We have a hoarder at the beginning stage and another that has spent decades building a “collection,” and fortunately they’re both able to learn something about themselves through the process. But you might want to make sure you have a clean room and surroundings before you dive in.
Beverly: Towanda, Kansas
Beverly, a retired home health care worker (why are so many of the hoarders always in the health care industry? It seems so…counterintuitive), has a compulsion to record shows. As she says, “I got a lot of VCR tapes.”
Every room in her house is occupied by recorded materials. Cassette tapes, VCR tapes, DVR’d programs, magazines and newspapers are on every surface, in every cubby, stacked on each other in precarious mountains of potentially important information. She doesn’t watch them, she’s not watched a single thing she’s recorded, but she needs to have them. There are two or three televisions in every room, four alone are dedicated to recording DVDs of shows. There is always something on, and she might miss it.
Outside there are scores of massive plastic containers that are each packed full with tapes. She refers to her home as “cluttered.” It’s more than a few piles of things, there is a thick, hairy layer of filth coating everything in the house. There are animal droppings everywhere. She has a few cats (they look to not be neutered) that have urinated and defecated on most surfaces. There are mice, as evidenced by their droppings, added to the mix. As far as Beverly is concerned, it’s her stuff, she can do with it as she pleases.
Vickie is her daughter. She cannot understand her mother’s compulsion. If her mother cannot get help, she will be compelled to call Adult Protective Services and have her removed from the home for her own safety. Pam is another daughter. Pam doesn’t know if her mother’s compulsion is her attempt to hold on to memories, or to replace the feeling of emptiness. Beverly’s youngest son was killed in a car accident in 1999. She had hoarded long before that, but the death of her child accelerated her need for more.
Karissa is Vickie’s daughter. The last time she was there was to help her mother clean Beverly’s home ten years ago. She hasn’t been back inside, knowing what it was actually like. Daniel is another grandchild, son of Pam, who wants to help but doesn’t know the right way to go about it.
Beverly was horribly offended by the clean up Vickie did years before. “[She] came out here with a mask and gloves like it was contaminated. She tell me I smell. Well, don’t get close to me.” She moves past a pile of clothing, broken chairs and a mound of tapes. “I can’t even imagine getting rid of my tapes.” She knows she could never watch all of them in her life, but she just wants to keep on taping things.
Dr. Chabaud makes her way to the door (past another rough looking tomcat.) She tells the camera that most people think of hoarders as ambitious overzealous shoppers at the flea market. For Beverly, this is a compulsion that she simply cannot control. She asks Beverly, “So you’re saving a lot of information that you think would be important? For whom?”
It’s become a measure of her life, proof of her existence, every little moment recorded, even if those moments aren’t about her. As she looks at all of her tapes, showing them to the doctor, she looks alive, almost glowing with happiness.
She knows they’ll be junked when she dies, her family has made that very clear. When the doctor asks her how she’d feel if they were all gone now, she replies, “Probably close myself in more.” It’s very insightful. She understands it’s about having, not using. The having, however, has become her only purpose in life.
Most of the tapes are outside, which is shocking to think about, seeing how many are stacked inside. A hail storm came through recently and punctured holes in many of the lids of the tubs. Standing water is everywhere. (This is a health issue, since standing water leads to mosquitoes, which can lead to West Nile virus.) The yard is filled with garbage in addition to the plastic containers.
Matt Paxton, who specializes in OCD hoarders with grief, will be her organizer. He reassures her that everyone is there to help her. He tells us that when the hoarding is about the act of collecting, that’s one of the more difficult battles for him, because you can’t throw that away.
They start raking the yard to get the litter into piles. We hear Matt exclaim off camera, “Oh, god, what’s that smell?” The camera turns to find him at an opened container that has been filled with vitamins that have clearly gone over. Every bottle is caked with filth to the point of not being able to identify the label. There are maggots everywhere. Matt admits to having vomited when the smell hit him.
Beverly claims they’re perfectly fine, they’ve not been opened (they show her a bottle with maggots inside the bottle.) She insists that they’ve only been outside for two weeks. “Too bad for y’all that can’t stand a little smell, just cover your nose!” When Matt shows her that they’ve been infiltrated by bugs, she says quietly and petulantly, “Well, good, I’m gonna dump ’em on ya.”
She tells them that all of the tapes outside will stay. Someone finds a wheelchair that’s in decent shape. It looks serviceable, which is amazing considering the shape of everything else. She uses it for her mother, who used to live with her in that house. Vickie wants to throw it away, but Pam starts fighting with her sister. You can tell there is bad blood between the two of them. Beverly aligns herself with Pam, as Pam seems to be the one that allows her mother to continue with her compulsion.
