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The Hoarding Mom That Keeps On Giving

Miss Jeanne I’m in a pickle.  Long story short my MIL and I have a very strained relationship.  Over recent years I’ve tried hard to repair it for my husband’s sake and I hate to admit it but she and I have a lot in common.  I was even starting to really like her before this recent incident happened.

One thing we do not have in common is her pack rat mentality.  3 months ago I made the mistake of mentioning my husband and I would be having a yard sale in the middle of the summer.  I really don’t like doing the yard sale thing so I just wanted to do one weekend.  Since we live on a busy road while MIL does not I offered her a small spot in our sale to get some much needed extra cash.  I stressed that we would only do it for this one weekend so please keep that in mind as far as space is concerned.  I was afraid she would dump her entire house on us.  She is a hoarder and when she does finally purge she cannot throw anything away but instead dumps it all on her children.  Which is exactly what happened.

For three months she’s brought car load after car load down.  She justifies this by saying that we can keep the profits.  At first it was nice stuff but anymore it’s odd sewing notions and even a half used box of depends!  At this point I feel like I’m being used a literal garbage dump.

I found my back bone and put my foot down 2 months ago.  She stepped over it and put more boxes on my porch.  She leaves them when I’m not home now.  I considered just moving it to the trash but she brings so much down in a week that her things along with my household garbage would not be picked up by the garbage company.  Finally my husband put his foot down last month.  She countered by saying she had some of his late father’s things.  MIL knows this is a weak spot for my husband so he relented hoping it would be more photos or other sentimental items.  Sure, it was his father’s suitcase, but it was filled with his mother’s clothes.  And the 3 boxes of junk and ladies boots certainly weren’t his fathers!  I found it disgusting that she would use his father’s name to con us into taking more junk.

We’ve gone so far as to tell her no more in less then nice terms.  We’ve shown her the two whole rooms(!) that she’s filled herself.  Nothing has stopped her.  She has brought so much down that I can’t possibly throw it all out without getting a dumpster and I’m already too overwhelmed by our own crowded mess to sort through her things (the point of the yard sale in the first place!).  Would I be breaking some sort of rule of etiquette by breaking the peace treaty and placing a huge NO MIL sign in my yard?  I’m thinking it’s my only option.

Have that Yard Sale ASAP and never have another one!  Second, call one of the local charities that resells used items to see if they will arrange a pick up.    Disabled American Vets was my charity of choice when I was a newly married.  They would arrive with a large truck and happily load and take it all away.   (And be sure to get a receipt from the charity so you can deduct the contribution from your income taxes.)


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • becca July 22, 2010, 5:39 am

    Sell the notations and and other sewing bits and bobs on etsy

  • josie July 22, 2010, 6:25 am

    Well, at least she’s cleaning up her house a bit 🙂 We’ve sold a partial package of Depends at our sale as well as countless other oddities. But yeah, call a charity afterwards and take the deduction.

  • ferretrick July 22, 2010, 7:22 am

    Normally I’m not a fan of waste, but if your house is getting as bad as you say, the only way to stop this is one big purge. The only way to stop your MIL is to show her a cleaned out house free of junk. As long as your house is full of junk, she’ll see no problem with adding more to the pile. Forget about the yard sale-it will take too much time and you won’t make THAT much money anyway. If you can find a charity to take it, great, but only if they are willing to take EVERYTHING. You will never keep up if you try to sort what’s worth donating from the crap. And forget the tax deduction-you have to have everything in a detailed, itemized list and you don’t have that kind of time. It sounds like you will never keep up with the sorting while she keeps bringing down more crap. Sure you are losing the money you could get from tax deduction/selling but it will be worth it in time savings and having peace in your life and your home.

    So, if you can’t find a charity willing to just back a truck up and take it all, its hire a dumpster time. Get rid of everything all at once, then call your mother in law and tell her what you have done. Tell her there is no yard sale, there never will be, and she is not to bring one more item to you. And she owes you half the cost of the dump truck.

  • SammyHammy July 22, 2010, 7:28 am

    Yup, call Goodwill or the Kidney Foundation; they’ll be more than happy to haul the junk away.

    Or you could borrow a truck and load everything back into it and dump it back on her property to deal with.

