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How do I tell my sister her house is always dirty?

Question Posted Saturday December 26 2009, 1:09 pm

Ok, I know it sounds like a terrible thing to tell someone, but I am very concerned for her, and my neices' and nephew's health and wellbeing. My sister has never been a clean person. She keeps herself and her children clean, but actually cleaning a room or her house is impossible for her. I remember as a child she used to close her eyes and wish for the "cleaning fairy" (me) to come and clean up her room. I would do it because I thought I was surprising her and making her happy. When she was a teenager our mother would beg, plead, and punish her to clean her room, until one day she went through with huge black garbage bags and threw EVERYTHING away. She ended up with three or four of them filled with mostly garbage and items that my sister mistreated. Now, at the age of 29 and mother of three children (one of which she only has custody of part time) things haven't changed much. I don't really know who does the minimal cleaning that actually gets done, usually when she knows someone is coming over to visit, so I can't really say who is pitching in to keep the house liveable, but here is an idea of what her (rented) house looks like even when she knows I am coming to visit...There are usually dishes in the sink, filled to the top. If the dishes have been washed, they are not properly cleaned, cups still have dried up drink in them, plates and silverware still have caked-on food on them and plasticware have an oily film on them. The scrubbie she uses to wash the dishes is always grungy and probably filled with germs. The carpets have ground-in food and liquid stains, not to mention clothes, toys, garbage, ashes (from cigarettes) and other debris on them. Her kitchen linoleum has years of caked on food and dried liquid stains, even after she claims she just mopped. Her bathroom sink always has toothepaste globs and soap film and dirt on it. (She hardly ever has soap at her bathroom sink either) The toilet is so disgusting I don't sit on it, there is usually pee or poop smeared on the seat. (She has young children 4 and 7 but she allows the 4 year old to go to the bathroom without supervision and if she goes #2 she doesn't know how to clean herself properly and usually gets poop on the toilet, herself, and sometimes the walls, sink, and other things in the bathroom) You can't even walk into her bedroom because there are clothes covering the entire floor, not to metion other debris. The children's rooms are just as bad, with toys and clothes, food and juice stains. The children do not respect their toys and I wouldn't doubt it if not one of their games is playable because of missing or broken pieces. Books are ripped and colored on as well. Her laundry room is in the basement and everyone just throws their clothes down the stairs, covering the stairs to the point where you would fall if you did not kick them out of the way. The laundry is not done often, unless it is desperately needed.

My sister seems to care about what people think about the cleanliness of her home, because it is the first thing you hear when you are on the way to visit, "My house is a little messy, but not too bad." or "I was going to clean the house but..., so don't be mad if it's not that clean." or "I just cleaned the house." (And then you get there and think "This is what you consider clean?") She just never seems to know what clean is, even remotely. But she puts on this facade like it is important to her.

Now that I'm done explaining that, I would like to add that just recently the family suffered a house fire and they lost everything. They did not start the fire, but the fire marshal said that all the junk around the house fueled the fire to rage on faster and further. I began a relief effort through friends and family that brought her truckloads of new things, not to mention all the help she received from organizations in her area. I drove all over creation to collect things for her...I called and emailed several people to collect things for her...I created donation tins out of old coffee cans and set them up at my job for her...I've donated my own posessions as well. When she got herself into a new house I went to visit her. I fully expected there to be stuff all over the place in boxes and bags, but I was very upset when I saw that every room in her house was the same as it always had been. Bathroom had the toothepaste globs and hair all over the sink, no soap, and the brand new towels that were donated to her were sprawled throughout the hallway outside the bathroom (not folded and in a pile) Her bedroom looked like a bomb went off, and the kids' rooms looked the same. I told her that I thought everything would be different now that she has gone through such a life altering event and had all of her current possessions donated to her. She screamed "What do you want me to do?! I keep getting all of this stuff and I have no place to put it!!!" I told her I understood that her dining room was filled from wall to wall with with things she had to sort through, but the room upstairs were so messy. I was so taken aback with her violent response I began to back out of the room when she screamed "Yeah get out of here!" I ended up leaving her house and eventually she texted me "You no longer have to worry about me, my family, or my house. I feel we should no longer speak to each other. Good luck iwth your life and family." I cannot believe she took things to that level. I sincerely believe that she is in denial about her problem and instead of giving me excuses like I said she would, she disowned me, my husband, and baby-to-be. I am very hurt but cannot bring myself to talk to her. I helped her so much when her house burned down and she also said she was going to send back the money and items I collected for her. I think that was very wrong of her as well. PLEASE HELP!!

