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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.
Sincerely,
Shackled To Heirlooms

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It is the return of the Winter Pledge Drive here at Awkward Enterprises, where I rattle the tip jar and invite people to throw in a few $ if you like what we do here. You can contribute via PayPalDwolla, or (new!) cash.me/$CaptainAwkward. Your generous gifts help me keep the site going.

Now to today’s question, which involves some mentions of hoarding behaviors.

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Ahoy, Captain!

My mother died suddenly earlier this year. She and my father lived in a kinda remote area, 600 miles from my current residence. Pops is now getting ready to maybe think about moving to a zip code that has more humans than cows.
Here’s the problem: Mama and Pops spent most of their 45 years together collecting. We’re talking decorative spoons, commemorative display plates, a pewter powder horn engraved with scenes from the Battle of Valley Forge… Most of it was admired when it arrived and then put away for safekeeping. I have probably laid eyes on only 10% of the tchotchkie iceberg in my lifetime. The majority of the collection is currently tightly packed (Pops loves Tetris) in a 40 foot shipping container parked out back of Pop’s house, the kind more commonly seen on trucks or trains.

Whenever we talk lately he reels off a list of dozens of items, and he starts getting overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Mama. He then demands my siblings and I come and take what we want as soon as possible. I’ve told him the first step is that he has to choose what he wants to hold on to, but he is adamant my siblings and I get first pick because this stuff is ‘valuable’ and they bought it for us to have ‘eventually’. This evening I went on eBay looking for comparable items to the ones I knew were in the shipping container– they have not appreciated in value.

I try to keep collectibles in my own home to functional and useful items since I have a distinct lack of storage, and I have original and commissioned comic art covering most of the walls. Even if I picked out a huge pile of things I wanted, even if I somehow got them 600 miles to my home, I have nowhere to put them.
How do I tell my Pops that I don’t want any of his treasures? Are there scripts? And do you have any suggestions on the best way to support him as he starts downsizing, particularly as I’m so far away?

Thanks,

What Do You Do With An Engraved Pewter Powder Horn

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m having a bit of trouble with my parents.

To start off with, I’m in my mid-40s and have been living on my own since I was 19. My parents are in their late 60s. They’re both retired, but Dad has been volunteering his time at a local school to give him something to do. Because of this, he is not home during the day.

In the last year or so, Mom has been unable to drive, so I have taken up driving her where she needs to go when my father can’t drive her. At first this wasn’t a problem, but more recently it has become a huge headache. For starters, she has tried calling me for a ride when I am at work, which is obviously a no-go. If I try to arrange things for another time, when I am available, she gets huffy and combative and acts generally displeased the whole time we’re out. This usually results in her complaining to my father about how uncooperative I am, which gets me a phone call from Dad telling me off for not being more helpful.

I really want to help my Mom, but I have my own life to worry about and I can’t change my schedule to fit hers all the time. It’s really difficult to approach her about the subject because she gets very defensive any time I bring it up. Do you have any scripts for talking with her about it? Also something to help with Dad would be nice too.

Frustrated Daughter

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I need a second opinion. I’m at my wits end as to how to address something that has become a large problem with my boyfriend. My friends are no, help; I’ve gotten lucky, landed a good, caring boy, how could I have problems, lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you. I’m glad they approve of him, since I mostly trust their judgement, but… help?

Lately, I have been feeling really neglected by my boyfriend. (By lately, I mean since he stood me up a month ago; I went out with friends instead and it was fine…but he still stood me up.) This meant that if we talked, I initiated the conversation. If I went to his house, or he to mine, I planned it. Once we got there, if we watched tv/made food/fooled around, it was because I suggested it. If we were fooling around, I undressed him, and he had to be directed to return the favor. If we went out, I invited him somewhere, and he begrudgingly joined. 

This is not an exhaustive list, just things I pointed out specifically to him as “Hey, look, I’ve been putting in all the effort. Your turn to contribute” I sat him down, told him that I was feeling neglected and why. He agreed that he’s been shitty, and to try and change that. My solution was that for the next little while, it would be his turn. I was not going to initiate contact or plan anything; if he wants to see or talk to me, he’ll do so, if not, it won’t happen. That way, when we’re together, I can know that it’s because he wants to be there, not because I was pestering him.

But that’s not really working. He’ll invite me over, and then not know what to do. He’ll text me, and the conversation stops because things like “how’s your day/how are you/what’s up?” don’t occur to him. He claims that he knows I’m upset with him, which makes him think that I don’t want to talk to him, so he doesn’t initiate contact.

Good Afternoon, Captain A,

I’d like to ask you for help. Specifically, I’m having a hard time dealing with my parents. Let me explain the situation.

I’m currently twenty, a rising junior in college, and planning to study abroad next semester. The school that I currently attend is around a thousand miles away from home, so I don’t go back very often (Maybe once a semester and during winter/summer break). However, when I do go back, there’s always tension between me and my parents, and I think they (at least my mother) still thinks that I plan to return to living at home and that college is a stayed vacation.

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