  • dee July 22, 2010, 7:55 am

    No, you can’t put a “no mil” sign in your yard, as tempting as that might be!

    I agree to call one of the charities that does pickup and have them come and get the stuff. I wouldn’t take the time to go through it. If you happen to see something that you think would sell at the yard sale and would be worth putting out, grab it; otherwise let the stuff go!

    Once the yard sale is over, tell her NO MORE STUFF as we are not having another sale.

    If she keeps bringing stuff, put a box or two or three in the garbage each week-whatever you can. Load the rest in your car and take it to a charity in town.

  • AMC July 22, 2010, 8:20 am

    I love Goodwill! They may or may not take the Depends, but I’m sure they would take the sewing notions, clothes, and other knick-knacks.

  • Xtina July 22, 2010, 8:21 am

    Have that yard sale as soon as you possibly can!! This seems to be the only way you might see an end to the endless stream of junk she’s bringing to you.

    Some people will buy the strangest junk, so I guess just open up the boxes at the yard sale and mark it as ‘best offer’. Anything that’s left, call the local charity house and have them pick it all up. As for dealing with your MIL–if she’s still cleaning out after that–tell her in no uncertain terms that not a single thing further will be be taken and anything else that is will go straight to the trash or it will be returned to her house in the middle of the night. Yes, it’ll be a pain if you have to follow through on that, but it’ll be worth it.

    If she is a hoarder, I guess it’s good that she’s finally cleaning out, but I’m sorry to hear that it’s being dumped on you, OP. One other alternative would be to offer to call a charity for her and have them come over to her house and pick up her unwanted things–or show her how to become a seller on eBay!

    Yes, I agree that disguising more junk in the form of ” dead father’s things” was a low, low move on the MIL’s part That was truly heinous.

    • admin July 22, 2010, 9:19 am

      A friend of mine held a yard sale to raise money for her family’s annual pool membership but instead of pricing items, she merely asked people to give her what they thought it was worth. No haggling. She raised more money that year than in any previous year.

  • carebear102106 July 22, 2010, 8:26 am

    wow you all are much nicer than I am
    after repeated requests not to leave anything else it would be reappearing on her lawn

  • RP July 22, 2010, 9:32 am

    I’m with carebear102106 and if the problem wasn’t already so bad I’d suggest taking the existing stuff back . Heck, I’d be strongly tempted to put the whole lot in her yard anyway if I had to get a dumpster for it. If you want to put up a sign, how about one that says “NO DUMPING”.

    I also like Xtina’s suggestion of telling her alternatives when you tell her ‘No’ again. But if she isn’t being treated for her hoarding problem can you get her to see a doctor? Perhaps a professional can get her to see that her behavior is out of line.

  • DGS July 22, 2010, 9:35 am

    All the other posters have given great advice, but I would also like to add – get your MIL some help (if you are so angry with her that you are not willing to, perhaps your husband will). As a psychologist, I can attest that hoarding, while challenging, is a treatable condition, and it is in fact, a mental illness, related to anxiety-spectrum disorders, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder (although one typically thinks of OCD sufferers as those who are neat and clean to a fault, there is a whole spectrum of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that people engage in, including hoarding). Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown in research literature to be effective in the treatment of hoarding, and family therapy can go a long way in clearing up some communication problems and lifting some of the resentment that you are experiencing. Obviously, this is if your MIL is willing to accept said help. If not, simply calling a dump truck to haul all the junk away and limiting your communication with your MIL is the answer.

  • Interestingly Laura July 22, 2010, 9:48 am

    I’m a certified appraiser (USPAP 2005), and I notice that ferretrick incorrectly mentioned that donated items will need to be itemized. According to the IRS website, if the amount donated has a fair market value of less than $500, this is not the case, although you may have to fill out an 8283 (which is a short form, and not terribly complicated). Source: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf
    Keep in mind that used clothing is usually not tax deductible, and it sounds like for most of the stuff, a dumpster might be your best bet. Best of luck!

  • Linda July 22, 2010, 10:14 am

    I would give one last warning. Any more junk brought over would promptly be brought back and deposited on her front lawn. You need to stick to your guns about this or she will never stop.

