Do you ever watch the “Hoarders” series on TV? It’s one of my guilty pleasures. Since I love clean surfaces and organization, it’s fascinating to see the people who fill their houses with junk. They shop at thrift stores and the TV Home Shopping Network, don’t even remove the tags from what they buy, and never throw anything away–even spoiled food and dirty diapers! Their homes become filled to the ceiling, and they literally crawl through filth for decades. Some amass “collections”–dolls, books, clowns, figurines, and sadly, animals that become sick. Eventually, they get turned in to the authorities because they pose a health threat to their neighbors and families. On clean-up day, psychologists and trash removal experts come in to help them throw things away, but they usually fight the process tooth-and-nail–“Dear, oh, dear. You’re all here to help me, and at your own expense, but we’ll just have to stop. You’ll have to stand around and wait because my anxiety level has risen to a 10. Waaaaaahhhh!”
Is this behavior really an “illness” as the shows would have us believe? In some cases, it is all too apparent that the people do have a mental disease. One guy routinely climbed trees and sat up in the branches so people couldn’t bother him. One woman saw roadkill as she was driving along, picked up a dead owl, took it home, and stored it in her freezer for years. Another woman gave herself a black eye the night before clean-up was to begin.
Other hoarders seem merely lazy, selfish, and passive-aggressive. Many of them are ex-teachers. (Shudder. Can you imagine a person like this having control of your child and her education?)
A common element is the denial, lies, and excuses that the hoarders give. A common refrain is that the hoarding began after a family member died. Yet here, it is–twenty years after the death, and they’re still living in filth. Many of them profess to be lovers of nature–“I’m an environmentalist”–lovers of beautiful things–“I just love Victoriana”–and lovers of animals–“I can’t give up my 100 cats, even though many of them are sick and dying.”
The really sad element is the children who are forced to grow up in these surroundings. Also, the families of the hoarders–they cry, they’re fed-up, they threaten and turn in their relatives to the authorities–but they don’t turn their backs and walk away. This is a testament to their love and willingness to help.
The shows always end on a happy note. Two weeks after clean-up day, the hoarder is shown smiling, healed, and in a clean house. They never show the hoarder filling up his house again, just like before. We’re told he will continue with therapy, but a niggling doubt lingers …
I don’t often watch reality TV shows, but I have to admit, this one has me intrigued.