To most people, home is a refuge. But what happens when the home becomes a pressure point in the family and barrier to receiving essential social support?
This was the case for 70-year-old Mrs Ng and her 50-year-old son Peter, who suffered a stroke in his 30s. Years of caregiver stress has taken its toll on this small family unit, resulting in a cluttered house that has led to rising tensions between them.
On top of a cluttered living environment, their home developed a bed bug infestation in the last year or so. As a result, Mrs Ng and her son had to be pulled out of day care services they were going to for some time. For many Project HomeWorks homeowners, bed bug infestations are usually the tipping point of their social isolation - social services from organisation and even participation in social activities at senior centres have to stop to contain the infestation.
Mrs Ng’s home of 40 years suddenly became the focal point of all compounding issues facing the mother-son pair. Some 20 years ago, it used to be Mrs Ng who tirelessly worked as a part-time cleaner while managing Peter’s recovery from his stroke. Today, roles have reversed and Peter, who has to manage his own issues with mobility, is also the main caregiver for his mother and grappling with her cognitive decline.
Hui Keng, the family’s care manager from Tsao Foundation’s Care Management Services, added that Mrs Ng was also exhibiting symptoms of depression. Financial difficulties from their unemployment, Peter’s stress from managing his mother’s medication routine and feeling trapped at home with no social support were taking its toll on their well-being.
Previous attempts by other organisations to start clearing the bed bugs from the house by throwing away infested furniture was thwarted by Mrs Ng at first. “When we first (got to) know her, she was very angry; she didn’t want to throw anything. … The main thing is the bed bug (issue) – if it’s not resolved, she cannot go anywhere and Peter cannot go anywhere also. So it’s actually a hindrance to a lot of things,” said Hui Keng.
“Although there is friction, there is room for improvement (for their relationship)… The house and the finances – if these things can be settled, they’ll have more capacity to look into the relationship,” she added.
Years of Project HomeWorks experience have shown that oftentimes, clutter is a physical manifestation of complex emotional or mental issues. It was clear that a transformation of the home environment was essential for the mother and son to regain a good quality of life.
However, before Habitat Singapore could come in to refurbish the home, Hui Keng and her colleagues needed to counsel Mrs Ng and give her the space and time to make a decision of her own accord.
Finally, there was a breakthrough.
“Change is very hard for people, so to get somebody in this state to move a step, you need to give them the confidence to do that. The confidence comes when they trust you,” said Hui Keng.
And with that foundation of trust, Hui Keng laid the path for Habitat’s Project HomeWorks team to start the hard work of rehabilitating their home. Two rounds of fumigation were scheduled in September and October last year. With Hui Keng’s help, the Project HomeWorks team broke down the decluttering process across four bite-sized sessions targeted at specific objects in infested areas of the house.
After a third round of fumigation and an inspection in March earlier this year, Mrs Ng and Peter’s home was finally declared bed bug-free!
The Way Forward
Spurred on by the energy and support from everyone, Mrs Ng continues to work with Hui Keng and the Project HomeWorks team to keep up the decluttering momentum. When asked what she was looking forward to the most, Mrs Ng said: “I don’t want to wish or hope for much. A tidier house is good enough.”
“I hope that I will still be healthy enough to go back to work, for my mood to be better. The most important thing I tell myself is to sleep well, to feel better emotionally – I need to find the purpose in my own life,” she added.
Besides returning to her day care programme activities, Mrs Ng will also be working with a counsellor to explore ways to put meaning back into her life, including looking at ways for her to step up as a volunteer at the day care centre, said Hui Keng.
It is encouraging to see how a healthy and secure home environment has built resilience and a sense of hope in Mrs Ng.
As Marie Kondo said: “Tidying your physical space allows you to tend to your psychological space.” Taking that first step to create a safe and healthy home environment for herself, Mrs Ng has built up her resilience and a renewed sense of hope for a better life.
At Habitat, we believe that everyone needs a safe and healthy home to thrive. And you can play a role in bringing this kind of hope, strength and joy to families like Mrs Ng’s.
For NDP 2019, we're honoured to be part of the #ALittleMore to encourage everyone to Give A Little More, Care A Little More & build a more inclusive society.
Every year, #ProjectHomeWorks has been actively reaching out to 450 of them to intensively rehabilitate their cramped, dirty - and sometimes even pest-infested - flats.
With your help, we believe we can reach out to just 50 more households this year.
On average, manpower for multiple home visits, materials, furniture, services and volunteer facilitation can cost up to $1200 per home. Whether it is several rounds of professional pest-control services or the replacement of a broken bed, every dollar donated is stretched to meet critical needs on the ground for the vulnerable in Singapore.
Every contribution, no matter how small, will help us help someone #SparkJoyAtHome today: http://bit.ly/SparkJoyAtHome