Hoarders: A new show

Last night, A&E aired its first episode of its series “Hoarders.” The show will air weekly on Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET/9:00 p.m. CT.

I didn’t write about it beforehand because I was nervous about how the show was going to treat the subject matter. Hoarding is a psychological disorder and compulsive hoarders should be under the treatment of a licensed medical professional, and I was afraid that the mental health issues would be pushed aside for the shock and awe of the homes.

After watching the first episode, I have to say that they did go for shock and awe — the show actually began like an episode of the fictional drama “Law and Order” and the music added during editing makes the show sound like a horror film — but, they did mention some of the underlying issues of the psychological disorder. And, in the show’s favor, they used trained professionals to help the hoarders on the show. One of the professional organizers in the first episode is NSGCD-certified Geralin Thomas, whose writing you have seen here on Unclutterer and whose work I greatly admire. So, even though you might not have seen it in the episode, I feel confident that the hoarders were treated with respect off camera and at least in Jill and Ron’s case the hoarders are receiving continuing help.

Unfortunately, I followed the Twitter streams of people responding to the show as they were watching it and was horrified by what some people were saying. Many people were judging the hoarders as being “bad” and “disgusting” instead of individuals, real people, who are suffering from a psychological disorder. I hope that in the coming episodes the show works more diligently to educate viewers about the mental health issues that hoarders experience and treat the issue with more respect (less horror film sound effects and shock-and-awe editing). I also hope that they provide more information about what happens after the initial cleanup and medical treatment that is available for hoarders. As it is now, it seemed that most viewers were just interested in looking at piles of stuff and A&E definitely catered to them.

Instead of the link at the beginning of the episode that referred hoarders to InterventionTV (I’m not kidding, they directed people to a site about how they can be on a reality television show), we at Unclutterer recommend the following resources:

57 Comments for “Hoarders: A new show”

  1. posted by Mstreemn on

    http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/treatment/

    they now have a link to better sites explaining hoarding behavior.

    I for one am glad they are doing a show like this. I would like to see them do a followup on some of the cases. My MIL is a hoarder and after intervention and treatment has improved greatly. We still have to check up on her but it is easier to help her manage the impulses as long as she continues with the drug treatment. We can tell very quickly when she is not continuing to take her medication: the kitchen and bathroom quickly become filled with garbage.

  2. posted by Battra92 on

    It’s nice to see the psychology behind these issues and where people are treated with respect as opposed to the shock and awe of shows like Clean House where we get mugging for the camera by a bunch of failed comedians.

  3. posted by Dawn F on

    Isn’t that what our society has become?? – infatuated with “reality” or real-life shows full of shock and awe and drama? It’s so sad – topics that deserve special attention and offers of treatment options and hope become subjects of TV reality shows meant to boost ratings and “entertain”.

  4. posted by Beth on

    Failed comedians? Ouch. I think they’re quite funny and certainly brave for what they do, and usually strike a reasonable balance between firm and fair. I dig that show, although I cannot abide its cousin, Clean Sweep.

    Of course, these shows should stick to organizing and redecorating a circumstantially overwhelmed, but not pathologically disordered, home. A few times in past seasons, and on some special “messiest-ever!!” episodes, the homowner needed therapeutic help, not a super-scramble of redecoration.

    Lately Clean House seems to choose participants whose tastes and habits are merely quirky/sloppy/overstuffed but who don’t appear mentally unwell. And when they intervene on behalf a young household (or even at their request) it seems to promise to reset the organizational troubles, one hopes before bad habits become deeply ingrained. Their later follow-up shows reveal that the rehabs were surprising successful, from what I’ve seen.

  5. posted by Brett on

    I thought the show did a good job bringing to light the underlying disorder and treating the people with the respect they deserve. I was a little disappointed with how quickly the show ended, though. Ten minutes before the show was supposed to end I was thinking to myself they can’t possibly wrap everything up in that amount of time. Like Mstreemn said above I’d like to see a follow up!

  6. posted by Kim H. on

    What struck me (and saddened me) as I watched the show was the reaction of the children, especially the little boy. Hoarding has become his “normal” and he was devastated when they took his playhouse away. But I loved that they showed a conversation with his mom where she talked about how much joy he experiences when playing at someone else’s home. A very compassionate moment.

    I do agree that they need to spend more time on each family. I would love to see where they are six months after, a year after. Maybe they should focus on one family per episode?

  7. posted by Wendy on

    I personally like the show Obsessed. That show is more focused on the people and the issues they face.

  8. posted by Carol on

    Reading the comments makes me wish I had cable. I love shows like this (including Clean Sweep). I can usually pick up on tips to keep my own hoarding under control. I’m not on medication for hoarding. Cleaning out my grandmother’s house was enough to make me realize where I was headed and work towards changing my life.

  9. posted by Sky on

    I think Clean Sweep and Clean House do a good job getting the people headed in the right direction and always treat the homeowners respectfully. Clean Sweep really helped me realize how and why to let go of clutter and Peter Walsh’s books are terrific.
    Unclutterer keeps me on track on a daily basis. Thanks Erin!

  10. posted by infmom on

    The show “Truth to Tell” did a segment on hoarders last week. Unfortunately, no mental health professionals were involved, just professional organizers. One of the three people profiled was able to clean up his apartment to the point where others were welcome for the first time in years, but the two other hoarders are still at it despite their families’ best efforts to get them to quit.

    I remember how Peter Walsh used to deal with hoarding and how he’d stick with the person till there was some kind of breakthrough while the Clean Sweep crew was getting rid of tons of garbage. The ladies on “How Clean Is Your House?” on BBC America take the same kind of tough-love approach. But who knows how many of those clean houses were junk piles again in a few months?

  11. posted by Rosa on

    I watched the show because I am fascinated by the psychology of it, and the fear that I too could let something go, and go, and go . . . until it reaches the depth of these people. They were in denial of the dangers and the problem that their hoarding caused. And it definitely is a psych disorder. I was intrigued by how it affected the little boy. Yes, it hurts to lose your play house, but somehow he looked just like his Dad when he said that “he wanted to save it for the future” (paraphrasing). A whole new generation is created if the problem is worked through now.

