Hoarders: Geralin Thomas discusses her experience on the show

We’ve talked a couple times already about the new television show Hoarders on A&E, and I wanted to continue this discussion by directing you to an insider’s look into the show’s production. Professional organizer Geralin Thomas, who appeared on the first and second episode of the show, has written “Organizing a Hoarder’s Home for Television” describing her experience:

When working with a hoarder on this series, I have asked each client to commit to working with a therapist (counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) and/or a professional organizer after I leave. (The organizing-filming only lasts 2 days and there are a lot of stops and starts for the film crew to change batteries, etc.) While it’s OK with me if the therapist isn’t on site at the same time I’m working with the client, I always stress the importance of the therapist-client-organizer relationship. There will be no lasting change if the hoarder is not willing to also work with a mental health professional for some period of time.

I was surprised to learn that filming only occurred over two days, and I think this explains why viewers don’t get to see anything other than the purging process. Geralin is an amazing individual and a highly skilled and trained professional organizer. Her insights into her experience are definitely worth reading and I’m glad she took the time to write her post.

20 Comments for “Hoarders: Geralin Thomas discusses her experience on the show”

  1. posted by Dawn F on

    I watched Hoarders for the first time last night. I was seriously almost in tears watching it. The 2 ladies looked so sad, nervous, frightened and upset – it was so emotional.

    I truly wish the episodes just focused on 1 person/family at a time instead of going back and forth between 2 families. I wanted to see/hear more about the individual cases. Between commercials and jumping back and forth it was hard to really feel like I got a complete story about either one.

    Whoa – this show was very emotional… I feel so sad for them and the disorder they live with every single day. I hope all of the participants on the show get the counseling they so desperately need.

    I have a question – is it common for hoarders to have things all over the floor where it looks like piles of trash? I always thought hoarders had lots and lots of items, but with the items in boxes or closets or cabinets – not just thrown on the floor in no particular order or pattern.

  2. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Now that I know the participants sign on with a therapist as well as an organizer, I feel like not all hope is lost for these poor people. I do hope they spend quality time with their patients when the cameras are turned off.

  3. posted by Christine on

    @Dawn F – all of the hoarders I’ve known about had stuff all over the floors so you couldn’t even walk into rooms properly. I think it may start out by stashing things in closets, but in extreme cases they just run out of space!

  4. posted by Mike on

    I saw last week’s episode and should have this week’s show waiting on the DVR when it airs. It’s very compelling television. That kid trying to escape the inertia of his drunken father was something to see, but we were absolutely riveted to the other reel with the lady who had the 75 cats, etc, about half of which were alive. Admittedly, that’s partly because the cat lady was in a neighborhood we recognized, in southern New Mexico where my wife’s family lives. When we saw “Dona Ana County Animal Control” on the trucks we were both like, “Wait a minute… Is this where I think it is?…” Very surreal.

  5. posted by Lori on

    Last week I asked my husband and daughter to watch the show with me since they are both packrats. After watching a couple of episodes, they are both beginning to clean up and get rid of some of their excess stuff, which makes me really happy! I think one of the best things about this show is that it can teach people who have a tendency to hang onto excess stuff that it is o.k. to let go of some of the clutter and make room for what’s really important in their lives.

  6. posted by Sandra on

    I’ve watched every episode avidly and I think it’s a really good show. It would cost a fortune for these people to get the help otherwise, and I think they’re treated very respectfully. Every week it inspires me to go on a bit of a cleaning binge!

  7. posted by momofthree on

    I wish this show would delve more into the psyche’s of each of the hoaders.
    (what is the overwhelming reason to save crap and crud and treat all possessions like trash by not taking care of them)
    I watch the show, and in my naive-ness want so much for the people to have happy endings, especially for those facing the loss of their homes or children.
    I personally would like to see a many months later follow up for those who had true deadlines to meet and what the final outcome was. My question: Is that a weird thought or not?

  8. posted by Meredith on

    I have watched the first few episodes of Hoarders and keep wishing, as others here say, that we’ll see some followup. Did things get better? Were they able to get the help they needed?

    I think A&E has done a really good job treating these people with compassion, and not just making Car Wreck television.

  9. posted by duxbellorum on

    @momofthree (and others): It’s quite common for people to want/hope for a happy ending. By not showing 6 months down the line we can presume the outcome is a continuing good one.

    But I, like y’all, would prefer reality. Like any other addiction, there are hoarders who break free and some who don’t see the need or are simply unable.

    What isn’t emphasized enough in the program, is that hoarding is a mental compulsion. Law enforcement/ animal control is only just getting on board with this. I have seen people in these shows with various attendant mental conditions which LEAD TO hoarding : Depression, OCD, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar. There has been passing mention of hoarders replacing personal relationships with things. My impression is the hoarding is most often a manifestation of other mental problems, not a problem exclusive to itself.

    First, those who have knowledge of these things: Am I wrong in thinking this? Secondly, If I’m right, I’d like the producers to shine a stronger light on this element.

    And BTW: Leaving dirty dishes in the sink doesn’t lead to a diagnosis of mental instability — in case you’ve got a neatnik friend wanting to point and say, “Ah-ha!”.

  10. posted by Kate on

    Both the episode with the cat woman/child of alcoholic and the one with the food-hoarding woman made me cry. These are people with very deep emotional problems. I have a friend who is a hoarder, though not quite on the scale of most of these folks, and it’s really hard to watch. As one therapist on the show pointed out, there’s usually several problems going on in addition to the hoarding.