Dr. Chabaud calls a meeting with all of the family that comes to terse words between the three women. Vickie says she wants to be in her mom’s life, who says, “Okay,” with a bit of a nervous chuckle. Vickie starts complaining about having to shoulder a lot of the family events due to her mother’s house, and this causes another fight with Pam, who thinks her sister is being controlling and a martyr. They really go at it verbally, and Vickie says, “What do I need from you?”
Pam replies, “Maybe you might need my love one day, and it might not be there no more.” Pam has a point. Then she loses ground by saying, “You can’t accept your mother the way she is? How rude of you!” Vickie backs away from them physically, and you can tell this is an old fight between the three of them.
Beverly goes through every single box, deciding what to keep until the doctor pulls her inside to address the interior mess. Vickie asks if anything can go to Goodwill, but Beverly is determined to keep it all. Matt tells her the house is dangerous, to which she scoffs. It turns out that Beverly’s now-deceased husband and her mother (the owner of the wheelchair) were removed from the home due to the condition of the house. He brings that up to her, and she goes on the defense, “Oh, yeah, because they decided I was abusing them by restraining them.” (WHAT?)
Oh, that’s not the only reason, the house is unsafe and unhealthy. She refuses to believe that and demands to be told how on earth it’s unhealthy. Feces, maggots, urine and flies on everything…for starters. Matt says that he doesn’t believe she’s oblivious to how the house is. She gets angry. When Vickie mentions her father falling and hurting his hip, the ridiculous parallel is made that you can hurt your hip in a car wreck, too.
Vickie says that if this isn’t taken care of, she’ll have to call APS. Pam is furious that she’d “turn her mother in” and put her in a nursing home. Things escalate quickly between the two, and Pam threatens to physically harm Vickie if she doesn’t stay away from her. Vickie has had enough. She tells Dr. Chabaud that this is it, this is her last time helping her mother and she’s walking away at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Karissa and Daniel are making progress with their grandmother. Karissa tells Beverly that the shows she’s recorded are all on the internet. Remember, Beverly loves technology. “Can you show me that? Then I can get rid of more stuff!” It’s a whole new Beverly at the thought. Matt is beside himself with happiness over this turn of events. They make a good team, Beverly and Karissa.
Karissa and her grandmother go to the kitchen and Beverly has no problem getting rid of things, as long as she’s with her granddaughter. It’s very sweet to see; Karissa is a good kid. They get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. Beverly says that all of the stuff that’s been removed is a “weight off [her] shoulders.”
Matt and Dr. Chabaud both agree that aftercare is going to be essential for Beverly to keep on this trajectory.
Aftercare: Beverly is using her funds for therapy, and she’s liking that process very much. She’s also had an organizer out multiple times to help her with the items she kept. She is still recording programs, however.
Megan is a 27 year old mother of three, the youngest being only 8 days old. She’s been in her house with her partner, Steven, for five years. “I’ve accumulated a lot of things.” Her best friend Rachel realized that there was nowhere for her children to play in their house.
There are toys everywhere, clothing piled several feet high and on every surface. There are also multiple containers of spoiled food, dead bugs everywhere and mouse droppings in every room. The mice have become a terrible problem. Megan knows that it’s bad, that she has too many things.
Kathy is Steven’s mother. When she saw the mess, she was horrified. She knew they couldn’t bring a new baby into that house and told them they couldn’t go back to it until it was cleaned. It clearly pains Kathy, but she’s standing firm, and she’s right. Megan and her family are staying in a motel for the time being. If they don’t get it cleaned, Kathy will have no choice but to call CPS.
Megan’s hoarding seems to have been triggered by the death of her mother when Megan was only 12. Immediately following this, her grandfather, a beloved uncle, and then her grandmother all died in quick succession. She recognizes that she’s perhaps trying to hang on to memories by keeping all of these things. She’s just simply overwhelmed by the enormous task of cleaning her home. Rachel once asked her, “How hard is it to really clean?” She couldn’t even answer as she had no idea.
Dr. Mark Pfeffer will work with her on this project. He’s glad they’re finding her now, when she’s in the beginning stages. He doesn’t see a Level 5 case here, but because of her situation with children, they’re acting quickly. Megan introduces him to her new baby, who is in a car seat on the floor, nestled in a pile of boxes, clothing, and furniture.
The big problem is how unclean the house is. It’s filthy with spilled food, dirty dishes and mouse droppings.
Dr. Pfeffer asks if the children have friends over. “No, not really.” Does this bother the kids? Well, they’ve never mentioned being upset. Dr. Pfeffer explains to the camera that growing up in a hoarded house is developmentally damaging. We see Megan’s children, and they’re sweet, affectionate little guys. We’re told that hoarding is a comfort and strategy to avoid feelings of loss. But it’s not working.
