Clutter of mind and soul | Inquirer Business

Clutter of mind and soul

/ 05:20 AM December 09, 2021

Our family business is doing well in the pandemic,” says reader T, “but the problem is our 70-year-old mother. She holds on to things, her house is so cluttered. We joke that mother can open her own supermarket and she is getting worse. Before the pandemic, she went to church daily and walked in the mall with friends, but now she buys stuff that she doesn’t need online. Her wheezing is getting worse. What can we do?”

Your mother suffers from hoarding disorder, exacerbated by the pandemic. Many of our current elderly did not grow up rich, so perhaps your mother learned to be thrifty starting in childhood. Certain items, such as family photo albums, offer comfort and have become priceless treasures. This behavior is not necessarily alarming, but clearly, hoarding is already negatively impacting your mother’s health and quality of life.


Aside from allergies, research shows that people who live with clutter more likely experience depression and anxiety, headaches, fatigue, low motivation, low self-worth. Many seniors are intimidated by technology, yet your mother migrated online to buy and hoard.

Your mother may be suffering from some kind of depression and anxiety. You as her family need to patiently understand her situation and brainstorm ways to improve her life.


If other symptoms, such as suicide thoughts, crop up, you need to insist that she consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist as soon as possible, even online. Therapy can help, with medications to alleviate depression and anxiety if needed.

Why does your mother hoard things regardless of value?

Does your mother miss you, your grandkids, her friends? Chat with her every day on Zoom, visit her when safety allows, set up weekly reunions with her circle of friends.

Does your mother miss being useful at work? Encourage her to take on philanthropy or other interests. Jollibee’s Grace Tan Caktiong meets with friends regularly online to do meditation, which helps her at work and at home in this pandemic. (See March 4, 2021)Does your mother fear lack of control because of the pandemic? Take all reasonable precautions and ensure that caretakers can deal with emergencies.

If your mother prioritizes other activities, she will have less time to add to the clutter in the house. “Clutter makes you forget your priorities,” says Alexander Green, Oxford Club’s investment director in his book “Beyond Wealth.”

“Clutter steals your space … monopolizes your time … prevents you from living in the now. If we become fixated on stuff from the past or things ‘we might need some day,’ we lose the only time we have to be alive: the present moment.”

Clutter “jeopardizes relationships,” like what is happening between you and your mother now.


Clutter costs money, too. “We often hang on to unnecessary things because we ‘paid good money for them,’” says Green. “But if you can’t see them, give them to someone who can, or to charity … Unused possessions are often expensive to store, insure, transport and maintain. In worst cases, they create a fire hazard.”

Help your mother prioritize her possessions. Channel Marie Kondo for practical strategies in cleaning up her space.

Your mother appears to have strong faith, so tell her that clutter ultimately harms the spirit. “Your possessions should be tools to help you achieve your dreams, not hurdles that impede your progress,” says Green, and quotes organizational expert Peter Walsh: “The space [that clutter] occupies in people’s lives seriously hinders their personal growth and development. It crushes them spiritually.”

Guide your mother also to do online daily masses, such as those on Radyo Katipunan, to bolster her spirits and her faith. God bless.

Erratum to last week’s column: Henry Lim Bon Liong did not study in Saint Jude Catholic School. He is a product of Crusaders Academy, Chiang Kai Shek College and Colegio de San Juan de Letran. Apologies.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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