Clutter Bug

29 May

Dear LetterBalm: I’ve got a stinky problem. It’s my girlfriend. Not her, her apartment. The smell hits you as soon as you walk in. There are garbage bags piled in the kitchen, dirty dishes in the sink, laundry and piles of old magazines and newspapers all over the place. There’s clutter everywhere. When I sit on the couch, I find old candy bar wrappers, potato chip bags and dog hair. She’s not a hoarder – it’s more a matter of sloppy housekeeping. I try to pitch in. She’s a wonderful person, but I really don’t want to spend any time at her home, and I don’t want to live together until and unless she cleans up her act. What can I say to her?

–Holding My Nose

There are several issues here. Has your girlfriend’s home always been like this? Has she experienced something traumatic – a death, family problems, illness, job loss, financial reversals – that may have triggered the litter? Sometimes housekeeping is the first to go when someone feels helpless or unduly stressed. You have some thinking to do. Only you can determine if she is a hoarder-to-be, and whether you can stomach living with her down the road. (Ms. L.B. wants you to remember that hoarding is among the most difficult pathologies to cure.) See if you can broach professional counseling to your girlfriend. Have a talk with her over a lovely dinner away from her apartment:

Gwen, you know I love you, right? And, you know I’m there for you. Because I think you’re such a wonderful woman, I have to be straight with you. Honey, you can’t go on living in the clutter and dirt of your apartment. I have to think that there is something else going on with you, something I can’t put my finger on. Would you agree to do something for me? Would you talk with a counselor, maybe someone who can help you identify what it is that lets you ignore your home so much. Maybe there are underlying reasons that force you to do this. You know I’ll stand by you if you get some help. Please let me help you find a good professional – and, don’t worry. Everything will be confidential, just you and the counselor.


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