  • NotCinderell July 22, 2010, 11:38 am

    I feel your pain, as I’m going through the same things. Donate the stuff you don’t want, recycle what you can’t donate, throw away what you can’t recycle. Don’t bother telling your mother what you did with specific items. Tell her that you sold some, donated some, and recycled some, and don’t tell her about the stuff that got trashed. When she asks what happened to a specific item, tell her you don’t remember.

    And as for the open box of Depends, I donated open boxes of ladies’ incontinence products to an assisted living facility for elderly nuns at a convent. They were gratefully received.

  • Shayna July 22, 2010, 11:44 am

    I disagree that the OP should hire a dumpster. Why should her and her DH have to pay to have MIL’s garbage dealt with? No, no, no, no, no. NO. Bring it back to MIL’s, dump it on her lawn, and let her deal with her own junk. Have your yard sale (I LOVE the idea of asking people what they will pay; no haggling involved) and get rid of your own stuff. Then donate whatever you can to charity.

  • Kelly July 22, 2010, 12:14 pm

    I like NotCinderell’s idea “Donate the stuff you don’t want, recycle what you can’t donate, throw away what you can’t recycle”. Even though your MIL dumped this junk on you, please don’t dump any true junk on a charity. They have limited resourses to sort through things that belong in the garbage.

  • The Cat Whisperer July 22, 2010, 12:21 pm

    I’m with the other answerers who say the MIL should be seen by someone who can give her a physical and mental evaluation. Extreme hoarding is an indication of a problem. You can’t solve a medical or mental problem by punishing the person who has it. That’s inhumane and ineffective.

    Get her son to get his mom to go to a doctor for a check-up, and then get the doctor to make a referral to someone who can do a psych evaluation on her. This doesn’t need to be done unkindly or with a “Mom, you’re acting like you’ve got a screw loose” attitude. “Mom, you seem to be kind of overwhelmed by things and I’d like to help you, Dr. So-and-so can help me figure out what we need to do together so you’re less overwhelmed,” is a good start.

  • Interestingly Laura July 22, 2010, 1:09 pm

    Never mind, I like Shayna’s comment much better.

  • OP July 22, 2010, 2:23 pm

    Thank you all for your suggestions. I think you guys are on to something about this possibly being a true hoarding problem. I started to realize there may be more to this than meets the eye when MIL tried to give us her late husband’s work floppies from 15 years ago. I’m not exactly sentimental but I see why people keep a favorite shirt or blanket. Useless floppy disks just because they belonged to her husband? I don’t see any other reason for it than obsessively hoarding everything that passed through her late husband’s hands. Also, those floppies weren’t meant to go in the sale. She trusted them to my husband as a keepsake. In that light I’m a lot more sympathetic to this whole thing than I was. That doesn’t mean that I’ll let her keep doing it but I’m not as upset with her as I was.

    We did have a yard sale this weekend and did exactly what admin suggested here. We basically through it all out of the lawn and let people set their own prices. What didn’t sell went on the curb with a free sign. Nothing was left, but if there was DH and I had a plan to donate what was donatable and trash the rest. It went so smoothly I think I’m going to do this every weekend until my house is clear!

  • Cady July 22, 2010, 2:27 pm

    I like Xtina’s idea of opening a box of junk and pricing it as “best offer.” I bet you’ll get rid of a lot of MIL’s stuff that way.

  • Enna July 22, 2010, 2:45 pm

    I’d say donate things to charaity or sell them if you can on etsy, ebay or car boot sale. I agree with Shayna’s comment – if it isn’t your father in law’s things then dump them back on MIL’s lawn: say: “we’ve told you twice, you either take the belongings back, sell them, donate them or dump them.”

  • gramma dishes July 22, 2010, 3:15 pm

    Although I’ve never had a yard sale, I’ve been to a few of them and I never cease to be amazed at the stuff some people will buy.

    I saw someone buy a whole HUGE stack of the most incredibly worn out bath towels and wash cloths I’ve ever seen. Truly bare in some spots and strings hanging out of every edge. The guy who bought the whole batch for $1 was delighted to get them. Seems he works on cars and his hands get incredibly dirty. His wife wouldn’t let him use their own towels, so he was in heaven when he found these.

    He also confessed to buying stained (and holey) cloth diapers. To wash his car! (They’re very soft and won’t scratch the surface according to him.)

    So people can find uses for almost ANYthing!

