Ask Amy: Homeowner Worries About Mess

By Amy Dickinson | August 18th, 2021

And she's finding it difficult to foster new relationships


Homeowner worried about all those boxes back there Image

Dear Amy: My big old house is pretty much a mess.

We bought it “as is” with the plan to completely renovate, but never did.

My husband died decades ago, the kids moved on, and now I’m a widow living alone in this huge three-story house that never got fixed up.

My hubby and kids left a lot of stuff behind, and I don’t feel like fighting about it.

The kitchen is from the ’40s, the carpeting needs replacing — with lots of spots from the cat puking. The whole place needs painting inside, there is junk everywhere (good junk: collector’s stuff, not trash), and shelves and shelves of books.

I am also a landlord and I have multiple apartments to tend to, repair and upgrade. I’m busy working with handymen, landscapers, and tenants.

Keeping a lovely home is not on my priority list, nor in my budget.

The rentals come first, and the cobbler’s children have no shoes.

My dearest friends and family understand about my limited capacity to entertain in my home, especially those people who live in messes too. But for those with whom I am trying to cultivate a friendship or those who have a really beautiful home and have never been to my house, I cringe at the thought of reciprocating their hospitality. It’s like opening Pandora’s box, and I am embarrassed.

I’m not lonely; I’m really overwhelmed with things to work on, but I also believe it is important to cultivate friendships. I know I need to do something other than work on rental properties.

My circle of friends is growing smaller due to death, moving, and/or finding myself kind of silently “written off.”

Your advice?

– Old Messy House Dweller


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Dear Dweller: I think you should choose to treat yourself as well as you treat your tenants. You deserve to live in a safe and comfortable home, and if you put this off much longer, you might be so overwhelmed and emotionally paralyzed that you wouldn’t be able to even start. Please, do this while you are healthy and have some control over the process.

This sort of project is made much easier – emotionally and physically – by working with one or more partners. You could hire a professional to help you to sort through your possessions and choose which to donate, sell, and keep. With your late husband’s and kids’ possessions dealt with, there won’t be anything left to fight about!

Selling some of your things could finance necessary repairs and painting. It would also liberate you from your burden.

Curating your shelves of books and only keeping favorites will make your cozy book nook the refuge you deserve.

If you don’t want to hire someone, one or two friends could help you to get started. Church groups sometimes organize teams to help people in your situation; your local Office on Aging could also point you toward volunteers.

I highly recommend that you watch the show “Clean Sweep” (clips and tips available on YouTube). These stories featuring homes such as yours are helpful, useful, and inspiring.


In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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