Crazy old Aunt Betty

We all have one of those relatives right? You know the one, they are always inviting us to come and stay but we always find an excuse not to go. It isn’t that we don’t love this person or that we wouldn’t love to see them, we just don’t want to stay in their house.

It is nothing short of a health hazard. There is stuff piled up here there and everywhere that you are fearful you may trip over. And that is in the daylight, heaven forbid you should need to negotiate your way through that minefield in the middle of the night should you need to use the toilet. Then there is the allergies to the cat hair that has been accumulating in, under and on the furniture for months. And goodness only knows how long some of those food stuffs have been in the refrigerator or pantry. And where are the kids supposed to sleep, you can’t get past the door to the third bedroom and the second sofa is piled up with laundry, magazines, unfinished craft projects and who knows what. And don’t even get me started on the dust allergies from those hundreds of nicknacks cluttering every shelf…

It is much easier for dear old Aunt Betty to come stay with you than for her to try to prepare her home for visitors. And this arrangement is much better for your allergies and nerves too

What I am saying is ~ Don’t be Aunt Betty. Let go of what lies between you and the ability to welcome people into your home at a moments notice. And have loved ones want to spend time with you in your home. This doesn’t have to mean letting go of all the things you love, just enough of the excess to make your home comfortable for, and inviting to, others.

This is a good enough goal. You don’t need to be a minimalist just be that family member whose family happily say yes to your invitations to stay. Wouldn’t that be nice?

 Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter something from under a bed, if you store things there. If not choose a place you store seldom used items in.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, I’ve been there and didn’t want to go back. I’ve always thought of that when trying to keep my home in good order. I want to be able to feel comfortable having company with no notice.

    • I can’t imagine you ever being like that Deb but I sure am glad you found your way out. Good for you!

      • When I say I have been there I mean my parents house before my father died. While the house looked very clear of clutter it was all hidden away. And around my father’s recliner were about 8 piles of magazines, mail, etc. Added to that, I have had many friends who had very cluttered houses.

  2. I don’t have an Aunt Betty but my BIL and his wife definitely have the house you described, (so does my SIL). I have had to beg out of family get togethers there because my allergies go haywire due to the cat hair and the dirty litter box. And I honestly worry about the food being safe so I bring my own since my husband and I are vegan and no one else in the family is. I feel bad thinking this way about my husband’s family, but it is the truth and that’s how they live. They obviously see nothing wrong with it.

    • Hi Kim, it is fine for them if they see nothing wrong with it. If they were ever to realise how it affects their relationship with others they may see it differently. Ignorance can be bliss. However if they are well aware and are happy living that way then that is their choice. It is a little awkward for the extended family though.

  3. Unfortunately, this is my mother’s house and I always seem to be the one stuck cleaning it for “guests” to come, funny considering I don’t live there and I am, technically, a guest as well. Also funny that she thinks she’s “de-cluttering” by taking food out of it’s original packaging (ie: taking cereal bag out of the box) because it takes up less room. I opened her pantry the other day to get something out and she said proudly, “Look how much progress I’ve made”. I couldn’t see any difference other than food not in its original packaging. (If it something that needs cooking, she writes the cooking directions on the plastic sack in Sharpie since it’s no longer in the box that had the directions on it. What a waste of time and a misunderstanding of the word “de-clutter”.)

    • Wow Shoeaholicnomore, that is a little sad. When she is aware there is a issue and that it is affecting her family yet she can’t do anything truly constructive about it then that is a problem. Perhaps it is time to have a frank discussion with her about this and stop enabling her by cleaning up for her. Tell her that she will have to come to you in future as you can no longer tolerate the mess. That way at least she is give some incentive to really do something about it.

      • I wish! Not to sound like a terrible person, but my mother is the biggest cry-baby on the face of the planet. It is impossible to approach her about things… Sigh! At least “guests” don’t come often and I don’t go to visit her much anymore either. My poor dad 🙁

    • Hi (I love the fact that our websites have such similar titles!). My mother and yours are clearly long lost sisters. She and my stepfather live in HUGE London house and I really do mean vast. Five stories and just the two of them. Should we ever go to stay (we are a family of five) there is only room for us if our daughters sleep on a sofabed. Deep down I know my mother would like to declutter, but she just can’t do it. It doesn’t help that she keeps buying stuff she doesn’t need. Both of them are collectors, my mother of cookery books (the antique and modern variety, some of hers date back to the 15th century) my stepfather of dinky cars. Both collections are extremely valuable but they don’t seem to be able to let go of the collecting gene. They insist on buying us stuff we really don’t want. Christmas is always so frustrating. Books about Scotland (my husband is Scottish) turn up every year. It doesn’t seem to matter what they are about as long as the word Scotland is in the title. Endless kitchen knick knacks for me. I would so much rather they bought us a voucher for a good restaurant or a family day out….. but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. I dread the day I have to clear their house. Trying to sort out the valuable from the rubbish will take months.

