all the stuff) but if you can throw some money at it, it is worth rounding up all the photographs and having them digitized. Then you can have them printed up into a couple of lovely albums for everyone to keep. Then you don’t have the responsibility of keeping the physical copies. We used a local graphic designer, because he also agreed to read and record any writing on the photos and design an album for each family, but there are web companies that will scan photos and slides.

    Just keep the things you love and try to remember that your mom’s guilt doesn’t have to be your guilt. The way I’ve dealt with that has been to say yes to taking everything but not agreeing to keep it. You may just have to have some adjustment time before bringing your mom to your house, so that the blow of downsizing herself has time to soften. I just point out the things I did keep and doesn’t it look good next to my other stuff?

    LW 1217, just ugh. My mom doesn’t have good boundaries either. It has taken years to get her to stop talking about my weight. That’s just one boundary on one issue. My concern is that one year is both too long and not long enough. Too long to spend with someone who ignores your boundaries and not long enough to for her to get the habit of treating you like an adult.

  26. LW 1216 – your letter really struck a chord with me when you said “but I have practice getting rid of things that I don’t need, and I’m getting to be good at it.”

    One of the things I really enjoy from Marie Kondo is the idea that you get better at deciding whether or not to keep something with practice. Thinking about it that way, as something that requires practice, makes me feel better about maybe making the “wrong” decision, because that’s just part of the process, the practice, and how you learn. I think your comment is such a lovely example of that in action. So, LW, perhaps you are worried about the deluge of stuff coming towards you, but I think you should trust your practiced skills at dealing with stuff. (Which doesn’t mean you have to accept the items, just that I am confident you can curate your living space away from being a museum.)

    Good luck with your family.

    1. One piece of advice I always liked about “wrong decisions” was: Go ahead and pick one or the other, because the worst thing that can happen is that you will have made a terrible mistake.

      Now, obviously that doesn’t sound good! But when you think about it, outside of a few truly life-changing/ruining, irreversible choices, such as having children or other permanent consequence type things, the vast majority of our decisions aren’t as important as our anxiety and depression and insecurity want us to believe.

      If you pick out Grandma’s desk and later realize it’s too big/small/whatever for your house? You can donate it. It may be a hassle, but it’s not some kind of life-ruining thing. It was a mistake, you made it, life moves on. If the worst thing ever to happen to you is not choosing the “right” bits and pieces from someone else’s life, you will be one of the luckiest people on the planet. These mistakes are yours to make and not your mother’s.

      That doesn’t mean flinging all caution to the winds–if Grandma’s stuff is truly amazing and in good shape, look into selling it instead of leaving it on the curb, for instance. Check all drawers and such for papers/wills/stocks/piles of gold. Take your time to think about what things really call out to you, specifically. Put stuff in storage for a SHORT AND FINITE term to give yourself breathing room. All those things are fine! That’s being responsible and taking care of your needs!

      But in the end no amount of storage or museum curating will bring your grandmother back, or calm your mother’s anxieties, and that’s okay. So go ahead and pick one or the other, this or that or both or neither, and then let it go. Save one piece of jewelry or some letters and that’s it and that’s okay.

      1. I like your advice about wrong decisions! Definitely going to have to remember that one.

  27. #1217, ugh I have unfortunately been there. Instead of us moving to my parents, they moved in with us on the premise we’d all be buying a large house together. After about 8 months of looking at houses that they came up with odd reasons they didn’t think it was good enough (think there’s too many trees/the trees are “weird”/there’s not enough trees, not even joking these were reasons they didn’t want houses we looked at), they suddenly told us they didn’t think we were serious about buying a house and they were buying a house the next week a few states away. During those 8 months they lied to me about quitting smoking, complained that they had to smoke outside, and frequently told me how I was raising my child incorrectly and what I should be doing instead more times than I can count. It all ended in the last 2 weeks they were staying with us and my dad started ignoring me how he used to when I was a child. He didn’t like that I wouldn’t give in and apologize for something I didn’t do to get him to talk to me again, so he started ignoring his own grandchild. After they left he blew up over the phone at me and actually told me it didn’t matter he ignored my child, his own grandchild, because “she was so young it doesn’t matter.” Needless to say I was very upset, my husband furious, and I made the decision to not speak to him for awhile at least. My mom has attempted only once to guilt trip me into apologizing, doing the “but what if something happened to him,” and I replied with “yes it would be a shame if he couldn’t apologize for his actions.”

    The Captain’s advice about keeping your moving options (and mind) open is very good advice. It doesn’t sound like you’re sold on staying there permanently, and I’d definitely try to keep a running list of places in case you end up needing to make distance again. Also, more importantly- congratulations on the baby!!!

