Dear Annie: At the recent Thanksgiving celebration, I was again faced with a situation that has bothered me for some time now.
We take turns in my family hosting a holiday. This year, it was my turn to host Thanksgiving. I truly love cooking for this feast. Everyone brings a dish, and I usually do the turkey and dressing. Our group consisted of about 15 people this year, as it usually does. The problem is that every year, without fail, when everyone is packing up to leave, “Rhonda” starts grabbing leftovers to take home. She prepares several plates for herself. She does this at every gathering, even when she hosts the holiday (she will pack food away in her refrigerator while no one is watching). I don’t mind when people take dishes home, but I find it rude that Rhonda helps herself without asking. What can I do to discourage this at future gatherings? — Roasting in Kentucky
Dear Roasting: The best defense is a good offense. The next time you’re preparing to host a family feast, pick up 15 containers you don’t mind parting with. After everyone’s done feasting, pass out the boxes and encourage everyone to load up on a little of everything. And if anyone has a friend, neighbor or relative who is homebound or hospitalized, tell that guest to pack some extra containers and take Thanksgiving to that person.
Dear Annie: Hurray for your reply to “James,” who excoriated the teenage children of a hoarder for not doing the housekeeping their mother wouldn’t do. You were correct to point out that the children of a hoarder are unlikely to have learned how to keep house from her. But even if they did, they might not be able to do much because she’s so deeply invested in her hoarding habits.
My mother was a hoarder. She taught my sister and me how to keep house, and she was OK with our doing the dishes and the laundry, vacuuming, mopping floors, scrubbing sinks, etc. But when we tried to clean up the biggest problem, her bags and boxes of stuff (junk mail, worn-out clothes that she was going to mend “someday,” old newspapers and magazines, 5-year-old grocery receipts), she got very upset and wouldn’t let us touch anything. When I was 13 and my sister was 10, she had surgery and was hospitalized for two weeks, so we cleared out the junk and repainted several rooms. But no sooner did she recover than she filled the whole house with stuff again. The same thing happened over and over for the rest of her life.
The thing people need to understand is that hoarding isn’t a case of a lazy person who won’t do housework and family members who won’t step up and help. Hoarders have an abnormal attachment to their stuff, even items that most of us view as trash, and if someone tries to get rid of any of it, they behave as if it were an attack on them personally. My mother was friendly, funny, kindhearted and intelligent, but if I tried to throw out one of her bags of ancient junk mail, she turned into Raging Tigress. Hoarding is not a bad habit that a person can overcome by exercising discipline and willpower; it’s a mental illness that requires professional help and is notoriously difficult to treat. Thanks for helping to raise awareness of the problem. — Been There
Dear Been There: This is the first time I’ve heard from someone who grew up with a hoarder parent, and your personal insight is invaluable. Thank you for writing.
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