    I will continue to watch because I learn a lot from these shows, just like “How Clean is Your House,” which cleaned the house, but definitely didn’t fix the problem.

  12. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    I want to chime in since I’m mentioned. Please note, I’m speaking only on behalf of myself, a professional organizer, and no one else.

    I work with hoarders on and off camera only on the condition that they are willing to seek help from a licensed professional. I am not equipped to help anyone deal with issues that aren’t related to organizing. I’m there to provide support and help with sorting, purging, organizing and implementing systems. I’m not going to “cure” or “solve” anyone’s psychological problems. Before working with “camera clients” I talk to them several times about their expectations. I am (painfully) honest and tell them, in no uncertain terms, that participating in this show is not going to solve their problem nor will it cure them.

    “Camera clients” understand they are opening their homes and lives to the public but getting perks in return. I’m in awe of their bravery and applaud them for sharing their struggles of this little-talked-about, misunderstood disorder.
    Hopefully, shows like A & E’s Hoarders will help us understand the complexities and therapeutic possibilities available. We have a lot to learn about hoarding.

  13. posted by Beverly Wade on

    You might be interested in a new information website on compulsive hoarding – http://www.compulsive-hoarding.org It is a comprehensive resource of up-to-date information about compulsive hoarding, its diagnosis, research, treatment and the available support. You’ll also find FAQs, tests and the latest views on this disabling illness.

    As declutterers in the UK, Beverly Wade and Chrystine Bennett of Cluttergone have worked with over 200 individual declutter clients, some of whom are hoarders. They have developed the website for sufferers of compulsive hoarding, their friends, families and anyone with an interest in the subject.

    We hope you find the site useful.

  14. posted by momofthree on

    What saddens me the most about the hoarding situation that many people face is that children are involved. In the case of the KY couple, they admitted that they were living in the fear that the children would be taken away “any day now”, yet nothing seemed to be done in terms of attempting to clean up on their own.
    Mom and Dad may have psycho. issues, but to allow the house to become so overrun with a mess is pathetic. I noticed that wallpaper was peeling in the kids room, and crayon/marker coloring all over the walls. Where is the “coloring on the walls is not acceptable” and “Help us wash the walls, the dishes, etc”. Yes, it was so sad the see the little boy watch his still in good condition play house get smashed. Could that not have been saved in the yard for the baby of the family?

    I think it is the show next week that deals with a family that was torn apart due to the hoarding issue. I will be watching that episode, for I would like to see a family brought back together.

    YES–there better be follow up episodes…and perhaps a little more of an explanation of the psychology of each hoarding case presented.

  15. posted by “Hoarders” Revisited | Organize to Revitalize! on

    […] Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) to get more information.  Also, take a look at Hoarders:  a new show at Unclutterer.com for more […]

  16. posted by Stephanie on

    I watched the show last night and overall I thought it was an insightful show into how painful it can be to have a hoarding mentality but two things REALLY bothered me about the show.

    1. I think every person that participates in that show needs to have a psychologist there. The lady that hoarded food had one on scene but not the other couple. If this is to be taken seriously as mental disorder, then let’s treat it like one with mental health professionals. Geralin did a great job but the husband and little boy were grappling with some serious emotions there.

    2. I am absolutely appalled at everything being treated like it was trash and carted off in a dumpster. The fish tanks and the kiddie playhouse were completely re-usable and I don’t understand why they were not donated, given away or sold. It angers me that our society has come to this disposable mentality. Those fish tanks and playhouse now take up landfill space rather than being passed on to someone who would be happy to have those items to use. Shame on A&E for those practices. I am sure that the service used by the show to haul off the junk is product placement advertising but what they are doing is not in line with good environmental practices. I really hope they change that up in the future. The husband and the little boy would have probably felt a lot better about parting with their stuff if it was going to go to good use by someone else. Hopefully A&E will change that part of the show in future episodes otherwise I won’t want to watch it.

  17. posted by enigma on

    Although I do not have access to US TV-shows I am assuming that they are relatively close to what is shown here in Europe: the focus is mainly on the shock and only partially on the underlying psychological issues and the possible help for/treatment of the hoarder. I do understand that they need help and I am fully aware that realizing that they need help, taking the steps to get help and actually getting help are different and difficult things for them.

    And please, don´t hate me for addressing a different aspect of hoarding.

    Based on my very recent experience (just last week and on-going) with a renter who turned out a hoarder, I must say that yes, hoarders must get help and I am not at all looking down on them but I never want another one in my property ever again.

    The first thought that crossed my mind when I found out about the hoarding situation was “Ew, how can anyone live like that and even raise a child in that mess?”. I know it´s not their choice to live like that. However, the second thought was “What can I do to clear that appartment and how much will it cost me?”

    I am facing the outlay of several ten thousands of EURO
    to repair the damage caused by the hoarder to the hoarder´s appartment and the one below (water damage, yay, think: lots of mildew, think: large populations of certain animals of vermin quality, imagine: two rooms, to the ceiling full of boxes with garbage and full diapers, don´t imagine: horrible smell),
    for the reconstitution of my property so I can rent it out again,
    a severe fine from the health services because of the “hygienical issues that are posing health risks to people living in the house” (read the next paragraph to get the full irony of this),
    another fine because of safety issues as part of the ceiling in the appartment below came down,
    the fees for the lawyer,
    the increase of my insurance premium although they will only bear a tiny part of those expenses,
    loss of income from the unpaid rent and expenses from the hoarder,
    loss of income because of cuts in rent from the other renters,
    loss of income as the appartment cannot be rented out for several months,
    loss of income from work as I have to handle the repair work, etc. etc.