    1. Long time reader, first time commenting … I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the above because almost the same exact thing happened to me. No children involved, but my parents offered to buy locally to support us as a really difficult time, and then strung us along waiting for “the perfect buy”, all while my income and physical and mental health spiralled for over six months trying to keep a physical job while disabled that was literally killing me with the promise of “I’ll get out soon..”. On top of this I was concurrently dealing with major wider familial, online, and offline conflict and at times gaslighting and abuse. So it was well needed!

      However things immediately started to degenerate – old behavioural patterns reared their heads again and again, there were countless requisites that often clashed with needs on either side, a budget that the area couldn’t handle. They didn’t pick up when we needed to contact and were incensed if the opposite occured. I still found numerous possibilities – which they refused to look at in time or make an offer for (on one occasion simply because they though it was rude to bid when one offer had already been made; somewhat understandable, as we don’t actually know who else was buying, but I expect their imagined even-more-desperate family was rather unlikely given our circumstances at the time and the preponderance of local landlords). Looking out-of-area was equally hard as we had no private car or even money for transportation and neither of us had the option of moving work elsewhere. The offer was so generous that it was difficult to verbalize to them why it was so wearing, so we persisted, but it got harder and harder.

      Six months later, we’re all present for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and I’m barely holding it together, dragged down by viruses and chronic ill health and overwhelmed with stress. I’ve had three different family members talk to me about the “new house” and say how generous my parents are and how amazing the offer is. It’s late at night, I’ve zero pain medication, and the entire extended family is seated in the room across from my parents and my partner and I. I mention how stressful and wearing my work has been and that the constant reminders all day have really driven home that we need to move on the promised house right now or I’ll probably implode. And they drop the bombshell; they saw “a perfect house they just had to have as their retirement home”, and bought it two weeks prior, while being non-contact out of the country the entire last month. It’s literally five minutes from their current place with zero public transportation and they’re using it as a mobile office. Just like that all hope is gone – and on the most potentially fraught day of the year. They insisted this was our fault for taking too long and that they didn’t think it was so necessary as all that (despite being the ones to initiate everything!).

      It was a vast loss of hope and a quintuple whammy on top of everything else and it led to a complete fibro exhaustion breakdown … which my entire extended family watched, blamed me for, and now see as part of my personality and accuse me of whenever. I returned to work with a huge illness flare from the massive journeys involved and from this and ended up unlawfully let go. I very nearly died two weeks later when a desperate rush to the GP after all this saw me completely misdiagnosed and put on medication that caused a cardiac event. Since then I’ve had no income or benefit support and am completely trapped where I am. My parents have to their credit stepped up to help when necessary but I wish they understood the gravity of their involvement and had not sparked this situation to begin with. I wish I’d known when to get out.

  28. LW 1216: I would like to circle back, not to the issue of tonnage of stuff, because although heavy goods are an issue they are not THE issue–but to the issue of the “deal.”

    You and your spouse moved house, as committed partners often do.

    You also took on the care of her son, your brother.

    Your mother chose to attach a condition to these decisions, which she did not make and which were not hers to make. But in her mind, she can attach a condition to somebody else’s decisions, and that condition is that as part of moving house and taking on the care of your brother, you also duplicate the environment of her chosen-mother’s home.

    She calls this “part of the deal.”

    What deal? Who made this deal? If you “renege” on the “deal,” what penalties accrue? If you refuse to take on the burden of recreating her chosen-mother’s home, will she…remove the two of you from your home? Remove your brother from your home? How is that supposed to happen?

    Or does she think that she has made a deal with you regarding her and your father’s care? Is the deal that she permits (sic!) you to care for her and your father, and in return you take on the burden of docenting the Chosen-Mother Memorial?

    There is a serious issue here, and it’s only tangentially related to hoarding. Her perception of your relationship is seriously reality divergent, and I think you have already identified how.

    They are two grown adults, who are apparently still mentally alert even though they are physically not okay–? And they have decided that the best model of your relationship, going forward, is the relationship they had with their mother and chosen-mother? And that relationship was being indulged with sweets and excused from chores?

    There are people, LW, who are loving and giving and self-sacrificing and nurturing and etc. etc. etc. etc. etc., who are also, to be blunt, doing their nearest and dearest no favors.

    Imagine being like your grandma–really being like your grandma. Write down exactly what that would entail. Give as many examples of what you witnessed and what your parents expect. And then take a good hard look at it.

    Something is not right here, and even if the immediate issue weren’t several tons of heavy goods, something would still be very much not right.

