Life-threatening clutter

We often talk about the dangers of clutter, but tragedy has a way of bringing it home. An 80 year-old man in Evanston, Illinois, was found under several feet of clutter in an attempt to escape his burning home. From the article:

When firefighters arrived, they found flames coming from the west side of the home, said [Evanston Fire Department Division Chief Tom] Janetske. When they tried to enter the front door, they were unable, so went around to a side door, Janetske said.

When they were able to begin their search of the home, firefighters, including some who were able to force their way in the front door, found the man under about 3 feet of debris in the home’s living room, about 10 feet from the front door, Janetske said.

If you know of someone who is a hoarder and whose life might be in danger, please help them to find medical assistance. The Hoarders television website has an excellent resource page that lists many programs and organizations.

12 Comments for “Life-threatening clutter”

  1. posted by Dawn F. on

    I was horrified watching the Hoarders show last night. The family with Bob really affected me. I could not fathom living in a situation where my children had bugs crawling on them! I would hope that God would give me the strength to leave my spouse if his hoarding disease (which he would refuse to get help for) was so bad that our children were sleeping with bugs. I would hope that my love for my children would far outweigh my devotion to my husband in this type of ordeal. A mother brings children into this world and she should protect them no matter what the situation is.

    I missed the first few minutes of the show, so perhaps Bob’s wife, Betsey was contributing to the situation (more than just standing by and letting it happen) or maybe there is more to the story, but I can’t imagine allowing my babies to lay down with bugs or rodents or filth – or maybe that person should stop having children!

    That might be harsh, but that is the way I feel personally. I have strong feelings about protecting innocent, helpless children that we choose to bring into this world.

    Hoarders is a hard show to watch – it’s like watching a horror movie that you know is going to freak you out and make you squirm, but you keep watching it.

    I always end up tearful watching the stories and seeing the anguish by everyone involved. I truly hope that each hoarder can get the intense therapy and treatments that they so desperately need so that they can live a fulfilling life and their spouse, children, family, friends and neighbors don’t have to hurt or be scared or tormented one more day.

  2. posted by Jeni on

    I was reading on the Brown Recluse spider and that it lives in clutter spots. It can live without food or water for 6 MONTHS!!! How Scary!

  3. posted by Liberty on

    Reminds me of the story of the Collyer brothers in New York. They died unpleasant deaths due to collapsing clutter. My Mother always used to call me “Langley Collyer” when I wouldn’t clean my room.

  4. posted by Claycat on

    Poor man! It makes me think of that saying “Live by the sword; die by the sword!” In this case, it was die by the clutter. So tragic!

  5. posted by pegr on

    That is tragic that the poor man died. Unfortunately, it seems that hoarding is more common than most of us beleive.We had tenants that we had to evict due to their hoarding. They had a teen daughter with a baby, and once we saw the living conditions I reported them to child protective services. CPS did NOT investigate! Hoarding is a horrible condition for not only the hoarder but for those around them. It cost us thousands to clean up after them. I later found out that they rented a lovely home that had just been renovated!

  6. posted by Freddy on

    Unfortunately, what little medical/psychological treatment for hoarding that exists isn’t very effective. What the television show Hoarders doesn’t explain to you is that a year later, they’re all right back where they started.

    Does anyone know a true hoarder who was able to overcome it? Even if you stick an elderly hoarder in a nursing home, they will find something to hoard, even if it is paper napkins from the cafeteria or washcloths.

  7. posted by momofthree on

    Sad news indeed. The town is not far from where I live.

    Am watching HOARDERS with a sense of shock and awe, and wonder if follow up shows will ever air. Anyone know? just curious.

  8. posted by Too Close to Home on

    My husband’s parents are both hoarders. I still have nightmares about going to their home to help them pack up to move ten years ago (when we were dating). The piles of stuff (mostly junk) were everywhere and ants crawled all over everything, including the frozen pizzas they made for dinner, which I politely declined. Most of that hoard was left behind in the rental house when they left because (as reflected on TV) they were powerless to undertake the necessary sorting/throwing away, and the owner eventually bulldozed the house with the remaining stuff in it after the neighborhood scavengers had gone through.

    My husband, fortunately, does not hoard and I believe has avoided it by virtue of having grown up in that household, and living with that filth and shame. Way back when, I was amazed and touched that he would trust me enough to risk allowing me to see how they lived.

