Question: My daughter is 40 years old and has an IQ of about 49. She keeps everything bought or given to her. There is only a small pathway to her bedroom; barley enough room to pass. It is a fire hazard as well as unhealthy. I cannot get her to get rid of even one coloring book. If I cleaned the room myself, what kind of problems might I cause?
Answer 1: She would probably get really angry, and it might seriously damage your relationship with her. Of course, not doing anything runs the risk of damaging the relationship too. It would be best if she could agree to doing something “to create more usable space” or “to make a bigger pathway.” Avoid suggesting that she or you get rid of her precious stuff, at least at first. If you have access to a behavior therapist, get him or her involved. You should also work on the other part of the equation, namely, not acquiring so much stuff, which might be easier. SSRI medication can also help, but don’t expect that to have a huge effect. Good luck. Continued near the bottom of this page.
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Answer 2: It’s difficult to predict what problems you might have if you cleaned the room yourself, but I think you are right to be thinking of this as problematic and the last resort. I think it is always better to do something like this, for a child or especially for an adult, in collaboration with the person. Maybe you can come up with some more strategies for communicating your concerns directly to your daughter and enlisting her participation in remedying the problem. And maybe you can do it in a gradual fashion. Pick a couple things, with your daughters agreement, that you will get rid of on a weekly basis or something until things are sufficiently de-cluttered. Another idea might be, if necessary, to agree to put some items in “storage” for your daughter, if you have some room. This might prove a useful “transition” for her, that may ease her anxiety about throwing things out altogether. And if she wants something out of storage, let her know that something needs to replace it in storage and agree also on a finite amount that can be stored too, etc. Best wishes.
Answer 3: For adults with normal intelligence, cleaning of their homes by others without their consent rarely works to control hoarding because they continue to collect new items and clutter as before and are often angry about the intervention as well. I don’t have experience with people who have more limited cognitive abilities but it seems unlikely that the outcome would be much different. Is there any way to enlist her cooperation by yourself or someone else showing an interest in her possessions, gaining her trust that they won’t be discarded and then helping her begin by organizing them and putting boxes of them in storage places (basement/attic) and ultimately helping her give some to others who could benefit from them. You may need to be creative about helping her develop new motivations to remove them and give them to good causes without feeling deprived herself of the comfort or pleasure they provide her.