    1. Expanding in a reply, because I can’t edit.

      Your description of how your parents are acting brought this story to mind: I used to work for a financial planner. He once counseled a young-ish adult couple who couldn’t seem to get a handle on their finances, although they worked very nice jobs and had no catastrophic expenses. But they piddled the money away on this and that. It wasn’t even a case for austerity. All they had to do was (for example) quit buying a new car apiece every year and instead drive their existing cars until the year before the trade-in value would be too low to bother with. Then they would have money to put by for eventual emergencies, and also for retirement.

      He just could not figure out why these two bright people could not bring themselves to do this. And then: he found out that her parents, who were not rich, demonstrated their love by paying for plane tickets “home” for the two of them several times per year. “Home” was very far away; we’re talking thousands of dollars a pop. Also note that these grown adults both referred to her parents’ and his in-laws’ residence as “home.”

      And they strenuously resisted the idea of paying for their own plane tickets and relieving the older couple of this burden. It was unthinkable. The proof of her parents’, and his chosen-parents’, love was in those plane tickets. Note that these were two nice people, well thought of, active in community issues, not greedy or crass in any way–and this was a small town, so people would have talked if they’d been users or losers. But they could not see that what they thought of as love was wrong, even though the other people involved in the relationship wanted to give it, because it required unending one-sided sacrifice. Although successful and highly competent, in this one area they were still fundamentally childish. And that explained their inability to keep their fistfuls of money from blowing away on the wind. They thought they were taking care of themselves, and they could not see the damage.

      Does this sound at all familiar?

  29. #1217: This may or may not be a strategy you’re comfortable with, but when dealing with someone who just won’t stop pushing even when you’ve indicated clearly that a discussion is closed, I think there’s something to be said for flying off the handle a little bit.

    I’ve had this kind of problem with my dad. He has advice for every possible situation—much of it severely outdated, against my values, or otherwise really bad for me to take—and given the chance, he will keep repeating it and pushing it long after I’ve made a decision and acted on it and told him I’m not doing what he wants me to do. When he pushes too hard for too long, I snap and yell at him. He doesn’t like that. In the short term, I get lectured for being defensive and told he’s just trying to help (my mom is a major peacemaker by nature). But over time, I’ve definitely noticed that he does less of his nonsense at me than my brother, and I’m pretty sure it’s because he knows there are consequences for doing it at me that he doesn’t want to deal with. So I keep doing it, because it works and gentler approaches haven’t, and my boundaries do actually matter and it’s ok for me to demand that he respect them in whatever way works.

    1. This, so much this.

      It’s not nice to snap or yell, and I can see why you wouldn’t want to, but it’s worth asking why exactly are you holding back? What does that do for you in this situation?

      You say don’t want to revert to teenage behaviour, but teens fight with their parents because they’re pushing boundaries and trying to establish independence, while the parent is trying to impose boundaries and limit/slow down independence. When you are grown, the teenage dynamic shouldn’t recur, but that’s because your mother should no longer be trying to limit your independence, not because it’s wrong for you to assert it.

      The other side to the Captain’s request to be treated like a fellow adult, who the mother likes and doesn’t feel entitled to control, is the reaction that fellow adult would have to an attempt at control. To butcher a quote I read on this site before, I can’t remember what it’s from: Adulthood is not a reward you’re given for being a good child.

      If you’re angry, be angry. Why shield your mother from the natural consequence of her own actions and words?

    2. Also seconding this advice. My mother is a loving and generally pretty reasonable person… but every once in a while, she’ll just get a bug up her butt about something, won’t let it go, and starts treating me like a child about it.

      And the only solution I’ve found is to just have the damn fight.

      I once had a screaming match with her in the kitchen 3 days after Christmas because she just would not get off my ass about the fact that I didn’t have every minute detail of my wedding planned yet, even though it was still 6 months away. She started scolding at me, so I started yelling back. And when she tried the whole “I just love you and I’m anxious about your special day being perfect” defense, I told her, “You realize you can have anxiety and not make it other people’s problem, right?” and then stormed out of the kitchen.

      In the moment, I felt profoundly juvenile. It felt so much like the fights we would have when I was in middle and high school. But I ultimately felt really good afterwards about having stood up for myself and my boundaries. And it was the last fight we ever had about the wedding.

      1. ““You realize you can have anxiety and not make it other people’s problem, right?”” is one of the greatest sentences I’ve ever read. Thank you.

  30. LW 1217, did you move to be closer to your mother so she can provide childcare while you are taking classes?

    It’s not obvious from your letter whether this was your primary reason for moving there, or not.

    From what you’ve written, it sounds like your mother knows everything about your plans, and that she doesn’t trust you to make good decisions.

    How do you think this will play out once your baby is born?
    Do you imagine that your mother will have a sudden change of heart and recognize you as an adult with the authority to make important decisions about your baby?

    Or will she just do whatever she likes when caring for your baby, regardless of your instructions?

