Hoarding: Why forced cleanouts are unsuccessful

The A&E channel ran a Memorial Day marathon of the first season of its television show Hoarders. After showing all of the original broadcasts, A&E aired a new episode that showed the progress — or, rather lack of progress — of a handful of the show’s participants. Four of the five of the people featured in the new “Where are they one year later?” episode had fully returned to their hoarding ways.

I didn’t watch the new episode and actually heard about it through a blog post on Entertainment Weekly’s website. Learning about it this way was a solid reminder that the show is created for entertainment, and not necessarily to help the participants on the show or teach the audience about the mental disorder. I know from people who have worked with the show that behind the scenes they do try to help the participants, but so much of that isn’t transmitted to the audience. The scary music and the shock and awe storytelling dehumanize the participants, in my opinion.

In the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, the authors say that this recidivist behavior is the norm and should have been expected by the Hoarders production staff. From pages 96 and 97 of the book:

One of the worst experiences for someone with a hoarding problem occurs when another person or crew arrives to clear out the home, usually at the order of the public health department or a frustrated family member … These scenarios almost always leave the hoarder feeling as if his or her most valued possessions have been taken away, which in fact may be the case. Beyond this, most hoarders have a sense of where things are amid the clutter. When someone else moves or discards even a portion of it, this sense of “order” is destroyed. We know of several cases in which hoarders have committed suicide following a forced cleanout.

The time, expense, and trauma of a forced cleanout are not worth the effort if any other alternatives are possible. Although conditions in the home may improve temporarily, the behavior leading to those conditions will not have changed. Moreover, the likelihood of obtaining any future cooperation after such trauma is slim. One Massachusetts town in our survey of health departments conducted a forced cleanout costing $16,000 (most of the town’s health department budget). Just over a year later, the cluttered home was worse than ever.

I continue to have very mixed emotions about the television show Hoarders. I like that the show raises awareness about hoarding, but I don’t feel that it’s necessarily helpful and compassionate information that is being distributed. Did any of you catch the marathon and the “Where are they one year later?” episode? I’m interested in reading your thoughts in the comments.

Again, if you or someone you know is a hoarder, please seek treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. The disorder can be dangerous and treatment has been shown successful for those seeking help.

The following organizations have “find a therapist” functions on their websites that list therapists specifically trained to treat hoarding:

56 Comments for “Hoarding: Why forced cleanouts are unsuccessful”

  1. posted by Nicole on

    I think you should watch the episode, Erin. I read that same EW article that you site, and I watched the show. My perception was that all but one participant made some degree of progress, and one made a true recovery. Four of the five participants had clean, usable living spaces (living rooms, kitchens, hallways) although they were still battling their hoarding tendencies. Also, four of the five were still in therapy, working on their conditions. I thought most of the participants were successful, although my expectations are that hoarding is not cured overnight, and often not in a year, either.

  2. posted by Jenipurr on

    We watch Hoarders (mainly because it’s kind of fascinating, and also because it usually then spurs me on to go declutter something), so we caught the ‘Where are they now?’ follow-up episode. I was really struck by the fact that it was only the people who had *wanted* to change in the first place who managed to show any improvement one year later, because they were the ones who took advantage of the after-care funds for additional therapy and assistance after the initial clean-out, and were willing to really *try* to get better. They were the ones who could admit that yes, they did have a problem. The ones who were forced to do the clean-out (usually due to legal mandates) were right back where they started, because they had never accepted that something was ever wrong to begin with.

  3. posted by Holly on

    I watched the episode and mainly I was happy that 1 of them maintained and even improved since the clear out. With this being such a difficult disorder to treat that is pretty good.

    I do much prefer the show Hoarding: Buried Alive. It seems to treat the problem at a much slower pace with a lot more therapy.

  4. posted by Rue on

    100% agreed with Jenipurr. Forcing a change on someone doesn’t change the behavior that caused the problem in the first place. Until you can correct the behavior itself, you can’t correct the result of it. If someone doesn’t WANT to change, they won’t be willing to address the behavior in the first place.

  5. posted by Peggy on

    I agree that forced clean outs don’t work; however, I knew that the youngest one would win out over his hoarding. The way he responded to the dog hair when he was cleaning it off the stairs. His attitude showed that he truly got how flawed his thinking was. “This is not my dog…it’s just dead hair.”

    Also, I just read “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” by Randy Frost. This book really opened my eyes to the mental side of hoarding. I highly recommend it to anyone dealing with or interested in this issue.

  6. posted by Ash on

    I watched A&E’s OBSESSED, a show which chronicled a person’s therapy sessions and work dealing with their particular form of OCD. It seems like Hoarding is a spin-off of the success Obsessed had.

    I watched the marathon of Hoarders and I was struck with the apparent lack of therapeutic strategies. I felt the Obsessed series did an excellent job of showing how powerful emotions can be but, more importantly, how hard suffering people have to work to overcome their fear and anxiety to be well. Where Obsessed seemed to empower, Hoarders really appears to give much of the power over to the disorder.

