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I'm addicted... to HOARDERS!
September 16, 2009 10:31 AM   Subscribe

"Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two hoarders per episode. Tivoids set your season pass here, or watch complete episodes online. Kind of a mix between the documentary "Possessed" (previously) and A&E's Intervention. Discussion board includes some drama between the hoarders on the show and the production staff.
posted by basilwhite (126 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmmm...I wonder if this post would be better if it was more about hoarding and less about the TV show?
posted by elder18 at 10:38 AM on September 16, 2009


I want to watch them all, but I don't think I'll have room on my TIVO.
posted by mosk at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2009 [17 favorites]


Yeah how about some links to clinical work on hoarders or some famous horders. Regardless, I like the show, though I feel extremely empathy for these people. You can see the pain that either state causes them - cleaned up or hoarding, they seem wracked with pain. I can't imagine having to conduct a life/marriage while dealing with this disorder. I feel for them.
posted by spicynuts at 10:40 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here is some New York-centric hoarding information, including best practices, an assessment tool, and a FAQ.
posted by Mavri at 10:43 AM on September 16, 2009


Remember when A&E was supposed to be a more kind of high brow Arts channel? Nothing says compelling television like the desperation of the mentally ill, huh?
posted by nanojath at 10:44 AM on September 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


Brings to mind the Collyer brothers (previous FPPs).
posted by ericb at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2009


Hoarding is really fucking sad. My friend's mom had these two dachshunds and she let them shit in the house and never cleaned it up. And it would pile up. She was a really kind, sweet woman, but definitely had some psychological issues. I think that in her case, it was genuinely a "keep away from me" sort of thing.

Sadly, it sort of carried through to my friend, who never really developed an adequate idea of cleanliness. Like you'd walk into his apartment and wonder why anybody would want to live like that. If he cleaned it once, I would have been surprised.

And to this day, I cannot stand dachshunds.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:46 AM on September 16, 2009


Yeah how about some links to clinical work on hoarders or some famous horders.

These AskMes -- 1 | 2 -- have some resources listed.
posted by ericb at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2009


While there is the tinge of lurid voyeurism associated with Intervention, after watching just one episode, the show the show changes into a heartbreaking and harrowing document about addiction and the horrifying effect it has on other people. It's not an easy show to watch, because it's easy to develop an emotional attachment with and an emotional investment into the lives of the people it portrays, and the problems are complex - while the difference between right and wrong is pretty black and white, there are no easy answers or solutions. Quite frankly, I have no idea how Intervention remains on the air, because I don't understand how people can view the show week after week. It's heartbreaking.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2009


This reminds me of the British show "Life Laundry", but it looks like "Hoarders" is more realistic. In "Life Laundry," it seemed like the hoarder was always happy with the outcome and the implication was that problem was solved. In reality, an intervention and cleanup doesn't constitute a cure.
posted by beagle at 10:51 AM on September 16, 2009


ericb: Brings to mind the Collyer brothers (previous FPPs).

Subject of a recent novel.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2009


My mom sent me this craigslist posting last month with a "hey I found your dream home!" note. She did it for the lulz of course (rightly or wrongly), but I mostly just found it fascinating.

$680 Hoarders Haven (Mission District)
Date: 2009-08-23, 12:03AM

Hello, I am seeking a nice room mate to share my 2 bedroom home.

You won't have to pay utilities or do any chores so it's perfect for a young person or a student. But I cannot have anybody touching or moving my stuff because it would set off a chain reaction of emotions and feelings towards you and towards my things. Hoarding is not a mental illness, it is something environmentally responsible because I don't like to throw anything away. But the San Francisco Department of public health said my living conditions were unsafe and came in and forcibly removed my things I have been collecting for over 40 years. It traumatized me and I have been rebuilding my collection ever since.

If you are a hoarded this would be a great place because someday, it would be so full of things that we would have to sleep outside. My friend did that in LA but here it might be too cold and the city is very punitive against hoarders and homeless people. Isn't that ironic? They don't like homeless people, but they don't like people with homes either.

Please contact me by email as I am unable to get to the phone right now. I have a phone but it only rings. Once in a while I can get to it but it's so far away and very hard to get to. If you had a cell phone that would be better.
posted by naju at 10:54 AM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Occasionally I fall into some horder like behavior (nothing to these extremes) but I have found I can seemingly sate this same desire with mounds of digital data. Hard drives are beautiful things.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:03 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


My father is a hoarder. Growing up with this kind of thing, and seeing the effect it's had on my homelife, relationships, and especially my mom, I think I can say "No, thank you" to watching this show.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 11:07 AM on September 16, 2009


Just to add a charge of hypocritical voyeur to my many sins, I've thought more than a couple times about that first AskMe question ericb linked to and wondered how he was doing. I come from some (relatively benign) family history of being packrats and this disorder definitely inspires a "there but for the Grace of God go I" reaction in me.
posted by nanojath at 11:09 AM on September 16, 2009


"My mother is insane" (classic SA thread)
posted by Burhanistan at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


My father is a hoarder. Growing up with this kind of thing...

Children of Hoarders,
posted by ericb at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2009


Subject of a recent novel.

That's right. I recently read a review of Doctorow’s new book in the New York Times.
posted by ericb at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2009


I can see how this show might be lurid entertainment for people who have never had to assist hoarders, but I've had far too many dealings with them in my personal life to want to experience it again, even by proxy.
posted by lekvar at 11:19 AM on September 16, 2009


ericb, thanks for that link. I hadn't even thought to look for something like that. Their list of Healthy vs. unhealthy guilt seems a bit off, though:

HEALTHY GUILT
-Murder
-Hurting animals intentionally(except for recognized pests)
-Child abuse
-Setting off nuclear weapons

posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 11:20 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]



Remember when A&E was supposed to be a more kind of high brow Arts channel? Nothing says compelling television like the desperation of the mentally ill, huh?
posted by nanojath at 1:44 PM on September 16


Race to the bottom.

See also: "Narrowcasting on Cable Television: A Program Choice Model."

"Under these assumptions, direct pricing mechanisms and new channel capacity are shown to induce a monopoly cable operator not to fragment audiences by offering more specialized programs, but to increase production investments for "mass appeal,""lowest common denominator" programs.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hey, thanks for posting this. The novel I'm currently working on has a hoarder character and I always need more resources.
posted by sugarfish at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2009


My mom was an intense packrat - at that edge of where it's not some sort of cutesy affliction so much as "jesus fuck christ, are there floors in this house?". If not for my dad's efforts to keep things clean, it probably would have taken over the house.
She also rationalized it by the fact that this one neighbor house was a really, really gross hoarder. They had walls made out of trash (some even in bags) throughout their house.

It's hard to grow up with someone who freaks out whenever you clean up or move anything around. It really changes your perception of what's okay, or what most people consider an acceptable level of clutter/cleanliness.

My great-aunt (mom's aunt) was a truly pathological hoarder. When my mom went back east to deal with the insane mess, there was literally holes in the ceiling where the roof had caved in. Books rotting in heaps. You couldn't get from one end to the other on account of all the trash- never taken out - - not a single surface in the house available - cigarettes and feces ground into the carpet over periods of years and years .. just really unspeakable. My mom actually took pictures as they cleaned the house (a gallon of gas would have been easier). I think that, combined with her illness, made her realize just how bad it could get.
I used to buy cigarettes and sherry for my great aunt - she was also pretty much psychologically housebound, and an alcoholic. Now she lives in a motel, and has for a couple years. It's actually worked pretty well for her, as the room gets cleaned every day, she doesn't cook, and there's only so much stuff she can fit in there.
posted by circle_b at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2009


ericb, thanks for that link. I hadn't even thought to look for something like that.

You're welcome. It is from the previous AskMes (above). There are other resources that you might find of interest in those threads.
posted by ericb at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2009


Hard drives are beautiful things.

Imagine if hoarders could just buy a house that was twice as big every year or so. They wouldn't seem so bad then.
posted by smackfu at 11:30 AM on September 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


My parents represent two sides of the hoarding coin, my dad, who "Might need it someday" and my mom who invests each item with some kind of emotional significance.

I watched one episode of Hoarders and my blood pressure went up by about 20 points. The filth and the clutter freak me right the fuck out. To this day I don't know how people can live like that.

At least my mom, in addition to being sentimental about all of her objects, is also a bit OCD about cleanliness. So there's no garbage or anything like that. Just 100 Hopi baskets, or 300 Hina dolls in lucite cases, or 20 miniature clocks. It's not crap, it's a collection!

My mother has a new coping mechanism, she doles it out between my sister and I. I flat out told her, "you better find a museum or someplace that wants this shit, because if you make me take it, it's going on eBay.