    In your life, has your mother shown any ability to take stock of her behaviour and to make significant and long-lasting changes?

    If not, please reconsider how much contact you want with her, *before* your baby is born. Afterwards it will be much, much harder to establish firm boundaries or to move away from her again.

    Best wishes.

  31. Actual thing that happened in as close to verbatim as I can remember. To set the scene, 15 years ago, my husband and I were living in a one bedroom condo that was 400 square feet. My MIL was moving out of her house to a smaller place and was dumping her emotional baggage on us, literally.
    “Here, this is for you!”
    ME: “A box of…. pipes?”
    “It was my Uncle Bob’s!”
    (Later confirmed that Sir B has literally no memory of his great uncle Bob.)
    “I guess we can sell it on Ebay?”
    “You can’t see it! It’s a collection of rare meerschaum pipes!”
    (Exchanges look with husband. We are so selling it.)
    “Oh, I smell something hang on… Oh, it’s an half-filled pouch of pipe tobacco. Here, I’ll throw it out.”
    “You can’t throw that out! It’s good pipe tobacco.”
    “It’s from Caldors. Caldors went out of business 15 years ago.”
    “It’s stale, it’s half open, and it cost $1.25 when Reagan was president.”
    “It’s perfectly good!”
    “It will stink up the car on the four hour drive home.”
    “It’s great tobacco!”
    “We don’t smoke.”
    “Someone will want it.”
    “I’m going to throw this out.”
    (I throw it out.)
    (She *gets it out of the garbage and puts it in the box.* While *staring at me.*)
    (I get it out of the box, sprinkle the stinking, stale stuff on the compost, throw out the wrapper.)

    She still tries to give my husband ‘this was your grandfather’s’ stuff and he takes it. (Glances at pile of useless antique pewter serving ware) But I’ve learned to head most of it off at the pass.

    Which is not to say I have any suggestions just that I am in the same boat and you are not alone. Hugs if you want them.

    1. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize you meant pipes like you smoke, not just lengths of water pipe.

      1. I also was confused! Big copper pipes! Oh, and someone just hid their secret tobacco stash in the same box! Totally makes sense!

    2. I thought it were organ-pipes! Because my grandparents do have several of them. Because, I don’t know, they look nice?

  32. My dad (RIP) was always trying to give me stuff when I visited. My husband’s mother loves to give stuff when visited. This won’t work for everyone, but after years of arguing/guilt trips/saying no a thousand times, I just take it and drop by the waste/trash site or drop off at a donation center (if it’s in reasonably good condition). If they do visit and ask “Oh I had to put it in the attic because the carpet were being cleaned” or “Sorry I dropped it/lost it and was too upset to tell you”.

  33. Another possibility:

    “But how can you get rid of it? It’s perfectly good! It’s much nicer than this cheap modern stuff!”

    “Yes, it is. And it still will be when someone else owns it.”
    My mom is still storing a lot of her mother’s furniture in case we want it someday. It’s not sentiment, it’s thrift. “You want a table? I think there’s one in the cellar you could use.” Thankfully she’s not pushy about it, and gets that the styles don’t work for us — she just doesn’t want it “to go to waste”.

    We donated some of grandmother’s stuff to a church refugee resettlement program. That was acceptable.

    Having an auctioneer/appraiser come look at the contents on site might be a good step. A realistic idea of the monetary value of the stuff would help with the decisions on how to dispose of it.

  34. #1216 — You mentioned you are working on clearing stuff out of your home. Can you tell your mother, “I don’t have room for it” whenever she tries to press grandma’s stuff on you? Whether that’s furniture, cookware, art, whatever. “Yes, that is a lovely sofa, but I don’t have room for it.” “I know it was Grandma’s favourite casserole dish, but I don’t have room for it.” “Yes, I remember that picture hanging in Grandma’s living room when I was a kid. I can’t take it because I don’t have room for it.”

    Your mother might try to argue that you do have room, or you could rearrange your stuff to make room. Just repeat it: “I know what’s in my house. I don’t have room for it.” (I wouldn’t tell your mother you are trying to get rid of stuff from your home since she might see that as more room for grandma’s things.)

    People can argue at length about bad vs. good taste or obligations to accept family heirlooms. It’s harder to argue about the laws of physics. You don’t live in a Harry Potter camping tent, you can’t expand your home. Whatever it is, you don’t have room for it.

    #1217 — Did your mother have an overbearing relative who got on her nerves when she was pregnant? Can you invoke that? “Mom, remember how annoyed you got when Grandma/Great-Aunt Fifi/Uncle Eddie gave you unsolicited advice and opinions? You’re doing the same thing.”

