DEAR HARRIETTE: I have lived in my house for more than 20 years, and a whole lot more comes in than goes out. I try to sort through stuff and get organized, but it hasn’t worked out so well. My cousin called recently to ask if she could stay with me for the weekend. I want to see her, but I cannot invite her to stay with me. My place is a mess. There is nowhere for her to stay. Plus, it would be too much for me to even talk about. I’m sure it will hurt her feelings that I am telling her she can’t stay with me. I don’t want to explain it to her, but there’s no way she can cross this threshold. How should I handle this? -- Hoarder Patrol, Queens, New York
DEAR HOARDER PATROL: In the short term, tell your cousin it’s not convenient for her to stay with you now, but you would love to see her. Schedule a time to get together and enjoy each other’s company. If she presses you about staying at your home or visiting, stand your ground. You do not have to get into a conversation with her about your home.
Most important, get some help. If you are a hoarder, chances are that you need professional support in order to be able to get a fresh start. Instead of feeling ashamed, take action. Contact a local service that helps people clean out their spaces and create order. Because you don’t know these people, it may be easier to allow them into your home. They have the expertise to get rid of what is not serving you and to keep whatever can still be of use. This is not an easy process, but if you can go through with it, you may be able to liberate yourself from the isolated life you have built up over the years. Some resources to consider: clutterfreeservice.com, nynjhoarding.com and greenexcleanouts.com. Know that it can be helpful to tell a loved one what’s going on and that you need help. Select someone you trust to be your sounding board and support through this difficult process of purging.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Whenever I see my sister, she claims some wardrobe item I’m wearing. I’m not kidding you. If I’m wearing a scarf, she admires it and then badgers me until she guilts me into giving it to her. Sometimes it’s cute, but other times I really don’t want to hand over my possessions. My sister has a good job and plenty of money to buy what she wants, yet she consistently feels like she must have something of mine. How can I wean her off this habit? I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but her demands are overbearing. -- Not Your Stuff, Pittsburgh
DEAR NOT YOUR STUFF: Your sister is longing to be close to you. Requesting your possessions is her way of doing this. To get her to stop, be counterintuitive. Spend more time with her. Pay attention to her and her interests more. Ask if you can have something of hers. She may relish the notion that you like her things. Over time, you can begin to say “no” when she tries to take your belongings.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)