      • I feel you on the Christmas front too. My mother and father, while I love them very much, seem to gift me lots of little things I don’t need. I’ve tried telling I don’t want any “clutter gifts” and my mother got somewhat offended at the implication that some of the gifts I’ve gotten, while beautiful, are still clutter to me. That new scarf or shirt may be pretty, but is it practical in my life? I do love scarves but I have enough of them and don’t need to have a “scarf collection”… Sigh! I’m not sure they’ll ever learn. Now, I just say “thank you” and pass things on to others as gifts or donate them if it something I don’t need/want.

  4. Oh boy! I am so glad that I have never had a Crazy Aunt Betty!! Something that has always bothered me about a lot of cat guardians – how can they leave the litter box for days or weeks??? Pretty much the second Annie jumps out, I am there with the scoop. I’m sure she doesn’t want yuk on her paws anymore than I want yuk on her paws. And most cats like a clean box and not to have to root around.

    After my grandma died, Mom found all the food stuffs in the cupboards had the date they were opened written in a black marker. I use this technique as well on things that I don’t use super often. If it is old, out it goes. Or if I see that it is soon-to-be-old, I’ll try to use it up.

    • Hi Michelle, I have never owned a cat so I am not up on litter box protocols but what you do sounds the sensible approach to me. And I like your method of marking the box with the open date.

      • Hi Colleen – this morning I opened a new jar of peanut butter and I never finish an entire jar as it takes me way to long to eat it, so on the lid, in black marker, I wrote today’s date. I suppose my nose would be a good gauge as well since rancid peanut butter is GROSS SMELLING!!

        • Hi Michelle, my peanut butter is past its used by date but it still smells and tastes fine so I will not throw it away unless it does. Next time I will endeavour to buy a smaller jar. In fact next week I will make satay chicken, that should help use it up. Actually I think that is what I bought it for in the first place.

  5. I’m getting anxiety just reading that… I have stayed in “Aunt Betty’s” house, and I was well on my way to having that house too. “Just let me move that for you” she says as she clears a spot on the couch to sit. Wedged between piles of paper and unfolded laundry I perch on the edge so the toys stacked on the back of the couch don’t avalanche onto me as I smile through gritted teeth holding my weak, plain tea served in the mug just grabbed from the pile in the sink and “washed” just for me. I don’t know where to rest my eyes as we chat – every direction has a whole new embarrassing detail…. toe nail clippings over there, panties in the couch laundry, dried cat barf under the dirty coffee table that is scattered with crusty, forgotten plates, scattered bills with “overdue” stamped on them and other things I would be horrified to acknowledge.
    I love my “Aunt Betty” for her loving nature and relaxed attitude, but I try to find ways to meet up with her outside her home so I can enjoy her for her, separate from her stuff. I should mention she is very content to live that way, not distressed at all by the state of it. Since she is neither sick, nor in danger I know it’s MY problem how I react to her home, not her problem. So I clamp my mouth shut.

    • Hi Creativeme, I only wish that my blog posts were written as eloquently as this comment. How beautifully written it was. I was right there on that sofa with you. And you are right so long as Aunt Betty isn’t phased by the situation it is fine but like you I would do my best to arrange meetings elsewhere.

  6. unfortunately my mil is like this. I have spent countless hours clearing out her pantry and fridge while there on “vacation”. But I also understand that she has a mental illness and cannot cope or do these things without assistance.

    I am well aware that one day she will be gone and I will be there to clean up the house. (she has three sons and the other two live far away so I am pretty sure it will be me cleaning up!)

    I just heard about a family last week who was visiting a relative and sleeping there for a week, but the dust and cat hair was so bad they were literally being made ill from it all.

    Sometimes I watch hoarders buried alive TV show to motivate me to do some de-cluttering and deep cleaning around my own house! 🙂

    • Sher – LOL on the weekend I watched a recorded episode of Hoarders to build up some motivation, it works every time.

      • Sher and Moni – Hoarders SCARES me and makes me go into declutter mode!!! Sher – I feel for you. My MIL has a very clean house, but she has tons and tons of stuff in it. The amazing thing is that she pretty much knows what is what. When they are gone, it is going to be a nightmare.