    You referred to both your parents. Along with the Captain’s advice and scripts, could you enlist your other parent to rein in your mother?

  35. I’m afraid I don’t have really specific advice, but I do have a book recommendation for LW #1216.

    The book is called Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Gail Steketee & Randy Frost. It is a book about hoarding and the mindsets that are related, but written compassionately, in such a way that it doesn’t become the shaming from the Extreme Hoarders show.

    Ex: Hoarders share many characteristics – they are often creative thinkers, with a strong visual component to their memory and a deep sense of empathy. They can be very extroverted and love to make connections between people, or introverted and prefer a cocoon of protection built out of piles. They are prone to anxiety, or dealing with unprocessed trauma, which makes them very protective of the Things which are around them and other’s attempts to shrink their hoard.

    So, from that, you get people who hang on to Too Much because:
    I can use that again! I could do all sorts of things with it!
    But I can’t separate the X from the Y, they will be lonely. You take both! They will go to a good home.
    I need to have it in this stack – and every time I see it, I remember Memory
    If you make me go through this pile, I will have to cope with all of the Memories of Person that are attached to that pile, and I can’t do that right now

    I find that understanding the mindset helps me decide what I have the energy to engage with. Like, I can’t help with the FeelingsBomb that could come with cleaning out the wardrobe where the Memories are stored, but I can work with her to sort the junk mail etc.

    1. Re: Stuff. Can second this book. I have also loaned it out to people having hoarding or organizing issues, and they, too, have found it useful. It also clarified to me that a lot of my accumulation of things comes from (often legitimate concern) I will need a thing and not be able to afford it in the future, or there will be a storm-related event (also a legitimate concern) and I will run out of something important and have no way to run out and get it.

      Examples: I have to force myself to purge old toiletries because prolonged, unpredictable, rather serious deprivation / poverty really does a number on your brain. Am I personifying them and thinking that conditioner I bought in 1996 is going to be sad I didn’t use it up before it got gross? (The magic of unpacking old boxes! What’s this, what’s this?) No, the conditioner doesn’t care. Am I being unrealistic about a stack of coaster-sized Pringles tops that my artist friend could make into art coasters? Would it be wasteful to just throw them out? Probably yes to both questions, so how about recycling them and moving on? But WAIT, because oh no, it’s a BOOK! Books are precious! Must not mistreat them. Or, this Broken Thing Could Be Fixed Easily If You’d Just DO It. But I forget to just do it when I have free time, and lug the Broken Thing about until I get realistic about my motivation and time. Or, OH NO, it is a Collectible Thing Probably Worth Some Money! Now here is where I run into problems (and wish I had bigger bookshelves and closets). Am I seeing value that doesn’t exist? Probably not. But…maybe. And there’s where I get stuck!

  36. #1216: My MIL does the sneaky unload of Stuff from her mother everytime we have a vist. It’s all stuff her mom “would want me to have” (um….even though she died long before I met my husband??) Each time she comes with her load, I ask her to tell me the story behind each piece and I do it with my husband around. Every piece kicks up a memory and she just gets so happy being able to tell me stories about her beloved mother. My husband and his bro chiime in with their memories and before long, they’re all reminiscing. I find that’s what it’s actually about – her wanting to take time to remember her mom, wanting to make sure her sons haven’t forgotten their grandmother, and to get me to see how important she was to everyone. After the vist is over, I keep the things I really want/could use and donate the rest – maybe 10% of what she’s brought so far. So maybe
    you go over, gather up a box of things, you ask your mom to tell you The Story behind a few pieces. That helps her get through having to get rid of her things….and maybe that entire box gets dropped off at the charity shop on your way home, but while nothing but good memories of Grandmother go home with you?

  37. I am clearing a parental hoard right now. My husband is sorting through Treasured Memories and filling boxes for siblings. One box per sib. Everyone gets to claim and take whatever they want in terms of furniture. I have inventoried jewelry and most of it will be sold for ekder care except some familial wedding rings which will be distributed among granddaughters. I am removing trash. Then we’re calling in an estate auctioneer to take it all. I highly recommend this route.

  38. My mom’s not a hoarder, but she IS someone whose love language is gifts which has made things like “donating stuff to the thrift shop” and “receiving mom hand-me-downs” a little fraught over the years.
    I’ve had luck with:
    “Yes, that IS a nice [object]! It should go to someone who will love it!”
    “I appreciate what you’re doing, but when you give us [bags of random stuff] without first asking if we want them, it feels like our home is being treated like a dumping ground. If you tell us what you want to bring by, and let us accept it (or not), then we’ll be happy to receive the useful, wanted things you bring. Instead of feeling buried in an avalanche, we’ll feel loved and taken care of, which I know is what you’re going for”.

