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As seen in the Dayton Daily News on December 9, 2017.

A woman called me the other day with desperation in her voice. Her mother, who lives alone, had taken a serious fall in her home. She fell because her home is filled with so many things.  There are tripping hazards everywhere.

When her mother fell, she broke several bones. Instead of calling 911, she called a friend.  Her friend moved her to the porch, because the woman was too embarrassed for the emergency personal to see her home. Then they called for help.

Her daughter called me because her mother could have been paralyzed from being moved.

She tried numerous times to help her mother organize her home, but her mother prevented any progress. I needed to speak with her mother directly. She called me later that night.

After some initial conversation, I asked, “When did your home begin to feel so overwhelming to you?” Her reply, “After my divorce, I lost any motivation to take care of my home.” There was the trigger I was looking for.

She was now emotionally ready to get organized, but her declining health kept her from making any progress. I asked, “If you’re ready to get organized then why are you refusing your daughter’s help?” She answered, “I think I have OCD. If something gets out of order, I have to follow a certain system to get it back in order.” Now I uncovered there were rules that needed to be followed.

I asked her to pretend I was the disorganized person.  She then needed to come up with the rules to help me get organized.  I presented it in this way because many people find it easier to help someone else with their problems than figure out their own.  Here were her suggestions:

  1. Don’t let people ask you questions repeatedly while you’re trying to make decisions. That’s too overwhelming. Instead, tell them to bring you a box of things so you can think through your decisions.
  2. If they have to ask you questions, have them write them down so you have time to process them.
  3. Have them ask you the importance of your items. Not all of your belongings have the same value. For example, photos might have a higher value than old newspapers. They will now have a better understanding of what can go more quickly, and which items you need more time with.

I informed her I would share these rules with her daughter since some of the work had to be done before she could return home from the hospital. They could then discuss them and come up with a plan.

She then burst into tears, which surprised me because she sounded so optimistic just a moment before. When I asked what her tears were about, she replied, “I don’t want to burden my daughter. It’s not fair that she has to clean up what I created.”

Finally, her real objection came out. In the past, she didn’t let her daughter help her because she didn’t want to burden her. Not because she was attached to her things and was being defiant about letting them go. I said, “Actually you’re burdening your daughter more by not letting her help you. She has been worried about you for years because of your disorganized home.”

They met and came up with a strategy for getting the home organized.  Afterwards, her daughter called me full of hope. I could hear the relief in her voice.

If you have a parent who is struggling with disorganization, start by having a discussion. Find out their truth and come up with a list of rules so they feel less threatened by the process.

If your home is in disarray, let your family help you. They constantly worry about your health and living conditions. Put yourself in their shoes for moment so you can see how helpless they may be feeling.