        • I think it is important to make a distinction between those who hoard and those who hoard and don’t clean. Also there are those that are exceptionally minimalist but don’t mind the dog turd on the floor 🙂 I have to say that we have three dogs and five cats. One of our dogs is 16 and though she is deaf she is astonishingly lively and still very active. The only downside is that she is starting to become incontinent. I won’t have her put down just because she can’t make it outside in time (we live on a farm so she has free acess to the garden and fields) but it does mean that I have to pick up a lot of dog poo. Our floors are mostly wooden so I don’t have to get the carpet cleaner out every day. However, if you do have animals it is almost impossible to keep a house totally free of animal hair 24/7 (even if you don’t have an elderly incontinent dog !). I know that there is a difference between a clean house with animals and a house that has become an animal bed. The house where the animals have taken over the farm.

          However, I have often had to bite my tongue when visiting somebody who “cannot bear the dirt or hair of animals” yet their house is a such a tip, and so cluttered that I can’t see how any part has been vacuumed or dusted in a decade.

          I fear I may have opened a can of worms, I hope not 🙂

    • Hi Sher, mental illness is a terrible thing and certainly does explain the state of your mil’s home. You are a wonderful dil to accept that you will be the one clearing out when the inevitable happens.

      I sympathise with that family getting ill from allergies. I take medication with me when I visit almost anyone because of this problem. The folks I visit are like Aunt Betty but the more stuff and decorator fabrics there are in home the higher the likelihood I am going to suffer ever if the houses aren’t terribly over cluttered.

  7. I have an Aunt Betty person and unfortunately we cant stay with them anymore as one of my kids is OCD clean and cant cope with it. We cant say anything as ‘Aunt Betty’ would be offended. The irony is that ‘Aunt Betty’ feels uncomfortable in our home as it is “too austere”.

    • That make sense Moni. I have people that apologise when they make a small mess in my home and I always say, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll tidy, not precious about it.”

  8. lol. you described my aunt. I told you before about her house. its cluttered because her husband is a hoarder of articles, newspaper and books as well as other things that “you can still use”. and it is dirty, because she is almost blind and just doesnt see the dirt anymore. bad combination.
    when I started decluttering I told them both about it, and how happy I was about it. she was eager to use my help with her wardrobe almost immediately, and she has been telling me how many things she is getting rid of ever since. but her husband is still going strong and wont stop hoarding, just because I point out the obvious risks and disadvantages. I made my peace with it. mental illness had its hand in this house and as far as they are happy, so am I. the only thing I can do is encourage them whenever I feel they are able to listen and deal with their stuff, when they are gone.
    I will never let that happen to my home. never ever.

    • Hi Lena, you obviously found the tactical way to encourage decluttering without being pointed about it. Good for you. I do the same thing and it does have an effect. Sometimes the best we can do though is let it be a lesson to us not to be the same.

  9. I’m happy I don’t have an aunt Betty! That doesn’t mean that my family are minimalists – no way! But the “collectors” are very VERY tidy and keep everything in closets and dust-free, too, and the lazier ones may have a few condiments past their date in their fridge, but don’t hang too much onto things and throw stuff away on a regular basis and keep their homes easy-to-clean-because-they-hate-cleaning.
    Thanks for reminding me of how lucky we are in that regard.

  10. Hi Colleen! I was ‘Aunt Betty’!!!! I hated having people over. It was an absolute nightmare because I did not have space for anyone. There were always loads of dirty dishes on the sink (how can you wash china you have no place to put away?), heaps and heaps of dirty laundry (I could never manage to get all my laundry clean = we had more clothes as a couple than we have as family of 4 with two small children today), there was always a paper, magazine, book to be read later left somewhere, and the clean laundry would sit in a two place sofa in my living room (yes, in that place visitors should sit…). Fortunately, for me, I reached a “enough” point and I looked for help. Now, I consider my house dirty when the beds are unmade and I have some dirty dishes in the sink, have to give a sweep around and put some clothes to wash. Nothing that will take me more than a 45 minute spree to get the house in pristine order. Actually, if a friend knocked on my door right now, I could welcome her inside with a lot of pride in my home. I am not crazy old Aunt Betty anymore. 😀

    • Good for you Andréia, you have come a long way since you first started commenting here at 365 Less Things. It is amazing what one can accomplish once they reach breaking point and decide ~I have to do something about this. And there is a also a lot one can accomplish by doing it steadily but consistently. I say again, well done you!