Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hoarders ... Living in the Rubble

TV's Hoarders is strangely mesmerizing, in the same way that a train wreck matter how much you want to avert your eyes away from the carnage, you can't.

Over a year ago I watched my first couple of hoarder shows and it was obvious that people afflicted with this problem have some type of mental aberration that compels them to acquire, accumulate, salvage and save all that they can. It is a mental condition much like obsessive/compulsive, or bi-polar disorder or a number of other real and tangible mental conditions that affect humanity. Even with today's advances in medical technology the human brain is still a complex mystery and the cause of a number of mental disorders remains elusive.

The people in the first few episodes, a year or so ago, seemed more believable, more genuine, theirs was a problem that wouldn't, couldn't go away in just a day or two. They along with their therapist spent months trying to cope and get control over their obsession; this compulsion that made them cling to any and all objects, unable to discard or relinquish the smallest thing. At the end of the first few episodes the hoarder was still in a struggle with their disorder, their living spaces may have been cleared enough to allow for a semblance of normality in perhaps a room or two, but definitely not more and some were not able to achieve even that level.

With this past week's latest Hoarders episodes, the people affected were given time limits and ultimatums, doing all the things that psychiatrist said were counter productive in this disorder. Teams barged through the homes like a swarm of locust and in a short amount of time all garbage was tossed, all clutter ditched, things were cleaned up and the home returned to a habitable condition. Can it really be so simple?

It was during my first viewing of a hoarder's program that I realized my stepfather had been a hoarder. He was forever buying items at garage sales, liquidation sales, going out of business sales, as long as the item was at greatly reduced prices he could not resist the bargain and soon his basement storage area was packed waist deep in clutter; items stashed so compactly that it was impossible to gain access into the basement. Every nook and cranny of his small apartment was filled with broken phonographs that he wanted to repair, boxes of old LP records, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. My sisters and I just laughed and said that dad was a pack rat but now I see it was really more than that.   Once, while dad was away,  the owner of the apartments, Tom, came in and cleared everything out of the basement...every thing !  Tom said it took two dump trucks to haul it all away.  Tom and dad had been good friends for a number of years but when dad returned home and discovered the basement empty, he was enraged over the loss of his "things".  It was a loss that terminated their long standing friendship.

To this day I wonder what would have happened if my sisters and I had the knowledge that we have today about hoarding. What would have happened had we gotten together and actually helped dad have that yard sale that he always talked about but never got around to having? Could we have intervened some how? Could we have made a difference ? In hindsight there are always so many more many more could've, would've, should'ves.


  1. WELL FROM WHAT i'VE HEARD OF THIS CONDITION, IT IS VERY HARD TO CURE. yOU COULD PRICE EVERYTHING, DISCUSS THE SALE AND HE MIGHT AGREE AND THEN DURING THE SALE HE MIGHT SNEAK STUFF INSIDE OR SAY NO TO BUYERS. iT'S SO INTERESTING THAT YOU IDENTIFIED his illness through the show itself. You know I really like the show since you are such a loyal reader of my boring blog but I really love it becuase it makes me feel very clean when I watch. Have you watched pickers on the history channel yet? I'll bet you might like that one too. more later! ps sorry for the caps above, my bad.

  2. My Dad had hoarding tendencies. He used to refuse to throw away mail and piled it up under the bed in the master bedroom. He came from a very poor country that was occupied when he was little, so I'm not sure if doing without when he was young made him feel like he couldn't waste and throw away.

  3. Plantress thank you for your comment, always love hearing from you. Unfortunately it's too late for me to help my stepdad as he passed away over 10 years ago. Now all I can do is look back in retrospect and 20/20 hindsight.

    Aly it is interesting about your dad, his obsession with keeping mail may indeed have something to do with his childhood when he and his family had so very little. It also seems that many people tend to become worse as they get older. Such was the case with my stepdad and his mother had been that way also. When Granny got into her 80's she began saving everything, the daily newspapers, magazines, every bit of twine or string, rubber bands, twist ties, every glass bottle or jar that came into the house. But at the time there was no medical focus on this condition and the general consensus was "senility". Back then any erratic behavior by the elderly was chalked up as senility, it was a standard catch-all explanation. Thankfully things are changing for the senior population and the things that afflict them are beginning to get serious consideration.

  4. I agree, it can stem from childhood of being without.
    I think a common problem with this issue is that relatives step in & help them clean & clear, but it is only a temporary fix as the person resumes the behavior and re-accumulates fairly rapidly.

    Heartbreaking that so many folks live this way.

    With your step-Dad, just know you did the best you knew at the time.


  5. I have never seen this show, I think it would totally drive me nuts, as much as I keep things knowing they could be useful someday, once I know something has served it's purpose in our life I like to get a G. Sale tog. and have a cleansing :)

    I am sure it can be addictive behaviour and if they weren't hoarding they most probably would be doing something else!

