How to Care for an Elderly Hoarder
how to clean the garage of your parent who hoards

Have you ever passed by one of those houses where the crooked garage doors are barely holding themselves together over the heaping bulge behind them?

Then one day, on your usual stroll of the neighborhood, those garage doors are popped wide open for the whole world to see. You shudder and gasp aloud. You don’t want to linger for too long because it is rude to stare, but you silently wonder how someone could live with floor-to-ceiling clutter that has been amassed for decades.

If you are only too familiar with this sight, let me offer you some reassurance that there is a path to purging. When I said yes to the job of caring for my elderly mother, I had no idea I was also saying yes to care for a house that had been equally badly neglected.

Driving up to my childhood home where my mother still lived nearly 35 years later, I see the lawn is no longer green, nor mowed. It resembles something out of the savannah that my father would have tackled in earnest at the first sighting of crabgrass—had he not passed away thirteen years earlier.

When my disheveled, eighty-five year old mother greets me at the door with her warm toothless smile and welcoming hug, I can tell there will be more moments like what Dorothy experienced in Oz when she said to her dog, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Nothing is recognizable to me.

It’s not like we ever lived with white-glove standards growing up, but we were a tidy family if you didn’t count the mud and blood the brothers were always traipsing in.

But, on this day my childhood home is operating at the highest level of dysfunction. Of five bedrooms, four are being used as attic space where wardrobes from thirty years earlier are sprawled across the floor, mixed in with old blankets and petrified briquettes of cat doo-doo. All I can think to myself is who is going to oversee the gut job needed on this house?  Tearfully, I am afraid I already know this answer.

The garage looks worse than what you might imagine.

Even more disconcerting is the pile-up of paperwork saved since my father’s death. My old bedroom is filled with envelopes containing statements stuffed into them, then packed into shoeboxes piled onto the bookshelf, or tucked into drawers, or peeking out from beneath beds.

Depression-era parents. Need I say more? Thank goodness my mother is willing to put her trust into what she calls my good judgment. Health, Safety, Style becomes our mantra for the care that will need to go into her—and her home.

Here are the ABCs to beginning any difficult task: Assess, Begin, Carry On.


Every frontiersman knew to survey the land. What is the kind of stuff piling up, memorabilia or junk? Who will miss it? I feel a sense of responsibility to the other siblings to preserve their trophies, yearbooks, and kinder artwork—theirs to ditch if they so desire.


Before you can salvage anything, you need a good staging area.

Step 1: De-clutter the garage first.

  • Clear out discarded toys, bikes, and seldom used items
  • Find the Salvation Army or Goodwill that will pick up
  • Recycle nuts, bolts; shift furniture, find the floor, push a broom
  • Get rid of rusted shovels and the plethora of old tools
  • Clear off every shelf—discard paints and other chemical laden cans legally
  • Shred-It will make a house call affordably, taking mere seconds to do what will take you months with your home machine that will jam frequently


Step 2: Create smart centers within your garage

  • Laundry station-move an old bookshelf to store supplies
  • Errand station—use labeled boxes (library donations, record store, Goodwill, Accountant, etc.) as a reminder of which errands to still run
  • Paperwork station—tower plastic crates labeled for archived financial statements. Caution: never throw anything away until you understand what it means to your parent’s financial picture. I found wealth buried in the 85th box.


Step 3: Preserving childhood memories for siblings (3-piece set for each child)


  • 1) 45-gallon crate 37’L 27”H to store small furnishings, trophies, plaques et al
  • 2) Tri-fold board to stack on top of crate for holding Kinder art, or the like
  • 3) Colored document pouch, zippered, 8.5” x 11” for important papers, flash drives, or special letters home saved by parents
  • Move an old dresser cluttering a bedroom to create new hub for sibling items


Carry On

Your job is not yet over. Paperwork sorting becomes my passion.

Step 4-Active vs. Archive File statements accordingly.

Active is for accounts paid in the past year. Scrutinize each to make sure your elderly parent is not experiencing financial abuse. File current month’s statement at front, older months behind.