  7. posted by Rebecca L on

    I don’t think the blogger watched the show either- like Nicole, I only felt that one person hadn’t progressed. The others had made lifestyle and attitude changes. They still have “miles to go”- I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most “successful” person was Jake the youngest, who had what appeared to be the smallest living space-hence the home had been completely cleaned a year prior, and so desperately wanted the change. Jill, Bill and Paul are still struggling, but are working on it- I disagree that they “had fully returned to their hoarding ways.”

  8. posted by hac on

    I watched part of the marathon which seemed to be all of the 1st season’s (2009) shows. I have also seen a couple of episodes of this season’s new (2010) episodes and Hoarders seems to have changed their approach dramatically. In 2009 shows, they came in and cleaned out the entire place in 2 days. They showed lots of before & after shots.

    In the 2010 shows, they seem like they are working with the people over time (weeks & months), they don’t bring in the “Got Junk” trucks, and there is no ticking clock by which they have to finish the clean up. They show before and after shots but the “after” shots seem to be mid-treatment shots with some improvement but not completely cleaned out. The show ends with “John Smith is continuing to work on his house” instead of “the house is 100% cleaned out.” I wonder what happened that made them change their approach? The new season is much better – more realistic and the people don’t seem to be freaking out over a “forced” cleanup the way they were in the first season.

  9. posted by Heron on

    I haven’t seen the follow-up show so can’t comment about that. But I have real issues with the approach taken on Hoarders. The thing I dislike the most is the pace – doing this in just a couple of days seems to create trauma for the participants. Makes for enough drama for a TV show, but not so good for the people.

    When my brothers and I help our mother deal with her basement, it took over a year. We started slowly – focusing on one type of stuff at a time – for example “let me help you with all the knitting yarns”. She controlled the pace and made all the decisions. The process got easier as we went along, because she was starting to feel successful, was benefiting from the better living conditions, and trusted us not to do a takeover. If we had pushed, we would never have gotten anywhere – especially since my mother is naturally a controlling person and suffers from dementia. Instead, over a year later, the space is still in good shape and my parents are very grateful for the help.

  10. posted by Lee on

    I consider myself a boarderline hoarder and think I’ve arrived at this place for a variety of reasons. I’ve read articles and books and watched shows and usually come away with something new each time that will help with my attitude adjustment. I don’t know if this is something like alcholism where alcoholics are always alcoholics but they work to stay “clean” (actully, no pun intended”). Will I always have hoarding tendencies and will need to remain ever vigilant? Can I actually be “cured”? I don’t know.

    I do understand why most cleanups don’t stay clean. If we don’t emotionally get to the place where we can understand why we had been keeping something and then feel good, or at least OK, about getting rid of it, we will continue to repeat what we have done. If we understand those feelings and work to keep them in check, we have a chance of being successful. I understand why I’m hanging on to the sentimental things. I’ve been able to release some things and am working hard to be able to release more. If someone is a shopper, getting rid of the purchases isn’t going to get rid of the urge to shop.

    The piece that I came away from after watching the Hoarders Marathon is how much this has cheated my family. Seeing a show for an hour could make me realize that, but seeing it hour after hour really beat it into my head. I know that I have to change for me, but I love my family deeply and I will be much happier as they are affected less and less as declutter more and more.

    I don’t have a date for being uncluttered, as I don’t want to feel like a failure if I dont meet the date and then give up. I don’t think that long held feelings can be sent out with everything else that goes in the dumpster.

  11. posted by Michael on

    I’m not really sure how I feel about the show Hoarders. It kind of makes them out to be freaks and exploits their conditions. Yet on the other hand it exposes a condition that many do not know about and the show does try to educate people about why people hoard. My parents are hoarders, although not as extreme. After watching a few episodes they got to cleaning up the patio and garage. If anything, the show helped motivate them to reflect on their own feelings with the objects that they own. While this did help I think the motivation is only temporary. It’s like watching a cooking show that makes you bake a cake once, then resort back to buying it for the rest of the year.

  12. posted by dale on

    I agree that “Buried Alive” does a much better job showing the glacially slow process of decluttering for hoarders. However, one thing Hoarders does well is to articulate the feelings of family members of hoarders – they love their crap more than they love me. As one of the hoarders said, her kids wanted her to clean up so they could visit, but their visits were brief and intermittent. Her stuff, on the other hand, was always there to comfort her.

  13. posted by *m* on

    I find these shows compelling but hard to watch. I feel for these people, who are clearly ill. I wish there were lighter decluttering fare on TV somewhere. How I miss “Clean Sweep”!

  14. posted by Mike on

    @Lee:

    Lee, I wish you the best of luck in your efforts. Everything we’re seeing suggests that the mental obstacles are the most critical, just as you determined. You can do it, buddy.