    I must pay for everything but have no rights:

    I couldn´t enter the appartment “in an emergency case without the renter present” when the damage occured to fix it immediately (yes, dear health services, the police stopped me!);
    I still cannot enter the appartment (to get the repairs done before more damage is caused) without the hoarder´s consent, but cannot get the hoarder´s consent as the person has disappeared and I have no right to the information where that person is;
    I cannot take possession of and clear the appartment despite having terminated the contract last year already;
    I cannot use that minimal deposit to cover the annual expenses (electricty, water, heating, etc.);
    I have no right to the hoarder´s possessions to cover my expenses (not that anything there would be worth to be made to cash, in fact, I even have to pay for the disposal of contaminated waste);
    I have no right to “warn” future landlords if they ask for reference (oh, how I wish the previous landlords could have said something when I called them up).
    The sad thing is that “my” hoarder has done it before and before and before … and has always gotten help, support, money and “away with it”.

    What do the landlords get? Work, cost and unwanted comments from the “good people” who have no idea how much this affects the people who have to clean up the mess afterwards.

    What does society get? A baby-hoarder in the making, I am really concerned about the child that grows up in that mess, not only re. psychological effects but for the most basic health and hygiene issues.

    Sorry for the long rant but the last week and what is still to come is just a little bit too much for these financially tight times, I certainly could have done without it (particularly after the rain-flooding of my own appartment that I am still trying to cope with).

  18. posted by Celeste on

    All I have to say is that if you have ever been in the home of a hoarder, with its tight spaces, terrible smell, fleas and maybe even rodents (as I have), you would probably not find this show entertaining.

    I grieve for all children brought up by people not fit to raise them properly. Sadly, this is quite a lot.

  19. posted by Lily Strange on

    Stephanie says:
    “2. I am absolutely appalled at everything being treated like it was trash and carted off in a dumpster. The fish tanks and the kiddie playhouse were completely re-usable and I don’t understand why they were not donated, given away or sold. It angers me that our society has come to this disposable mentality. Those fish tanks and playhouse now take up landfill space rather than being passed on to someone who would be happy to have those items to use. Shame on A&E for those practices. I am sure that the service used by the show to haul off the junk is product placement advertising but what they are doing is not in line with good environmental practices. I really hope they change that up in the future. The husband and the little boy would have probably felt a lot better about parting with their stuff if it was going to go to good use by someone else. Hopefully A&E will change that part of the show in future episodes otherwise I won’t want to watch it.”

    Thank you!

    Also, keep in mind that sometimes people with hoarding disorder (which is related to OCD) are functional in other areas of their lives. They are people, not spectacles to be stared at and mocked. And medication is not the answer to everything. Many of these medications have horrendous side effects that some people cannot tolerate.

    And Celeste, I have known a person who had terrible hoarding disorder but was a very loving mother. I babysat for her kids sometimes. Her husband was not at all supportive of her. He was too busy fooling around on her with a younger model and flaunting it in front of her face. She was very depressed. She feared that she would have her kids taken away if she sought help. Attitudes like you display do not take the whole person into account. If the person knew they could seek help without such fears, then more would.

    There are people with spotless houses in upper class neighborhoods where the children are being abused physically, mentally, and sexually. Yet people tend to look the other way in these situations. Money talks. I think that if there is no evidence of child abuse that the persons with hoarding disorder should be assisted in a compassionate fashion, without fear that their kids will be taken away. This is like saying that everyone with a mental illness should not be allowed to have children in their home. It is a very prejudiced attitude. And many people have just such an attitude.

    Until people begin treating the various mental illnesses that millions suffer with as medical conditions and not character defects, we are still not a truly enlightened society.

  20. posted by Janice Russell, CPO-CD on

    Reality show or not, TV will always be about the drama. Even the news is about the most recent local or world “drama”. That being said, I applaud A&E for creating a show that illustrates the complexity of hoarding. A TV show can’t show everything that did or even should happen, but the fact that Hoarders brought in a mental health specialist and permitted the professional organizers to talk not only about the clutter but also the emotional attachments and impacts of hoarding is great. Hopefully people who are hoarders who see the show will take comfort in the fact that they aren’t alone. Hopefully the family and friends of hoarders will realize that it isn’t just a matter of tossing the stuff. Perfect, no. A start towards helping people understanding hoarding-absolutely!

  21. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Janice — I agree that it was better than any other show I’ve seen on the subject. However, the horror movie soundtrack was quite disrespectful in my opinion. Also, what about the solutions?? You and I both know that Geralin helped this family in many ways after the majority of the clutter was gone … but none of that made the show. What is the purpose of a show like this if it doesn’t help people who view it? If it doesn’t help, it entertains … and I don’t think hoarding should be someone’s entertainment.

  22. posted by gail gray of a fresh start professional organizing on

    I am so fascinated with everyone’s opinion of the show. I believe the first episode of this show is more “realistic” reality tv than others. Also, it appears to have more trained professionals involved than others previously mentioned. I was watching a show about Hoarders the other day (my DVR had issues and did not record the program – so I am not sure what the show was)and was appauled by the “professional organizer” who spoke so rudely to the subject of the show. Most likely she has no training from NSGCD or other medical training, because shame does not help these people “clean up their act”. I look forward to future episodes to see how they are handled.

    Thank you Erin for hosting such a lively chat about it!

  23. posted by Alix on

    I thought the show handled things pretty thoughtfully. I agree with the commenters who don’t like the fact that so much was trashed, rather than recycled; at one point, Ron said it would be easier for him to let go of the fish tanks if he knew they weren’t just ending up at the dump. On the other hand, deciding whether to toss or recycle would probably drag out the process (although there’s no reason why the cleaning had to be done in 48 hours. What if it took three days, or a week?).

    But surely part of the decluttering process MUST be preparing your children for the upheaval. Jennifer should have apologized to her son, actually; if the children could help decide which toys to throw out, they could have helped decide about the playhouse, too. And apparently that was something they used quite a bit. True, the little boy has to get used to living in an uncluttered household; but he also needs to be able to trust his parents not to take away the things he treasures. In the scene where Jennifer explains to him why the playhouse was thrown out, she hugs him and he keeps his hands firmly in his pockets; he’s been blindsided and feels scared, sad and very vulnerable. I hope they bought a new playhouse — now that all the crap is out of the yard, there’s certainly room for it.