Archive older statements from previous years. Keep these only for gleaning how money changed hands through investing or bank accounts. Cluster 2-3 years of old statements into one lidded plastic crate the size of a bankers box. Label front as “Archive 2014-2017”. Repeat this until all of your bundles are in separate bins. Once you get a handle on the Active, return to the Archives at your leisure to understand financial history.

Efficient closet makeovers will be the next blog posting here.

Stefania ShafferBy Stefania Shaffer

Stefania Shaffer, a teacher, speaker, and writer, is grateful her WWII parents raised her to do the right thing. Her second book, the Memoir 9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind has been called “imperative reading”. Funny and compassionate, this is the insider’s view of what to expect from your daunting role if you are the adult child coming home to care for your elderly parent until the very end.

The Companion Playbook is the accompanying workbook that provides the busy caregiver with the urgent To-do list to get started today.

Written by Stefania Shaffer
Stefania Shaffer, a teacher, speaker, and writer, is grateful her WWII parents raised her to do the right thing. Her second book, the Memoir 9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind has been called “imperative reading”. Funny and compassionate, this is the insider’s view of what to expect from your daunting role if you are the adult child coming home to care for your elderly parent until the very end. The Companion Playbook is the accompanying workbook that provides the busy caregiver with the urgent To-do list to get started today. Amazon books and reviews:

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  1. They don’t have to be elderly to be a hoarder, or unsafe in theor home!

  2. I draw a plan to build a ,,Horder Paradise,, city,where he may do whatever he likes,plus I will hire security to keep him safe.

  3. It’s a fine line, difficult at best, dangerous at times. I just slowly do a few at a time. Even that can result in an outrage if I’m seen.

  4. Sadly it really has more to do with mental health than just being a slob. It is more than just sorting and getting rid of it because it causes the hoarder anxiety and causes arguments. And if you do get rid of something chances are it will be replaced with something else.

  5. Uhh, where was this person in the 13 years that this was developing?

  6. Same with my parents. Dad passed in 1991 & things accumulated more after that. Then the basement flooded, mold test showed 3 types of dangerous mold, Mom got pneumonia & THEN I got the ball rolling. It took several years & garage sales, but for the last few years of her life she was in a safer, healthier environment.

  7. Thank God my mother wasn’t a hoarder! I couldn’t imagine dealing with this mess.

    • My Mother was immaculate.
      I am clean but a bit cluttered.

    • My mom was the same, neat and very well organized. I’m not a hoarder but she would come to my house and want to make it neat and orderly like hers.

  8. So unfair and selfish to leave a mess for your children

    • Yes, they all say everything is precious and valuable, walking a narrow path between the toilet and the recliner. Precious memories? More like a landfill. WE are shovelling out the extra stuff now, a little at a time every week, to save someone an onerous task someday.

    • I’m sorry Jodi Flippin if I hurt your feelings. I am only speaking from my personal experience. Clearing out a house is time consuming never mind trying to sell items.

    • Take care Jodi Flippin. Enjoy your day.

    • erased my comments…. still feel the same, but sadness that people are so detached. if your folks live in “trash that has to be scooped” maybe a visit more often is needed. i always found comfort on this page, taking care of my dad for 8 years, quit work to do it with hubbys support. Never once have I looked at his things as trah, unless it was trash….. its not up to me to label his things and how they come about in his life to be so important. but, not so sure anymore, about alot of things. so before i step on someones feet or say something that can be taken how i don’t mean it, i will leave this convo…….. i thank ya’ll for the support over time

    • Ruth Jackson may I ask something? So, your folks got old and passed….. they left you a house filled with thier things…… which no dought were treasured or they would have been tossed out. so, one “clears out the house” and has to sell the things. what point in life do you think us older ones should decide would be a good age to purge our things….. so our “love” ones won’t be bothered by having to clear it out? to clear our houses and rid our things not to bother our survivors? I am lost somewhere in time…… where that fine line has been erased of what family and heritage and memories are all about. not being sassy, just know that when my mom passed away, not once did I feel inconvienced or burdened by things that were hers, wheather I thought they were treasures or no use. I am so glad to be me, still respecting and caring for others….. my momma and dad raised me with respect and the right way, I guess.

    • again I’m sorry if you are upset. let’s agree to disagree. Have a good day.