    On the general topic:

    I haven’t seen any Hoarders since last fall because when football season ain’t going on, we drop our satellite programming plan to the cheapest possible package to save money. Hopefully, they’ll rerun the season later this year and I can catch up. I find Hoarders to be compelling TV even though I share some of the misgivings about how the subjects are depicted. The editing is definitely calculated to evoke pity and revulsion, and whether that’s responsible TV or not, it’s obviously garnering viewers, including me.

    One thing that still sticks in my craw, though, and this has held true at a 100% rate for every Hoarders episode I have watched is: No matter how horrible the home, no matter how much junk is stacked how high, no matter how many dead animals line the goat-paths of the dwelling, there is ALWAYS, without fail, ALWAYS a clear place for the hoarder to sit down and watch TV, and a clear view of the TV besides. The hoarder is able to reach enough internal willpower to keep that area clean, but apparently no other areas. This has unfortunate implications. It devalues the diagnosis of hoarding as a legitimate mental disorder and strongly implies that the real problem is simple sloth. (On the basis that if it wasn’t sloth, one surmises that TV watching would be just as impossible as any other activity of daily life at the hoarder’s home.) Urgh, that comes off really coarse, I know. I’m not meaning to point fingers here, not looking to accuse, just bringing up a piece of the puzzle that I can’t seem to reconcile with the rest, and wondering whether this is something the therapists and professionals have noticed and/or have considered in their approaches to helping these patients.

  15. posted by Sue on

    I also agree that “Hoarding: Buried Alive” does a much better job at examining the mental disorder behind the hoarding, and not subjecting the participants to trauma by imposing impossible clean-up deadlines.

  16. posted by Cathy Silverberg on

    We recently undated our t.v. so we can watch more channels. We watched one episode of Hoarders and I will not be tuning in again. It was depressing and gave me anxiety. One of my part time jobs is housecleaning and I have had clients that were hoarders but not to this extreme. It is hard to change them. They cling mentally and emotionally to their stuff. It can be something as insignificant as a plastic bag or empty shoe box.

    I believe these people need to be helped on the inside first so they can actually see what kind of a life and environment they are creating, which is unhealthy. Once that is clear the rest will come more naturally.

    I had a neighbor who’s house looked like some of those on the series. She had a husband who was a mean and grouchy paraplegic. She had kids that were older but not much help. Out of compassion I took a couple full days to help her clear out her laundry and find her kitchen counter. A week later it was all a mess again. I never went back.

    I love the challenge of helping someone organize but these people are without any hope. You can’t help them by just cleaning up their surroundings. They need a reorganization of their mind and emotions first.

  17. posted by chacha1 on

    I don’t watch either show regularly but from the comments above it seems the 2010 “Hoarders” has changed its approach for the better, from the mental-health perspective.

    I did catch a few episodes of each series and the 2009 “Hoarders” seemed almost like “What Not to Wear,” whereas “Hoarders: Buried Alive” did a much better job of connecting with the fear and desperation of the subjects – and treating them gently.

    I would classify both shows as “educational entertainment” but trust that most people watching them do so not for prurient interest (e.g. look at these freaks!!) but out of concern and fascination with something that is, at that level, blessedly foreign to us.

  18. posted by CFry on

    Hoarding is primarily a physical manifestation of a psychological loss in a persons life.

    If the issue of the loss is not resolved, you cannot fix the hoarding by simply removing items. In many situations it will only making the hoarding worse because now they have experienced yet another emotional loss.

  19. posted by April on

    @Mike

    I’d guess it’s a matter of priorities. They care more about being able to see the TV than having a bed to sleep in, etc.

    I also think it’s a wonderful thing to realize that they are able to keep this small area cleared. It’s proof that they CAN keep their whole house orderly if they put their mind to it. They just have to take baby steps. (First, in front of the TV. Next, half of the living room. Then next, the other half, and so on until the whole house is tended to.)

    I agree with others that this can’t happen without some mental and emotional help. But once they get their thoughts straight, but are still overwhelmed by how much work must be done, this little cleared space in front of their TV could be a great source of encouragement.

  20. posted by Jessica on

    I sometimes wonder if the show’s format, with its emphasis on quick clean-outs and attempting to wrap up the episode with some sort of resolution, doesn’t inadvertantly persuade the friends and family of these hoarders that their loved one’s problem is now “fixed” or say to viewers at home, hey, if these hoarders on TV can be turned around in two days, then why can’t my hoarding relative? But, to be fair, I would’ve once believed that sending a trash truck and a clean-up crew was all a hoarder really needed.

    The show has been interesting in showing the alarming extent and devastation that compulsive hoarding can produce — it’s not just the trash, it’s the damage to the house’s structure, it’s the loss of money (a few had properties they could sell or rent, if they were cleaned out), divorces, distant adult children, young children being taken away (a few never returning), poor physical health, evictions, foreclosures, criminal fines, jail time. What most stayed with me from the follow-up episode, I thought, was the professional explaining how many people can get involved on a single hoarding case.

