As I’ve said, I pretty much hijacked my mother’s life in 2017. Between the last of September and mid-October, with her active permission, I took over her finances, took over getting her moved into Independent Living, took over her healthcare, and started working on getting her house ready to sell.
It was a huge undertaking and I wasn’t sure where to start, or how I was going to get it all done. I guess my first lesson in caretaking was that prioritization is key. You have to have your ducks in a row, or you’ll lose your mind. My ducks look like the North Korean parade army.
My mother has suffered from untreated depression with manic swings for as long as I can remember. My mother’s house, when I moved her out of it, hadn’t been cleaned in three years. Prior to her heart surgery, I’m not sure how long it had been. While my mom was in the hospital, I cleaned out her house.
The more I cleaned, the angrier I got. I was mad at her and mad at myself. I should have been a better daughter, I thought, and I should have made sure her house was clean.
But, ask anyone in my family. We were not known for being neatniks.
I suffer from anxiety and depression. I also suffered from a syndrome that I don’t know as having a name. It goes like this: My mom liked shopping. My mom treated her depression and anxiety by shopping. She felt guilty shopping for herself, so she shopped for me. My mother was extremely depressed and anxious, so we went out nearly every night and shopped.
We shopped so much that I had two bedrooms full of things. I could not fit all the things in my dressers and closets. My closets and dressers were stuffed to bursting, and I had clothes and things dripping from every flat space, and in mountainous piles on the floor. I honest-to-god had nowhere to put things. I could not put things away because I had no space.
And I was sad and anxious, and afraid. Fear was a huge part of my childhood and young adulthood. If my room was a mess, I figured if someone broke in*, they would hurt themselves trying to get to me. My mental health issues were exacerbated by the inability to clear space, and I was being literally buried by the physical manifestations of my mother’s issues.
I figured this out when my son was born, and she and I both started doing the same thing to him. Then, I started the gut-wrenching process of cleaning up my act, which started with addressing my mental health. I was a mess, y’all. But I only had about 37 years of mess to clean up at that point. My mom had 65 and also cancer, so… One thing at a time.
Anyway, as I was cleaning her house, I was furious that she hadn’t ever addressed the mess. I was also so sad for her, and so ashamed that I had failed her as a daughter, but also frustrated by my own helplessness, and worried about her dying in the hospital–it was a lot.
When she came out of the hospital, I offered to hire someone to help her keep things clean and she refused. She wanted me to come clean it for her. I laughed at that. I was barely keeping up with my own cleaning. I hired Molly Maids to do the heavy lifting for me. I wanted to do the same for her.
But, mental health issues are dastards, and by the time I moved her out of her home three years later, it was piled just as high with unopened boxes from Home Shopping Network, clothes, shoes, Coke bottles and water bottles, and three-years worth of unopened mail.
On my first trip over to start the process of clearing the house to clean it to sell, I just stood in the entryway and cried. It was overwhelming.
Then, I told myself to pull it together and just pick a place to start. Just do it. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
I chose the mail and here’s what I did:
- I cleared a little space in the floor.
- I gathered armfuls of mail until I had filled the space in the floor.
- I sat down beside the mail.
- I started making smaller piles.
- Official Business
- Once the piles were sorted, I got up and put all the junk and notices in a trash bag and took that to the curb.
- I sat back down and took the bills, sorting those out by type and if it was recurring
- Credit card
- From there, I found the most recent of each individual type of bill.
- I took two of each bill and photographed every page with my phone, capturing:
- Account Number
- Pay To address
- Statement of charges
- Website pay information
- I also wrote this information down in a little notebook.
- Then, I bagged up all the bills in a trash bag. I know I should have shredded them. I did not. I threw them away. Don’t @ me. I don’t care.
- I took pictures of insurance account information, then threw those things away.
- I wrote all insurance account information down in my notebook
- I skimmed through the postal dates on everything else. If it was more than 3 months old, it went in the trash. If it was newer, I looked at it.
- Then, I threw everything else away.
After I got home, I needed to decide how to address payments for the bills I’d found.
- I opened a credit card with the bank my mom used (I have always been a joint signer on her accounts)
- I started online accounts for every bill that allowed me to do it.
- For every account I could, I set up an auto-pay to the credit card
- For the ones I could not, I set up an auto-pay from Mom’s bank to the bill
- For the ones with different balances, I set myself phone alarm reminders to pay
- As I paid, I put a checkmark in my notebook.
It took me about four hours to get through the physical mail and another two hours to get everything set up to pay.
Then, I went online to the post office and had her mail forwarded to me.
By the end of the first week in November, my mom’s finances were under control, and I was making a tiny amount of headway in her house. And that was great because by the end of that week, we were in the emergency room and my mother’s blood pressure and blood sugar were both so high, they were afraid she was going to stroke out before they could get them down.
I had a new goal: Get Mom healthy. The house could wait.
*I was home-invaded when I was 19, so me being afraid of someone breaking into my house is not an irrational fear.