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I Hate Visiting My MIL’s Filthy House. Help!

By Amalah

Dearest Amalah,

< grabs Amalah by the shoulders and starts vigorously shaking her while screaming “YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!” >

< regains composure, apologizes profusely, explains that while mental instability runs in the family…I am not crazy, offers to pay to replace Amalah’s highly-fashionable shirt, and then gets to the point >

I hate going over to my mother-in-law’s house. (Not just because she is my mother-in-law and drives me insane.) Her house is a disgusting filthy hellhole. She is more than capable of keeping her house clean, as she is able bodied and in fine health. She just chooses not to clean. I am not a neat-freak by any stretch of the imagination, so it isn’t that I have impossible standards.

If you want to have an idea of what I’m talking about…go out to a chicken coop and take half a dozen shovel fulls of the mess off of the floor and throw it into a pile. Then add some over ripe vegetables and various other materials suitable for a compost pile. Include several more scoops of plain old fashioned dirt and mix well. Top with busted up old furniture and stacks of miscellaneous junk. Sprinkle with a generous layer of pet hair. Then you’ll have an accurate picture of her living room. (Yes, disgusting is an understatement.)

Fortunately, we don’t get guilt-tripped into going over there very often, but when it does happen, my husband feels compelled to go. In my opinion, even once a year is too often to walk into that squalid place. My husband and his siblings all agree that her house is an atrocious mess, yet no one wants to hurt her feelings by telling her to clean the place up if she wants anyone to set foot in there ever again. I don’t feel like it is my place to say anything, as she is their mother. But my tongue is about to fall off because I’ve been biting it very hard for the last decade. How do I deal with this, without ending up as the mean shrew who hurt poor ol’ Mom’s feelings?


Not a Dirty Girl

(By the way, I get about a dozen questions a week ’round these parts. Factor in my sporadic posting and completely arbitrary selection system, and that means there are a lot of very good, very important questions languishing in the queue. I have no idea what kind of pointers I can give to increase your question’s chances of being picked, but I’ll tell you this: the opening for this question was awesome, and sure did get my attention. Heh.)

Okay, for starters: SO NOT YOUR BUSINESS to be the one saying anything to your mother-in-law. Not your place, not your problem, not your own shallow grave to dig.
Your husband and his siblings do need to do or say SOMETHING. For starters, is this a problem that maybe gets worse as she gets older? Despite being “able-bodied and in fine health,” has anyone thought about whether she might be mentally slipping a little? Does she exhibit any other weird hoarding/obsessive behaviors? Just throwing it out there, since obviously laziness is just as fine a cause as dementia, but there’s definitely something about the “older parent oblivious to living in squalor” thing that really raises a red flag.

Another reason someone needs to intervene (and forgive me if I seem to be taking your description of the place too literally) is the basic sanitation and health concerns. Another common problem for older people with declining immune systems and increasing filth levels.

Two courses of action her children can take:

These actions need to be done by her actual children, not you. 

1. Pitch in for a cleaning service. If you really believe that she just doesn’t care, that it isn’t the result of any type of compulsive, hoarding behavior, perhaps you can all go in together on a monthly cleaning service for her. Give it to her for Christmas with a little good-natured ribbing. She may be in good health, but maybe she IS getting a little overwhelmed as she gets older and is too embarrassed to ask for help. I mean, good Lord, I live in a tiny condo and still can’t keep up with the pet hair and clutter some weeks.

2. Research to see if more help is needed. If you do suspect that the mess stems from something darker — be it OCD or hoarding or dementia — a cleaning service isn’t going to help. Check out for more info on the whole squalor/hoarding problem, including how to help someone else. (As you’ll read there, it’s no easy task.) This type of behavior tends to snowball, with the sufferer usually unable to see when it went from “borderline” to “absolutely out of control.” (You know, it’s the old woman who starts with two cats and suddenly has 76 and swears she has no idea how it happened.)

I imagine there’s a similar effect on the innocent bystanders (her kids) and it takes an outsider (you) to objectively holler out a BACK UP, THIS IS NOT HEALTHY OR NORMAL AND SHE NEEDS HELP.

Good luck. I hope your husband and his siblings at least consider intervening before things go from bad to worse. In the meantime, stay at a hotel. And go to a nice clean restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner.

More Advice from Alpha Mom:

  1. How to Make Changes When Your MIL Won’t Change
  2. The Anxiety Inducing Mother-in-Law
  3. Withdrawing From the In-Law Guilt Games 


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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OCD is seriously a high possibility – I have it severely and I find it incredibly difficult to throw anything out. I’ve had to work really hard in order to even throw out small pieces of paper, and I’m MUCH better than I used to be – I can throw out almost all rubbish now. Luckily I’m only 22 and I live at home so the mess has been confined to my bedroom and the computer room, and its not nearly as bad as some of the houses I’ve seen photos of (I’ve been cleaning a lot lately as well)… Read more »