    I also find it interesting that most hoarding cases were unique in some way or another — in the follow-up, Jill didn’t seem to have amassed a bunch of junk, but she was still hoarding food. There were, of course, animal hoarders who believed they were helping the animals they kept in squalid conditions. There was one man who was saving items for potential art projects. Some buy new things and hoard them, some collect trash and hoard that.

    Also, I noticed that more often than not, the hoarders and their families did not use the h-word. They would refer to the mess and the compulsion to keep things either euphemistically or even reduce the problem to the barest of pronouns.

    That said, I can do without the shadowy cuts and creepy music. Or the instant-makeover approach. And some of the therapists annoyed me but I will be nice and not identify which ones.

  21. posted by Gina on

    I, too, am fascinated by this show. I consider my mother a borderline hoarder. I find that I’m using this show to try and understand why my mom hoards. I feel for the families involved, because I’ve tried doing the same things as them, with no success.
    I also think that the follow-up show did show that some of the participants had made progress in their recovery.

  22. posted by Demerna on

    I have real issues with how the show deals with the issue and the people. The therapists do not seem to be very helpful. In at least a few of the episodes I have seen I think more progress would have been made if they approached the items differently, bringing in trucks with GOT-JUNK on them for the person to see is extremely insensitive.

    The episode with Michelle (the lady with 60 birds) could have been handled more effectively, I believe, if the show brought in her veterinarian and the therapist focused on explaining how cleaning up would be better for the birds. As emotionally attached as she was to those birds and keeping their area somewhat clean I believe she would have been more willing to change and let go. I watched the follow-up for the last season and they had an older man on who kept saying he was keeping the items for his grandchildren. Personally, I think, what they should have done was use the trucks to haul all of the scrap metal, cars, old appliances, etc… to sell and then help him start a savings for the grandchildren, since all he saw was them throwing away his grandchildren’s inheritance.

    I also think that many of the people would have benefited more if the useable items were donated, instead of being tossed in the back of a truck, and they took the person to the donation place and had the staff talk to them about how their stuff would be appreciated and cherished by others, not thrown out. Items also should have been sorted for garage sales since some people also talked about not wanting throw items away because they had some monetary value.

  23. posted by Karen on

    My husband can’t bear to watch either Hoarders or Buried Alive. He grew up with a hoarding mom. Now, her problem was not that bad back then, and he was able to keep his room clean, but we saw one episode where the mom was a shopaholic and had crammed her kid’s bedrooms–where, one presumes, they were expected to sleep–full of junk. It was so sad and made both of us angry. IIRC, the parents had lost custody of the children and the mom was being told the kids could come back once the house was clean. Even THEN she could barely bring herself to part with anything. It made me see red.

    My mother in law hoards paper. She keeps every scrap of paper her kids wrote on, cut up and pasted, and she keeps church bulletins for a full year. Bear in mind she doesn’t DO anything with her kids’ old drawings. We found a black garbage bag full of drawings her daughters had done back when they were 9 or so. Those children are now in their forties. My mother in law said, “Oh! I didn’t know those were in there! How wonderful!” I offered to help her scrapbook them, or put them in an album–and she refused, tied the bag shut and shoved it back in the closet.

    I truly do not understand hoarding. I do to a certain extent–they’ve had serious losses, in my mother in law’s case she had a rough childhood—but I can’t understand neglecting your kids or letting paper pile up so much that you don’t know what you have.

  24. posted by Shel on

    @Mike: You said the TV watching is simple sloth. I would also argue that it is a wonderful escape, a way to indefinitely postpone getting up and dealing with people. Whether those people are present in the hoarder’s life, or merely represented by the things they’ve accumulated, human life is inherently social, and the hoarder has lost the ability (and the will) to look beyond their things to see the real people that are close to them.

    @Dale: Even when the family can finally visit, it is not enough for the hoarder to see any real social interaction or relationship as worth it…I believe there is an extreme level of self-absorption that makes every THING have an inflated value and every BODY to have a meaningless place in the hoarder’s life.

    The real sadness is when children, who have no choices, and are still developing their thinking, have to endure the twisted thinking of people who take human qualities, give them to inanimate objects, and then expect the real humans to live up to those standards.

  25. posted by Lee on

    Mike, thanks for the encouragement. As to not being able to watch shows when you don’t get the channel, I went to the show’s website and there were several full episodes you could watch online.

  26. posted by Patti on

    Thank you for validating my opinions of the A&E Hoarders show…what I said 6 months ago: http://unclutterer.com/2009/11...../#comments

    Posted by Patti – 12/01/2009

    I watched the first few episodes of Hoarders, but haven’t kept up with it because the treatment of the hoarders just left me cold.

