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TROUBLESHOOTER / Our house is overflowing with my brother’s things

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a female company employee in my 50s. I’m frustrated because our house is almost filled up with my elder brother’s personal belongings.

My brother and I are both single. We live in a house with our mother, who is in her 80s. The three of us each have two private rooms of about 10 square meters each. There is also another room of that size that we are to use for a closet, a dining room and a living room where our family’s Buddhist altar is placed.

Since our father passed away 25 years ago, my brother’s private rooms have become filled with things like cameras and personal computers, which are his hobby, and cardboard boxes. They’re covered with dust. He also fills the closet room with other belongings of his. His things even take up one of my rooms and one of our mother’s rooms. Half the dining room space is similarly filled up by his items, which prevents us from eating together. He sleeps in the family altar room, which has almost no open space left.

The three of us get along well. However, he always avoids talking about cleaning these places. I’m thinking about using a professional cleaning service, but I’m concerned that it may hurt his pride. How should I deal with this situation?

M, Kyoto Prefecture

Dear Ms. M:

Counting roughly, your house has nine rooms. In this large house, all the rooms except two are filled up with objects. They don't appear to smell bad, as no food rubbish is around. But they could catch fire at any moment. Also, these things could collapse in an earthquake and crush someone. I suggest you start by bringing his attention to disaster prevention efforts.

To avoid repeating the failure, you should examine why things got so bad. I feel it’s related to your father’s death. At the same time, it doesn’t seem that you and your mother strongly resisted when your brother started storing his things in your rooms. I suppose both of you also have your own reasons for not being able to throw things away, which has made you leave the matter for as long as a quarter-century.

People’s obsessions with objects are said to be related to their fear of losing something, although I don’t know your family history. Your elderly mother could be gone at any moment. If that happens, you and your brother will be left behind as your middle age comes to an end. You are probably feeling uneasy about the days ahead.

I suggest you candidly express your feelings to your brother when your mother is not around. You should not criticize him. Instead, you should listen to each other. If you want to use a cleaning service, you should work out both your opinions in advance. I believe the last thing you can do for your mother is to ensure that she can spend the last years of her life at ease.

Hazuki Saisho, writer

(from Sept. 6, 2018, issue)Speech

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