    Did they say whether Jennifer worked outside the home? If not, I truly wonder what she does all day. For that matter, you have to wonder how the family functioned at all.

    The other case (Jill, was it?) was terribly sad; she should’ve been in therapy for weeks before even attempting the cleanout — she is seriously ill. The flypaper grossed me out… and did that worker actually lose his lunch? I would have!

  24. posted by Mletta on

    Erin writes:
    “I hope that in the coming episodes the show works more diligently to educate viewers about the mental health issues that hoarders experience and treat the issue with more respect (less horror film sound effects and shock-and-awe editing).”

    I agree with you that this should be an opportunity to educate and help motivate/inspire people to get help.

    But, Erin, this is TV. You weren’t seriously expecting respect for the people were you?

    Sadly, it’s about viewership, not about compassion.
    Or education

    It’s entertainment.

    If anything, this makes hoarders the target of more derision from friends and families and others.

    People cannot see beyond the stuff to the real issues involved here.

    Which is why this is not fodder for TV…

    Will some be helped, in recognizing themselves and asking for help? Or will more be hurt by this type of shock TV?

  25. posted by Scott Roewer on

    @Geralin, Your comments above are well. said. Concerning the show, I wish they would have said in your introduction that you specialize in Chronic Disorganization. I don’t want individuals thinking they can call any professional organizer and receive the same trained assistance.

    Erin, thanks for engaging people in a conversation about the show. I was also appalled at the ‘tweets’ in the Twitter Hoarding stream last night. I do hope A&E continues to educate the viewers about the mental illness associated with the Hoarding Disorder.

    I also hope A&E gives some back ground on the number of people who assisted, the number of hours worked by everyone and the extensive planning that goes into place for doing a whole house clean out. Otherwise, viewers may get the wrong message about how ‘quickly’ this can be done.

  26. posted by Kimberly on

    I didn’t realize this was on. I did see the “Truth Be Told” episode, however, and I too was saddened to see that two of the people featured did not seek any kind of professional help, psychological or otherwise.

    Individual therapy would be helpful for hoarders, but I have a hunch family therapy would be useful as well. On the “Truth Be Told” show, I noticed – and this may have just been coincidence – that the two recalcitrant hoarders were those enmeshed in unhappy family dynamics, one with a fellow hoarder and one with an extremely unhappy adult son. Frankly, there are psychological issues AND family dynamics going on there to such an extent that even if you threw all their possessions away, they’d be in the very same place a year later. The irrational urges and phobias would still be in place, and if the hoarder is paired with an enabler, or has defined themselves as standing their ground against someone who doesn’t understand them, the problems will be that much harder to solve.

  27. posted by Stephanie on

    @Alix,

    That little boy seemed very traumatized! What a positive experience it could have been for the children to pick out what toys needed to go and for them to actually GIVE the toys to less fortunate children. Instead they were shown that perfectly good items should be trashed and thrown in a landfill. One day the landfills will be a huge problem for future generations. It was not a positive experience for the dad or kiddos which is such a shame when all it may have taken was for the good stuff to given to someone else.

    My hope is that someday all humans will be aware that the creating trash isn’t a right. We should all be aware of what we consume and what the ramifications are of all the trash we create. What goes in must come out and it is the right thing to do by recycling, reusing, donating and giving… not trashing.

  28. posted by Jennifer on

    Hello all. There is a lot being said about the hoarders in A&E’s show. Many different takes on those lives. One thing I continue to hear is disapproval about how the “stuff” was disposed of. When dealing with hoarders who have just two days to get that help, if it is not gone it will stay. Yes it is wasteful, but the whole point of getting rid of the stuff is so that these people can stop being wasteful, they will now know what they have, so it is hopefully a one time sacrifice for those involved. Second are the comments about how the couple with kids are as parents. Yes the house was awful, horrible, and no child should ever live in that. But…there are so many things wrong with this world, no matter what humans do we have imperfections and shortcomings. If its not hoarding, its gambling, or drinking, or abuse, or neglect. So with all that is out there is it not good that at least for those parents to seek help? Hopefully people are judged on the merits of wanting to move forward instead of forever being defined by their mistakes. Yes the show was a bit dramatized, it’s for t.v. I hope that we can all look at the bigger picture and see that even in ourselves there are things beyond our control, we all need help in some form, this show illustrates one way of getting help. Or I guess we could just tie them all up in the town center and brand the with a giant “H” on their foreheads, yeah that’ll make it all better.

  29. posted by Stephanie on

    @Jennifer,

    The time urgency issue is a construct of the show. The show only gives them two days of help! My interpretation of what many have said on this thread is that the people should have been given more time to not only deal with the mental health aspect of it but also the actual dealing with of the stuff at hand.

    Two days of hasty cleaning is millions of years in a landfill.

  30. posted by Amy on

    My parents are hoarders, and one of my siblings and I together watched the show with a mixture of horror and overwhelming relief. Horror in that we recognized our parents and the struggles we’ve had in dealing with them, and relief in knowing that we aren’t alone. My paternal unit’s home closely resembled both of the homes portrayed last night.

    While some of the ‘entertainment’ elements were unnecessary, we were so glad to see this show on the air… Without exposure to these very real horror shows that people live in, grow up in and try to address within their own families, the conversation cannot begin.

    My siblings and I have tried to get help for our parents, but neither one of them is able or willing to acknowledge they have a problem with hoarding or any other mental disease. Interventions haven’t worked, brute force cleaning parties resulted in a cleaned house for a few months, but long term it only deepened the emotional insecurity and attachment to things and the end result was an even worse situation.

    In one early moment of the show, one of the organizers or psychologists mentioned that the homes of hoarders usually have a smell associated with them. This is SO true. It’s not a ‘just a light a scented candle and it will all be alright’ stench, with our situation; you can smell the house from the street. Care packages and presents sent from them to friends and family emit an odor that induces retching.

