Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Bad Guy

My sister is cleaning up the hoard house. Kind of strange to be considering this taking place. My sister had made her plan absolutely clear to get the house cleaned up for the past year.  Then when I suggested that my sister was set on cleaning up the house, to move in and take over, my parents dismissed that. So I took a more reserved (aloof?) approach and held back and watched. Talking to my sister wasn't an option. I just could not talk with her anymore, it was too difficult. My comments to her were met with accusations, leaving me to feel like an outsider in the family dynamics.

Checking Out the Hoarder's House
I went to visit my parent's house earlier this year. My sister insisted that I should roll up my sleeves and help clean up the hoard while I was there. I held back, and made her frustrated, focusing more on my parent's well being. I saw the hoard as an enormous project. Not only was it big, my parents made it clear that they didn't want me touching it. With my father's health in question, and my mother barely functioning intellectually, I put before my parents their options, and they confided in me at how shocked that their situation had deteriorated.

Not Much Input from Home
In talking with my parents I don't get much input about their lives.
"How is it going?" I asked.
"Everything is just as it should be, I guess," my mother said.
"Ok, well you're getting ready to move right?"
"OK. That's a big change. Very exciting," I said.
"I don't know how exciting it's going to be. But it is a big change."

They had  decided on the option to move in with my sister. They didn't discuss or explain what that meant on a practical level. The hoard house would take awhile to sort things out and bring up to a proper standard. They didn't divulge what was to happen with the house, and who would take possession.

"Ok," I asked, "so they are flying out to you and then getting a Uhaul and everyone is going back with that?"
"I'm not sure exactly how its going to work," said my mother, "With your sister, how she plans things come out different then how they start."
"That sounds exciting."
"Yes and I know you want to hear all about it,"  my mother said, accusingly.

It's Only Stuff
I visualized what I still had in the hoard house. Years ago, I had packed up 6 boxes and put them in my closet. Half of those boxes were papers from school projects. They could easily be put out to recycle. Another couple boxes were books. They could be taken to the used book store. The last box was my vintage Star Wars toys. I had checked on eBay for what they might be worth. Hardly a fortune. Maybe the box could go for $100, to some earnest collector.

As  peer encouraged, "Just keep repeating to yourself the mantra, 'It's only stuff and I have better things to do than get worked up about stuff!'"

The Scope of the Hoard
I had always believed that tackling the hoard was a big project, and to properly sift through nostalgic items, possible old items of value, and donate stuff could take months. So how could my sister think she would cleaning things up in a couple weeks. I assumed she was looking at the big prize: selling the house. My father, in recent phone calls, had mentioned that property values were rising. So my sister could just bulldoze through all the stuff, get the house emptied and on the market as soon as possible. Again, I am out of the picture. My sister insists that I am too difficult to get in touch with, according to my parents.

"I am right here," I said, "she can contact me by phone, or if she wants by email and I can phone her back, or even Skype."
"Hmm," my father said, "well, I don't know about those technologies."
"Here let me make it easy for you."
Even though I am overseas, I gave him a US based phone number that he could use to call me directly. He called. "Wow, that's even clearer then when you call me," he said.
"There," I said, "and along with everything else, you have a local phone number you can call to talk with me."
I felt relaxed that I had proven that the excuse about not being able to call me was just an excuse.

A Sister's Blog
With my sister taking the lead with our parents, I imagine what my sister would be writing now if she were blogging about dealing with hoarding parents. I presumed it would go something like this.
That dick of a brother didn't come to help. I'm here cleaning out our parent's home with my husband from this hoard and junk, and he couldn't even hall his lazy ass over here. I told him. Yes I did. I told him in December that the situation was bad. The hoarding had grown out of hand. Rotting food was in the fridge. And all he could say was, 'Well Mom and Dad say that they're fine.'
You bet they say that. They have a mental illness. They deny everything! Well at least I'M doing something about it. Looks like I'm the only one that cares. He had a chance to come out here and sort through any nostalgic stuff, cause I'm throwing it now. I don't have time for this. I've gotta baby and my 15 year old is going crazy out here. I told my husband, we'd just be a week or so. Clean up, and put the house on the market. No, if you're reading, you lazy ass, you are not getting a share of this house. I am cleaning up. I am fixing up stuff where necessary. I am selling it. You can go to hell.
Brother's Guilt?
I feel kind of weird around the whole issue. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. Maybe it's not my business. I talk to my parents regularly, but I don't confront them about the hoard. It is the elephant in the room. When I even allude to cleaning up, my father always says, "I'm working on it, I'm working on it, you just have to give me some time," leaving me with the feeling that I am getting in the way of him cleaning up.

My outlook has always been in looking at separate the two issues: My parents personal welfare and the condition of the house. I have been all for addressing my parent's personal welfare and got them to see doctors, and started them on tours of assisted living facilities. The conversations just ended up going in circles. They turned down the assisted living option, saying "Your sister has insisted on us coming to live with her. She is arranging health insurance for us."

Don't Worry So Much
As one confidante explained, "You have now been cast as a 'victim' child while your sister is a 'golden' child, at least for the moment." That's what I explained to my wife.

I had told her that things were going to turn out that my parents had made up their mind to go and live with my sister, and that the house would probably fall into her hands. My wife told me not to worry too much, that I had been a good son but wasn't really considered in all this, just looked at how you could balance out some of the work. "If your sister is truly determined to take care of them, and take on this responsibility, and finally take on the house then let her have it, and save yourself the headache."

So what do you think, am I the bad guy now?


  1. Absolutely not! NO matter what you do or don't do you will be wrong in someone's eyes.

    1. Thanks for the reassurance. This is so true, and kind of a harsh reality. I guess I have spent a long time trying to make sure my actions are making others happy too.

  2. You've been there, know what kind of disaster the house is and know that your parents are not very willing. I don't know what your sister thought you could/would do while you were there, but your focus was on your parents not so much the house. Realistically, anyone can clean out the house, but trying to help your parents find a new place to live (as you did) is what needs to come first. Sometimes we can't make other people see the value of the work we do.
    I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before the house cleanup implodes and they don't leave or, if that goes well and your parents actually move, then they hoard your sister's house. I'm wondering what she's thinking, taking them in with her own children to deal with.

    1. Thanks TC. I really do hope for the best in this, and perhaps over optimistically believe that my sister can succeed in getting our parents through this transition. One can only hope. But as you aptly raise, the core problem is still there and can migrate. Your speculation about how she is aggressively taking on the responsibility of taking care of my parents while handling her own children is bewildering. Either she is an amazing saint, who is ready to bring new challenges into her life, complicate her family dynamics (and maybe her marriage). I don't feel like I've been written off yet.