    Is it so bad, I'm not sure. I guess I need to watch the show.

    Have a lovely evening, T. :)

  6. You write so well - tender, heartfelt, yet factual and current. Also, glad you dispense and not hoard your words. :)
    I watched a couple of episodes of the early programs, but never long enough to see it past them showing the total mess.
    My grandmother was a good kind of hoarder - a widow who provided for herself and two daughters thru the economic hardship of WWII in former Jugoslavia and later, by buying and selling her stash.
    Her older daughter, my mom's sister and my aunt, was the ill kind of hoarder (and otherwise smart, capable, with exceptional memory for dates and facts, and people's stories, a teacher for 40 years). She was kept in check by my grandma, but when grandma became immobile during her last years, my aunt filled 4 out of 5 rooms of their flat with trash. I visited my aunt in a nursing home in Croatia this past summer. She has one clothes cabinet and one bedside cabinet. She has been reprieved from struggling with the hoarding. But she still saves the bread slices from every meal...and gives it to a medical aide so he can give it to the poor.
    I think, even if you knew of the disease at the time, it would of been very hard to help your step-dad. The best help was probably that you obviously cared for and accepted him.

  7. My Mom was a hoarder too! She would by the most useless craft items but never just one it was always an unbelievable amount of the same. I did have those tendencies buying anything that I like to collect just to add to the collection. A few years ago I am not sure what exactly happened but I purged! I kept only the best of the each collection(I do change decor for seasons and holidays) and I kept only what had sentimental value the rest is trash! It was a very freeing process and in fact it makes what I do have more precious to me! Oh I still have the tendency to over buy beads and t-shirts so a complete cure is impossible. I do think those who were without at early ages tend to be those who have a hoarding issues but I also know that they have to be the ones who seek help first not be forced into it.


  8. My aunt is a hoarder. She won't allow anyone in her house because it is packed with clothes, toiletries, linens, doo-dads...anything she finds on sale she buys because it's on sale. These items are her babies, her family. She is a loving, dear woman, but she can't acknowledge the problem. It's heartbreaking.

  9. Such an interesting topic to cover and very timely as most of my family has spent the past couple years peeling out from under the avalanche that was my grandparent's house.

    We were just there yesterday in fact. It is definitely a disease and those older generation who suffer from it I imagine had some depression era motivation to do so. Now my mom is not only showing signs but its a super battle to even talk about a simple item she takes from my grandparent's to bring to her own home. Mostly because for a while she wouldn't get rid of anything to bring in something new (the 'you never know when you might need it' mentality runs rampant with her). Slowly she's trying to change herself but its a tough road.

    I refused to let that happen to me and broke the cycle YEARS ago. In many cases it is a 100% of the time conscious effort, which admitedly can be exhausting, but not as exhausting as looking around at all the junk in my home and not knowing where to start. So I have become the poster child for 'one in, five out'. Plus watching those shows helps, a lot!

  10. Don't feel so bad - I doubt there is much you could have changed.They don't think they have a problem. I grew up in a home such as those featured on Hoarders. I can't believe how popular the show has gotten. It was an absolute hell hole. Nothing could ever be thrown out - I used to cut things into a million pieces so that my mother wouldn't take it back out of the garbage. I could never clean up because she would get aggrivated if I touched anything. It's a terrible way for a child to live. We have not spoken in 2 1/2 years and I had not been to her house in 12. My children had never been to her house. To this day clutter makes my skin crawl.We never had company or house guests and never answered the door at home.Today anyone can come to my house at anytime and I don't even think about it. It is one thing to live like that yourself - it is another to make your children live like that.

  11. When I wrote this blog post I had no idea how many lives were touched by this disorder but I did realize the "agony" that the family of the hoarder endures. Marriages that strain under the weight of this condition, sometimes to the point of breaking. Children that never have the chance to live a normal life, never to have friends over or enjoy a holiday meal gathered around the family table; to always be embarrassed and ashamed of what lies beyond their front door.

    Perhaps someday there will be a cure for this mental condition but for today we need to be able to realize and recognize that severe hoarding is a mental disorder. Thankfully recent TV shows on this subject have drawn attention to and have cast light on a situation that's obviously been kept in the dark, behind closed doors for far too long.

  12. Anna Thanks so much for your sweet words ! ((((Big Hugs))) - I too think the show brings light to something that has been behind closed doors far too long.

  13. My grandfather's girlfriend is a hoarder and she even understands she has a problem...but refuses to get help. Just recently my grandfather has decided to take action as she has been using HIS house to hoard more stuff! The last time I saw his house it was awfully hard to actually get inside because you have to push boxes and bags of stuff around to get anywhere. It's so ridiculous and scary! I'm so happy he's finally realizing how bad it is.


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