I purge the house fairly frequently, so I think we're doing well there, although I am due for a garage sale.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:35 AM on September 16, 2009


Sand mandalas.

Hoarding, and the emotion hoarding stems from, has got to be one reason they destroy those sand mandalas afterwards. To force yourself into experiencing the "Wait! Don't! Might come in handy later!" moment, and afterwards the "Oh ... that was OK.".
posted by krilli at 11:45 AM on September 16, 2009 [14 favorites]


I saw this episode a few days ago, and what was interesting to me was, in the case of the cat lady, as they peeled back the layers of the problem, it seemed as if no one was willing to take the next big step, so to speak.

Living in garbage? OK, you're a hoarder, we'll help you.
Too many cats? OK, we'll take most of them away; you can still have up to six.
We found cat skeletons in the attic. OK, you can still have six.

Always just a little bit more rope paid out ...

At some point, I wanted someone to cut to the chase. "OK, end of the line. We're going to institutionalize you and your husband because you're both clearly insane."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even just reading this thread makes me twitch and want to go on a cleaning/tidying spree. I tried watching Hoarders, and it felt like someone had turned the dial up to 11 in my head. It looked like a great show, but reading the reactions of other people who had hoarders for parents, it's definitely not for anyone who has had to deal with the issue in real life.
posted by saturnine at 11:53 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hoarding, and the emotion hoarding stems from, has got to be one reason they destroy those sand mandalas afterwards. To force yourself into experiencing the "Wait! Don't! Might come in handy later!" moment, and afterwards the "Oh ... that was OK.".
posted by krilli at 11:45 AM on September 16 [1 favorite +] [!]


That made me laugh - me and my dad's joke for the longest time has always been "But wait! It might come in handy later!" followed by "I put it somewhere safe!".

I had such the opposite reaction when I moved out of the house - I'd throw things out without even reflecting on it, because I was terrified of holding onto stuff. I distinctly remember when I could no longer carry everything I owned.
Now I'm figuring out that balance of, well, some things really do come in handy later, and you don't always want to just throw out everything. I still get some anxiety about it. I moved recently and I could just barely fit all my stuff into a pickup bed, which was surprisingly nerve-wracking. I get the impression that a lot of other children of packrats experience this.
posted by circle_b at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


You can't institutionalize people anymore just for being insane. They have to be an imminent danger to themselves or others. Living in a filthy house is not usually going to equal imminent danger. And even if it did, the solution would be short-term hospitalization while cleaning is done and support services are put in place, not institutionalization.

Hoarding is a difficult problem to treat, but most of these people could live in the community with some or all of the following things: meds, therapy, case management (including home visits), and home aides (for help with cleaning). But wait, you say, these things will be expensive! Not as expensive as institutionalization, and with the added bonus of not violating their right to liberty.

(IANAD, but I am an attorney who works solely with people with mental illness, including landlord/tenant cases involving clutter and hoarding.)
posted by Mavri at 11:56 AM on September 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


A friend of mine has a series of pictures on Flickr of a woman in Santa Monica, California who organizes people's trash in her neighborhood and brings it home. She has an entire backyard filled with trash about one story high. About once a year the city comes by and empties the whole backyard for her.
posted by redteam at 11:57 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Love that show (even though it's depressing and I feel terrible for these people).
It has a very motivating effect...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:57 AM on September 16, 2009


If only those CSI-type shows would do a hoarders episode. I'm tired of them finding a single incriminating fingerprint or eyelash in someone's home. GOOD LUCK MAKING THIS SCENE SEXY AND SEEYA IN EIGHT MONTHS WHEN YOU'RE DONE WITH THE BATHROOM
posted by notmydesk at 12:01 PM on September 16, 2009 [14 favorites]


I had such the opposite reaction when I moved out of the house - I'd throw things out without even reflecting on it, because I was terrified of holding onto stuff. I distinctly remember when I could no longer carry everything I owned.

Living in a small NYC apartment is good for that. I cannot think of a single time in the last 6 years when all my possessions couldn't fit inside a 9' moving van. Although I do have a real couch now, so I guess I may have to move up to the 10' truck.

Moving from a shared 2-bedroom apartment to my own studio and I was all like OH MY GOD I HAVE SO MUCH SPACE. Still, old habits die hard. For example, I just cannot justify buying a printer, because I print things so rarely and it would just take up space. And printers are ugly.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2009


I find hoarders endlessly fascinating, and I'm happy that Burhanistan posted the SA photos, which I could put my hands on (they were the first hoarding shots I had seen and were revelatory).

I've never really encountered a hoarder, so I think my fascination resonates more with krilli's comment. I've had a number of upheavals over the past 18 months--some expected, some not--and it really has taught me a great deal about letting go. In essence, I had hoarded fictions about my life and where it was heading. For me, the junk hoarders are a metaphorical reminder of the necessity to streamline and purge, get back to basics. It's hard to function with all that physical / mental detritus built up.

Plus, it makes my office look neat and tidy by comparison.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:05 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the British show "Life Laundry"

Yeah, there's a (I think TLC) show called "Clean House" in the US. They try to keep it pretty 'normal' and upbeat, but once in a while, they have someone who obviously has psychological issues.
posted by blenderfish at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2009


If only those CSI-type shows would do a hoarders episode. I'm tired of them finding a single incriminating fingerprint or eyelash in someone's home. GOOD LUCK MAKING THIS SCENE SEXY AND SEEYA IN EIGHT MONTHS WHEN YOU'RE DONE WITH THE BATHROOM

I've just spent a few minutes driving myself nuts about this one. About 15 years ago on The New Detectives, there was a case where there were two mummified coprses in a house with all kinds of crap piled around.

Apparently one was an aunt and the other a sister, they were both sick and they both died of natural causes. The surviving nephew/brother, kept ordering groceries for three, so as not to arouse suspicion at the market. Did I mention the real reason for all of this was two SSI checks?

The groceries just rotted where he left them.

The show broke that case by using bugs to determine how long the ladies had been dead, and how long the dude was defrauding Social Security.

Okay, ICK, ICK, ICK, ICK, I need a shower.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2009


This reminds me of the British show "Life Laundry"

They used to show this on BBC America. IIRC it was mostly just sad.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2009


Weird. The even obsess when something is moved. It's like the mechanism used to encode memories in their brains is completely turned inside out.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of the British show "Life Laundry", but it looks like "Hoarders" is more realistic. In "Life Laundry," it seemed like the hoarder was always happy with the outcome and the implication was that problem was solved. In reality, an intervention and cleanup doesn't constitute a cure.

There's a show on Style called "Clean House" that is the same way. The show cleans up the mess but almost always there are obvious psychological problems that are simply not being addressed. I have a hard time thinking the houses aren't back as they were in six months.
posted by Legomancer at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2009


Welcome to the 21st century, where watching the mentally ill (and other people generally more fucked up than us) is our chosen entertainment.
posted by rocket88 at 12:22 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dad had a touch of hoarder in him. When he passed and we went to clean out his rented storage space, we found not only some furniture and relics of our childhood, but boxes upon boxes of weekly sales flyers and newspapers, stacks of empty coffee cans, long-expired credit cards, and I can't remember what else.

I see signs of this in myself sometimes, but my wife keeps it in check. I'm also getting better at throwing stuff out on my own.
posted by owtytrof at 12:24 PM on September 16, 2009


Living in a filthy house is not usually going to equal imminent danger

I'm told, in the cases where there's substantial quantities of animal urine (cats in particular) that prolonged exposure to extremely high ammonia concentrations in the air can severely damage your lungs.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2009


A friend's brother died in New York amid a Collyer's sized hoard. According to her, her brother's apartment looked just like the picture in the Kakutani review of Doctorow's book, the picture of the Collyers' apartment. He lived in a 5th floor walk up in the Village, a five room shotgun apartment. Which was filled to the ceiling with stacks of boxes, books and books--he was a proofreader and editor for TOR science fiction--and records and records, as he had been a record reviewer in his time and got freebies, and stacks of unopened t-shirts and uncashed pay checks and personal checks (many for $100 and marked loan) and so on and so on.

I knew him. We were on bad terms when he died--over things in the distant past. But I was so touched by all the mentions of him that appeared on people's social pages. They knew a different person than the one in my memory--his wake was attended by a hundred plus people. It made me feel bad that we had never patched things up.

He carried on an active social and romantic life all the while he lived in New York. All the time, never having anyone over to his apartment. From the comments people left on his memorial pages, no one seemed to have any idea of what his place looked like.

As for all the uncashed checks, well, he lost them. And never could find them. While throwing out boxes and boxes of books, my friend came across 8 $100 bills stuck in a book. She took everyone out for a deluxe meal on that. (And that was not the only time she and his friends found money stashed in books. And all the while, not looking for it. Just by accident as they numbly hurried through the stacks and stacks of things he left.

