Congenital mess assistance?

So I have a friend who has a serious mess problem. As in, his place is so messy that I have lost my desire to hang out there with him. It is also so messy that it is unlikely in the extreme that he will be able to dig out from under it himself – he’s been living this way for a few years now.

Because I want to help him, I am investigating hoarder-assistance services, since they seem the most applicable (I don’t think he’s technically a full-scale hoarder, but he definitely can’t manage his stuff). For example, found through trivial websearch – though that seems to be a front page for a nationwide agency, and the more I look at the site the less I can tell whether they are actually on the ball or not.

(For a while I thought that I had it in me to actually pitch in directly and help clean his place myself. I’ve since realized that I don’t want to do that, but I do have some discretionary savings, and I might be able to persuade him to go 50-50 on the cost, or something.)

Does anyone have any actual experience hiring people to help clean up a friend’s/relative’s dysfunctional household? What should I look for when determining whether an agency/cleaner is on the ball or not? And/or any other advice in this general area?

I know that even if I do manage to inveigle him into going for this, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to keep it neat. But at least I’ll know I’ve done everything I could, and at least it might remain better than it is now. Plus he has a small (two-room) apartment, so the cost would hopefully be manageable.


Just how bad is it? I mean so bad that you couldn’t just hire a maid? Have them charge a hefty first time and then continue doing their monthly/weekly cleaning?

Edit: Nevermind, MightyNute’s answer is better.

If he’s just going to get it dirty again he needs counseling, not a maid.

Maids know how to clean houses that are relatively tidy. They vacuum, scrub, etc. The problem with clutter is where does it go? What do you do with it? What gets tossed and what needs to be kept? These old comic books? Pitch 'em!

Maids don’t do that kind of cleaning.

It really depends what you mean by “mess.” If he’s not scrubbing toilets, maids are what you want. If he’s got piles of feces on the floor, yeah, no.

It is more than a maid could handle because he definitely has to get rid of some (OK, a lot of) stuff in order to fit the rest, and that’s beyond maid-level.

Edit: Jason, yes, I know he may need some counseling. That’s what I’m asking for: assistance / clues / experience-reports with finding clueful, skillful counselor/cleaners.

It sounds like a professional organizing service might be more what he needs than a maid. They’ll often help you build closets, purchase storage containers, and teach organizational strategies to keep things in place.

If he doesn’t really acquire more stuff all the time, just what he has is messy, that would probably help.

This may sound like a weird question but it really isn’t: does your friend even want to clean his place?

Mom: Clean up your room, the cleaning lady is coming today.
7 year old Jag: But isn’t that her job?
Mom: Just get your room cleaned for the cleaning lady!


Throw everything away. They charge you buy % of dump truck used. I filled up 1/3rd of a dump truck when I moved last time.

That’s a good point, does he even know he has a problem? Or is this one of those situations where it’s “my friend”?

My gaming buddy Steve and I were trying to help a cluttery friend of ours on facebook recently. Here’s some stuff we posted to her wall when she asked for help to deal with her clutter:

Let me tell you what a professional organizer does. She (or he) ruthlessly and dispassionately advocates for you to simply get rid of stuff you don’t need. If you can work up the self-discipline to do that yourself, you can save yourself the money.

But seriously, nothing is more important than getting rid of stuff. If you can do that, then even if things get out of control for a year in between purges, you can always get back to a baseline; but if you can’t get rid of stuff the first time and establish a clean slate, there’s no system that can help organize the topmost strata of the mess. Being organized permanently simply consists of shortening the time gap in between cycles of getting rid of stuff, until you reach the singularity of always being organized.

There’s a professional organizer up here in Seattle that everyone at Microsoft loves. Having read both her books, I am fully qualified to guide you through her plan. Just follow these steps:

  1. Get rid of stuff.
  2. No, I mean really get rid of stuff. Yes, even that thing there that you’ve been keeping since college.
  3. Make sure everything that’s left has a place to be.
  4. Okay, see all that stuff that doesn’t have a place to be? You should have thrown all that out in steps 1 and 2. Go back to the beginning and start again.
  5. Yeah, see, you still have too much stuff. Do it again, but this time for real.​inate-Chaos-10-Step-Proces​s-Organize/dp/B0057DB6DU/r​ef=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1

PROTIP: Buy it on Kindle, not in a paper version that you then have to store! :)

If you just can’t bear to part with it, tape it up in a box and put the box in storage. When you haven’t cracked the seal on that box two years later, you know you can live without it… and even if you still can’t bear to jettison the ballast, at least it’s in a sealed box and therefore organized.

I was going to recommend something similar to this. Get your friend to meet you half-way. Spend one weekend day for a few weeks and load up a truck and have it hauled off. It’s much easier to clean when half the shit is gone. The schedule of having to have something to get rid of by the next weekend might also start the process of your friend thinking about things they don’t need to have there. It doesn’t even have to be a large truck, just something that starts the process toward letting go and cleaning up.

“Okay so be thinking about what you want to clean next weekend.”

What’s this about messy genitals?

Don’t look at me, I thought this was about genetic disorders and birth defects.

If this is the same friend that you tried to be a positive influence for awhile back and you haven’t seen progress, it might be time to slowly back out of the friendship.

It’s not a weird question in the slightest. He is depressed and he knows it, and he obviously doesn’t want to clean his place or he would have done it already. But from my perspective, there is a slim chance that some effort and/or support from me might give him enough encouragement to slip out of his apathy.

He also knows that his place is a craphole. The likeliest outcome, unfortunately, is that I tell him that I can’t deal with his mess anymore but that I will help him out if he wants it… and then he doesn’t want it. In which case I’ll just hang out with him at movies etc. and I’ll game with him over XBLA. Would be a bummer, but not a total friendship-breaker.

(Having him over to our place is a bit tricky as I honestly don’t think he’s stable enough psychologically for me to want my kids to get to know him that well. If he were able to keep his place clean, I’d want to be there more and would want him to be over here more…)

A throw-the-junk-out day is a good idea though, I could get into that.

Mordrak, it is the same friend. And my not going to his place anymore is me slowly backing out of the friendship, or at least taking one big deliberate backward step. However, he has shown some improvement – he does have a job now! So that’s good.

We have exactly this, actually. We are messy enough that it helps to have the cleaning service come once a month and force us to go through every damn room and put every damn thing away properly, since we know they can’t do the real cleaning until we do the pathetic minimum of tidying-up.

You should thank you mother for giving you advanced warning to hide your porn.