Megan looks to be profoundly sad and overwhelmed by the monstrous task before her.
Geralin Thomas will be her organizer, and she specializes in the chronically disorganized. It seems a good fit. She gets Megan to tell her why they’re here, and what the goal is. It’s an effective technique. She wants her house clean and she wants to provide a safe environment for her children.
First on the list is to get every piece of dirty clothing out of the house. Three SUVs are filled with bags of dirty laundry. Megan begins to understand the enormity of her problem. There are several tubs that are filled with clean and folded clothing (which is good that she’s been able to do that much on her own.) Geralin points out that she has spent a lot of money on clothing.
If anything in the house has any mouse feces on it, it’s tossed. They move to the kitchen where Megan is asked about her cleaning habits there. There are feces everywhere. She’s tried to clean off things, but… Geralin asks her what can be done to keep things clean? She points out hardened milk splashes, explains that it’s a dinner bell to mice. Geralin rephrases things to get Megan to understand how she sounds when she says, “I just forgot,” or to say how long things like old fly strips have been hanging.
Megan begins to clean things, to act, and it’s very cathartic for her. Dr. Pfeffer praises her for accepting responsibility for the mess, which is uncommon with most hoarders. They tend to blame everything but themselves.
The cleaning service goes to work as things are removed from the home. Mattresses and box springs are removed due to contamination from mice. Walls are scrubbed down, and floors are swept and mopped.
Megan and Steven had a breakthrough the night of Day One. They were both brought to tears, not having understood how unhealthy their home had been for their children (who they clearly love.) Steven is a new man on Day Two. He happily throws things away, makes good decisions about what to keep, and just wants nothing more than to provide a happy and healthy environment for his kids. He’s a very sweet, soft spoken man.
He gets to the kitchen to wash the dishes. He then uses a vacuum attachment to suck away the mouse droppings on top of the fridge.
All of the laundry comes back, and Geralin and the doctor make a point of putting it all in one place to let Megan see it, truly see it. The queen bed is piled several feet high with nothing but Megan’s clothes and sheets and towels. Several huge bags of new baby clothes are piled in front of the bed. A table has been brought in and is covered several feet high with the other children’s clothes.
Three women working non-stop for two full days were required to wash all of the laundry in the home. It cost $299.50 to wash it all at a coin-op laundromat. Megan is blown away. She really gets it when she sees it. She gets that it’s too much, that she spent too much money replacing clothes instead of doing laundry, and she’s more than willing to make the change. It’s wonderful to see.
They start cleaning faster and more efficiently after that. Megan is confronted with mouse droppings inside the fridge. The two work together well, being supportive of one another, and make many good decisions to get rid of things, to donate others. The house is scrubbed from top to bottom when Megan leaves to nurse her baby. New beds are brought in.
When the family comes back, it’s like they’ve been given a new home. The children are so overjoyed they bounce, clutch their parents, run to look at everything, spin around in all of the free space, and run back to their parents for more hugs. Megan is overcome by tears and happiness (and probably some sadness with herself.) Kathy hugs them both and tells them how proud she is.
There is a lot of hope for Megan, even Dr. Pfeffer, who is usually more cautious, feels positive that Megan will have a happy ending. Megan’s young son says, “It’s a new house!”
Aftercare: Megan is working with a therapist and a professional organizer.. She is also using her funds to make key repairs on her home.
Show Thoughts: Megan’s story was so gratifying after some of the unsatisfactory episodes we’ve had. She was prime for this type of intervention. I got the impression that depression was one of the key factors here, not necessarily a typical OCD/Anxiety/Hoarding issue. Therapy and support like she’s getting should make a tremendous difference. According to Dr. Pfeffer, Megan is continuing to improve.
Didn’t you get the impression that there was more to Beverly’s story than we saw? Pam’s rage went from 0 to 60 quickly. According to Matt Paxton, there are legal reasons they couldn’t go more into the family dynamics, which is worrisome. He also said that Beverly was an absolute sweetheart and he’s heard from her that she’s making positive steps. She’s working with her therapist, and her granddaughter, and they’re still making a good team.
I had no hope for her until I saw her working with Karissa. What a great kid. Matt had nothing but kind words for the grandkids. Dr. Chabaud said that we didn’t see a lot of the quiet work that Pam did in the house. There were many years of turmoil between Beverly and her husband that the kids grew up witnessing, which led to their inability to communicate effectively with each other.
Dr. Chabaud said that it’s good that Karissa was willing to help, but she needs to choose to continue to help, not feel obligated. That way leads to co-dependency, and no one wins. For now, though, there is a lot of hope.