    (Admittedly, the second didn’t go over quite as easily, but it DID go over, and now, when my mom is down-sizing her closet or similar, she brings us stuff we’ll actually use, which means she gets to see us actually using it, which makes her feel good, too).

    I don’t know if those scripts will work for your mom. If she’s anxious about moving or afraid of something-related-to-abandonment or having The Feels about not being able to look after you and your brother the way she might otherwise have wanted to, they might not be the right ones. But generally seconding the suggestion to use a script that speaks to the Feelings underneath the actions, because they tend to work in the long run.

  39. LW #1217 – My mom did childcare for me for the first 4 years of my son’s life. If I had it to do over again, I would not allow it. On a practical note, what I failed to realize is that I needed 100% reliable coverage, and a single person cannot provide that. You and your baby will both have routine doctor visits that will likely require missing work. You will get sick. Your baby will get sick. You will miss work. I’m not sure what country you are in, but at least in the US it’s super easy to burn your sick and vacation time in the first few years of your child’s life. Chances are, your mom will need days off as well to cover similar things, and if you are like me, you end up using more of your time off for those reasons. This is a practical concern you need to consider with family childcare.

    My mom also didn’t respect my boundaries or my parenting decisions, and that only increased once she was watching him daily. I hate to break a relationship down to power, but in this case, I handed a lot of power to my mom, and she took advantage of it any time I tried to push back against her. It sounds like your mom might also be the kind of person to do that. She will use that power as leverage to get what she wants from you, she will use it to go against your wishes when she is watching your child, and she may even use it after your child has grown and she feels entitled to access to your child. That’s what my mom has done.

    One more thing, any boundaries that your mom won’t respect with you, she will probably not respect with your child either. So that sourness and disapproval she loads on you when she is unhappy with you will likely eventually extend to how she treats your child when she doesn’t like your child’s behavior either. You moved away for a reason, trust that.

  40. I’m not a hoarder but I do have a difficult time getting rid of USEFUL or GOOD QUALITY things.

    (You can probably spot the traps here, if you are a creative thinker. Oh, the abundance of should-be-garbage things that one can recycle or re-purpose to do other things! Oh the years that will go by while you will literally prefer to stare into space on the sofa rather than do any of those crafty re-purposing/recycling projects!

    But this is a NICE ANTIQUE WHATSIT that I literally have no use for, and I DO like it, but the only way I get to keep it is if I pay to store it, and I cannot do that. But this is a MUCH BETTER FURNITURE THING than my current FURNITURE THING, but I have no time or energy to unload my FURNITURE THING, and replace it with the ‘better’ one, so that’s rather moot.)

    The good news is that I am an excellent organizer and can sock away a lot of things in a small space. Also, I keep a mental map of my household and can find most things easily. I will notice if something is out of place in “my” areas if I am sharing a space, and it will agitate me, because my personal boundaries are pretty sizable, also, thank you, anxiety. Right now my entire flat is my space, and my pets don’t have access to much of anything three feet off the floor, so my mental map doesn’t get effed with much.

    The bad news is that this does not apply to things in moving boxes, and half my guest bedroom is taken up with boxes. I need shelving! (I also need to get even more brutal about weeding down my book collection. I already had a serious talk with myself about linens and toiletries/cosmetics and clothes and shoes and magazines and hand-me-down-grandmother-things…these are things that bring me comfort and joy when I have what I need in stock, or am feeling nostalgic, or need a special occasion clothing item or accessory, but these things also cause me stress when I have no room to store them and no time to deal with overflow.)

    I know my clinginess to objects is partially due to childhood deprivation of choice as well as adult poverty that made groceries and toiletries into luxuries, and some bad memories of my belongings being thrown out or given away without consulting me first by parents and roommates, and some days I have more mental health spoons than others, and just KEEPING something when throwing it out MIGHT be okay is often the default. I don’t KNOW that I will be able to afford to replace [item that probably should be replaced or thrown in garbage but is still, barely, usable] if I get rid of it. But pausing to look it up online before tossing it is a great way not to get anything done as I get sucked into shopping websites and start window-shopping for stuff I won’t actually ever buy.

    I value order and neatness in my home, so hoarding isn’t likely to take deep root, but I still need to collect the spoons to save the money for shelving, unpack some sealed boxes that need to be unpacked, and donate about half or more of what’s in them. Spoons are in short supply lately! No one is on fire, though.

    I share this because everyone, no matter their degree of hoard-i-ness (none to A LOT) or their appreciation of the things people are trying to force upon you (none to “if it would work, sure, but it doesn’t,” to YES PLEASE), has the final say in how their personal territory is arranged and decorated, and this goes double or more if their home space is shared with any partners or roommates. It doesn’t matter if you appear inconsistent, and say yes sometimes (because you like or need a thing) and no other times, you are the person who is in charge of your domain (or in co-charge).