He died of a coronary and it took four days for a friend in Spain, who had figured things out within 24 hours as they were in daily contact, to find someone who lived in New York to file a missing person's report and have a detective force the door to his apartment.

Which meant the smell of death was in the air the whole time his sister cleaned out his apartment.

It took three or four days to open the front door--and, in her words,
''...he was in a 5-floor walk-up (with steep stairs!) and we had actually thought about trying to rent one of those chutes that goes into a dumpster. However, it is in Manhattan and you have to get all these permits and what a major hassle etc. so it ended up being not doable. Instead, thousands of garbage bags hauled downstairs by about 20 people who worked on the project over 4 months time......I'm still traumatized......''
He had boxes and boxes of books--she told me that dealers would come over with stars in their eyes and leave eight hours later completely numb, after hauling out boxes and boxes before they burnt out and could do no more.

From what I saw and heard about him and from him, he was a happy and hopeful person, with friends and a job he loved. I still wonder what he felt about his place when he was alive and at home.

And I did find out this from her experience: an uncashed pay check is good for life and beyond, if there is an heir. There is no staute of limitations on those. I did not know that.
posted by y2karl at 12:32 PM on September 16, 2009 [13 favorites]


prolonged exposure to extremely high ammonia concentrations in the air can severely damage your lungs.

Right, and there can also be ingress and egress issues, fire hazards, and fecal matter. Which may justify removing the person from the home temporarily, not institutionalization.
posted by Mavri at 12:33 PM on September 16, 2009


my father is a hoarder. it's definitely an emotional thing, that much I am certain of. it has become worse as my mother's health has deteriorated. they (well, she) had been wanting to move out of the family home for many years, but her condition forced them (well, me, really) to forcibly move the process along despite protestations at every point from my father. my mother was always the one who'd kept his accumulation of detritus in check. she'd throw stuff out when he wasn't aware, and stand up to him when he got mad about it. now barely about to stand and control her motor functions, it had become a serious issue. she was fast coming to the point where she'd no longer be able to make it up the stairs and would need a single-level house. and, as this was going on, of course the economy was melting down and taking home prices with it. seeing all of this coming over two years ahead of time, I had decided to take matters into my own hands and face up to whatever consequences may come of it.

while they were on an extended vacation, i wrangled my brother and whatever resources we could come up to start the process of getting the house to a point where a realtor would actually consider showing it. over the course of about 10 days, we managed to completely gut the filthy, run down looking office. we had to collect groups of items in boxes. notepads, pens, any office supply you can think of.. we had at least one entire moving box full of it. when we started, there was not one inch of floor or desk surface in the 16'x12' room that was bare. we ripped up the filthy carpet, laid down a new wood floor, and removed all of the peeled and yellowed wallpaper. they came home as we were finishing the paint and trim, and we were only too excited to show them what we'd done. my mother was happy, as she has always hated his horrifying overflowing junk. he walked around it, took it all in, but i could see he was starting to crack underneath. i could feel what he was thinking.. he was doing a mental inventory of everything that had been in that room and was starting to wonder how much of it we'd destroyed and/or thrown out. not as much as we should have, but only because my brother forced some sympathy into me when i'd threatened to toss EVERYTHING.

i later had a conversation with some family friends, and only then was i made fully aware of how deeply this had affected him. and i didn't care. his plan had been to install a chair lift up the stairway for my mother. or, barring that, to have her sleep in the downstairs area, where there was no real bedroom or shower. i didn't even know this at the time this all started, though i had a feeling that he had no plans to leave even though we all knew she'd get to a point where the 2nd floor might as well be the Canary fucking Islands. not to mention that the house would never accomodate a wheelchair in some of the tighter doorways, so even moving her around the FIRST floor wouldn't have worked. but no, the only thing important to him was that the house and all his fucking junk remained as is, delicate emotional attachments to every little scrap intact.

time progressed, and as i'd intended, that small renovation got things moving. a full YEAR later, though, the house was still not on the market, and having just completed a renovation of my own condo for the same reason (to dump it on the market), i was back at home and cleaning. if there was a day he was out of the house, i'd fill up both SUVs with junk bound for goodwill. i had to do this for weeks. one day, while my brother and i were cleaning the garage, he walked in and started lurking about. after a minute or so, he'd pick up an item, look at it, and set it back down.

"every thing in here represents money spent.."
"but dad, you haven't touched any of it in years. you CAN'T sell the house like this. and even if you did, you'd have to move all this out"

he has stacks of those little hotel toiletries. an entire cabinet full, dating back to hotels that don't even exist anymore. thousands of pens and pencils, unused. clothing from the late 70s up to now, almost all of it unused. sports memorabilia from teams he doesn't care about. trade show mugs (hundreds and hundreds of mugs).

through the entire process, even when the house made it to market and the realtor would stop by DAILY to make sure the house remained uncluttered, he still actively refused to help in any way. eventually, the house sold, they got a loan for a new one, and we had about 6 weeks to move. at this point, i had been working at this for a year and half and still the house was filled with stuff the family DID actually use needed to be packed. i worked for weeks, packing, moving shit to goodwill, etc. my gf and i decided we'd take a vacation, so i was gone for about the last week before the move. i spoke to him once during my vacation on the phone, and he voiced his frustration that i was not there to help pack. i just about split in half with anger.

all of this has forced me to drastically alter the way i live. every item i acquire now replaces something that i've either given away, broken, or thrown out. every last item of unused clothing got donated. unless an item has specific meaning to me, it goes.

i had, ironically, managed to catch an Oprah special about a woman who had hoarded herself into her own house. we sat down to take a break one night during that initial renovation, and there was our reality, right there on the TeeVee. they removed her, moved all her belongings to a giant warehouse to sell it, and then showed her the warehouse. to say that she was unhappy would have been an understatement. i was glad there would be no such sale in our case. we'd still have to look at the shit no one else could possibly want.

even though, over time, i've been proven right about everything that's happened, he's still mad about it. he still asks about specific pieces of junk and where they are. while we never had a good relationship to begin with, we now rarely even look at each other. and when she's gone, it will only get worse. only this time, he can fucking die in his filth. i'm done with it and will have no part in dealing with this kind of thing ever again. i did my best to help my family and got nothing but shit from the man responsible for the problem.

life's too fucking short.
posted by ninjew at 12:52 PM on September 16, 2009 [29 favorites]


I was watching this over the weekend and my 8 y.o. son, whose eyes fill with tears every time I mention the possibility of cleaning out (as opposed to cleaning up) his room said, "What are you watching?"

"Hoarders."
"What's a hoarder?"
"Someone who gets too emotionally attached to their things."
"Oh, then I'm a hoarder."

Big sigh.

Links for kid hoarders?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2009


Captain Cardanthian!: "Healthy Guilt" is stuff that you SHOULD feel guilty about. Murder is clearly one of those things. Perhaps a better example would have been something much less extreme, say not telling your waitress that she undercharged you. It's healthy to feel guilty about that because it helps regulate our behavior and keeps us from being sociopaths.
posted by desjardins at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2009


To force yourself into experiencing the "Wait! Don't! Might come in handy later!" moment,

This is absolutely my downfall and why I have a garage I can barely walk through. The problem, and one of the reasons I can't get past it, is that all that stuff does come in handy later. I frequently find myself building specialized tools and contraptions out of the junk I have boxed up out there.

And it kills me whenever I finally bring myself to saying "Ok, this box stuff hasn't been used in a year or two, I'm safe in throwing it out..." and a frickin' month later I'll come across some problem that I could have solved perfectly with one of the bits in it, but instead I now have to go and buy something.

What I need is a big empty farm where all my junk can just spread out and no one cares if it's a mess. Also, where things like fire and explosions and ''strange energy beams" don't draw anyone's notice.
posted by quin at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. Just - wow. I had never heard of this show and that SA thread is mesmerizing in a terrible way. I've run into people who come close to this - a blind date whose NY apartment was literally floor to ceiling newspapers with wiggling paths between stacks; a psychologist whose house was likewise just thin paths between teetering piles (and her office was in her house, which was not reassuring) - I suppose there are a lot of hoarders out there. More, clearly, than I ever suspected.

There was a children's book called Kangaroo & Kangaroo that I had and loved (it's long out of print and googling is leading me to very little) that I wish I could call up here. In it two hoarder kangaroos fill their entire house with wonderfully illustrated objects like balls of string and old toys. Finally they can't get to the front door and have to starve for a few days until they're thin enough to slip out. Then they give everything away until the house is empty; naturally, someone comes along who is just right for each object and has always wanted it or something like it. Too bad it's not that simple in real life.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:03 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Remember when A&E was supposed to be a more kind of high brow Arts channel? Nothing says compelling television like the desperation of the mentally ill, huh?