  11. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    @duxbellorum and momofthree: Hoarding, to the extent shown on the show, is absolutely an outward and obvious manifestation of mental illness. A psychologist or psychiatrist, (can’t remember which) in the second episode talked about this. There’s usually, at a minimum, depression/anxiety, debilitating in the extreme. Other mental disorders are also found.

    Stuff is hoarded because the hoarder has a major disconnect with reality. Hoarders believe and feel they literally can not live without their belongings. In the epsiode with the young man who’s father is an alcoholic, you can see the therapist talking him through what I would say is the beginning of a full blown panic attack as he starts to pick up a particular type of trash to dispose of it.

    I sympathize profoundly with the people on the show, and hope that they find some peace of mind.

    Ruth

  12. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    Thank you for the post and the comments.
    For those of you interested, the A & E Hoarders website has 2 interviews posted. The first is with the producer, George Butts of Screaming Flea, and second is with yours truly.

    Below are links to both:

    The producer (from Hoarders on A & E) answers questions: http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/producers-corner/
    I answer viewer’s questions via Twitter (140 character limit): http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/twitterview/

  13. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Geralin you and Dorothy both are a credit to our industry in your work with hoarders. This is such a challenging client to work with successfully and you both do it with such grace and compassion.

    I love the show and my heart breaks for these folks, but at the same time I am encouraged because they are reaching out for help. It is my hope that they will each continue with the therapy and Professional Organizing help until they overcome this significant life challenge.

    I agree with the Dawn in that I’d like to see only one client profiled per episode, where we see more backstory and learn more about how the hoarding affects the client’s family and friends, as well as a more in-depth look at the person themselves. Regardless, I still really like the show and think it’s an important topic to bring to light in such a compassionate way.
    ~Monica

  14. posted by Cal on

    I really like this show. I think it does what Clean House completely fails to do, which is address the psychological issues beyond compulsive hoarding by encouraging that the client get help. Clean House tends to treat such things as a joke, and though I’m sure they’re purposely weeding out certain types, I’ve seen at least one or two episodes that made me cringe and change the channel.

    I think the hardest for me was the teenager with the alcoholic father/cat hoarder episode. I mostly had a hard time wrapping my head around the husband of the cat hoarder.

  15. posted by Television as Motivation Pt2 « The Haitian Queen on

    [...] as Motivation Pt2 So reading one of my favorite blogs Unclutterer, I saw a reference to a show called Hoarders. Curious, I headed over to A&E online to check it [...]

  16. posted by Alix on

    I understand that the crew is trying to get as much stuff out of the house as they can in two days, but it still drives me NUTS that everything gets thrown in the trash instead of being recycled or donated.

  17. posted by AG on

    Suze Orman says “People first. Money Second. Things last.”

    If you look at each and every one of the Hoarders episode you will see that each of the afflicted persons has decided to put “Things first” above all else (even above other people and heck, even above themselves).”

    That is the REAL tragedy.

    You have one women emptying out her retirement fund to protect the things inside her home and paying $7,000/month in mortgages! She obviously put things above money and other people (her husband). Now she risks foreclosure on two homes because she loves the things inside a 2400 sq. ft. home more than she loves the financial security that her retirement money could have brought her.

    She consistently missed the big picture–she loves things more than the people in her life (her 1st husband and now her 2nd husband). She has to own that truth before she can manage it or even change it. We can be compassionate until the cows come home but until she digests that horse-pill-sized truth, she is deluding herself and further alienating the people in her life.

    These hoarders have to realize that no matter how much they love things, things can’t love you back–only people (and pets) can do that! If there is a toss up between preserving your children’s safety and health and preserving things, there is NO QUESTION who should win!

    Yet, you have one woman whose children have been forcibly removed from her home by Family & Children Services. If this woman loved her children above all else (including things), she would have removed the detritus first to make sure they are in a safe and healthy environment. But alas, she could not see past the inanimate things in her life until the government forcibly removed her children, now forcing her to see the fallacy of her stilted thinking. Things can NOT come first!

    Also, you have a 21 year old unemployed boy having the courage to curse out his drunken father on national television but somehow not having the same courage to throw out old dog hair? I am trying to reconcile that one. Why does this boy appear to have greater respect for loose dog hair (thing) than his messed-up alcoholic father? Hmmmmm.

    This show consistently has me scratching my head.

  18. posted by Cathy on

    I have only been able to watch the show a couple times and both times I couldn’t watch through to the end. These are heartbreaking stories and I admire all the professionals and individuals with the courage to tackle this challenge!

    and…”Geralin is an amazing individual and a highly skilled and trained professional organizer.” Yes she is!

  19. posted by Evert on

    I simply don’t get it. How can people risk losing their homes and families for the sake of useless stuff they can’t possibly even know anymore that they own. There is so much crap in those homes, it can’t be possible to keep track of it all.

    I may be a little harsh, but I believe in the cases where families and homes are at risk, the hoarder should be taken away from the scene for a few days, let the crews clean up and then deal with the psychological stuff later, after the crises has been averted.

  20. posted by lisa on

    I work with elderly that have demonstrated increased hoarding with age and demementia- I can’t imagine trying to address even the purging process in two days.
    Many hoarders- in my experience have such aggitation over the process that it seems cruel to try this without professional counseling during the actual taping.

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