Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: Please settle a disagreement for me. Recently my mother passed away. She was in her 80s, and when the family started to clean out the drawers and closets in her house we discovered that she had accumulated a large number of the same type of things. We would find a dozen flashlights in a drawer or 80 bath towels in the linen closet, or over 150 purses in the closet (many the same style and color), not to mention tons of clothes and costume jewelry that hadn't been worn in years. I even found seven bottles of vinegar in the pantry -- and she didn't even cook. The house had always been kept relatively neat and she had a cleaning lady to help out. So the question is, did she just enjoy buying things (like a shopaholic) or was she into keeping things, like a hoarder? Please help me understand her.

Wondering

DEAR WONDERING: My research into this type of behavior makes me believe that your mother was not a hoarder but might have had some hoarding tendencies. She sounds like a compulsive shopper -- and Compulsive Buying Disorder and hoarding are both maladies linked with mood disorders.

Your mother might have had depression or anxiety that she relieved through shopping and collecting. She might have been lonely. She also might have been suffering with some age-related cognitive changes or a form of dementia where she would forget that she had already purchased something, or collect it because it had some meaning for her or because she had intended to give it away.

One way to establish whether this behavior was a disorder (and not just a preference) is if either the acquisition or disposition of these things interfered with her life. So yes, purchasing dozens of an item becomes a problem if you can't afford them. Holding on to clothes or costume jewelry becomes a problem if you don't have space on your bed to sleep.

Although there is evidence that this behavior can run in families, I'm not sure why you and other family members would argue over this -- because the most important question after your mother's death is, "Was she loved?"

DEAR AMY: When my boyfriend and I started dating seven months ago, I loved that we went out on fun dates. However, I started wondering where his money was coming from. I now know that he still receives income from his mother, even though he's 23 and out of school. Although he's working a part-time job, I know it's not enough to cover his bills. When I confronted him about searching for more work, he said he's waiting to find his "true passion." He spends money on meals out, expensive clothes, and acting and writing classes. I value a strong work ethic, and it's difficult for me to see him using his parents' money rather than trying to make enough on his own. How do I discuss this with him? Is it wrong to impose my values on him?

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Anxious

DEAR ANXIOUS: It might be wrong for you to impose your values on your boyfriend, but you must live according to them yourself. So if you value hard work and self-reliance, you aren't going to respect someone who takes and spends somebody else's money.

If the point of a discussion would be for you to urge him to change, then I don't think you should discuss this with him. If you are socially benefiting from this money yourself, you have a valid reason to ask him where it comes from.

DEAR AMY: I think you gave the wrong response to "Offended," who was insulted by the question, "Do you go to church?" You seem to see this as a benign question, but I find it incredibly nosy and personal. I'm not a Christian and wouldn't want anyone assuming I am.

Also Offended

DEAR ALSO: Many readers agree with you. Of course if you aren't a Christian, or don't go to church, or simply don't want to talk about it, you can always answer by saying, "No."