I think one can watch this with a OMG CRAZIES LOL attitude or one can see that it is a serious issue that affects more people than you might care to know, and that a window into it can be helpful in both as a wake up call for someone with hoarding tendencies, and as a study into the concrete consequences of neurotic behavior. The producers seem to treat their subjects respectfully, although the soundtrack should be dropped.

But, not to defend this show, I don't think it's so much a "race to the bottom" as it is a valid take on a problem that seems to affect people living in the so-called first world. One thing I'd like to see them focus on more is how much these people derive their identity and sense of internal locus from the objects around them.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:04 PM on September 16, 2009


desjardins: "Captain Cardanthian!: "Healthy Guilt" is stuff that you SHOULD feel guilty about."


Oy. I was reading it more as "Healthy ways to deal with guilt," rather than "things it is healthy to feel guilty about." I suppose it makes more sense your way.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 1:07 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have done home visits with hoarder clients where I was seriously concerned that I could be crushed until an avalanche of junk if I made a wrong move. Not funny.
posted by The Straightener at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2009


As an archivist, the very notion of hoarders makes me hold my head in pain, having had to organize collections filled with all kinds of stuff, 99% of which should not be saved.

Perhaps ironically, my wife is something of a hoarder, although not nearly to the level I'm sure this tawdry show represents them.
posted by elder18 at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2009


I'm faintly familiar with the phenomenon due to occasional specials they show on TV here in Japan about the "garbage houses", but all the ones I've seen were filthy: rotting food in the sink, garbage strewn around, etc. The Something Awful one looks pretty clean (lots of dust, and some expired food, but it all seems to be the kind of food that doesn't rot when it expires, it just becomes inedible).

Is one type more common than the other? Do they bleed over a lot, or is it a clear split between "dirty hoarding" and "clean hoarding"? Do they have different clinical names?
posted by Bugbread at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2009


ninjew: thank you for posting that. i can't imagine how difficult it must have been to go through so much STUFF over so many months.
posted by olya at 1:34 PM on September 16, 2009


Watched an episode on my lunch break.

I think I'm going to clean my apartment tonight.

not hoardist
posted by utsutsu at 1:36 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't watch Hoarders because I don't even want to know how a person can go that crazy. How do you let animals shit on the floor next to you and not think that you don't have a problem?

The friend I'm staying with now is a teacher and she's a bit of a pack rat. She has boxes of educational material. She's teaching 2nd grade this year after having taught kindergarten for years. I helped her purge this summer for her new classroom. I would pick something up and she had 15 seconds to decide if she needed it for 2nd grade, if it should be left for her kindergarten replacement or tossed. This worked really well and most stuff went into the trash.

Her students always give her mugs and candies for the holidays. I tossed all of that. No more six-month-old cheap chocolate hearts, chocolate bunnies, chocolate clovers, plastic vases. Please don't buy this crap for your kid's teacher because 90% of it will be thrown away. And her school district doesn't allow it to be shared with the students.
posted by shoesietart at 1:36 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


circle_b reminded me of my husband's totally awesome Jewish grandparents who had to leave the house they lived in for 50+ years. His grandmother, who had stored her children's and grandchildren's various accumulated possessions for years, started chucking everything willy-nilly. Her adult children were in a panick, worried that she would trash their high school yearbook or something. But even though she had raised five children and 10 grandkids in this house, she has little sentimentality for it.

His grandmother always joked that the reason that there are so many wonderful Jewish violin players and few great Jewish pianists is that they kept having to leave their pianos behind.
posted by stinker at 1:42 PM on September 16, 2009


I suppose there are a lot of hoarders out there. More, clearly, than I ever suspected.

I don't know if it's a zeitgeist or something that's a apart of us as a culture or species, but I suspect that we'll be hearing this again and again over the next ten years or so.

One hoarder family I know came from Europe, escaping the Nazis as they marched across Europe. Before they came to america they had known years of every kind of deprivation you can imagine. The moment they put down solid roots they started gathering objects to them, possibly to make up for what they'd lost, possibly to fight the persistent feeling of never having enough during wartime.

Who knows, I'm no psychologist.

Unfortunately, they passed this tendency down to their children, born in America and knowing no serious want. I'm reminded of the post about the rise of self-storage as a lifelong commitment rather than a temporary state.
posted by lekvar at 1:50 PM on September 16, 2009


I always thought the "dirty" kind of hoarding you're referring to was referred to as squalor.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:54 PM on September 16, 2009


One of the great acts of mental health reform in Victorian times was putting a stop to the practice of publicly displaying the mentally ill behind glass windows for onlookers to gawk and gape.

That is all.
posted by Ndwright at 1:58 PM on September 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


Is one type more common than the other? Do they bleed over a lot, or is it a clear split between "dirty hoarding" and "clean hoarding"? Do they have different clinical names?

Generally the distinction would be more in what underlying disorder is causing the hoarding behavior. Typically hoarding is part of the OCD spectrum but it can also be produced by a psychotic disorder like bipolar/psychotic features or schizophrenia. For example, many people with bipolar disorder will go on spending binges when manic, which was the case with the client I mentioned up thread. Each month when her disability check would come in we would have to race her house to intercept her before she could get to 52nd Street and blow it all on $5 shoes at the discount store. She needed the money for her medications, and her compulsive spending created a cycle of her going unmedicated because all her money would be spent immediately after she got it. She would come back from the discount store with an entire trash bag full of brand new shoes she wouldn't even wear, she would just throw it on top of the pile she bought last month, and the month before that. It made perfect sense to her, because she was psychotic.

How do you let animals shit on the floor next to you and not think that you don't have a problem?

I had another client I mentioned in another thread about severe mental illness who actually hoarded her own feces. If you are suffering from a disorder of this severity you are likely delusional, possibly cognitively disoriented, and there's a chance that the person's awareness of their environmental conditions is limited to nonexistent.
posted by The Straightener at 1:59 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


Each month when her disability check would come in we would have to race her house to intercept her before she could get to 52nd Street and blow it all on $5 shoes at the discount store.
Beautifully written. And none the less sad for it.
posted by krilli at 2:08 PM on September 16, 2009


Wait!

There's a Muntadhar al Zaidi joke coming!
posted by krilli at 2:09 PM on September 16, 2009


A friend of mine has a series of pictures on Flickr of a woman in Santa Monica, California who organizes people's trash in her neighborhood and brings it home. She has an entire backyard filled with trash about one story high. About once a year the city comes by and empties the whole backyard for her.
Sometime in the 1980s I remember a story in the Free Press about a woman in or near Detroit who was collecting trash from around the neighborhood and keeping it in first her back yard then the front. She had old mattresses, tires, broken furniture, you name it. Some of her neighbors called the city to complain, said it was an eyesore, attracted rats, etc. Somebody, somehow, for some reason decided that the move to clean this lady's property was racist, and that her collection was actually an example of African folk art that the white neighbors didn't understand. (I'm 100% serious.) They called in "experts" from various museums to confirm that this was not garbage and that the lady should be left alone.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2009


"I had another client I mentioned in another thread about severe mental illness who actually hoarded her own feces."

Thanks.

Now I need a drink.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:32 PM on September 16, 2009


Also, with some delay and just to lighten things up a bit:

Metafilter: most of these people could live in the community with some or all of the following things: meds, therapy, case management, and home aides.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:36 PM on September 16, 2009


I saw the episode with the woman who hoarded food. That was all kinds of disgusting. It's hard to believe someone can become so crippled by this mental illness that they don't notice that there are hundreds of flies buzzing around the rotting food.
posted by reenum at 2:37 PM on September 16, 2009


"I had another client I mentioned in another thread about severe mental illness who actually hoarded her own feces."

And Howard Hughes hoarded his urine, storing it in jars.
posted by ericb at 2:38 PM on September 16, 2009


Last year, I was pretty happy to go to a training for landlords on how to deal with hoarders because just a few weeks prior, pictures of this apartment were going around via email. I've seen some messy apartments, but thankfully nothing occupied by a hoarder.
posted by vespabelle at 2:44 PM on September 16, 2009


Justify watching this kind of "programming" however you want. It's still just Freak Show TV that's all about turning human misery into entertainment.
posted by tkchrist at 3:18 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend watched a few episodes and was wracked with angst. On the one hand it makes her feel better about our own relatively benign stack of junk (nine guitars isn't really that many, is it?) but on the other hand...anyway, she's concluded that she shouldn't watch it any more, even if it did get her to organize a few closets.