    When a truck is backed up to your house to clear it out in two days, that is NOT the time to try and convince a hoarder that they need to change. That therapy should have been done prior to the clean-out, so that the hoarders are actually READY and WILLING for the change, without having to have an on-camera meltdown. But hey, that wouldn’t get ratings would it?

    I think Peter Walsh and TLC’s Clean Sweep team (is it still on the air? hard to find it) does a MUCH better job of helping people conquer clutter…

    Sucks to be right. :)

  27. posted by James Irvin on

    My wife is a borderline hoarder. No, she’s a hoarder.
    I’ve resorted to containment. She has one whole room and one walk-in closet out of a 4 bedroom house to indulge. I’ve drawn the lines there and will remind her of them when the stuff starts encroaching again.
    It keeps the peace.

    Oh, and her car is pretty bad, too.

    ” . . . and that’s all I need . . . this closet, this car, this room . . . and that’s ALL I need . . .

  28. posted by Erika on

    I disagree that Hoarders dehumanizes the participants. It makes them seem all too human. One thing that has struck me about so many of them is how pathetic, strident, and selfish they act. Not that people without mental disorders don’t act that way, it’s just that the hoarders are unable to hide those negative aspects of their personalities.

  29. posted by Mike on

    @Shel –

    You’re probably right, and that’s what I’m afraid of. Because that is physical proof that they have the capability of keeping an area clean, and that they simply CHOOSE not to clean the rest. It can be either sloth, or it can be more like the escapism you suggested, which is an ongoing evasion of responsibility/reality. And that undermines the entire notion that the problem is primarily medical (psychiatric) OR mental (psychologic).

    The problem becomes behavioral (sociologic), and that means that medical and mental solutions come off the table and we’re left with the only real solution to behavioral problems: tough love. Problem: With hoarders, “tough love” seems likely to result in loss of custody of children, deterioration of property, impairment of health, and possibly death… which makes it really difficult for the hoarder to survive his or her encounter with that “Moment Of Clarity” or whatever that it takes to finally impel a permanent change in behavior.

    One wonders if the 12-step method could work here. It’s a sociological solution that has succeeded in treating problems such as alcoholism that can be defined in all three dimensions: medical, mental, and behavioral.

    As soon as we see a preponderance of hoarders who can’t even watch TV because things have gotten so bad, I think we will see the beginning of a sea change in the way the condition is treated both socially and professionally and ultimately a growing percentage of positive outcomes as a result. But until that point is reached, nobody is pushing their chips all-in on this bet.

  30. posted by finallygettingtoeven.com on

    I too am fascinated by the show. I don’t think i am attracted to the actual condition or even the process of the clean-up. I like to see the before & after’s. I like to see progress that was made, probably because i am a very go-to kind of person.

    In our local paper last week there was an article about an elderly couple (they did not live here in my area) but anyway they had been buried under their ‘stuff’ for 2 weeks before they had been found. Turns out that she fell down and he tried to help her and a giant pile fell on top of both of them trapping them. Thankfully they were both alive when found but extremely dehydrated and not in very good shape at all. They are not allowed to return to the home until it has been cleared out and i hear that is what is taking place now.

  31. posted by Noah on

    On several episodes of Hoarders the city, county, or landlord has mandated that the dwelling be cleaned up. In that case you have little choice but to go all out and drag in a crew to work with the hoarder to clean it out quickly. The show always offers aftercare and at least in the recent episodes clearly states this at the end.

    I watched the follow up episode, and the majority really did make progress, even if it was small. I believe a hoarder’s house will always be cluttered looking to my minimalist eyes.

  32. posted by Olivia on

    Some of the people featured on Clean House has definite hoarding problems (their winners of the Messiest Home in America comes to mind). It really bothers me how they deal with them.

  33. posted by Shel on

    @Mike – I often wonder while I am watching the show why they don’t give the hoarders some more to chew on besides dealing with their present situation and how to get out of it. These people and their families have been doing the avoidance & panic routine for so long, they know all the steps. I think they could stand to put them into new situations, like a spartan dwelling and let them feel what it’s like to live a while without their current situation bearing down on them.

    On A&E Obsession, they put people in the situations that give them anxiety, and then little by little, let them go through it, to show them that they can survive the panic period. On Hoarders I get frustrated when they give almost total control to the hoarder without really stretching them toward healthy behavior.

    For instance, the ones who aren’t mentally ill (and there have been some), consider: what if your house burned down? You *would* go on and have another place. Now you are starting over. What would you or could you do differently? Certainly some would want to go back to hoarding to deal with the stress, but the rehearsal of living a non-hoarding life might give some the confidence they need to ditch some of the tendencies and finally see outside of their little surrounding of stuff.

  34. posted by Rebecca on

    @Mike, really? If you have some type of anxiety disorder (which hoarding is), you don’t think the distraction of TV would be very important to you? More important than sleep (which doesn’t come easily anyway, due to anxiety)?

