Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cleaning House and Taking Names

Sunday evening, 10 pm. I am so exhausted.

Sunday evening 10 pm. I am so relieved.

Last Thursday I had a 20-yard dumpster delivered to my mother's house. I have spent the last 3 days cleaning holy hell out of her home.

I have been sorting through 50 years of her life: 40 years of her marriage to our father, my own and my sister's childhood, and 30 years of a daycare business—and 10 years of dementia—all packed into a small, 3-BR ranch.

It was my job to decide what must go and what must stay, with a primary goal of restoring order and safety to her home.

It was not a job for the meek. My mother, always sentimental, developed a hoarding disorder in her later years. Her home was was littered with blatant signs of her oncoming dementia. As she always catered to 2-year olds, it was sometimes difficult to sort out what, in her home, might have had a legitimate purpose (a small tin with cherry pits, for children to plant), and what, in my mind, absolutely no sense:

Socks & diaper pins.

No matter; I have been a tornado in my mothers home for the last 3 days. I have emptied rooms that were stacked to the ceiling. I have sorted, tossed, and saved.

I have mopped floors, washed walls, scrubbed furniture, stripped beds, dusted cobwebs, moved furniture, and laundered countless bedclothes.

All of this with one thing foremost, in my mind:

I did not want to undo my mother with the changes I made in her home. I needed to pitch acres of stuff with minimal upset; her home should have, essentially, the same look and feel as it did Thursday afternoon, before I began.

The most unsettling aspect of the cleanup was tearing out white carpets that left the original dark brown tiles underneath. Clint helped me with the carpet removal, and with shopping for bright rugs to splash about, to absorb some of the shock.

Most furniture is returned to its original spot. Shelves, cleaned out, are still filled with her belongings, which leaves room to put comfort items out where she can see them: Stuffed animals on her headboard. She loves them.

I think I did a damned good job this weekend. I feel infinitely relieved that things are in order. Or, falling into order. I have some more rooms to work on, and Clint's son and friends are tackling the jungle that used to be the back yard.

Now that we're working on it, I realize what a tremendous amount of guilt I've felt that her home and yard have gotten to their current state.

But I also know that she has resisted all of our attempts to set these things straight in years past; she was unwilling to let us step in and move or toss Dad's stuff, Dad's space. Anything set right was restored to its chaotic state, broken lamps brought in from the garbage, and placed back into the corner from which we had carried them.

I sucked at tough love with my kid, and I suck at it with my Mom.

I was waiting for her permission, and she finally gave it to me.

We both feel better.

At least, I do.

I really hope she does.


  1. Anonymous7:17 AM

    Wow, that was a lot of work. Good job. I hope that my kids love me enough to help like that when it is needed. Now try to take it easy this week. Kelly

  2. Take it easy...there are 2 more rooms and the garage to clear out. I only have this dumpster for a limited time! Towandaaaaaaa!

  3. Tears in my eyes...I can feel your relief and I know you are a whirlwind!!! I are proud o' you!!


    And you are a fantastic daughter, Lori. Just think of all the afternoons you've spent with her - - quality time and taking care-of time. She is incredibly lucky to have you. Tough love is tough sometimes!!!

  4. Bravo!!!! You never cease to amaze me!!!!

    You're everything you've written about your dear mom and MORE.

    I spent all of this past week (I have a lot of free time on my hands now) reading your blog... I backtracked and started at the very beginning. I feel SO close to now.

    I love ya! And I'm sending you virtual hugs with virtual wine. XO

  5. Paria, All the way back to the beginning? WHAT beginning? The beginning of the month?! You must have been very, VERY bored, darling. Thanks for all your support, and I love you too.

  6. Just curious where your mom was during all of this. Did you have to get her out of the house? I've heard that processes like this can be tramatic for people with hording disorders. Best of luck, I'm sure it's not easy.

  7. Lol... oh no... ALL the way to the VERY beginning. When you began your adventures in the blogosphere!

    THAT'S how much time I've had on my hands. Lol.

  8. I've threatened my sister that this spring I'm going to her house and I'm getting rid of 50% of her hoarded clutter! You give me strength and hope that I can accomplish my goal.

  9. Cassie: Mom was there, which turned out ok; she got to see the "transformation" so it wasn't so much a shock as leaving for the day and returning to a new home. She also got to approve, or disapprove of what was pitched.

    She's very clear that what was still in good shape but no longer necessary in her home be donated to charities that could use them: Goodwill, VA, Habitat, etc. Our boxes are marked accordingly.

    Of 3 days, she only demanded a few stuffed toys back...but there were items I knew not to mess with.

    AZ: Get the dumpster, it's a Godsend! It set us back $400+, but was worth every penny not to have to bag everything!

  10. You are an inspiration to us all.

  11. Been there, done that, and understand... I know what you are going through, and I know you are doing it well. You have a good heart and I respect your doing what you must... Oh, by the way, when I say you have a good heart- it is the greatest compliment a human will ever get from me, ever!

  12. A few years ago, my Dad and brother tried to throw out a bunch of crap from the house... literal crap not even worth donation. My Mom went through the trash a retrieved most of it.

    I'm not looking forward to the day I'll have to do this for my Mom... she absolutely will not let me do anything right now, I tried when my Dad was sick and again after he died.

    Good work... be grateful for your Mom's blessing.

  13. Anonymous7:01 PM

    As one already said - You are a WONDERFUL DAUGHTER!

    Even if she might be upset now, I am sure your mom will see through the chaos when it is all over and order is restored..she will see how much you love her to do this for her.

    Pssst : When you do so much hard manual work, please remember that you are human too..the strain especially on the back can be big. So be careful dear.

  14. I know what that's like but not on the same level. I had to help clear Dad's house after he died, and Mom's house when they moved away. It's tough making those judgement calls. I feel for you.

  15. you have the ability to touch people with what you share. i sit here with tears in my eyes...

    i've had problems with my own parents. but i don't feel i have anywhere near the same grace and equanimity as you.

    i admire you!

  16. Thank you thank you everyone, for your encouraging words. I'm knocking out a few more rooms at Mom's house, we're almost in ship-shape!


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