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Razhie answered Sunday December 27 2009, 10:28 am:
On one hand, you are absolutely entitled to feel distressed and a bit betrayed by her behavior.

On the other had, your negative emotions and blaming isn't helpful to this situation. In fact, you are contributing to the problems now.

Take a deep breath and truly accept this:
When you gave your sister help and gifts after the fire, you gave those things freely out of love and a desire to help. You don't have a right to tell her how to use them, or to try and shame her because of her treatment of objects which are now hers.
I understand why you said what you did, but it wasn't very nice, it wasn't fair, and it absolutely was NOT helpful.

Yes, your sister lives in a disgusting and dangerous disaster.

You should want to help! That's understandable and admirable, but what you are doing right now isn't working.

Your sister is functioning under a huge amount of stress and fear. That's not denial, that's pure terror. That's the kind of fear you deal with when you are looking into the headlights of an on coming train. You can't reason with it.

If you want a relationship with your sister, back off, apologize and eat some humble pie. Although you've done a lot of good in her life (for which you deserve and probably wont get much thanks) the last time you spoke you behaved poorly, so apologize. I'd suggest a letter or e-mail like this:

Dear Sister,

I'm very sorry that things went so badly last time we spoke. I know you are under a lot of pressure right now and what I said wasn't helpful. I've tried really had to be supportive, because I love you and your kids and I really want you all to be happy and healthy. I want you to keep the money and the things that were given to you. It's meant for you and you should keep it.

I really just want to help you, but from now on, I'm going to try to ask you how I can help, instead of telling you what I think you should do. I hope we can heal this relationship and I can be of use to you and can be a part of your life that makes things better, not worse.

You really do need to stick to that as well.
If you think her children are in danger, or will get ill or hurt in their enviroment, put in an annomous call to children's aid. Other than that though, from now on your job is help you sister the way she ASKS you too, and to otherwise keep your mouth shut. Only after you show her a bit of respect, by allowing her to choose the way in which people help her, and determine a few things for herself, can you work on making gentle suggestions again.

Remember: This isn't that she is right and you are wrong. It's not that you are right and she is wrong. It's about what works to make the situation better for everyone: Your judgement and her stress were just keeping the same problem going. Stop your judgement, and assist her with her stress, and see if you can't start a new pattern of interaction that can actually make this situation better.

[ Razhie's advice column | Ask Razhie A Question

xosodapopx3 answered Sunday December 27 2009, 12:16 am:
you and your family need to sit down and have a talk with her. You have to try to explain to her calmly the reasons why it's dangerous to have such uncleanslyness in her house. To be honest, there is only so much you can do, it is her house, as much as I hate to say it, it's true. But she needs to be careful, one of my friends neighbors lost custody of their children because of the clutter in their house, im not even kidding. Everything will be fine, but you guys should have a talk. Offer to help her clean her house, this way everyone can "start over" Dont give up just yet!! As mean as she can be, she has an obvious problem, and its clear that everyone knows, herself included; a little time and patience can go a long way.

[ xosodapopx3's advice column | Ask xosodapopx3 A Question

unicorns_eat_children answered Saturday December 26 2009, 8:40 pm:
Tell your mom to give her a good spanking.
I'm serious.

It'd work for us.

Once more,
I'm seirous.

[ unicorns_eat_children's advice column | Ask unicorns_eat_children A Question

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