  35. posted by momof3 on

    I have watched every show about hoarding that I have been able to find. The mental health of many featured on the shows seemingly glossed over. Yes, they are in need of good doctoring, and perhaps need to be handled ALOT better than the producers of the shows portray them. I personally am sick of the “it makes for good tv” mentality.

    I would really like to see a family of a hoarder spend time discussing many of the details of the situation and the what, when, and how they have handled the messes before, and why now, they have chosen to be on tv exposing their lives.

    Yes, those of us who are not hoarders, but know them, love our friends/family members, but I just need to know what the major reason is that something seemingly thought of as garbage (old drink cups-food on plates left for ages-old coupon flyers-etc) becomes so hard to throw away or recycle on a timely basis.

  36. posted by John on

    Turn the situation around, ask any ultra-neat and tidy person how they would feel if a TV show came into their lives specifically to de-organise their homes, criticise their behaviour and tell them what they are doing is wrong. How would you feel? What makes your neat and tidy way of life the ‘right’ one?

    I struggle with keeping things neat and tidy, I hoard papers and when challenged about untidiness I feel sick, embarassed, huge knots in my stomach. Is it the same for unclutters when confronted by mess? Picture Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’ for example, noticing that one of her ornaments has moved a fraction!

    Please, in any situation consider the feelings of those involved. What you as the ‘organiser/cleaner’ wants may not necessarily be right.

    Just as you would not like to have your way of life judged or skills criticised it is the same for others. What would you do if I came into your house and valued your possessions based on my feelings towards them and threw away those that, to me, had no value, REGARDLESS of your feelings?

    I am not surprised that the road to an uncluttered life is a long one. Unfortunately, my experience is that neat people come crashing in, setting up systems that THEY feel are best, throwing away things that THEY feel should be binned. ‘Hoarders’ need support not imposed and forced change.

  37. posted by WIlliamB on

    I have watched two episodes, although I’m not sure from which season. The first included a married woman with four kids, a zillion pets, and husband who fled into his job. The kids and pets were taken away (temporarily?) by the authorities. I was not impressed by the show’s personnel or their behavior. The most effective and empathetic person on screen was the dog catcher.

    The next show included a divorced woman with three or four kids. She had a paying job as a photographer. She looked put together: neat in her clothing and person, used some makeup, hair styled (not overdone, not a rat’s nest). Anyone recognize this ep yet? It made me very angry.

    What made me angry was the therapist. Decluttering brought to the fore the woman’s buried memories of sexual abuse by her stepfather. What did the therapist do? She said repeatedly “We’re not here for that, we’re going to put that aside for now, we’re going to focus on the task at hand.”

    I about threw my book at the TV. What competent therapist would act so strongly against a patient’s interests?!? The therapist’s behavior was insensitive, counter-productive, and contrary to medical ethics. As someone who’s worked with sexual assault survivors I hope that therapist gets her licence yanked.

    I will not be watching this show again.

  38. posted by Jen on

    I’ve never gotten the impression that everything’s all better once the crews leave. The show has made a point of consistently mentioning that what’s caught on camera is just the beginning of a long process, and falling back into a hoarding pattern is a very real possibility. I think the goal of the show is to get these people to a place where dealing with their problems isn’t so overwhelming and hopeless, and gives them a greater chance of success. Some of the stories are disheartening and some are hopeful.

  39. posted by Kara on

    I really like Hoarder’s over Buried Alive. In fact until Hoarder’s, I didn’t have any sympathy or empathy with someone who lived like this. My mother had issues with “too much stuff” and in dealing with her death I now understand why. Without Hoarder’s, I was so angry with her and now I realize she had issues with depression and was dealing with loss. I have seen myself in many of the family members on the show. So good job A&E for producing a great show – it really helped me understand my mother and have sympathy for what she was dealing with.

  40. posted by Michele on

    I think it’s important to remember that the show has to be edited down from probably a hundred hours or more of videotape: studio interviews, work at the site, and sometimes outings with the subjects. What looks like bad therapy (or cruel family members, or hoarders given too little time to work through their issues) could be either actual bad therapy (or etc.), or an unfortunate editing choice.

    We’ve got mental illness in my family, and often the mentally ill family member’s behavior comes across to me as childish and overly needy. I’ve got other needs in my life, and sometimes that family member’s behavior is the last straw, and I get really mad. Then if I don’t say the right thing, or I don’t handle the situation tactfully, I’m the person who comes across as the jerk because I didn’t take the illness properly into consideration. So I wonder if that’s not what’s happening when we see family members start to yell at the hoarder, then the hoarder gets all upset, and it looks like suddenly the tables are turned, and the non-hoarding family is “cruel” or the therapist is doing a bad job. It could be that before that piece of video there were hours and hours of incredible patience on everybody else’s part. We really, really don’t see the whole picture on the show.

    We could be seeing bad family and bad therapy, or we could be seeing “tough love.”

