Understanding a mental disorder is probably one of the hardest things for people to get their head around. Trying to understand why a person can’t walk on the left hand side of the street or would send letters to the police confessing to crimes they didn’t commit is beyond any rational logic for those who‘ve never experienced anything like it. Yet to the people who suffer from anxiety and the many disorders that come with it – social phobia, obsessive compulsiveness, agoraphobia and panic attacks – the threats are real and the consequences even more so.
Coming from the other end of the spectrum of anxiety related disorders, I live in a perfectly clean house and am very obsessive-compulsive about germs to the point where I wash my hands at least 15 times a day. Even though I know a lot about anxiety and OCD, I still can not get my head around hoarding. I was horrified and gagged many a time throughout this show and kept thinking to myself “if only they organised and categorised their stuff it wouldn’t be a problem”. Even though I am a fairly sympathetic and unprejudiced person about disorders, I found myself thinking what most people do “just get over it, clean it!”. I was a bit stunned that I thought that as I’m often told to “get over it” and know how hurtful that can be. I guess it elicited such a response in me as hoarding is a visual symptom, I’ve only known of physical and psychological symptoms, so it was a very overwhelming show for me to watch as I tried to get into that head-space to understand where these people were coming from.
The hoarders on the show are mostly female, but range from young females to elderly men, there’s even a little boy who has picked up hoarding tendencies from his mother. You would also think that the scope of the clutter that is hoarded would be pretty similar but there’s a whole bunch of stuff collected and stored this season.
Probably the worst one for me was the story of Jill, a 60 year old lady who hoarded food. She had pumpkins rotting on the floor, year old yoghurt in the freezer, green meat, flies around her apartment, it was just my worst nightmare. It turns out that Jill hoards food as sometime during her life she was very poor and had no food and she feels the need to always have food around so she never has to go without again.
One that really tugged on my heart was that of an elderly couple who hoarded pets. Abandoned cats started turning up at their house and they just couldn’t say no so ended up with about 30 cats. The couple were facing criminal prosecution for animal cruelty and were told to clean up their house and their cats. You could not imagine the state of the house, seen Grey Gardens? Multiply that by ten (except the cats didn’t look as inbred), they had burrowed into mattresses, were living amongst boxes… it was just really bad. Something like 35 cats were taken away and over 40 skeletons of adult sized cats and kittens were found. The couple avoided being charged as they were looking after the cats to their best ability and were not neglecting them. To see Shirley’s emotion over loosing her favourite cats and then to only be allowed to keep 3 was pretty sad.
From yards full of scrap metal and garbage to houses overflowing with thrift store and discount sale items that never get used, I was pleased that the episodes were not all that repetitive. Even if they all hoarded the same items, the scope and variations in how they go about it would still be interesting. Another interesting aspect of hoarding is that a lot of the people were at risk of loosing their children (one couple did) and also faced potential fines and jail time. Ultimately, watching someone bare a painful and usually embarrassing secret on television always makes for good viewing and for as icky as the show is at times it’s very addictive.
There are a couple of cases where it does look like the people were purely lazy and they probably developed into hoarders due to staying around home and being socially withdrawn, but then you have your characters who are very emotionally attached to items such as a 21 year old guy who would not clean up his dog’s hair as he thought it would kill her. Another trend seemed to be compulsive shopping and a lack of space to store the clutter so it just gets thrown in a room. A few of the hoarders have actually filled up two homes with their clutter!
My only criticism about the show is that it tends to ignore the psychological side of things. There’s a brief mention from the subjects about why they think they hoard, but it’s never really that in-depth. The show also ends very quickly and gives you a bit of an update, but often leaves you feeling kind of let down that they didn’t explore things more. It’s basically Intervention but for hoarders and the interventionists range from clinical psychologists to professional organizers.
For those interested in this type of issue I’d highly recommend it along with A&E’s Intervention.