    Objects from cleaning powwows that were identified as having significant memorable or emotional importance, or were determined to be valuable enough to recycle or pass on to a charitable group were set aside, cleaned, boxed and moved to a clean home for parsing. Within a week the clean house began to take on the smell of the hoarded house. Not one thing could be saved due to the extensive permeation of the smell induced by and associated with hoarding. That’s why in the episode last night, everything, including the fish tanks were thrown out.

    Even the clothes that are worn when working in my parents home have to be discarded after the work there is completed. Washing them multiple times doesn’t fully eliminate the smells and toxins that are absorbed from the hoarders environment.

    Ironically tho, the four offspring from the parents are obsessively clean. We hold on to few items, and put little importance on things and have an overwhelming urge to clean and discard after contact with the parents or after watching shows like this. So, the children of hoarders may not be Lost to the curse of hoarding if they have active enough social lives, they’ll see how ‘normal’ people function and will adapt.

    Sorry if this rambles… Just one viewpoint of a child of Hoarders

  31. posted by Soochi on

    I lived in a condo building where a hoarder also lived. The rest of us were afraid of fire coming from her unit.

  32. posted by mstreemn on

    I know some of you are distressed by so much of the stuff removed from the home(s) being thrown away but as another commenter pointed out many of these items cannot be saved. Imagine if you can what these homes smelled like Think rotting garbage dump mixed with mildew and cat box at 120 degrees for months smell. I vomited many times cleaning out my MIL apartment and was sick for weeks afterward.
    We wore respirators, overalls, shoe covers and gloves. and looked like we were cleaning a bio-hazard site.

    Plastics, books and clothing are nearly impossible to remove odor from without a lot of expense (an ozone generator may do it but very expensive). There is also the mentality of if you keep some they want to keep all because most hoarders lack the ability to put things into categories .

  33. posted by mstreemn on

    To answer the question of what do they do all day…(the unemployed woman and the mom) and why they can’t clean up the place on their own…underling many of the psychological problems hoarders face is severe and chronic depression. The behavior I have observed in my MIL is avoidance of issues (she reads, watched tv or plays computer games) rather than attempt to deal with any problems. She and her family have been evicted 3 times and is separated 2 times from my FIL due to hoarding and other underling psychological issues. Her behavior also affects the rest of the family. My FIL and the other children in the house gave up arguing and attempting to keep the house livable due to depression and the hopelessness they felt about bettering the situation. It has taken years to get them effective help and treatment. I had to teach my 23 year old SIL how to organize, clean, cook and do laundry. She had never learned how to do it from either parent.

  34. posted by Celeste on

    @ Lily Strange:

    I think you are out of line to tell me I’m “prejudiced against hoarders” because I think that basic sanitation has value in the home. These kids are captives to their parents’ issues. For every story you tell of somebody who you say is loving and functional, the rest of us can watch the news and hear (as I did this month) about a hoarding family that took a newborn home from the hospital only to return days later with its toes and cheeks nibbled away by rats. You go ahead and stand up for the hoarders but my sympathy remains with their children.

  35. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    Re: Recycling/donating/reuse – I’m a professional organizer, and I’ve cleaned out homes where hoarders lived. In at least three of the situations that I worked in, the clothing/furniture/other items were so filled with mold, human and animal feces, water/insect/rodent damage, etc, that cleaning and sanitizing attempts would have been time consuming, expensive and other resource devouring.

    The water and electricity alone to wash/dry/somehow sanitize several hundred pounds of clothing from one home would be expensive, and probably spent in vain. The smell that permeates plastics and wood can not be washed away, it’s in the very molecules of the substance.

    There’s a point of diminishing returns with efforts to recycle/reuse items in these conditions of decay, where the amount of resources expended to fix the items becomes extreme and wasteful. It’s not a question of taking some 409 and wiping down the walls or the play structure or doing a couple loads of laundry. It’s literally hours of work, thousands of gallons of water and cleaning supplies, and all the other supporting infrastructure/cost for those services and supplies.

    Would you have things in your home that reeked of cat urine or mildew or worse? There are things that can’t be fixed, and much of what comes from hoarding situations falls into that category.

    Ruth

  36. posted by Stephanie on

    @Ruth,

    The items I referred to were an outside playhouse and fish tanks that were again, outdoors.

    Although I understand and know what you are talking about (having been around cat hoarders), I didn’t get the impression from the show that there were smell or decay issues involved.

    The food hoarding lady is a whole other story!

    In thinking about this last night, I have come to the conclusion that the show really may not be helping these people. As most of us can relate to, it is really hard to do behavior modification or a lifestyle change in only two days. It would be like crash dieting for two days. I am not saying it is impossible but I highly doubt anyone on that show is going to be able to sustain those changes without some counseling. I think I am becoming less interested with the show the more I think about it.

  37. posted by Michele on

    Re: dumping versus recycling, I bet a lot of the stuff taken away was damaged to some great extent that the TV cameras didn’t show. My guess is that the fish tanks’ seals were totally gone (who knows how many years they’d been outside in Kentucky), and that the playhouse was filthy or damaged in some way that we couldn’t see and that the editors did not leave in the final cut of the show. The mom seemed very quick to allow the playhouse to go, which makes me guess that it was already in poor shape.

    It’s no favor to a charity shop or thrift store to donate stuff like that, so it seemed reasonable to me to cart it all to the dump.

    The kid reacted so negatively because he hasn’t yet been taught how not to get overly emotionally attached to stuff, and he doesn’t appreciate quality toys and a clean, sanitary living space. It was sad to watch, but he was upset because he doesn’t know what “precious” is. I hope the family can work with him to help him learn a different, more healthy way to live.

  38. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    @Stephanie, I stand by my statements. I wouldn’t take a play structure that had been in the yard of hoarders into my yard, nor would I give it away. Without seeing it, I can still say that the likelihood of it being irreparably damaged and deteriorated is very great.

    The same goes for the aquarium. Sitting in the sun, the seals were probably shot. I wouldn’t put an animal into it to live, even if I did want to clean it. Once rubber/plastic gets stuff baked/soaked/heated into it, it doesn’t come out.