  41. posted by Michele on

    In particular, @WilliamB, I wonder if the “We’re not here for that therapist” wasn’t doing the right thing. That therapist wasn’t there to deal with past abuse. That therapist was there to deal with hoarding. Expertise in the one area (changing cluttering behavior) won’t necessarily translate to expertise in the other (dealing with past abuse).

    Maybe we missed the therapist explaining that, maybe even over and over and over, to the hoarder. I suspect that that doesn’t make for video that’s nearly as interesting as seeing fireworks between the hoarder and therapist, though.

  42. posted by Harrken on

    At one time I considered myself a moderate hoarder. I had piles of books, papers, trinkets, and other stuff. I also had a pile of debt. When I finally decided to get rid of my debt I started looking for ways to make extra money and found that I could sell a lot of my “collections”. Once I got started I realized that it was just stuff and that made it a lot easier. I now lead a simpler life. I agree that until you are ready to make a change, any change, it is not going to happen. That brings to mind a quote of wisdom, “Those you force against their will, are of the same opinion still.”

  43. posted by Mandyfuji on

    Erin, You are right that “The scary music and the shock and awe storytelling dehumanize the participants”. Another sad reminder why I detest reality shows.

  44. posted by Menopausal Entrepreneur on

    I work for an animal shelter and we frequently encounter animal hoarders. I had the experience of going into one person’s house after the animals were removed. It was something I will never forget – the smell and how it made me feel, so sad that this person lived like this. She not only hoarded animals but other things too. Her small home was floor-to-ceiling stuff. It’s very typical that animal hoarders go back to collecting animals, and shelters spend a good deal of time checking up on them.

  45. posted by Christine Simiriglia on

    Forced clean outs don’t work in the long run, but when trying to keep someone from becoming homeless… a little pushing can go a long way. Once there is a little space created to ward off eviction, mental health treatment and occupational therapy can go a long way. I have an organizing website, but my “real” job is working with folks who are homeless and suffer with serious mental illness. I’ve worked with people who have hoarding disorders in both jobs. You may want to read more here: http://www.organize-more-stres.....arder.html

  46. posted by Paul on

    My junk removal service has been working with hoarders in the Chicago, Illinois area for 25 years. I think some of what you are saying is inaccurate. Some hoarders are depressed because they live in piles of garbage! They don’t have the will power to follow through with a cleanout. They sometime smile with joy after we cleanout their years of piled up garbage. In any case I believe they should be forced to clean up for their own good! They don’t know what’s best for them! Are you suggesting that it’s better to let them live in filth, fire, and disease hazard residence so as not to hurt their feelings? Some hoarders are actually buried alive by their clutter as evidenced by a recent case involving a south side Chicago couple found buried and nearly dead after being stuck for 2 weeks under their garbage! Hoarding is hazardous to a persons health and the hoarder property must be cleaned out not only for the hoarder’s benefit but also for the neighborhood. I think a person should lose their property rights when they maintain a residence that is a fire, rodent, and disease hazard to their neighbors. I believe hoarding is like a alcoholism, cigarette smoking or any strong addiction. Some people have the will power to break the addiction on their own without help and some people need counseling to break the addiction but in my opinion hypnosis is the best cure for hoarding because it can reduce the subconcious desire to hoard stuff!

  47. posted by Stacy on

    I did watch the marathon and the follow ups. There are some people who seem like they get overwhelmed for whatever reason and just need some help “digging” out and learning some techniques to cope with stress and to organize. Then there are the people who have dead animals and human waste and rotting food. I feel bad for those people because I think a forced clean up is the worst thing for them. They obviously need some counseling and some treatment of some type and forcing them to part with their “possessions” which they cling to for security and comfort does not work. You sort of know a year from now it won’t be better and it may be worse. I think we watched it out of curiousity at first but I started to really feel bad for the people involved. I’ve been involved in an intervention and it’s not comfortable for anyone. I’m sure some family/friends may turn to A&E as a last option,but like other illnesses severe hoarding needs proper professional attention.

    Good Post, thanks for bringing up a great topic, that I think many people were thinking about also.

  48. posted by Jay on

    Sigh. I think a forced clean-up is in my future. My deadbeat unemployed brother-in-law is a hoader, and he has turned my elderly father-in-law’s house into a cesspool of garbage. FIL is basically trapped, hardly mobile, and too nice/weak/foolish to put a stop to it.

  49. posted by Joann on

    The show sometimes shows the tip of the iceberg of control that the hoarder wields in the family.
    My husbands sister has ruined the family home and his mother allowed it. The home was left to my husband and his hoarding sister. The sister can stay in this home as long as she is not married. The whole situation is sick and sad. The sister lived off the mother while the mother was living and now she will ruin what inheritance was left. All my husband ever received was STRESS.
    I am sorry that this disorder affects people in this way, but until you have had to deal with a relative you has this problem it is impossible to explain how crazy and stressful it is. Thankfully we live in a different state and do not have to deal with the sister who has many times been verbally abusive to us. Sad situation.