    My mom gets upset when she resolves a problem in her brain by assigning labor and time-intensive chores on other people, then just assumes you’ll say yes or be easily nagged or bullied into doing those things. She’ll claim you agreed to a plan you never heard about before. She’ll claim it’s easy and won’t take long, only to have it eat up every free moment of your weekend. Her resolution to her problem is not my problem (and she relies more on handypeople who she must PAY these days because she abused me once too many times without regard for my health, commitments or abilities). Your parents’ resolution to their Granny’s Stuff problem is not YOUR problem. I mean, sure, it is, but SHOULD it be? Probably no.

    Your parents have resolved a problem (“what to do with a lot of stuff that I value, even if it isn’t valuable to anyone else”) by deciding YOU will take on the burden of curating the stuff. You are going to have to get rid of your stuff, or pay for storage, or fight over saying ‘no,’ all because your parents refuse to adopt a different plan that doesn’t involve you being the repository for granny’s furniture and stuff.

    Also, another possible beneficiary of your period furniture pieces could be a theatre department at a university or a small local theatre. Small speakeasies, if you have them, might appreciate some sturdy pieces for storage and ambiance. Small boutiques might appreciate an armoire for displaying items. Just some additional thoughts. Consider also Freecycle, Craig’s List, and Facebook Marketplace. You do not have to be burdened with stuff. You say that, like me, you have a little hoard-y inclination. Best way to head that off at the pass is to never let superfluous stuff darken your doorstep.

  41. For LW #1217: One tip I’ve learned for people who insist on repeating their suggestion: Repeat what they told you back to them, so they know they’ve heard you, and then respond. Occasionally, that’s all it takes to get the point across. “Yes, I heard you. And the answer is still no.”

  42. Wow, this was terrific advice. I followed a link from Nicole Cliffe, and much of what you wrote could be applied to anyone whose parents are downsizing and/or moving closer.

  43. Posting separately from my other posts because this is actually about the hoarding impulse:

    If you (whoever you may be, reading this) experience the impulse to hold on to objects because they carry memories, and either the objects are piling up in an obstructive way or you want to pass on the memory-objects for the sake of the memories (or both), then I suggest making a memory book.

    Take a photo of yourself with the object. Tell the story of what that object means. Print the photos and stories on the best paper you can fit through your printer at home, or ask your local print shop what they can do. Store your pages in a clean, dry place, well above the level of leaks. If possible, have them printed and bound as an actual book.

    Tell your loved ones where the book is. And let the objects go.

    Historians go bananas for stuff like this. Objects are all very well, but without context the objects go mute. Do an image search on Matthaus Schwarz, a fashion-forward money man who lived during the 16th century. He had himself painted in his favorite outfits over the course of 40 years, with explanatory notes. The garments of the day are mostly lost. But thanks to Schwarz, we know how a middle-class man wore his clothes, why he chose what he did, and how changes in fashion, status, wealth, and age interacted. So now we have images of his book, and books about his book, and recreations of his outfits, and so on and so forth.

    And so, someday, there may be dissertations on your precious things too, even though there is no way for you to keep them from the ravages of time after you’re gone.

    1. Yes! This!

      In history, The Thing can be important. But what’s equally and sometimes more important is the context. This is why artifact hunters are such a disaster – they care about The Thing, and destroy the context. This is why restoration without note-taking is such a disaster – it “fixes” The Thing, but destroys the context.

      If The Thing is taking too much space, too much time, too much whatever – take a picture and write a note, and let The Thing(s) go.

  44. OP, my grandma and grandpa lived through the depression. They kept *everything.* But when we cleared out their house, all of us who could manage it anyway, the thing that kept us mostly on track was that their children already had a plan about how to chose what would be transported states away, what would be donated, and what was headed straight to the dumpster because there’s frugality, and there’s “having seven folgers’ cans of bent nails in case we ever run out of good ones.”

    We donated certain bulky items to causes they were fond of: my grandfather’s entire beekeeping equipment shed was donated to the local beekeeper’s association who had already been more than happy to cart off his bees, and most of my grandmother’s crafts supplies had already been given to local schools and the nearby convent for arts and crafts outreach.

    If you think you can keep your mom on topic: ask her what (small) items she treasures most, and figure out a way for *her* to keep them in the retirement home. Anxiety about not wanting to give up things that she loved, combined with an anxiety about not being able to continue offering you her assistance (since keeping a home that you, your brother, any grandchildren she does or does not have can always come back to might be a big, hairy THING for her) is probably making her less than her best.