Her brother and his wife apparently (we've never seen it) have an apartment that's completely filled with who knows what. He has a few things (mostly comics) at their parents' place, but any time he comes over to sort it into saleable, saveable and disposable, he ends up reading one of the comics until it's time to go, and there's no improvement.

Our old roommate's mother is in a similar position, she won't let him even approach the door of her apartment because she knows he would freak out. When she went in for a heart operation, she told him that if she died he was to hire someone to clean the place out, not go in, and not let any of her friends see it. He doesn't know if it's just dirty or crammed with junk, or if it's perfectly fine but she's delusional about how bad her housekeeping is, since he's never even gotten a glimpse through the door, and didn't go in while she was hospitalized.

And then there's our landlady, my girlfriend's best friend's mother. About a third of our spare room and the entire storage unit for the apartment is crammed with her dead mother's possessions. She used to visit us about once a year, until I proposed to her that when she visits, she look at the stuff and decide what to keep and what to junk (and the majority of it is junk). Now she doesn't visit, ever. She calls on the day she's leaving town and has dinner with us, but doesn't come near the apartment. It's not quite classical hoarding, but it shares some characteristics, particularly the inability to place relative value on objects so you can dispose of those that are not worth keeping, and my girlfriend is unwilling to force the issue.

Uh...TMI!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:20 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Justify watching this kind of "programming" however you want. It's still just Freak Show TV that's all about turning human misery into entertainment.
So what?
If this stuff is on the air, there's a better chance someone will learn something. See this thread? We all learned from it.
posted by krilli at 3:24 PM on September 16, 2009


a woman in Santa Monica, California who organizes people's trash in her neighborhood and brings it home.

Back in '92, I saw a front yard on a back street in Ventura, CA that was completely filled with blue objects of all sorts. The shade was approximately that of a Downy bottle (there were quite a few of them included), and ranged from painted stones to ragged stuffed animals, all of roughly the same hue, stacked up about kneed deep and spilling out to the street. It was quite a sight, and I really wish I knew where the pictures I took are now.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:25 PM on September 16, 2009


Justify watching this kind of "programming" however you want. It's still just Freak Show TV that's all about turning human misery into entertainment.

Thanks for the barnstorming generalizing and usual lack of subtlety.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:26 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to lighten things up a bit, Wool 100% is a beautiful, heartbreaking film about a couple of hoarders. Watch it here.

Via
posted by lekvar at 3:36 PM on September 16, 2009


I can't see the videos... I suppose they are geolocked, though they don't say that. If anyone knows of another place to view them (I only found teasers on youtube), let me know.

If anyone else has the same trouble (or if you just want to see more hoarding action), there's this alternative on youtube: the "Hoarders" series, and the "Possession" series, four episodes of each. Hoarders is longer and more in-depth, and the Possession-through-Abandon series starts mild and builds to very bad indeed.

From what I've been able to figure out, it seems that many hoarders come from backgrounds with alcoholic or other abusive/detached parents. And the fact that this behavior becomes much worse around late middle age, and that many sufferers are related to other people who are also hoarders is interesting and confusing... it seems a very complex disorder.

Me? Well, I'm married to quin, apparently. My husband is a bit of a hoarder of mechanical/engineering/electronic/computer/etc. bits and bobs. And yes, it never fails that once something is finally thrown out (insert cold, dead hands here), he needs it to build something the following week. But he's a very mild case, and now that he has his own little "laboratory" in what I guess was meant to be a storage room attached to the house, but separate - our apartment is spared.
posted by taz at 3:39 PM on September 16, 2009


1000 comments! Let's go! We can do it!


too soon?
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:49 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Hoarders" is a reality show about a mental illness, and I can understand why people would jump to the conclusion that it's lurid. But if you watch the show, it's surprisingly respectful.

I think for many people, the impact of the show isn't "Look at the freaks" but "OMG that could be me." Everyone has issues with clutter, everyone has kept something knowing it's useless, everyone has things they can't bear to part with.

The difference between "hoarder" and "regular person" is simply two points on a spectrum. I'm not a hoarder, but I can see it from here. Whereas other kinds of mental illness seem like foreign territory to many of us.

It's also fascinating because it highlights how much we tie our own identity to our belongings. "I am what I own" being a common (and relatively unquestioned) credo.

I thirdly find it engrossing because my neighbor/landlord is definitely a hoarder in training. I take mental notes while watching the show.
posted by ErikaB at 4:55 PM on September 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I watch this on occasion. For some reason I have less patience with these people than people with other illnesses. It frustrates me that they have to hold on to the most mundane items. I need to be more tolerant and understand this better.

I also have no problem watching it when the place is just stacked with personal possessions, boxes, etc. I can't watch it though when there is rotting food and piles of dog crap involved.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:11 PM on September 16, 2009


Oh my goodness that show is so stressful to watch.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:11 PM on September 16, 2009


Let us not forget garbage cars. That's right, cars filled to the brim with garbage. I've mostly seen these around university towns/areas - though they may occur everywhere.
posted by redteam at 5:27 PM on September 16, 2009


Note to self: Do not watch this show while having dinner.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:35 PM on September 16, 2009


HeyAllie, I had the same reaction reading this thread while having dinner.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:00 PM on September 16, 2009


Let us not forget garbage cars. That's right, cars filled to the brim with garbage. I've mostly seen these around university towns/areas - though they may occur everywhere.

That would be primarily people who have lost their homes and are living out of their cars. While they might do well to trim the amount of stuff they're toting around, most of them probably are in a different category than the hoarders.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:09 PM on September 16, 2009



Death at the Marion Apartments: A quick news article about a rather heartbreaking, hoarding-related arson/suicide that happened across the street from my apartment in late 2008.

I'd write more about it, but I've got to clean out EVERY LAST ONE OF THE CLOSETS now.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:31 PM on September 16, 2009


My grandmother was a hardcore hoarder, I spent a Memorial Day weekend in 2006 helping my father start the cleanout process after she died. Her and my dad had stopped communicating after my grandfather died five or so years before, so her horarding went totally unfettered from that point on. I will never forget the aftermath as long as I live.

Some "highlights":

-She had apparently slept for some number of years on a couch in the living room which was about four feet from the front door of the house. The master bedroom was full floor to ceiling to doorway with stuff. Like, you couldn't have fit your arm through the doorway at any point, because it was so full. This was a sign of things to come.

-The only bathroom was absolutely chock full of stacks of papers, books, and chairs. It was so full that it took three grown men a half an hour to reach the toilet and almost two hours to clear the shower. The stack looked permanent, which would mean she wasn't showering or using the bathroom indoors.

-The kitchen. Dear Lord, the kitchen. There was a fridge that was full and running and cold, and yet nothing inside of it was edible or for that matter even remotely identifiable. It was all one big brown/black disgusting mass that smelled like nothing that could even be described. Some of the food we found in the cupboards went out of code 20+ years earlier. I remember seeing dozens of deli bags, which was scary.

-Upstairs is where my dad and late uncle's bedrooms used to be. We couldn't even get up more than three stairs before we had to start clearing things. In three days we only made it up the stairs and about 10 feet into the 2nd floor.

-Other interesting finds: 17 cats, two of which were skeletal. Three dressers in the basement with 11 drawers set up as litter boxes but never cleaned. No cat food. Several boxes of ketchup packets of varying vintage and restaurant origin, 16 baby carriages, nine of those big orange road barriers with the blinking lights, forty something road cones, two copier paper boxes filled with fast food napkins, and the thing that sticks with me the most- 481 (I actually counted them) of those black bottom/clear top rotisserie chicken containers, meticulously stacked but not necessarily so meticulously cleaned first. The expiration dates spanned about 9 1/2 years, so she'd kept a pretty good pace of a rotisserie chicken a week.

-I remember most of all realizing that there was absolutely no distinction between the incredibly important and the utterly useless. This is probably obvious but it struck me. There were important life insurance documents boxed with used tissues. There were old wedding and baby photos boxed amongst years expired coupons. We found bank books in a box full of the bags that they leave the newspaper in when it rains, and there was $1800 in hundreds in a phonebook in a stack of about a hundred other phonebooks. We only found the money because we saw it flutter out when we threw the phonebooks out the window into the Dumpster. I cannot even imagine the amount of things of sentimental or monetary value that we chucked out of fatigue.