    It’s a question of context. If it was only the play structure and the aquarium, and the client wanted to keep those items, I’d look for a way, but still be aware that there might not be one. Since it’s a whole houseful of stuff and a very urgent need to, for immediate physical and mental health reasons, get stuff gone, I have to prioritize.

    If the client has the financial resources, I might hire someone to research recycling the plastic of the play structure, and also break down the aquarium and at least recycle the glass, if the local recycling facilities even take that type of glass. The recycling facilities that I have available to me don’t accept tempered glass.

    I recommend recycling and re-use, but some stuff is not appropriate for that. If the client can’t take the steps, and can’t hire someone to try to clean up individual items, (again, knowing that there is a good chance they are not cleanable) then it either stays in their living space or it goes to the dump.

    Ruth

  39. posted by Jennifer on

    I must again voice my views here. And let me come “clean” this time. I am Jennifer from the episode, the boy crying is my oldest child. There seems to be much concern about the wasting of items coming from our house. Please let me clarify a few things.
    1. The play house was in great disrepair. We obtained it from an alley during junk pick up in our city to begin with and with the holes in the roof of the house, it stored water that I couldn’t shake out and was a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, watching them swarm my children every time they entered the house was not pleasant.
    2. The fish tanks. Yes there were quite a few of them and yes those big tanks can cost quite a bit of money but that is where the decision had to be made. This is a 900sq ft house, there was a fish tank in every room and there was no room for the things we do need. They were a luxury of space and money spent in maintenance that we could not afford.
    3. My son. I have had to re-evaluate and decide what it is in this world that makes me and my family happy. The reason my oldest son was so attached to his stuff is because he had spent enough time living with hoarders that he too came to believe the t.v. commercials when they showed him that things could make him happy. But if we pay close enough attention to those commercials we can discover how they sell us this happiness through stuff. They do not sell the product, they sell us the idea of a human connection. Watch a toy commercial, you’ll see very little of the toy, but you will see a lot of is children smiling at each other and having fun “together.” When you watch a commercial for Dreft, you’re told covertly that you’ll be a good mom and really prove that you love your child if you use that expensive product. Or one of my all time favorites, beer. The classic beer commercial is the older slob type man who opens a beer and suddenly he is irresistible to the super model in the stringy bikini. I have been very careful to teach my son, and my other two children that the reason they think they want those things is because they think they’re going to get those human connections, and to also show them how we can have those connection without stuff. In fact the more stuff we get the harder and harder it is to make those connections. My son has never been happier in his life. We had his 8th birthday party here at home for the first time in his life this summer and he seemed so content to have his family and friends come into his world and share in his life. He has never again mentioned the play house.
    4. The after care. The production company did not just come in a film our mess, film it being ripped away and then leave with smirks on their faces. And I and Ron had been in contact with Geralin for at least two weeks before they came so we were well prepared for what was coming. The Company took great care in helping us find and fund the help we need to go through this process and it has most surely helped our family in leaps and bounds. Yes there was a little added drama, but it is for t.v. what did anyone expect? I feel as if a few things were played on a little more heavily than they were perceived by me but I know that there were no lies told, and nothing was made to seem as if it wasn’t.
    In summary, I whole heartily believe in reusing and recycling in almost every situation. For us it was absolutely needed that we get rid of as much as possible with the means we had available so that we could STOP wasting so much. I would have loved to see that stuff used by someone who needed it, but we needed to not need it more than hang onto it to make sure someone could use it. Why do you think we had so much to begin with, we had to “save” everything because even if we didn’t need it ‘someone’ did, and in our clutter and confusion it all just stayed. I’m sure there are a lot of things we could have done differently…but I had to let go of the “perfect” way and just get it done. Hopefully this will help others learn better ways of accomplishing this task. And I’m glad we had the opportunity to get the help we needed desperately and to hopefully help others, either by showing that its okay to reach out for help, and or by showing the other organizers out there what works and what doesn’t.
    Jennifer

  40. posted by Laurie on

    Wow, Jennifer, I salute your bravery in getting help for your family and for following up with this additional info. I’m glad that there was more to the help you got than just the two days during filming. It was hard for me to watch this episode, because my mother has issues much like Ron’s of becoming emotionally attached to “stuff”, with the result of a very full house. I admire how Ron did not lose his temper even though he was clearly going through a very upsetting time. I don’t think my mom would react so well. I am trying to figure out how to get help for her that she would agree to.

    I wish you and your family the best,

    Laurie in California

  41. posted by Jennifer on

    @Laurie,
    As far as getting help for your mom. I found the application to the show when I was researching professional organizers on the internet. There are tons of resources out there. Geralin, the organizer from the show has a wonderful website called Metropolitan Organizing, there are links there to many other useful sites. I’m sure there is a wealth of resources in Cali. And remember that professional organizing is not a strictly business kind of business, they are some of the most compassionate people I’ve ever encountered, they will help you figure out what you can do for your mom if she is willing. The show was a deadline event, and it can be hard for hoarders to experience that, but privately there is much more time to walk through the process and learn from the organizers. I only got two days with my amazing crew but I learned a ton that has continued to help me everyday since. It is something that is more than worth looking into. Good luck.

  42. posted by Elisabeth on

    Is there anything I can do to help a family member (my sister) when she doesn’t think she has a problem?
    She has a serious hoarding problem, you can hardly walk through her house. Newspapers, every scrap of mail – junk or important – that she receives is thrown on the floor or piled on the table. She has rooms packed to the ceiling with various craft supplies and projects she will never use. But it is her kitchen that is absolutely the worst. Dishes, dirty pans, rotting food, insects, you name it – piled high (way more like Jill on the show than like Jennifer and her husband).
    She has never been able to have a family get-together at her house. In fact, my husband and children (now grown) have never stepped inside. Every holiday she asks me what she can bring and I always tell her to bring the wine, because the thought of eating something from her kitchen is disgusting.
    I have tried to help her clean her home, but in no time at all it is back to how it was, or worse. So I have given up on that. We did not grow up in a messy home, and my other siblings and I are all neat. When I have mentioned getting help to her, she gets very defensive.
    You would never know she is like this to meet her. She is always clean and well dressed and she is very successful and respected in her career.

