Do I Have to Clean up My In-Laws’ Trash-Filled House?

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my mid-50s. My husband and I disagree about how to deal with his parents’ house, which is a trash heap.

My husband inherited his parent’s house and land after his father died. His mother was living there alone but stays at a hospital now, and since she will be moving into a nursing home, she won’t be returning to the house.

They are a farming family, so in addition to ordinary garbage, the house is overflowing with farming garbage.

I have not been helping to clean up the house recently as I am annoyed with my parents-in-law for having left the mess for so many years and my sister-in-law for doing nothing despite living nearby.

Our family cannot afford to hire professionals to clean up the mess. My husband, considering his mother’s future living expenses, says he wants to do what he can while he can.

The thing is, I do not want to take care of the stuff my sister-in-law left there. Do I have an obligation to clean up the mess?

I know I cannot say I’ve got nothing to do with the problem, since our child and I will inherit the house if my husband dies. I’m just wondering if I should help clean.

— I, Gunma Prefecture

Dear Ms. I:

You have no obligation to clean the house. Your parents-in-law are responsible for their house turning into a trash heap because they are the ones who lived there.

But since they are no longer able to take care of their responsibilities, your husband, their heir, inherits those, too. I’m sorry to say this, but your sister-in-law, who is not an heir to the property, is under no obligation to get involved.

I experienced menopausal symptoms and developed depression when I was 50 years old. It was a hard two years, and the cause was being too busy.

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. every day, took the first train to work — a restaurant — and took care of my mother who was suffering from dementia, all while writing novels that remained obscure. It was while working so frantically that I realized I was suffering from depression.

You are already in your 50s and must have been busy with housework and other responsibilities. The further burden of cleaning a garbage-filled house may trigger physical and mental problems, like what happened to me. Overworking is out of the question.

And let me add this. A house overflows with things not because of limited space but because of the emotional problems of the people who live there. That is why even a spacious mansion can become a trash heap.

— Eiko Yamaguchi, writer