How Do I Deal With My Parents Junk? (Your Advice)

Your Advice - help answer readers' questionsJunk. We all accumulate more of it than we probably need to, but what if it is someone else’s junk that is causing a problem? That is the question that this reader sent in hoping for some advice:

I visit my parents house on a regular basis to help them clean and all I can say is that the two of them are complete packrats. They save absolutely everything and the house is just full of junk. It’s not really messy so much as it is just full of things everywhere. There is just so much of it that it is overwhelming and what I would really like to do is get rid of it. The problem is is that they refuse to let any of it go. Is there any way to convince people that save everything that there are times when things should be given away, sold or thrown away?

I realize that it is their life and not mine, but I’m the one who has to go over and clean every month since they don’t get around very well these days. I don’t mind doing it, but it does get frustrating with all the junk because it makes me spend more time cleaning than it should. Plus the fact that I know that when they do pass away, it’ll all be thrown out anyway.

Am I overreacting and being too selfish? Should I just let them live their lives the way they want to and worry about at a later date? Would it be wrong for me to start clearing things out secretly as I don’t think that they would ever notice that a lot of this stuff is gone? I’m not sure what I should do in this situation.

If you were in a similar situation, how would you go about addressing this issue? Are there ways to help clean up the house without causing a scene with the parents?

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9 Responses to How Do I Deal With My Parents Junk? (Your Advice)

  1. Michael Kimsal says:

    I don’t mind doing it, but it does get frustrating with all the junk because it makes me spend more time cleaning than it should.
    Sounds like that should read
    “I wouldn’t mind doing it if the house didn’t have so much stuff in it.” You *do* actually mind doing it, so just say it. Reorient the thinking a bit and admit that you do. Not to get all 12 steppish here, but you are in fact enabling this behaviour – packratting. They need someone to come clean. It bothers you to clean with the junk there, so you shouldn’t be cleaning there without removing the junk. If they won’t remove the junk, they’ll need to get someone else to clean/help out.

    I will be facing this situation one day, and it will be the attitude I adopt. We had similar situations in the family earlier (not my parents though) and this approach was the only one that reduced the stress involved. It didn’t necessarily remove the junk, but at some point you can’t care any more and do have to keep coming back to “it’s the other person’s life”.

    Good luck!

  2. What would happen if you didn’t come and attempt to clean?

    We faced similar w/my FIL – we finally left him w/his stuff and dealt with it after his passing. He was happier that way with his things around him and would have been understandably angry if anyone tried to sneak stuff out. How would you like it if someone decided YOU didn’t need something and snuck it out of your home?

    I like Michael’s suggestion – perhaps you could find someone else to clean it or leave the situation as it sits?

  3. Fern says:

    I would just let it be. Your parents aren’t going to change their habits now, and I definitely don’t think you should presume to throw things out that aren’t yours.

  4. A Marino says:

    There’s never an easy answer in this. For a moment, I thought that one of mine wrote in until I read the part about regularly cleaning and knew it couldn’t be my family. Ha Ha!

    My gripe is that I have all of their momentos, etc in a bedroom and garage. I also could use the space. Many parents also have the problem of stuff not being taken to their kids houses.

    There’s not a whole lot you can do until they are ready to change. I finally got over alot of my sentimentality by taking pictures of items and then giving them away to people I thought would appreciate it. Ask your parents what will they think when in the future, others may come in and throw out stuff. The other problem you’re looking at would be if they decided to move. Could YOU move all of that for them?

    As I clean out now, I look at everything with a question of whether I would take it with me when I move. Talk to your parents because you’re becoming bitter about the job. You may have to stop cleaning and tell them why you are no longer cleaning.

  5. princessperky says:

    Mostly you can’t but you could try the donation route…”Hey mom Lil Amy has project and she could so use some of these, would you mind if I took them to her?”

    Or you could try noticing some things that relatives would love….”Aunt Jamie always loved your china..what if we give it to her now?” (instead of when you die, is not said, just implied)

    And whether or not ‘lil Amy keeps or uses all the project stuff is not your problem.

    The picture route is great for momentoe of kids work…take pictures and scan them for digital posterity…though it is a lot of work you would have to do and might not get to trash the original…

  6. Dave says:

    Wow, I think we could do a whole series of posts about this. We live in what used to be my grandfather’s house. I moved in when it was fully furnished, and 15 years later, we’re still dealing with how can we let go of the family ‘treasures’.
    My parents too are pack rats, and they know it’s hurting them, but my mom is unwilling to let go – it’s her security. I’ve tried and tried to help her start to thin things out, even trying to tell them how unsafe it is from a fire load standpoint, but it’s no use. It’s hard, because I can’t go over and just visit – first I have to carve out a place to sit. The best thing that happened was a flood 6 years ago, that forced them to unload a dumpster full.
    You can’t adopt their mess, and you can’t judge them for how they live, or what they can and can’t do. All you can do is give them the care they want, how they want it, and if it’s interfering with your relationship, then get someone else to do the tasks that frustrate you, so you can enjoy your parents.

  7. contrary1 says:

    I’m in the middle of this right now too. I’m attempting to move into my moms house with her; but there is really no space that isn’t already occupied with stuff she just can’t get rid of.
    We are still deliberating on dads things (he died 7 years ago) and are just this week going to take his clothes out of the house. At least that is the plan.
    I’ve had the most luck with reading posts from people on Freecycle & craigs list to my mom…..people who truly NEED things in their lives. Mom has been thrilled to see some of her items go to churches, families in need or missions. We haven’t even got to the stuff that “really matters” yet tho’; this is going to take years!

    I’m bringing a small load of my things here every week end & it has now become a bigger issue……in that I’m just sitting my things in the family room area until we come up with places to put them. Mom has to make some decisions or she will have my things in her bridge playing room for all eternity! 🙂
    (I think this method may work!)

  8. Sue says:

    I am dealing with this with my in-laws (and will have to deal with it at some point with my parents – they aren’t quite as bad). One thing that seemed to work last week was to get boxes and not “get rid” of anything, but just put it in a “to keep” box. It isn’t a great solution, but it does get stuff out of the way – you can stack the boxes somewhere and maybe in six months or a year when the boxes are not touched, they will be more likely to let it go…

  9. juli says:

    Im 18 My dad is definitly a packrat, our garage is a total mess and he always wants to clean it but he never wants to throw anything away. He always holds on to everything until it either breaks rotts or doesnt even work. He likes to garbage shop and says that one day he’ll have a garage sale and sell everything but that day never comes. He never uses the things that he has and he still has it. I always try to clean the garage but when I throw things away he gets upset. The garage is not the only thing that is packed with junk but also his room and it really is hard to make him throw things away. everyday he comes home with more stuff and its driving me crazy. I dont know what to do.

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