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Mothers clutter may be symptom of a deeper problem

Dear Abby: The letter from "Time to Move On" was right on! Her statement, "Remember the real clutter is IN HER HEAD," sums up my 20 years of observing chronically disorganized people.

I have come to the conclusion that disorganization is always a symptom of something else going on in the disorganized person's life. From hidden health problems to grief over the loss of a loved one, from political sniping at work to power struggles at home, and from a sense of helplessness, the amount, quantity and -- would you believe? -- the shape of the mess signifies what is really going on. Sometimes it's relatively simple, but many times it requires treatment at the root, not just a straightening up of the "symptom."Many beginning organizers call me for advice, and I always caution them to take classes in psychology, then refer difficult cases to a therapist or counselor. Much harm can be done by untrained people who don't understand why people "experience panic attacks as I peel away ...clutter" (to paraphrase from "Time to Move On").

Please tell any of your readers who may be disorganized that the clutter won't budge until the underlying reason for it is discovered. --Liz the Organizer in San Francisco

Dear Liz: You said a mouthful! However, not all of the mail I have received was supportive of "Time to Move On." Read on:

Dear Abby: I can understand the distress of "Distraught Husband" who has to live along with his wife's mess, but I am not sympathetic when "Time to Move On" describes tackling her mother's house and its "three decades of clutter." Why would a daughter put an elderly woman through panic attacks to satisfy her own sense of orderliness?

My mom acknowledges her obsession with keeping five-plus decades of items. Her house is stuffed with objects, making most of the rooms unlivable. But as long as she's comfortable and safe, has her garden to putter in, and her countless unfinished craft projects to return to when she wishes -- who is the clutter harming?

We tried to tackle some of the clutter when my dad was alive. We kids, all adult, finally decided that our mother's remaining years need not be made more difficult by clearing out the house, and we would not raise her blood pressure or endanger her health by doing it over her objections. We'll have plenty of time to do it when she's no longer with us. --The Three Kids, Oakland, Calif.

Dear Kids: Since your attempts to make your mother's house more "livable" endangered her health, you were probably right to stop. However, you "kids" would have been well advised to alert your mother's physician about what was going on, because he or she could have been helpful. Read on:

Dear Abby: "Time" told how she "uncluttered" her mother's house and said it was not appreciated by her mother. Abby, there is a very good chance that her mother suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that's the reason she found the uncluttering so distressful. A trained therapist and medication might be just what the mother needs. -- OCD Patient, Lehigh Valley, Pa.

Dear OCD Patient: That's helpful advice. Hoarding can become an addiction, like alcohol and drugs. It's a problem that is resolvable, but only if the person is willing to admit to the problem and do something about it.

(C) Universal Press Syndicate