    I’d try selling stuff first. (Have more than one sale if you need to.) Anything that doesn’t sell, give to charity. You may be hesitant to give it to charity because you think it’s not usable, but it really may be — for someone else!

  • I_Can_Understand July 22, 2010, 3:27 pm

    I feel for you and your husband. My Mom and Dad are hoarders and it is very embarrasing secret that me and my siblings had to hide. We never invited people to our house. It was a hard way to grow up and a hard way to build friendships. My parents house is not dirty, but it is very cluttered. (Piles of things on the stairs, they don’t sleep in their beds because the bedrooms are piled with things.) Now that me and our siblings have moved out, she has piled my room up with all of her dead mothers belongings. Both have been retired for two years and still have not cleaned anything out. My husband has never been in their house (we have been together for eight years), because I’m so ashamed. My dad is the same way, but each think the others stuff is the problem/junk. I have so much anger toward them for hurting my childhood. I have seen the show “Hoarders”, their situation is sanitary but very cluttered. If they saw that show, they would think it doesn’t apply to them. Both my of my parents did not grow up with childhoods like this. It is just selfish that they subjected us to it. When I have my own children, I will tell them that I will not let my own children in their house till they clean it out. My younger brother was going to tell them that he would not visit them until they cleaned their house out. My older brother just acts like nothing is wrong (He lives out of state, I feel he might turn into a wackadoo too, he definitely has the denial capacity). Also, this will be an even larger problem when they pass away and me and my younger brother will be stuck going through this stuff. My parents both are very stubborn and full of pride, I could never get them to agree to go to counseling. They think they know everything, but they haven’t figured out a way to be unmiserable. To answer you, this is what I do: When she gives me stuff, I gush over it and then throw it out/donate it. If I where you I would say, “with all the money we raised we bought ***, or we put it in a savings account for the kids”. I know its sad, but at least she is starting to part with stuff. If you don’t have the time right now, tell her you can’t sell more stuff for “tax reasons”. I started to sell my unneeded items on ebay and craigslist. I plan on bragging about how much fun/money I made from the sales. Hopefully they will take the bait, I’ll teach them how to sell items, and they will start unloading this junk.
    PS: I have read that hoarding is due to a tramatic event in the person past that has cause them to have a fear of letting go. In other words, the person becomes over sentimental. I’m not sure if this is the case with my parents (They are not very warm/open people). To me it feels like this is their passive aggressive way that they are asserting their authority over eachother, through space. I’m not sure what the reason is behind your MIL hoarding, maybe addressing that will help. However, remember whatever trauma she had in the past, letting it infest your house too will not help her. Thank you for letting me vent 🙂

  • Tara July 22, 2010, 4:40 pm

    I agree… call the charity have have her junk hauled away. Go ahead with the yard sale for YOUR stuff. You’re not losing money giving away what wasn’t yours in the first place.

    Tell your mother in law you took it all to the dump, and will continue to throw away any more junk she brings over. It’ll probably upset her more to have her items “wasted” than resold, and maybe keep her from doing it again.

    In the future, when she leaves crap on your porch, take it back to her house and leave it in her yard.

  • Pat in France July 22, 2010, 5:00 pm

    Let’s see it from another point of view:
    Each piece of junk she’s bringing you now is one less piece of junk anyone will have to deal with when she moves or dies…
    Have the yard sale – you won’t believe what kind of stuff people buy.

  • Dina July 22, 2010, 5:10 pm

    I come from a family of hoarders – my grandparents’ house is a freaking NIGHTMARE and a fire hazard. :/ It’s definitely part of a mental illness. If you can convince her to get help, that would be the best thing, but obviously there’s only so much you can do!

    I can see hoarding tendencies in myself – at least my wonderful partner and I have a standing arrangement that she’s allowed to throw away any stupid crap that piles up under the kitchen sink (my worst weakness is glass jars, for some reason).

  • Amber July 22, 2010, 7:25 pm

    There’s always freecycle as well. You can join your local online group and post a message saying you have a whole bunch of stuff to be taken, then let people email you for your address and leave it all out on your lawn. People will take just about ANYTHING if it’s free!