    Fast forward to this year, when it became apparent that his parents were not quite making it living on their own and would need to move in with us. Yikes! They had, of course, reaccumulated a ridiculous amount of junk in the intervening years and were in the exact same situation as before. My poor husband spent three solid weeks in their home (hundreds of miles away) trying to cull through it all, filled two dumpsters, and he still ended up pulling into our driveway with a 15-foot truck filled to the brim with mostly junk. He would call me pulling his remaining hair out with stories of how one or the other of his parents kept pulling out trash he’d thrown in the dumpster and packing it, or some huge fit one of them had thrown over some various item of junk.

    It’s been a year now of constant struggle to keep them from building a new hoard in our family home. A lot of stern talking-tos, pouting, fit-throwing, guilt-trips, and surreptitious throwing away of things. It’s not just an issue of accumulation of things–with them it’s also simply a “different” standard of cleanliness whereby they don’t seem to see the ice cream or crumbs left on the kitchen counter, the garbage bag overflowing onto the floor, or the month-old leftovers festering in the fridge.

    We’re still trying to figure out the best way to navigate the situation (suggestions welcome! though please don’t advise me to watch the show, I can’t watch it for more than a few minutes at a time for the cringing). One thing is clear to me, though–one major component to hoarding is a need for control somehow gone awry.

  9. posted by Christine on

    Too Close To Home – I give you and your husband SO much credit for letting them move in with you. I honestly don’t think I could do it. When I’m in my friend’s cluttered room for too long I anxiously await my return to a freer space!

  10. posted by Mike on

    @Dawn F

    Agreed 100% on the bedbugs thing… if you ever needed an objective fact to snap your mind out of the fog of hoarding, you’d think that an insect infestation would be it! And I wouldn’t sleep in a tent in the warm, comfortable autumn of sunny Arizona… to see Bob and his family doing it in Massachusetts hit the absurd. But it’s like they say: the hoarder doesn’t see it or grasp it. It’s as though it is not happening.

    Dick was even worse, but smart enough to be manipulative while tiptoeing around the issue of how irrational his behavior really is. “Go ahead, just throw it all away. You decide what I get to keep.” I wanted to reach through the TV and slap him across the face and say “Knock it off! You’re a grown man. My two-year-old daughter doesn’t even pout that badly! Now sack up, Nancy, and get back to sorting!” Of course, once again, the hoarder doesn’t see it that way. It’s not laziness, but mental illness.

    I had neighbors that were hoarders, though I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. I thought they were just stinking, trashy slobs. Their apartment door was immediately adjacent to mine, and my only window was right next to that, and they left their door open all the time so the filthy stench of B.O., garbage, and cigarette smoke wouldn’t choke them to death I guess. That meant I had to run a gauntlet of toxic odor just to get in my door every day, and I could never open a window to get some fresh air in my apartment. I started to hate it a LOT. Eventually their filth caused a building-wide cockroach infestation. I joined my other neighbors in demanding that the filthy folks be evicted. After due process, they were. In retrospect, I’m not sure knowing that they were hoarders would have made me behave any differently.

  11. posted by Too Close to Home on

    Christine–It was as much for us as for them, since we weren’t able to monitor/manage their financial and physical health from afar, and we worried constantly about that. And fortunately we have a lot of bedrooms. So far we have more or less succeeded in keeping the common areas uncluttered by proclaiming and following through on a household rule that if something doesn’t get put away, it gets thrown away on sight. We allow them slightly more leeway in their bedroom, where they can “decorate”/collect how they wish to a reasonable extent, subject to our periodic inspection, and absolutely no food permitted to enter. Those rules have helped me maintain some semblance of sanity, so far.

    Mike–YES YES YES on the manipulation! Over and over we get the “you don’t want our stuff here, you must not really love us/want us here and we’re leaving” line. Or the “I didn’t put that there/he did it, not me” line. Or the “oh, I’m too sick to do anything about the mess” line, when they clearly feel well enough to keep adding to it. But I’m not afraid to call them on the carpet for their passive-aggressivity and pouting and tell them to grow up, and my strong forthright anger-free communication seems to help (a skill which they clearly lack).

  12. posted by Richard | on

    That’s a really sad story. Clutter on the outside is always a signal of someone being mentally out of shape and cluttered and vice versa.

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