Anyway, I've seen the beast and it haunts me. I want to be fascinated with this show but I feel my breath get short and my collar tighten whenever I see it on TV.
posted by rollbiz at 6:37 PM on September 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


As someone who has suffered as far back as I can remember with this kind of disorder, I can't even watch this, it makes me want to cry. People on the outside looking in cannot even begin to understand how difficult it is to suffer from this. My sister told me about this show the other day and she said that she could see me on it. Anyway, over the last 6 months I have really worked hard to get my life in check as far as hoarding goes. I'm 28 years old and for the first time in my life, I have my apartment in order with the exception of one room. I know that statement can't mean a lot to someone who doesn't know how I lived, but it's probably the biggest accomplishment I've ever made. I have a half bedroom that is still filled with boxes from floor to almost ceiling and there is just enough room for the computer desk and chair that I'm currently sitting in. I don't know when I will be able to possibly tackle getting this room done though, we'll see. Also, the other weekend I tackled the storage unit that I hadn't even opened in three years. That is about half way finished.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:10 PM on September 16, 2009 [20 favorites]


That's FANTASTIC, Mary. Wow, that's just great.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:38 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Go, Mary! Congratulations!

Some of the dearest people in my life have problems with hoarding, too. I've participated in clean-up interventions before, and I know a little bit about how painful and difficult this stuff can be. It sounds like you're in the process of giving hoarding a well-placed boot to the keister. Hurray!
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 7:57 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


The stack looked permanent, which would mean she wasn't showering or using the bathroom indoors.

On A&E's Obsession they featured a hoarder who had a gym membership solely to use its showering facilities because he had completely filled up his apartment's bathroom. I wouldn't be surprised if lots of hoarders are in a similar boat.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:20 PM on September 16, 2009


My wife's parents are hoarders, so I don't think I can watch this show. She has awful stories about throwing away old tupperware and then finding her mom digging through the trash to get it back, and her dad's office is completely full of old pc magazines, hundreds of them.

I thought it was strange when they moved to a house north of us and kept it completely clean, until I realized that they were making weekly trips to the old house, dumping stuff that they couldn't get rid of.

The upside is that my wife throws useless stuff away (or recycles, goodwill, etc.) at the drop of a hat, which is what I do, too, and she doesn't let us buy pointless crap (unless I really, really want it... Popeye action figures, I'm looking at you...).

The downside is, we're going to have to clean the crap-fest that is their 'dumping' house someday...
posted by Huck500 at 8:41 PM on September 16, 2009


And congrats, Mary! Keep it up!
posted by Huck500 at 8:43 PM on September 16, 2009


ninjew, thank you for sharing...

life's too fucking short.

It's funny, I had thoughts along a similar vein within three minutes of watching the first episode, after we were informed that this is a "mental disorder."

I mean, look. I know we're just supposed to accept that everything* is an illness these days - that no way, no one has to deal with any of their shit, or call someone else on their shit, and we can all go on pretending that we're a noble, accursed people beset with cruelly objective illnesses, rather than actually pressing the tender questions of how we're living our lives, how we're organizing our society to make sure we can keep on living them that way, what it is we all think we're keeping such a vice grip on, and why.

"Fear of death." That's all I see in that show. That first woman, and her house, and her explanations. It all screams "fear of death," plain and simple. Yeah, you're gonna die, and your memories are gonna go with you. And it will be preceded - is being preceded - by an long and often painful procession of impermanence. Nothing lasts. And we're all kinda fucked up about it to varying degrees. So just own up and fucking deal with it. And most important of all, find a way to make it a beautiful.

The alternative is to be dead already, while still alive. There's only one thing that's supposed to fester like those houses are festering: a corpse.

*I absolutely believe that many mental/emotional problems exist which can be traced back to physical disorders, but far fewer than we seem to have come to accept.
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:06 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


^...an illness these days - that no way, no one has to deal...
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:08 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


If life could be simplified down to "just fucking deal" with any and all problems, it would be one big ol' fucking party wouldn't it? "Oh, I'm sorry your grandmother just died, just fucking deal with it." "Oh your son just got killed by a drunk driver? Just fucking deal with it." "Gosh, breast cancer? Just fucking deal with it." Maybe some people are born with tendencies that contribute to hoarding disorder or maybe it's a learned trait. Regardless of that fact, you don't know what it's like to suffer from something like this and to tell someone to "fucking deal with it" is the most insensitive thing I've heard in a long time.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:20 PM on September 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


regicide mentions the elephant in the room.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:22 PM on September 16, 2009


I mean, look. I know we're just supposed to accept that everything* is an illness these days - that no way, no one has to deal with any of their shit, or call someone else on their shit

So just own up and fucking deal with it.

I think you are confusing reasons with excuses. Being diagnosed with a mental illness (such as OCD) is not a hall pass to doing nothing about the problem before you, and neither is it the magic cure. It's actually the beginning of an extremely long and hard path to sanity, fraught with potholes and outright failures. These kinds of comments just belie an overall ignorance about mental illness that you should be ashamed of.
posted by saturnine at 9:35 PM on September 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


Mary:

I'm under no illusion that "dealing" is necessarily a simple thing. Often it is a long and terrifying life's work. The question is whether the thing someone has to deal with is mental illness, or is a refusal to deal with something which isn't an illness (though which may be no less heartbreaking). I feel that the two are increasingly becoming confused.

Saturnine:

With respect, you know nothing of me or my history.

It's actually out of respect for people who do suffer mental illness that I'm troubled by the growing over-application of the medical model as a first resort. I mean, for fuck's sake, we live in a world where you can now get a pill to help you with your "compulsive shopping disorder." To me, that's demeaning to so many different people on so many different points along the mental health continuum for so many different reasons.

I don't know the people in the show. I don't know who's "ill" and who's just terrified. They would have my empathy either way, but it would likely come out in very different ways, depending. So, yeah, if I knew them, I would probably react differently than I did above (or maybe not). But here I am, Random Internet Person. So I riffed.
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:13 PM on September 16, 2009


Of course I'm also aware of the potential hypocrisy of holding forth on mental health while trolling the internet at half past one in the morning.
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:17 PM on September 16, 2009


It's actually out of respect for people who do suffer mental illness that I'm troubled by the growing over-application of the medical model as a first resort. I mean, for fuck's sake, we live in a world where you can now get a pill to help you with your "compulsive shopping disorder." To me, that's demeaning to so many different people on so many different points along the mental health continuum for so many different reasons.

It's worth noting here that the success rate in treating hoarders is very low. I think if it were as simple as dealing, the success rate would be different. In any event, at some point it hardly makes a difference whether it started as a problem which is some sort of mental disorder or illness, because the amount of denial required to live in the state these people do is pretty incredible. At some point, depression probably sets in, and if anything these people need treatment for that. Clinical depression can be extraordinarily debilitating, to the point where life is put on hold and crumbles around you as you watch helplessly, but it's difficult to discuss it outside of a clinical setting without eventually being told by someone that you should probably just deal, and not everyone wants help. Sure, it's possible to just grit your teeth and deal, but as is true with a lot of people in such a position, depression is not really the problem, but there is a problem, and identifying it and treating it is the key to working through it, not ignoring it and pretending it's just the way life is, because that's cheating yourself out of a fulfilling life.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:44 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


See this thread? We all learned from it.

Eh. I knew a hoarder. The family enabled his behaviour, lied about what was really wrong with him, much easier to say it was a physical malady rather than a psychiatric one. He would talk of returning to his home country to repair the bridges and, roads once the Germans and Russians left ... We took pictures of his house to show the family how bad it was, so many excuses. I felt sorry for him because he wasn't getting the kind of help he so obviously needed. I learned some people suffer when others are in denial.

One of the great acts of mental health reform in Victorian times was putting a stop to the practice of publicly displaying the mentally ill behind glass windows for onlookers to gawk and gape.

Except the lunatiks at Bedlam didn't have a choice over whether they'd become actors in a play that cost a penny to watch. This reminds me more of a traveling freak show, the "actors" are willing participants.
posted by squeak at 10:47 PM on September 16, 2009


BTW, I've seen Hoarders a few times, and in each case the resistance to change was very striking. Of course, they are going to find the more extreme cases, but it seems that success and recovery from that point requires constant vigilance and frequent counseling. Sure seemed to me to be a combination of depression and OCD in most cases, combined with some other problems occasionally, like PTSD. I mean, this isn't really entirely new territory, but we've sort of silently tolerated the "crazy cat lady" without doing much to understand or help her until pretty recently, though people like that clearly have serious problems and are putting themselves and other lives at risk. If you're living in a way which puts you at great risk but you cannot see it as a problem and you refuse to change, then there is no doubt something going on with you which requires more than just "dealing with it."
posted by krinklyfig at 10:59 PM on September 16, 2009


Eh. I knew a hoarder. The family enabled his behaviour, lied about what was really wrong with him, much easier to say it was a physical malady rather than a psychiatric one.

There is a hoarder in our family, right around the corner from my mom, in fact. But it's very difficult to bring this up, although every time I go over there they apologize. Doesn't matter to me, because I'm ADD and have struggled with my own organization hoarding tendencies. They know it's a problem, so what am I going to say? They don't refuse to have people over, but you have to be tolerant of the piles of stuff. It's not rotting food or anything, and the kitchen is clean, but everything else is boxes and boxes of stuff in every room, stacked to the ceiling.