    • So sorry you are upset but perhaps you don’t understand hoarding is a symptom of mental illness? Having to get rid of the junk is more than visiting more often. Try living with it for 30 or 40 or 50 years and you will have a different perspective. 90% or more of the hoard is worthless trash. Only the hoarder sees it as having value. It costs lots of time and often thousands of dollars to get rid of it. Things that should be preserved are often ruined by rats because those items are at the bottom of the hoard. I have a nice property but can’t sell it because of a hoard. No one wants to buy it with the junk there and the hoarder won’t agree to have me clean it because he sees it as all valuable. I’m sorry if you just don’t understand it. I hope you never ever have to. It wears on the soul of the person having to deal with it.

  9. Come spring I’m having a big garage sale, wise words I heard were, “your kids dont want your stuff” and they dont, maybe a few useful things but thats it lol

  10. Mine were on the pack rats end keeping things “just in case.” After my mom passed and my dad was with me permanently, I flew back and forth to their home to complete the arduous and emotionally and physically draining process. Once it was done, it was a tremendous relief. My time and energy could then go fully and directly to my father who needed me, not a house 1200 miles away!

  11. Mom died recently, while not a hoarder she and dad were both what we call pack rats, they keep stuff just in case they may need it someday. This past year she attempted to sort stuff but few things ever left the house. Now after going through a few drawers of papers I’m finding stuff from decades ago mixed with new papers. Luckily my son and I will continue to live in the house we all shared so I don’t have to rush.

  12. Been there done that – long story short – their journey-I was along for the ride – once they passed I cleaned house……

  13. After dad died moms AD accelerated dramatically and the clutter was unbelievable. Mom was a wanderer and frequently called the police on me, random neighbors, etc. I had to place her in memory care. After that I cleaned out her house. The hardest part was tossing clutter that I knew had meaning for her – we couldn’t keep it all. Old bookends made of beach rocks. The huge Mediterranean bedroom set with plastic fake wood trim that Goodwill, etc. wouldn’t take that I finally freecycled. The boxes of rotten fabric and papers. I’m glad she was not there when I did it it would have hurt her so much.

    • I has taken me a year to clean out the house after my mother in laws passing. When I was her caregiver and tried to get rid of anything she would dig it out of the trash and bring it back end. Alzheimers is so cruel.

    • Shelly Garrison McMillan yes it’s an evil disease. I had one week to clean out my parents house. It was so eerie being alone in the house I grew up in throwing things away, giving stuff away on Craig’s list. I’m not sure why but I had disco playing, reminded me of happy church youth dances in my family basement.

  14. I think this simplifies it way too much. The task of going through, sorting, distributing, shredding, donating, cleaning, etc. can be a very long, tedious, exhausting and lonely process! You might be able to start while your loved one is still living, but maybe you work full time and have a family. Then, when the loved ones are gone, you still work, tend to your own family, have siblings that are physically unable to help, or live far away, and are overwhelmed with what’s still in the house. You go through every piece of paper to find bills, statements, checks and even cash. Your spouse doesn’t understand because his parents were very organized, and downsized before they passed away.

    My mother was an intelligent woman, kind and a great mentor, she just couldn’t get past the depression era mentality of saving EVERYTHING! And unfortunately, it has taken a huge toll on me.

    I recommend finding someone who specializes in organizing, and pay them to coordinate the project. It could save your health and sanity. I’m getting ready to take my own advice after over a year of what seems like a never ending project.

  15. Making the Home Safe and Livable is the Main Concern.
    Take it in Stages and Go from There.

  16. Helpful…hoarding can be a sign of cognitive decline or dementia…very tough to clean out stuff when they are alive…can cause catastrophic meltdowns and much consternation….we have spent thousands in storage and a shed…to house things of no consequence…it is more frustrating than you can possibly imagine…and unless I want to go through stuff like a bat at night..after a very long day…it will not get done because of the intense frustration to both of us…

    • Been there, done that. My 86-year old father is a hoarder and stubborn as can be. His first wife, my mother, was schizophrenic and she was easier to care for than he is.,,

  17. I am so thankful my mother isn’t a hoarder


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