  50. posted by Jess@minimalistmum on

    The issue of decision making and the stress it causes in a complex life is regularly addressed.

    If a hoarder is incapable of making those decisions one by one, then they’re going to be totally overwhelmed by the houseful they have collected.

    Clearly, therapy and practical help is needed! But I can sympathise with the feeling of “surely this must be good for something better than the bin?!?” I just threw out a bunch of worn socks (that I’d been thinking we could make sock puppets from, but, get real) and some shoes that had one from each pair unwearable (but why doesn’t anybody recycle shoes in this town?)

  51. posted by LindaM on

    My older sister is a compulsive hoarder. She lived with me for two years and when she moved in, she filled my basement with her ‘collection’ – moved in a full-sized moving van, two 14-ft U-hauls and 5 mini-vans full. Two years after she moved in, I moved her into her own apartment because we just couldn’t live together, but I told her she could keep her ‘studio’ in my basement if she cleaned it up. For the next 8 years my daugher and I literally lived over a fire-trap and I was uncomfortable in my own home. I tried ‘helping’ her go through her stuff but she was unwilling / unable to part with anything. Finally, her psychiatrist suggested a contract – between me, my sister and our mother, giving my sister 13 months to get my basement organized and cleared out. Once the dead-line arrived, I would have ‘authorization’ to go down and clear out the space myself. What my sister did was desperately try to pack up the stuff and move it to her own, already packed apartment. The deadline arrived and I spent 3 days with a helpful friend, going through and getting rid of the stuff. My sister survived, although she occasionally remembers something that she was unable to save and shows her resentment towards me since I threw / gave away something valuable of hers.

    What these shows do not address is when the hoarder fills up someone ELSE’s space. I was living in unsafe conditions and exposing my daughter to the same conditions. I was uncomfortable in my own home, even though I was not actually living in the clutter. My mother and I have tried to help my sister, but Jenipurr hit the nail on the head – if the hoarder does not want to change, nothing will convince them to do so. I have accepted that she will not change, and I’m trying to convince my mother to do the same. She lives in filthy, unhealthy conditions that negatively affect her life, but she hasn’t found a therapist who is able to help.

  52. posted by Carm on

    I agree that forced and rushed cleanouts are not the solution for hoarders. This show reminds me of all I dislike about Biggest Loser. Sure, it makes for popular entertainment, but as for helping someone make a lasting change in their lives it falls way short.

  53. posted by KateJones on

    I think you’re also slightly missing a point here – these people are hoarding to the point of serious safety and health hazards.

    Just like you would ‘force’ treatment on someone with anorexia, and just like you would NOT be OK with an anorexic person not eating – you will force treatment on a hoarder, and will not be OK with them dragging more stuff in without parting with some.

    Clean up, deal with the underlying issues, and after that go by a strict 1-in-1-out!

  54. posted by Amber on

    I know I’m behind on this, but I wanted to comment. I wrote a paper for a sociology of the family course on an episode of Hoarders. I had watched the show before, yet I hadn’t truly analyzed it until I wrote my paper.

    As other people have mentioned, the abhorrent treatment and exploitation of the hoarders was disturbing. The psychologists spoke to the hoarders as though they were children, over-enunciating words and speaking slowly. If I had been in that position, I would have thrown a fit, too. If you take power away from someone, they will act powerless (like a child).

    The dynamic of the families is what really got to me. They made the hoarders look like the “bad guys” and treated the family members like saints for “helping” them. Sons, daughters, husbands, and wives would exclaim with exasperation how they had tried to help but that it just became cluttered again, but almost none of them attributed the “clutter” to a mental illness or considered that the hoarding was likely the symptom of a bigger issue. They made it sound like the hoarders made a choice to collect everything, but I don’t know many people who would purposefully live in squalor.

  55. posted by Coyote Hunter on

    As a former television news journalist-back when they did real news-I can only tell you the two shows are the rough equivalent of a newsroom axiom. “If it bleeds it leads.” Or how about “if you have barn burner it will lead the late news.”

    We like watching disasters. Car wrecks, plane crashes, and so on. After all, the first newspaper was born in London a few centuries back and all it reported was obituaries. The formula lives on.

    These shows reinforce the sense we are mere mortals. Flawed. Weak. Sometimes hopeless. Shrinks might help. They do with alcoholics. Rarely. And AA only has a success rate in the low digits. I can tell easily these people have problems every bit as serious as alcohol abuse. Watching your boob tube and expecting some show producer to provide help is foolish. They just want the train wreck to look worse.

    These shows are nothing new. Slow motion accidents, perhaps. All the show producers do is walk up and ask the standard TV question, “how do you feel?” Tears ensue. TV love tears. As you watch the show, watch for questions and situations set up to encourage tears. Those of the participants and yours too.

    Other than that, flip it over to the ballgame. Have some fun.

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