But I do try to help in ways that aren't too invasive, because I care about them. I've helped clean up from time to time, but they aren't my immediate family, and they are trying to come to terms with it in their own way, which takes a long time sometimes. And now the person in the family who is the source of the problem is pretty sick from a stroke and can't get around, but she's not alone in the house and is surrounded by people who have a history of trying to help her but ended up mostly enabling her. That is starting to change, but there is still a lot of resistance to change too much. Mostly she is busy working through physical therapy, and she's elderly and has always been frail.

I think it might be too late to get her the sort of treatment she needs to get to the other side of this, but at this point, if they can just get the house clean while she's not physically capable of running it, that might be enough, because she's not in the condition to fill it up again. Sad to think about, but I don't know, they seem to be happier as a family now that she's sick than they have been in a while, but you do what you can, and life sometimes reminds you in harsh ways that it is brutal and short.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:16 PM on September 16, 2009


Hey, can we please not make this thread about regicide is good for you?

This was an interesting thread before people started arguing.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:19 PM on September 16, 2009


regicide, I'd never thought of this problem as stemming from a fear of death, and I'm not sure I agree, but I will admit to both a strong fear of death and a (relatively) minor tendency toward hoarding behavior, for whatever it's worth. (Approximately nothing, I suspect.) Anyway, perhaps you might consider such an exaggerated fear of death as the "illness", and the hoarding behavior as a symptom?
I think it really does break down into the "emotional" hoarders and the "practical" hoarders, with the understanding that there is likely to be some degree of overlap in these motivations, and that the problem underlying all of this is over-reliance on objects to define ones self.
I always joked that I was a bit of a hoarder, really considering myself more of an innocent "pack-rat". One day I realized that to move between any two points in my living space required a fairly circuitous trip, despite the place being one very large open room. The paths between stuff on the floor were very defined, and clearly dictated available routes of travel. I realized that I had been making split second judgements about how to get from the kitchen area to the desk, for example, for months probably. ["To the right or left of the pile of old bicycle parts? Or along between the cinderblocks and the broken reel-to-reel tape machines?" (I fall somewhere on the "practical" side of the spectrum.)] I realized the difference between "pack-rat" me and a true hoarder was really just a matter of degree, or maybe even just time. My paths were mostly only shin- or knee-deep. The majority of stuff was still shelved or stacked around the edges.
When I moved to a new, smaller space without a freight elevator I managed to get rid of a ton of stuff, but still brought too much crap along, and still have an urge to collect. I'm not too worried about myself at this point, but definitely sympathize with the people whose lives are ruled by this behavior.
/self-indulgent rambling
How 'bout Grey Gardens as another example of this? (They'd be on the "emotional" hoarder trip of course.)
On preview: I don't mean to be arguing, but sorry anyway, Afroblanco!
posted by zoinks at 11:25 PM on September 16, 2009


There is a hoarder in our family, right around the corner from my mom, in fact. But it's very difficult to bring this up, although every time I go over there they apologize. Doesn't matter to me, because I'm ADD and have struggled with my own organization hoarding tendencies.

I shouldn't have put it that way. It matters to me, but I am not going to judge them harshly, as it wouldn't help them. Unfortunately, although you have to do all you can to help family and friends, sometimes all you can hope for is something better than the worst case scenario.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:27 PM on September 16, 2009


Oh and I have to get up in three hours, so no arguing on the internet for me at 1:30 AM anyway.
posted by zoinks at 11:31 PM on September 16, 2009


I could only stomach a clip. My grandpa is a hoarder: garage and one room inaccessible, waist-high stacks throughout the rest of the house. Old prescriptions, food from who knows when. When I was five my brother and I were eating a bag of jellybeans from my grandpa...my mom saw us and yelled, snatching them away. I know now that my grandpa doesn't remember how old the majority of his food is, or even where it came from.

It freaks me out when I have more stuff than I can fit in my car, and even that is a bit too much.
posted by shinyshiny at 1:52 AM on September 17, 2009


My husband and I are both what I would call packrats. So's his mom, in a lot of ways, but she has space to store things. My main vice is art supplies of more kinds than I'm likely to use in the next few years, his is tools and other handy things, including computer parts. We both tend to overstock a pantry with emergency foods (thankfully, cans and jars don't rot on the shelf mostly). We both love our favorite separate kitchen implements, but our kitchen is small.

I'm being generous with my descriptions here. I have a hard time letting go of things. I've been without food, clothing, basic stuff, and now I have this overabundance. I know this and I feel it in my gut, but it's still hard to get rid of things.

Luckily, we both have our limits. Unluckily, my kids have picked up my habits. This is a motivating factor for me and the purging that has to occur. I have to set an example. There's just too much stuff in my home. My next job is to get rid of clothes I'll never wear. They have gone through my 40-lb weight gain and then loss over the past 6 years and have never been worn. Luckily, there is a women's shelter and associated thrift store that I'm happy to give donations. The upside of this is that pants that fall off of me now, or their equivalent, are available again if needed, for $3 a pair. We have a plan for Ebay with some nice shoes that have been worn only once or twice and just don't fit. My girl is about to wear my shoe size, so I'll give her the "special" ones and then they'll have to go as soon as she outgrows them.

We say we're going to reorganize the kitchen as a "fun" project, but previous attempts have resulted in tears on my end. I have a lot of both of my grandmothers' things, a lot of which I use, just not often. I really have to learn to prioritize. I know in my brain that Gramma's favorite saucepan isn't the best, but I have the memories of the great food she made. It's like I'm hoping for Gramma mojo when I cook for the family. And, sometimes, her mojo works. Other items are things I got for myself, when I was getting centered and overcoming some hard times. So, giving those things up is like giving up my independence and sense of self. My husband and I married last June, and I'm still having to learn how to trust again, even after the 5 years we had together before the wedding.

Some of my troubles have resulted from agreeing to him reorganizing things in our overfull closets, and then I can't find them. For me, depending on someone else to find my things is emotionally charged with some PTSD mixed in. It isn't that my husband has done a bad job, just that I can't get to what I'm looking for immediately without help. There's that trust issue again. So, when those items are unearthed, well, it's hard to let go. I just found this again! Perhaps I'll need it, and sometimes I do. So it's hard. Maybe if I'd had a chance to say goodbye on my terms, it would have been easier. I don't know.

I've known folks who can't get rid of anything at all, have pets (including the shit everywhere, wtf!!!), and have helped deal with the aftermath when something tragic happens. My goal is to not burden my loved ones with anything like that. And to teach my children the same.

Obviously, I was feeling abundant with my words. Go figure. I feel happy that we have a small trashcan in the kitchen that gets emptied at least every other day, or when it's full, whichever comes first. Oh, and those newspapers, they're stacked efficiently to be used as painting drop cloths in a relegated area (or perhaps for papier mache projects).
posted by lilywing13 at 2:28 AM on September 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


Your comments are very interesting, lilywing, and make me think of memory palaces, which seems quite illuminating to me, at least. I wonder if researchers are pursuing those sorts of connections at all. It certainly makes sense that when some emotional connections are lost/maimed through trauma or neglect that (possibly unusual) others will take their place and begin to forge alternative neural pathways, blah, blah totally talking out of my ass because I don't understand this stuff at all, but you get what I'm dancing at, probably.

Anyway, thank you for your contribution - it really helps me to understand more about emotional attachment issues involved and helps to fit the pieces together. I have my own weird and eccentric issues, and the hoarding thing is something that seems so close to some oddness I might have had it almost tastes familiar... but, unfortunately, I fail to see my own issues as clearly and thoughtfully as you do yours. Thanks for sharing.
posted by taz at 3:14 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


lilywing13, something I've heard of that helps with objects you have fond memories of but don't actually need is to take photos of them before you give them away. Then you can put them on Flickr or wherever with an explanation of what's special about it to you, which allows you to keep the memory but not the object itself.
posted by harriet vane at 4:09 AM on September 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


lilywing13, why don't you see a mental health professional since you recognize you have a problem? It sounds like you need therapy, perhaps medication and a purging plan. You're very aware of your difficulties and you're struggling and maybe you just need a little help to get to the other side. This would be a good thing for you and your family. Set a good example for your kids.

I hope you have insurance but a lot of cities/counties have some free or sliding scale based mental health organizations. And here's hoping Obamacare covers mental health issues.
posted by shoesietart at 5:51 AM on September 17, 2009


So just own up and fucking deal with it.

Yeah, my schizophrenic client who will never stop bringing in shelves and boards (to make shelves) and cabinets that he finds on the street so he can try to externally deal with the disorganization in his own brain needs to fucking deal with it.