  • LilyG July 22, 2010, 7:38 pm

    Many times veterinarian clinics and humane pet shelters will take open boxes of product. I’m a hospice nurse and many times after someone has died, the family just wants their unused stuff out of the house. I take all the paper and medical products and drop them off at the shelter. Animals don’t care if it’s open and that cuts down on expenses for the organization.

  • Zhoen July 22, 2010, 7:52 pm

    She’s not rude. She’s mentally ill, and you are helping her get rid of the crap. Do better, and get her a real therapist so she can get her life in order. Or let her son do it.

  • Exark Kun July 22, 2010, 8:03 pm

    Why not dump it all on HER lawn, and set up the yardsale there? Just stick some signs in the yard, grab a chair and some drinks, and there you go.

  • Princesssimmi July 23, 2010, 12:15 am

    Just a thought, if you have any unwanted towels or blankets donate them
    to your local animal shelter. The thought of kittens and puppies staying warm this winter makes you feel good. 🙂

  • Amy July 23, 2010, 3:13 am

    My MIL did the same thing, except wrap up all these things and give them to us as christmas presents. Yep, the two literally went through their “junk room” and gave away a broken black and white TV set to my neice and nephew…..complete with taped on people (that my FIL drew) on the screen…..for christmas!! My hubby and I were “lucky” as we got all their used camping stuff, and my son inherited grandpa’s Ninetendo……..

  • NotCinderell July 23, 2010, 9:15 am

    I agree with the people who say that this is actually a blessing in disguise, and vehemently disagree with the people who say that the best solution is to dump everything back on their lawn.

    First of all, while hoarders do undeniably engage in obnoxious behavior, they are our beloved family members, and this obnoxious behavior isn’t enough, in most cases, to estrange us.

    Secondly, the fact that a hoarder is getting rid of stuff willingly (even if it means dumping things on her son) is a HUGE step. If she’s willing to part with things, then they are no longer in her house, and this will mean that her environment will be that much healthier. See the above part on beloved family members. OP’s husband should be happy that his mother is increasing the health of her living environment.

    Thirdly, the fact that OP’s MIL is making this OP’s DH do the work for her is annoying, but it’s largely a moot point. Why? Because when OP’s MIL dies, they’re going to have to get rid of the junk anyway. They should be thankful that she’s letting them do some of the job now. Again, I speak from experience.

  • Twik July 23, 2010, 11:05 am

    I agree with NotCinderell. This is a blessing in disguise. She’s cleaning her house, and that’s less work for the OP when MIL moves or passes on.

    However, storing the stuff in *her* house is just turning OP into the hoarder. It sounds like this stuff is not even things that a charity would want. I suspect that MIL feels incapable of “wasting” anything, but if she thinks someone else will use it, she can get rid of it without the guilt. It would be a kindness to accept this stuff that she *knows* she has to get rid of, even if it means you have to pay to have it dumped yourself. The OP’s husband might consider the cost of the dumpster a gift to his mother.

  • lisastitch July 23, 2010, 12:13 pm

    Hoarding is a mental illness. The fact that she is getting rid of anything is wonderful–and it may be that the only way she can get rid of it is by giving it to her son and DIL. So sell what you can, donate what you can, throw away what you can–and remember that anything she gets rid of now is something you won’t have to deal with when she dies.
    If it’s too much to sort through, just call Goodwill or an equivalent charity and donate it without even looking at it.
    It’s really a tough situation, and I hope you’re able to work through it.

  • Shayna July 23, 2010, 2:36 pm

    If there is a mental disorder going on here, I doubt that MIL would be willingly parting with any of this stuff. That isn’t what hoarding is about. As a general rule, OCD horders do not part with their stuff. I think she’s just dumping her junk on you because you’re having a yard sale. I still say bring her stuff back to her. And as for beloved family members, MIL has no right to take advantage of her son and DIL. Son should have put his foot down and said “No more, Mom.” I hate it when people put their parents before their spouse.

  • RP July 23, 2010, 4:28 pm

    Just wanted to thank the OP for posting a followup. It’s always nice to hear that something got sorted out.

  • Shayna July 23, 2010, 8:51 pm

    >>She’s cleaning her house, and that’s less work for the OP when MIL moves or passes on.<<

    How is it less work for when she passes it on? MIL isn’t dealing with it. She’s dumping the mess onto the OP and her DH. So what’s the difference whether they deal with it *now* or *then*? At least if it was left at MIL’s house, it wouldn’t clutter up their house. I’d rather leave it at MIL’s house and deal with it there when I have to.