    That said “mom, this tupperware is so old it probably causes cancer,” is not an argument that it’s easy to win. Expect attrition, or ninja raids in the middle of moving to throw the stuff out.

  45. Long time reader, first time commenting … I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the above because almost the same exact thing happened to me. No children involved, but my parents offered to buy locally to support us as a really difficult time, and then strung us along waiting for “the perfect buy”, all while my income and physical and mental health spiralled for over six months trying to keep a physical job while disabled that was literally killing me with the promise of “I’ll get out soon..”. On top of this I was concurrently dealing with major wider familial, online, and offline conflict and at times gaslighting and abuse. So it was well needed!

    However things immediately started to degenerate – old behavioural patterns reared their heads again and again, there were countless requisites that often clashed with needs on either side, a budget that the area couldn’t handle. They didn’t pick up when we needed to contact and were incensed if the opposite occured. I still found numerous possibilities – which they refused to look at in time or make an offer for (on one occasion simply because they though it was rude to bid when one offer had already been made; somewhat understandable, as we don’t actually know who else was buying, but I expect their imagined even-more-desperate family was rather unlikely given our circumstances at the time and the preponderance of local landlords). Looking out-of-area was equally hard as we had no private car or even money for transportation and neither of us had the option of moving work elsewhere. The offer was so generous that it was difficult to verbalize to them why it was so wearing, so we persisted, but it got harder and harder.

    Six months later, we’re all present for my grandmother’s 90th birthday, and I’m barely holding it together, dragged down by viruses and chronic ill health and overwhelmed with stress. I’ve had three different family members talk to me about the “new house” and say how generous my parents are and how amazing the offer is. It’s late at night, I’ve zero pain medication, and the entire extended family is seated in the room across from my parents and my partner and I. I mention how stressful and wearing my work has been and that the constant reminders all day have really driven home that we need to move on the promised house right now or I’ll probably implode. And they drop the bombshell; they saw “a perfect house they just had to have as their retirement home”, and bought it two weeks prior, while being non-contact out of the country the entire last month. It’s literally five minutes from their current place with zero public transportation and they’re using it as a mobile office. Just like that all hope is gone – and on the most potentially fraught day of the year. They insisted this was our fault for taking too long and that they didn’t think it was so necessary as all that (despite being the ones to initiate everything!).

    It was a vast loss of hope and a quintuple whammy on top of everything else and it led to a complete fibro exhaustion breakdown … which my entire extended family watched, blamed me for, and now see as part of my personality and accuse me of whenever. I returned to work with a huge illness flare from the massive journeys involved and from this and ended up unlawfully let go. I very nearly died two weeks later when a desperate rush to the GP after all this saw me completely misdiagnosed and put on medication that caused a cardiac event. Since then I’ve had no income or benefit support and am completely trapped where I am. My parents have to their credit stepped up to help when necessary but I wish they understood the gravity of their involvement and had not sparked this situation to begin with. I wish I’d known when to get out.

  46. LW #1217: The really important thing I want to tell you–and I wish it wasn’t the really important thing, but listening to the experiences of others suggests otherwise–is this:

    Don’t rely on your mother for anything.

    I can’t predict what’s going to happen between you and her in the future. The best case scenario is that she is able to perceive the reality check you are trying to hand her, that she cashes it, and that the two of you restart your relationship as peers. The worst case (barring literal crimes against you, which would be a whole other barrel of onions) is that she perceives you not only as a child, but a child whose child she must raise because obvs. you’re not competent to do it. But no matter what form your relationship takes in the future, you being dependent on her for anything at all will complicate it, whether that’s because she is used to associating “LW #1217 needs things” with “LW #1217 is dependent child,” or whether she uses it as ammo in a potential “Aha! I knew it! You’re helpless! Gimme that baby, I’ll mother it!” campaign.

    So: Don’t rely on your mother for anything. Not rides, not postnatal care, nothin’. Make other arrangements.

  47. Here’s the second most important thing: Get her out of your information loop. If she can’t help picking at your choices, she shouldn’t know about them. Perhaps this can change in the future; here’s hoping.

  48. For LW1216: I’m curious if the hoarding has gotten worse as the deadline to move grows closer. I’m sure she’s suffering decision fatigue and thus wants ALL the things. Maybe a discussion about how, of course you loved grandma and want to keep her things, but there’s only so much space. Mom, please tell me about what your favorite thing in this room is, that you’ll miss the most, cause it can’t go with you.

    For LW1217: You said you moved away young and you’re just back. It almost feels to me that your mom is looking to make up for lost time, and WAY over doing it. And I’ve definitely used the, “look, if you’re going to be like this, I’m going home. I’ll see you again next time.” on visits home after moving out and on the phone. CA’s scripts are awesome.

Comments are closed.