  43. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jennifer — Thank you so much for your comments in this discussion. Your insights have added so much. Thank you!

  44. posted by MISSYnALEX on

    I’m a part of “Hoarders”. Our episode will air in late September.

    I’m horrified. The dramatic takes, close-ups of professionals’ faces as they expressed surprise, the gloom and doom music… It’s disgusting.

    I’m so hurt. And I feel so betrayed. I was promised that it wouldn’t be like this. I was told it would be a respectful show.

    I’m just so terribly sad about it now.

  45. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @MissyNAlex — My advice is to not watch the show if you continue to feel anxious about it. You already benefited from the help and are experiencing the joy of your hard work. Jen’s story about her son’s birthday party in their house this summer after the cleanup is truly beautiful — and you very likely have similar stories now, too. Focus on those good things. Don’t feel sad, feel proud of what you accomplished! What airs on television won’t change your success.

  46. posted by anonymoose on

    MissyNAlex, and Jennifer, I want to salute your bravery in seeking help for you and your families. I’m someone who has struggled with squalor for a long time, and this is the first year of my life (middle-aged now) that I’m seeing some success in getting through this.

    For those who are not afflicted by this and can’t possibly understand: if you liken this to something like alcoholism, the compulsion portion may start to make sense. I’ve seen a review that professed understanding for drug addicts, and none for hoarders, but at one point in history, both drug addicts and alcoholics were considered lazy and lacking in morals. The leap past that view to deal with the problem on a disease level (whether you believe it is a disease or not) was the single most important thing to turn the tide in actually having a potential treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction.

    So it is with hoarding and squalor. No person in their right mind wakes up and says “Today I’m going to hoard and develop more squalor in my home.” Please understand, especially those of us desperately trying to change our lives, we recognize the incredible challenges this creates for our children and our families and if we could wave a magic wand and be “all better”, we would do it in a heartbeat.

    We want to be like the rest of you “normal clean people”. While I abhor the sensationalism and dramatics occuring in this show, I’m relieved to see others like me, *seeking help*, *trying to change*, *learning to do things differently*.

    I work hard every single week to purge the excess things I’ve hoarded (I’m not as seriously afflicted as some hoarders are, and for that I am very, very grateful), and I seek ongoing support for the deep cleaning and maintenance cleaning of my home.

    With support and encouragement for what ails me, I now have a home I’m no longer embarrassed to invite others into. I can freely host playdates for my child, and nearly burst into tears the first time we hosted sleep overs. I desperately wish I could have done this all differently so much for my child–but hopefully the efforts to change and learn a new way will pay off for my child!

    So Jennifery & MissynAlex, hats off to you for being so brave and for trying. Keep trying. You are doing it, you are doing a great job–and you are inspiring others like me (and I’m like you!). Missy, I know you are feeling betrayed, but please let me assure you that watching you be so brave is inspiring me to keep working hard to reduce and eliminate clutter.

  47. posted by Michele on

    @Jennifer — Thanks for taking the time to come in and clarify. It looks like the situation was more complicated than the show explained. It sounds as though there were hours and hours of work involved, but only a limited number of minutes that they broadcast.

  48. posted by Sandra on

    Jennifer, thank you so much for posting. I thought the show, though typically overwrought as reality TV tends to be, was really good. I’m not a hoarder but I have strong clutter tendencies and the show inspired me to do some decluttering.

    I agree with you about the playhouse and fishtank. There’s so much stuff in the world, and charities are unhappy to receive stuff that’s in less than ideal condition since they just have to get rid of it. But please tell your son, if you haven’t already, that he can get his own children a shiny new playhouse when he grows up! His sadness was so poignant, and I’m glad he’s realizing how good this has been.

    I hope the other subject of the show is doing okay. She really needed help, hard as it was for her to accept.

  49. posted by Irene on

    Please note that you can watch the show ONLINE!

    Lots of people without cable or in other countries can watch the show on the A&E network’s website:

    http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/video/

  50. posted by Cathy on

    From one who has seen several sides of this disorder…

    First I feel sorry for any child having to grow up in such an environment. Although Jennifer and Ron’s home didn’t “seem” to have alot of rotting garbage in it, I bet it still smelled bad. And it’s an embarrasment for kids to grow up in this situation, it’s a mind game type of thing because mommy and daddy don’t want anyone in the house so the kids have to lie for them, have to lie to their own friends too on why no one can come over. Then there’s the self-esteem issues you have when kids grow up feeling like garbage because by golly mom and/or dad put a higher value on stuff than on their own kids. Happens to quite a few kids IME…then there are the truely unfortunate kids who go to school in clothing that reeks…just REEKS of garbage and animal pee. Just imagine the ridicule. One of my son’s friends grew up in that type of home and there were times when his friend would come over to our house and I would have clean clothes for him to wear while he took a shower and I washed his clothing several times over…(just so you know I was always very gentle and kind to him I never said anything nasty to the boy as it wasn’t his fault he was in this situation and believe me I told him that I never blamed him or looked down on him because of their neglect)…it got to the point that he would bring his laundry over to my house because he knew I would wash and dry it and fold it up nicely for him. He was always so grateful for not only the clean clothes and a shower with a clean towel but for the attention and food we gave him too…

    I also feel sorry for anyone who rents to someone with a severe case of hoarding. Like the poster Enigma (near top of page) who is facing thousands of dollars in repairs, I imagine the landlord for Jill will probably be facing a total demolition of that house once she is gone. You cannot have rotting garbage and feces laying on the floor year after year after year without damaging the property. I can easily imagine that other things are not working as they should (plumbing and all the appliances) if there was other damage say a leaking roof, how likely would it have been for Jill to have called the landlord in to fix it? Mold in the roof or walls, bacterial contamination from the rotting food and poop, just imagine the fixtures in the house. Way beyond just “give it a good clean” I’m sure.