  • jenna July 24, 2010, 9:45 pm

    Hey, wait.

    Why did the OP have to be the first one to tell her MIL this, especially as their relationship is strained? Hello…shouldn’t that be her husband’s (the MIL’s son’s) job? HE should be point of first contact, not her. This is not her job.

    If someone did that to me, I’d throw the boxes in the car and take them right back to MIL, and dump them back on HER doorstep.

  • jenna July 24, 2010, 9:50 pm

    OK, if it really is a mental problem then dumping it right back on her lawn is not the best solution, I agree.

    But it’s a fine line there: if she’s really a hoarder she wouldn’t have gotten rid of the stuff at all. She may not have a full-blown mental disorder but be a bit dotty or have a tendency – these things do in fact run on a scale. (In the course of my work I spent a lot of time chatting about such things with a psychiatrist, and yes, have heard from a professional that it’s not a case of “disorder/no disorder”. It’s a scale with many gray areas, which is why it can be so hard to treat).

  • Bint July 26, 2010, 2:56 am

    Mental illness does not explain the MIL’s lying to her son abut the items being of sentimental value. That was inexcusable, and the OP should certainly not have to take these items.

  • Twik July 26, 2010, 9:22 am

    I’m not sure that this is exactly a mental illness, but it’s a sort of mindset that says you cannot just throw something away if it still has value. In the generation that survived the Great Depression and the War, it was because even the worst scraps of stuff today might be something you’d give your eyeteeth to have tomorrow. In today’s generation, the fear of throwing away something you’ll need has been replaced by ecological concerns – something must be Reduced, Reuse or Recycled, not simply thrown away to “clutter up the landfill”. It’s a matter of guilt.

    The MIL in this story cannot part with junk because she feels, deep down, it’s *immoral* to throw things out. Everything has a value, from unmatched socks to old catalogues to broken lawn chairs. So, hearing that the OP was having a yard sale is, to her, the perfect way to get rid of this stuff “that still has a value” without the guilt of dumping it.

  • NotCinderell July 26, 2010, 7:50 pm

    Twik, I think that’s a very astute assessment of that attitude.

  • Sharky July 29, 2010, 4:01 am

    you’d be surprised what people will haul away if you leave stuff in your parking strip with a FREE sign on it. this has been a good way for my parents and myself to clean out stuff that’s still useable, but not necessarily sale-able by a thrift store. AND we don’t have to haul the stuff anywhere ourselves, and it goes directly to people who will use it.

  • Sharky July 29, 2010, 4:39 am

    “Dina July 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm”
    “I come from a family of hoarders – my grandparents’ house is a freaking NIGHTMARE and a fire hazard. ”

    Sounds EXACTLY like my late grandparents!
    it took MONTHS, MULTIPLE garage sales, donating stuff and throwing away junk for the house to be emptied.

  • Princesssimmi July 29, 2010, 7:45 am

    Hear, hear, Twik. Well said.

  • Hellbound Alleee August 1, 2010, 10:36 am

    It sounds like the only solution is to go to her house and have a yard sale there. If her junk is emptied, maybe she’ll see how nice it is to live in a clutter-free environment.

    I remember that show where the hosts had to bargain with the clutter-folks to get them to get rid of stuff they didn’t need. It was really sad how some of them were clearly hoarders. It was always an attachment issue related to a trauma. However, hoarding is also a symptom of OCD that often is treated through talk-therapy exclusively. Sometimes the behavior is rationalized to the point of absurdity, and the therapy is based on reason and behavioral conditioning. (Yes, I have personal experience.) Sometimes drugs are necessary. One would do well to address this, as it is an Anxiety disorder, and easing that anxiety will greatly improve a person’s life.

    So will cleaning one’s house.

  • PO'd reader November 5, 2010, 4:00 am

    Grab garbage bags and dump various items in them for grab bags each for a couple of dollars. Someone might find something they could use, donate or whatever for a bargin and you could get rid of it. Or just the grocery bags and dump everthing out on a blanket. Tell the people they can have whatever they can fit for two dollars.