My bipolar client who buys jars of pickles and shirts and who knows what else when he is manic just needs to fucking deal with it.

My client with major depression who can't even get out of bed and certainly can't deal with the clutter and squalor he's accumulated due to his illness-induced lethargy just needs to fucking deal with it.

I'll be sure to let them know that they aren't actually sick and need to just fucking deal with it.
posted by Mavri at 6:00 AM on September 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


As Afroblanco said.

An intelligent discussion about this subject = good; a flamerail (flame war+derail fusion - I just made it up! do you like it?) started by someone who has actually described himself as "trolling" in this very thread is a sucker's game. Don't fall for it.
posted by taz at 6:18 AM on September 17, 2009


Fair enough. I didn't see the trolling comment before I posted.
posted by Mavri at 6:47 AM on September 17, 2009


I'm not sure, but I suspect that he didn't mean "trolling" in that way.

But perhaps he did; either way, as long as we have a civil discussion, it's not a problem. One could call it a "derail", but since there are seldom actual rails in MeFi, all discussion being tangential spin-offs, it doesn't really matter, again, as long as we don't get all heated up.

I do agree with regicide that mental illness is over-diagnosed nowadays, but I don't think this is an example of that. It's rare that a mental illness makes one do something absolutely alien to normal behavior. Sure, it happens (hearing voices or having visual hallucinations jump to mind), but for the most part, there are things which everyone would agree are mental disorders which are just extreme examples of things people do normally.

Most would agree, for example, that there are times when something normally considered "sad" occurs and we just don't particularly feel sad or empathetic. The death of a well-loved figure in society, a tragic accident, that kind of thing. That's normal behavior. On the other hand, I think we would all agree that if someone never feels any sadness or empathy, that's a mental illness (sociopathy, if memory serves me).

Likewise, a lot of people avoid stepping on pavement cracks when walking ("Step on a crack, break your grandmother's back"). Yet if someone were so focussed on this that they would break down crying whenever they accidentally stepped on a crack, took photos of all streets they might walk down in order to study and memorize the crack pattern, and refused to walk to a hospital after being stabbed multiple times by a mugger because the street were unfamiliar and they might step on a crack, we would agree that's a mental illness (dunno what it would be, though...OCD?)

Behavior is a continuum, and "mental illness" often refers to behavior that is on the extremes of that continuum. The area in between is fuzzy (Don't get in fights? Not mentally ill. Assault multiple people every day just for making eye contact with you? Probably mentally ill. Getting in a few fights every once in a while because someone was "looking at you funny"? I would say not mentally ill, but I can imagine others disagreeing). You cannot really use the argument "I (or someone I know) did a similar thing, but to much less degree, so it isn't a mental illness", because mental illness is largely about degree in many cases.

So, for example, my dad is a packrat. He has a few big stacks of PC Magazine from the 1980s which he won't part with because "there's good information in there, and I might go read them again some day". A few big boxes of other magazines. A tremendous book collection. Yet he will throw stuff away when we chide him for allowing his stacks to extend out of his home office, and I've never had to seriously negotiate around his stuff when traversing his room. Definitely a pack rat, but definitely not a hardcore hoarder. In my opinion, clearly not mentally ill. He's the kind of person for whom "just fucking deal with it" is practical advice.

The people we're discussing here, though? Cat corpses, piles of excrement? That's clearly in the zone of "mental illness". Not because it is, in itself, totally different from non-ill behaviour, such as keeping things one doesn't need, but because it is so much more extreme than that non-ill behaviour.
posted by Bugbread at 8:00 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, can we please not make this thread about regicide is good for you?

Please, and thank you. This is good advice in general.

Once more then I bow out: I'm aware there are cases in which "deal with it" makes absolutely no sense. These are not the cases my comment was concerned with.

But I think there are many others where it does apply, where people are appropriating the label of mental illness to add another cushion layer. In doing this they draw resources and sympathy away from people who are legitimately struggling with OCD, schizophrenia, extreme depression, etc. I do not pretend to be an authority on where the line is drawn, and I do not pretend it is a straight and solid line. But I think it's worth being aware of, in a compassionate but critical way.

I don't know if the people in the show fit my category, and in retrospect I was probably irresponsible in using them as a jumping-off point to rant about something, even if I do strongly feel that this "something" is of importance - especially for mental health survivors/consumers and their allies.

I absolutely stand by the essence of what I wrote, but I reconsider the context in which I wrote it. Thanks, MeFi, for keeping me real and smacking me upside the head with some nuance.

And sorry for the (easily preventable on my part) confusion, I had not meant trolling in its more recent internet definition of intentionally being an asshole. All assholery was entirely unintentional.

posted by regicide is good for you at 9:07 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


My family seems to not have any of this tendency; we moved frequently, and threw out things and had garage sales every time. My mother would not tolerate clutter, much less hoarding, and my dad wasn't much on "stuff" either. To the point that we don't have much in the way of family memorobilia and almost nothing you could consider "heirloom".

I used to regret this, but as I learn more about hoarding the more I am grateful to have escaped that illness.

I've also come to the conclusion that the only reason certain old things are valuable is because they're rare--and if everybody saves/preserves everything, then there will be no rarity (and we'll drown in our stuff). So I am doing a public service when I don't agonize over whether my great great grandkid will be able to price my belongings on Antiques Road Show 2120, or even over whether tomorrow I'll miss that kitchen utensil that I haven't used for two years but now suddenly need. And to the collary that if I can buy it used or go without, then I'm actually reducing the amount of crap I add to my life and in a very small way, to the planet.

And when I'm on this topic, I always end up wishing fervently that we would be able to invent Star-Trek type matter converters so that out belongings did take on more of the characteristics of the sand mandala, and we came to see them as the transitory objects they actually are. Everything gets recycled eventually, no matter how much we try to preserve it. It may take till the heat-death of the universe, but the Mona Lisa will be reduced to its component atoms someday too.
posted by emjaybee at 10:12 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


and life sometimes reminds you in harsh ways that it is brutal and short.

I don't think it necessarily needs to be that way. There are some things you can't control in this life, but I think we do people like the uncle-in-law a disservice if we don't at least try to help.
posted by squeak at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2009


[few comments removed - dragging other fights in here not okay.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:36 AM on September 17, 2009


My self-described crazy old cat lady MIL has a mild case of hoarding and lack of self-care that she considers so normal that it apparently never crossed her mind to tell us, before we moved in temporarily last year, about her low-level chronic non-MRSA staph infection, or the fact that everybody in the house, pets and humans, just puts up with flea bites. When I brought her attention to my unhappiness with being fleabitten and having staph boils, she explained that the fleas don't live ON us, just in the house, and "Oh it's not MRSA!"

My husband says she never used to live like that. He figures there's a bunch of complicated codependent emotional reasons for her denial now, in addition to the purely mechanical problem of piles of stuff from the past and that she keeps on purchasing, which makes instituting or maintaining an anti-flea regimen impossible. Now that we've been in our own place for a while, I'd rather take the easy way out and not attempt another conversation with her about it at all, but will I have to explain to her at some point why we haven't invited her over very often (two different pest control reps said fleas hitch rides on clothing all the time, and that after she visits, I should vacuum the hell out of everywhere she went. We don't need more fleas on our poor cat than we've already got).

Anyway, this is just to say that before reading this thread, I was having a hard time figuring out how to not let my anger about all this bleed through into the anticipated conversation. One of the links above said something about the "reduced environmental awareness" of many hoarders, which must be what's going on with the MIL. Reading the thread has helped me let go of being angry with her for being alternately oblivious and in denial about her living conditions fucking up my health. I have some confidence now that I can stick to dispassionately laying out for her that it has affected me negatively in a big way, and that restoring my health means not having her over very often or at all. It'll be interesting to find out if laying it out like that will make her realize it's not actually normal to live like that, or if she'll just keep implying I'm making a big deal out of nothing. If the latter, I'll have a much better chance of keeping a lid on my temper now.

Thanks for the anecdotes above, especially from hoarders, and the links.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:54 PM on September 17, 2009


Lauren, who was featured on episode 2 and whose post to the show's discussion board was linked in the FPP, has posted a followup revealing that she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer right before filming started.

If you watch the episode with that in mind, her behavior makes a lot more sense, and the show's portrayal of her feels unsettling, although she admits she didn't reveal her diagnosis to them. It also makes her mother seem like even more of a shrivelhearted harpy.
posted by granted at 7:35 PM on September 18, 2009


CBS Sunday morning did a piece on a new book by E.L Doctorow loosely based on the Collyer Brothers. Called Homer and Langley.
posted by pearlybob at 2:59 PM on September 20, 2009


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