    I’m glad that Jennifer and Ron got the help they needed. It’s a shame that it took the threat of their children being removed to get them to do something but it’s better than nothing. Dare I say that alot of this disorder revolves around selfishness? I mean, Jennifer and Ron didn’t get help until the children were going to be removed from them, they never did this for the kids, they did this for themselves…

    As for my son’s friend, my husband and myself went round and round about what to do about the situation. We tried talking to the parents, we offered to help them clean up, then finally when we felt we had no other choice we reported them. The friend ended up living with his grandmother which turned out to be a much better situation for him. Oh, and the parents? Yeah, they ended up being evicted and the house they lived in was condemned. I felt bad for their landlord.

    I know alot of people say that this is a mental illness. Depression, they say, plays a big part in it. And while I do think this is true is a few cases, I’m also just as sure that it’s not true in all cases. I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life, but my house isn’t a disaster. My kid was always clean (he’s grown up now), the animals were always taken care of, heck our house was the neighborhood house for the kids to play at because the parents knew I’d watch them and feed them etc….and I work(ed) full-time. So for me, using depression as an excuse is a poor excuse indeed. Much more likely is narcissium, control issues, and plain ole fashioned laziness…as for Jill I think perhaps some dementia might be involved??

    I know this series is all about the hoarder. I know it’s about their side of the story but I hope that this will bring to light the plight of children, animals and heck even other adults who have to deal with them. I commend A & E for airing this series…it will bring some understanding hopefully for the children being forced to live in these conditions. It will maybe bring about more people reporting this type of abuse and bring compassion for those who are forced to deal with the hoarder and the horrible living conditions.

  51. posted by Sandra on

    I think the availability of easy credit isn’t helpful to potential hoarders either. I imagine a lot of them are deep in debt from buying things they didn’t need and couldn’t afford.

  52. posted by Sue on

    I’ve just watched the first two episodes. Like many others, I felt the show ended prematurely. It focused on the gross out factor, and not on the process of getting help as much as it should have.

    Jennifer, thanks for clarifying that the experience was so much more involved than the show let on. And your portion of the first episode was positive – I could tell that you and your husband were acknowledging the problem and really trying to fix it. I was especially impressed with his reaction. It was clear it was difficult for him, yet he was able to keep his cool and let the process continue.

    @Cathy – I think your post is offensive. To suggest that it’s not a mental disorder, just “narcissium, control issues, and plain ole fashioned laziness” is wrong. Just because you’ve struggled with depression and not hoarding doesn’t mean that hoarding is not a mental disorder. Depression is another disorder that’s often dismissed as laziness. Don’t tell me you were never told “it’s all in your head – just snap out of it” or something equally unhelpful. True hoarding is a mental disorder.

    The show at least inspired me to do some serious uncluttering. I had it on tivo, so every commercial break I paused it and got up to put something away, clean a counter, or fold some laundry. All the Clean Sweep and Clean House episodes I’ve watched have never had this effect on me.

  53. posted by Marie on

    Sympathy goes out the window for me when I have to deal with my hoarding in-laws. Instead I think of the ravaged look on my husband’s face when he found ruined photos of his dead mother in a box that was dumped in an upstairs hallway after a basement flood and never cleaned up.

  54. posted by Cathy on

    @ Sue
    read my post again. I said that ” I know alot of people say that this is a mental illness. Depression, they say, plays a big part in it. And while I do think this is true in a few cases, I’m also just as sure that it’s not true in all cases.”

    In other words, depression may play a role in SOME cases but certainly NOT IN ALL cases. If this offends you so be it.

    Think about it. If you jam all the space up in a house what are you doing? You are controlling the space. It becomes yours so that you alone can determine what anyone in the house can or cannot do. If all the stuff is yours and only you are allowed to deal with it, then it all becomes about you – the whole world revolves around you. Anyone else is really out of luck. In fact, their feelings and needs really don’t matter compaired to your needs and your feelings. And how does hoarding have anything to do with not doing the laundry or teaching your children not to draw on the walls? Doing those things take effort, something a lazy person isn’t about to do…geez we’ve all had moments where we didn’t want to deal with something but you do it because it has to be done and somebody has to do it.

  55. posted by Mike on

    MISSYnALEX – I know it’s been a few weeks and maybe you’re not reading this anymore, but I saw your episode, and I just wanted to let you know you didn’t come off bad at all. In fact, as soon as we saw that you had the honesty to admit that you would never get around to returning that parcel, my wife and I were rooting for you the whole way from then on, because we realized “This one understands and is willing to deal with the problem!” Many of the other hoarders featured on the show are just not ready for that kind of honest self-reflection. You took the toughest first step: completely eliminating externalization of fault. It might be a long road but I think you’ll win in the end. Good luck!

  56. posted by Fuzzy on

    The new show Hoarders has been a wake up call for me. I’ve not see a single case where I was as bad as they’ve shown. But that being stated, I’m far from the norm in hoarder behavior. Most of what I have, took years to accumulate. Though I’m not accumulating more right now, the quantity of stuff is overwhelming and organization seems out of reach. There is no garbage like pizza boxes, cans, bottles, wrappers here but there is lots of stuff. Maybe there are degrees of hoarding. I put myself at a solid 7 out of 10. Thanks to Hoarders, I now know I’m in trouble.

  57. posted by Shari on

    There are definitely degrees to this illness… and it’s also tied closely in with OCD. My grandfather is a hoarder and I was one for much of my life. However, a couple years ago, I developed severe OCD… and the hoarding went away. It’s as if it’s been replaced by the full blown OCD. Very strange, I know – but that’s my experience.

    Of course, now I have a living space in dire need of cleaning/organizing… and the OCD makes me not want to touch any of it. Hmm. A problem. Thankfully, my hoarding was always about new/usable items and not trash – so while I have debts and no free space to show for my bout with hoarding, I don’t have any actual health/odor risks to worry about.

    I can totally relate to the comment above about the psychological benefit from throwing everything straight out FAR outweighs the benefits of hanging onto things to donate/recycle. When you actually get yourself moving and you’re ready to DO it… You need to DO IT. Not hang onto things for any reason – no matter how ecological that reason might be.

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