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: