Hoarders 6.4 – Shanna, Lynda

A&E, Monday Nights, 9EST

Warning: This episode has some seriously disturbing human filth, and as much as I want to be sympathetic to the hoarder, this is when my sympathies (and wishes of bleach/Karen Silkwood showers) shift to the crews. (I do care about the hoarder, of course.)

 

Shanna, Bothell, Washington

Shanna is a young woman, probably in her thirties. We see her on a literally beaten path—food boxes, newspapers, fliers, fecal matter that has been walked over until it’s become a makeshift floor—squatting down to mix wet cat food.  She is on disability and lives alone.

“I can definitely handle dirt.  I don’t have a problem with that.”

There’s dirt, and then there’s filth. Fecal matter is everywhere. It’s not necessarily from a cat. Or rodents. There are sloshed brown stains on the walls, old food rotting into greenish-grey slop, greasy paper towels in huge quantities, and spider webs in every visible corner.

All of this spills outside, as well. This is what prompted a neighbor to peer over the fence; what they found led to a call to the city and an ultimatum for Shanna to clean it up, facing a daily fine of $250 until it’s complete. Her brother Sean knows that the only reason we’re here is because of the city—Shanna would never decide to change a thing.

Shanna lived in the house for 13 years with her mother, also a hoarder. They got on like flies on roadkill, and the house spiraled. The mother decided to shut off garbage service years before but never made arrangements for the accumulating trash to go away. There are heaps and mounds of black trash bags—many split open, their fetid entrails strewn about the lawn.

Inside is a horror show. Bags of food are covered with unidentifiable stickiness, and multitudes of dead bugs are plastered onto them. Inside some of the containers, living bugs are still visible. This is not the horrible part of the house.

There is no toilet, and hasn’t been for over a decade. Shanna’s mother devised a method of “waste disposal” by using a bucket, and then siphoning off that into water bottles. One bedroom and all of the bathroom save the doorway’s empty space for the bucket are filled with bottles of dark, sloshing liquids.

The house smells. That should go without saying, but Shanna doesn’t realize it smells. We see her scoop up cat vomit with a paper towel as she explains the “dirty water jug” system. She tries to carry the large bucket (a 25-gallon paint bucket) but isn’t able to move through the hoarded house. So she pours off some of the bucket into a smaller bucket, which she demonstrates for the cameras.

She carries this through the house, some of the mess slopping over the side and onto the hoard, the walls, her shoes. She dumps this onto a wet, sodden patch of grass at the base of some shrubbery. This is how she uses the toilet, and has for years.

This is the worst Rube-Goldberg device in creation.

She is convinced that the neighbors don’t mind this (or can smell it) because “they’ve never said anything.” If this isn’t your clue that we’re dealing with a severe disconnect in logical thinking, I don’t know what will be.

Using her fingers, she wipes out the interior of a paper bowl as Matt Paxton arrives. She makes dinner in the bowl, putting the paper bowl in a toaster oven with the timer set for 20 minutes. Matt gapes at her. “Oh, it does burn a little.”

While that cooks, Matt checks out the house. He says it’s the worst smell he’s ever had to endure in his life, and when Matt “Flat Cat” Paxton says something smells awful, there is no question that things are bad. Really bad. “I’m speechless,” he says, as she tells him her bucket system.

You get the impression that she is quite proud of this, as if she’s a clever girl to devise a method. There’s the other clue that we’re dealing with a severe disconnect in logical thinking. She chats him up, smiling a knowing little grin and asks, “This isn’t the worst house you’ve seen, is it?”

Matt: It’s the most dangerously unsanitary house I’ve ever been in.

Shanna: But— [she looks amusingly skeptical here] —do you think I meet the definition of a hoarder?

Matt: Hell, yes! Why do you think your house smells?

Shanna: [she’s excited to have an answer] It’s a musty smell! Mold and dust make a musty smell.

Matt: No, it’s the feces and the urine.

This is brand new information for her. She looks blown away, shocked even, to learn that human waste has an odor. She can’t smell it, but she’s heard that her house has a “musty odor.” Her house is filled to the ceiling with leaking bottles of shit and piss, there are bloody tampons on the floor, and…

Guys, this is mental illness. This is beyond hoarding and this is severe mental illness.

Fortunately Dr. Zasio arrives, is told by Matt how grateful he is that she’s there, and they get out of the way of the bio-hazard crew. And for the first time in Hoarders’ history, Dr. Zasio not only suits up, but puts on a rebreather. (And here is where I panic for Matt having been in there for hours breathing in who knows what. Matt? Get a booster for cholera, please. I’m a mother, I worry.)

Shanna gives push-back to letting things go, and it’s because she has the mindset that if a can is sealed, it’s fine. If something still has the plastic wrap, it’s sanitary.  Well, Dr. Zasio explains, not really. The outside is covered in horrid awfulness. You touch that (and Shanna explained in the bucket brigade segment that she doesn’t wash her hands after carrying the bucket out) and then touch other things, and now all things inside and out are contaminated.

This makes no sense to Shanna. You can pick mold off bread! You can eat around weevils! Plastic wrap on the edge of a tub of lettuce keeps it safe! Matt says he won’t eat her poop salad, and she doesn’t understand why not. Honest and truly does not understand.

They have to tackle the poop bottles. It’s not like the team can grab them, toss them in a dumpster and cart it off—this is years-old fecal matter, harboring who knows what type of diseases. They have to be fully suited so nothing touches their skin, they put the bottles in huge garbage cans, pass that down to the outside where someone then has to open and empty every single bottle into a porta-potty so the chemicals instantly destroy the harmful bacteria.

There are hundreds of gallons of filth.

Let’s take a moment to honor the poor PAs who had to cover labels with blue tape so that the show wouldn’t be sued. (This is one tiny corner, by the way.)

The family arrives, a sister and her husband, and a brother. They’re all so angry about this, they’re all so sad that their mother died of cancer in that home, and they don’t know who to turn their feelings on, so they turn on each other. Matt steps in, directs them to a healthier way of communicating, and gets them working on the house. At one point the brother-in-law Will almost vomits into his rebreather, so he leaves after ten minutes. Sean has been at it for hours and is relieved of…duty. (Hurr. Sorry.)

Matt gets Shanna in to explain why it’s so bad, and she still is under the impression that the toothbrushes in their plastic can still be saved. They’re resting on a mountain of “dirty water jugs.” No. They…no. She then tries to convince the doctor and Matt that she can eat her contaminated food because it’s like a “last high.”

She likes that she can eat that stuff, see that her house is filled with fecal matter, and she’s still standing. It’s a very bizarre survivalist game she has in her head, and it’s incredibly unhealthy on multiple levels. Dr. Zasio realizes that she gets actual pleasure from eating food with poop on it. Shanna is amused by their concern, and this is not a good situation for anyone.

Dr. Zasio makes a decision. With the family gathered, she tells them that it is her professional opinion that Shanna cannot live on her own. She requires therapy, medical attention, and some type of transitional or adult housing. Meanwhile, Matt is inside with a construction expert, who explains that the house will need to be ripped out to the studs and rebuilt in order to be habitable, to the tune of $150,000. Or, they can bulldoze it and rebuild a new house for $145,000.

The family is now aware of how ill their sister is, thank her for allowing them to actually help her, and you can see that they don’t just think she’s a “slob” anymore. She is not well. The cleanup shifts to getting the yard to code, and the family will decide later what to do about the house. (They decide to try and sell it as-is, so someone else can bulldoze it.)

After The Show

Shanna is working with a therapist and is in temporary housing. Her case-worker and family are looking for a permanent long-term care facility for her. She has a huge hill to climb.

And Matt Paxton has a new line of cleaning products – road tested, Hoarder-helper approved – at his website, Clutter Cleaner. Check it out and support a great guy doing great work.

 

Lynda, Montrose, Colorado

“I believe we are at the beginning of the End Times.”

Lynda is an elderly woman, reading The Book of Revelations from her Bible on its special stand and in its special quilted cover. She believes deeply in the Rapture, that the most righteous of God’s Children will be taken up to heaven in an instant when the end of the world comes.

See, her hoard isn’t for her. Because she won’t be there. Her hoard is there for the “Left Behinders.” Boy, am I intimate with food storage. I grew up in a religion that required dutiful members to keep and maintain a two-year supply of food, fuel, and clothing (they now only recommend one year). My aunt and grandmother’s “pantries” were like mini grocery stores, everything orderly, sorted, old food rotated to the front to be eaten and not wasted.

Nothing of the sort is happening at Lynda’s house.  Everything is jammed where she can shove a box or toss a can.  Clothing, blankets, books, sleeping bags, it’s all heaped and piled and shoved and stashed wherever she could heap, pile, shove, or stash. Her son, Tony, thinks she’s off her rocker.

The “rapture” hoard.

We learn that Lynda has another house. She filled it to bursting and walked away to this new trailer home. She’s close to being evicted if the hoard isn’t addressed. The difficulty lies in the fact that Lynda believes she’s been called on by God to store up these treasures for His less fortunate children.

Tony says, “I can clean up the place. But I can’t do anything about how she thinks about these things.” [Don’t you love when a family member has such an insightful moment? That’s it in a nutshell.]

Dr. Melva Green arrives and asks her about the rapture and her reasoning behind her hoard. She laughs later on camera and says, “How do you dispute God?” Dr. Melva is good people.

Cory Chalmers arrives at the other trailer. When he opens the door, it looks like a shallow closet that someone has shoved a bunch of boxes in. But that’s because you can’t see past six inches. He tries to wedge himself in there and becomes stuck just under the ceiling. He can see, though, that rats have been in there chewing things up. There’s not going to be anything salvageable there, is his guess.

Dr. Melva asks Lynda, “Do you think the Lord is pleased with this?” She indicates the hoard as Lynda sighs, her shoulders sagging. She wants to do the right thing, but it’s going to be hard. And a big part of that is because she doesn’t trust her son. This is going to be the stumbling block.

Troy looks visibly worn out, and you can tell this isn’t the first time he’s tried to empty out his mother’s home. He doesn’t call her “mom,” he doesn’t have expressions of love for her. He’s at his limit. She clearly doesn’t think much of him, either. There is a lot of anger simmering under the surface here. She admits to not wanting him there and not trusting anything about him, so he walks out, snapping off his gloves and saying tersely, “Excuse me, gentlemen.” He leaves the property.

Dr. Green tries to get Lynda to do the work, to push through her fears and stubbornness and get things done.

“I know, I’m being bad and—”

Dr. Green cuts her off and says, “It’s not about being bad.

Lynda starts talking about how she needs to repent and be the person God wants her to be. But she gets back to work.

Troy and his wife Debbie arrive late in the cleanup, and she immediately rubs everyone the wrong way. Debbie is a lot to take in—bossing people around, challenging the crew and Dr. Green and insulting them.

“Are you a professional in this? Have you ever done this before?” she asks Cory.

“For seventeen years,” he replies tersely. “I go around the country training people to stop hoarding.”

Debbie has her hands on her hips and rage on her face. She says she is angry at them for not pushing Lynda harder, yadda yadda. The best thing about this is watching Dr. Green’s cool and collected expression, just waiting for Debbie to lose steam. Troy jumps in first, though, and tells his wife to shut up then gets back to working in another room.

Cory tells the camera, “This ain’t God. This is a hoarder, pure and simple.” The Rapture is just a handy excuse for her.

Lynda and Troy are brought together to actually talk, because if they can’t get over their anger and frustration, nothing will change. Troy refers to her as “Mom” and gets a few “I love you’s” in there, and it makes all the difference for Lynda. She begins to cry softly, and Dr. Green points this out to him. “This is real. This a real moment.” This isn’t posturing or anything of the sort, this is Lynda breaking through her anger. (We don’t know why she was angry in the first place.)

Troy pulls her into a hug and says, “I’m not here for any reason but to take care of you.” She murmurs a thank you as they embrace.

The clean up hits hyper-drive, a crew comes in to paint and restore the trailer to the point where it truly looks brand new. She enters the house and says, “Oh, isn’t it beautiful?”

Debbie says to Cory and Dr. Green, “You know, you were right and I was wrong.”  Yeah, they kind of know what they’re doing. I get it, she’s frustrated but for crying out loud. Cory is far more gracious than I am, telling her that he knows that was hard to say, and he thanks her.

Troy, looking far less hardened and weary, says that he feels like he has his mom back. Their relationship looks like a completely different one than we were introduced to. Outstanding.

After The Show

Lynda is working with a therapist and organizer. Her number one priority is to keep her home clean, and once she’s on top of that, she plans to work on her abandoned trailer and clean it, too.

Two good outcomes this episode, and I was so pleased that Shanna was not allowed to live on her own. She just doesn’t have the mental wiring to make it in any healthy way. Good for her family for stepping up and getting her long-term care, all while being supportive and kind.

Figuring out the cause is the key. Who knew? (We did.) And to any production staff at A&E: thank you for losing the hyper-dramatic music. I was able to see real people have real problems.

Please like & share:
  • Cate

    Shanna’s situation was perhaps the worst we’ve ever seen. I have a strong stomach, but even I had to turn away from the toilet situation. I was so, so glad when Dr. Zasio said that Shanna couldn’t live alone – it was abundantly clear she was terribly ill, that she cognitively just did not understand why her living situation struck others as awful. She really did seem to get deep pleasure from defying what she was being told was insupportable. I wish her so well – I hope the help she gets is exactly what she needs, and she grows to love a much healthier life.

    I didn’t really understand what the crux of the problem was between Lynda and her son. It’s hard – we don’t have any right to know that stuff if it’s better kept private, but those segments lost weight for me because I didn’t understand. Knowing the trigger for the hoarding is usually so important to understanding how to heal the situation. (And I’m confident that that was happening off camera, so that’s the most important thing.)

    • We have encountered some incredibly unhealthy lives on this show, but Shanna… I am so happy she’s in a healthy and safe environment. She may never understand cognitively how dangerous her life was, but her family (and we) do. What’s amazing to me about this show is that it is so sympathetic to people with severe illness, and people who are not thought of as mentally ill. It’s so clear to us (by virute of the setting, the editing, having a doctor present) that Shanna was not well, but her family had thought for years that she was just…dirty. If someone could watch this episode and not understand how profoundly unhealthy Shanna was, then I think there’s no hope for them ever understanding.

      I’m right there with you with regards to Lynda’s story. I want to know, I understand that I don’t have the right to know, but – as you say – it makes it difficult to connect with her emotional journey. It makes it hard to connect the dots, and that’s what the show does so well. But I will say that watching Cory and Dr. Green bite the inside of their cheeks as Debbie went off on them, questioning their credentials… Oh, that was priceless!

      • C. Sewell

        I have know Shanna for aproximately a year. She doesnt undersand things when you say no to her. She does only what she wants and she has over stepped and use me in our friendship. She believes she is doing good when she picks up other person things from off of the street….
        Yucky germs and then when you explain to her that they are yucky she doesnt understand due to her issue with her mental illness. Yes we all have issues and our not perfect but this lady needs more help then she has gotten. She takes advantage of situations to suit her. I have distance myself in our friendship due to she has taken advantage of it. I hope and pray that she gets more help. Please GOD help her. She tells people she has been on the HOARDERS SHOW and this leaves a negative inpression on peoples minds. She acts like she is a movie star and proud she was on that show. She needs more support services and I have scene alot of people with mental illness fall through the cracks in society.

      • Billy bib

        Lol. You like shit don’t you you dirty skank?

        Do you like to piss on yourself and fill your panties with shit? You sure do talk about shit a lot.
        I bet you love living in your own shit.
        I like when females shit on themselves,
        Does wine make you fill your panties with shit and lay around in those piss soaked shit plastered panties all day long? What about TV?
        Do you sit around in your shitty panties when you watch hoarders? Is that stupid animated skank up there with the glasses you? How much shit does she have in her panties?

  • Jackie

    Watching Shanna…I started retching. Violently. I watched The episode of poop mountain last season no problems. This…I just couldn’t. Thank GOD she’s in a supervised care environment.

    • It really was just a horrible, horrible situation. I’m glad she’s in a controlled care environment, too.

      • Will

        The bureaucrat’s at the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in WA. state did an evaluation on Shanna. After a short amount of time they deemed her “capable” of taking care of herself and denied her any help. Shanna lived with her sister and I for 3 months. Shanna’s disability manger sent her a letter stating that her benefits would be cut because she is not living on her own and paying bills. Shanna was actively seeking help thru counselors and case workers. All in which could not find her housing or help. She found residence at a few promising places, all of them fell thru after one to two days.
        She currently resides at a clean and sober residence (she is renting a small room) that houses individuals who are recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. She has been there for 3 weeks. After the 1st day she was there, the couple that run the place called Nola and asked her to come get Shanna because of a severe blow up she had with other tennants. Nola talked to Shanna and the couple and convinced (begged) them to let her stay. They agreed. No agency or State program seem to not have help for Shanna. Her evaluations come back stating she’s normal or capable of taking care of herself. She is waiting to get on section 8 housing in about a year. The waiting list is long. The kind people with A&E’s Hoarders are helping and pushing all they can to get her the help she needs.

        • Cate

          Thank you so much for telling us more about Shanna’s ongoing situation. I’m so sorry to hear that agencies are turning her away – that must be beyond frustrating in an already difficult situation. I’m glad to hear that the Hoarders folks are still present and trying to help, but oh, how I wish there was more help for you all already. I wish you all so much luck and a breakthrough with an agency, somewhere. Take care.

      • Billy bib

        You probably like it. Lol
        I’d like to smell your shit. You probably wouldn’t even use the buckets, lol. You would just piss and shit on yourself and walk around with shit in your panties

  • Tapati

    I am so sorry that Shanna is not getting enough help from Social Services. I think outside of her filthy hoard she probably appears quite cheerful and normal. I would think that a series of photos of that place would be very convincing as well as some quotes pulled from the episode. (I realize it’s too much to ask them to watch it.)

    It was a very triggering episode for me. My mother went through a severe depression after her hysterectomy, when I was a teenager. After a suicide attempt she simply stopped…everything. She sat in her chair with her four poodles piled on and read and watched tv and ate cookies and sandwiches. She stopped letting the dogs out regularly in the little yard and although they were paper-trained she started layering newspaper on top of the first layer of used paper, so layers of dog urine and feces. [She got the idea from her father though she was scornful of it at the time we first saw him do that.] I’ve always had a sensitive nose so I spent that year in my room upstairs which I kept spotless. I never thought of the health hazard until now. The kitchen was too filthy to cook or eat in so I lived on school lunches that year. If my stomach started to hurt I would get a piece of bread, hold it in my left hand and carefully put pickles on it from the jar in the fridge. I had no where safe to put it down or make a real sandwich.

    I am grateful that she didn’t have children in that feces ridden house but once upon a time, she WAS the child in the house. It would seem that she surrendered to it and learned to revel in her survival against such adversity.

    I couldn’t have watched if their were children involved. Those are the most difficult episodes for me for obvious reasons. As in Shanna’s case, when social services were alerted they didn’t get my mom sufficient help. They sent in a home health aide to clean up once (it didn’t last, even though I tried to help) and she had a therapist who kept trying her on meds. But no one removed me from the home. My family told me I should take care of my mother. I was 13.

    I hope that Shanna can get the help she so desperately needs. I hate it that as a society we don’t prioritize social services and mental health services with the funding they deserve.

  • eljeran

    this woman from Bothel, hoarding her own feces is beyond hoarding. She is def. mentally ill. What upsets me is she had brothers and sisters and they allowed their mother to live in this filth. They allowed their mother to be cared for by a woman who lives, sleeps, eats in fecal matter. At least shana has an excuse, she is mentally ill. Her siblings are incomprehensible.

    • You hit the nail on the head: she’s definitely mentally ill. Also, if you watched the program in its entirety you would have seen that no one KNEW it was as bad as it was. Please remember that we on HDJM (and the readers here, which include the families depicted on the show and many of the crew from A&E) approach this show from a place of compassion and learning. We don’t encourage (or want) vitriolic finger pointing.

  • diane Lees

    I have never watched this episode of Hoarders but having read the synopsis and viewed the conditions that this woman, Shanna, lived in my heart goes out to her. Mental illness is still one of the most un-diagnosed conditions and it affects all levels of society, irrespective of finances, genetics etc. I had a friend who is bi-polar and have thought that this condition along with schizophrenia was the worse. I was wrong. Hoarding is so irrational, classless and I believe ultimately one of the hardest to overcome. Good will and love to all.

  • If there was every any doubt whatsoever about biohazards in hoarding situations, this case is a prime example of just how bad it can get.

    Hoarding really is a mental condition. All on its own. It is not a symptom of another condition. It is not learned behavior. It is a real issue that requires real solutions.

    This guide is a one-page, visual and interactive tool that can help family members, friends, social workers, therapists, etc. explain just how dangerous biohazards can be in a hoarded home:
    http://www.clutterhoardingcleanup.com/biohazard-dangers-hoarding-situation/

  • Erica

    I finally saw this episode yesterday. I don’t have the correct language to word this all that clearly, but Shanna left me honestly flummoxed. I’m of course not a doctor, and I know this is none of my business, but what mental illness is this woman actually suffering from? Because she struck me as having a weird or unusual form of narcissism.

    Honestly, I don’t for a minute believe that she didn’t know that feces has a foul odor. That’s a socially learned idea, and her siblings weren’t exactly feral. It’s not like she grew up defecating in a bucket from childhood. She struck me as having an almost sociopathic view of other people’s experiences. The feces didn’t smell bad to HER (anymore), so how could it smell bad to other people? I think admitting that would have made her feel shame and humiliation, and she refused to allow those emotions to be elicited. I’m no psychiatrist, but I don’t think there’s a mental illness that forces someone to refute the existence of bacteria. She wasn’t hoarding waste because of sentimentality and she didn’t place value on it.

  • MJI

    I just watched this episode. Words cannot describe how grossed out/concerned I am for Shanna and her situation.

    What surprised me though is Lynda. I had one of those “It’s a Small World” moments. I either met someone who looks exactly like her or I met the real Lynda in a high rise complex in MN a couple years back.

    I remember her mentioning something about CO and being excited when i mentioned living in the state when I was really young. She mentioned nothing of Hoarders, but said she was getting a house cleaned or fixed up. I don’t remember her talking anything of the Rapture, but she had the same personality and talked about the same kind of subject.
    She was friendly and could hold a conversation for hours. Though at the time she seemed mad at her cat for biting her. She was thinking of parting with the cat. I was open to taking it, or finding a foster group. She wasn’t interested and declined my offer. I presume and hope she got past her anger and kept the cat. It was a very friendly one.

    Her apartment was okay. Somewhat cluttered but not seriously. Then again the living environment isn’t ideal for hoarders. There are annual inspections with management, and frequent other inspections throughout the year dealing with fire, alarm, safety and pest management. To be honest, just about every hoarder needs such housing.

    I hadn’t seen her in a while. Makes sense though if she moved back to CO with her family in her house. I kind of wish I kept in touch with her.

  • I believe in the Rapture myself…I look at it this way: If you plan on being here during the Tribulation, you’d better get yourself a bunker and plenty of food.

    • cheerfulmind

      You sound absolutely crazy. I can say that because I believe the same! But I have no plans on being left behind ;-)

  • cheerfulmind

    When did Hoarders branch out? Outside of Shanna kerping the “dirty water” jugs, she’s not a classic, compulsive hoarder. I recognize hoarding as a mental issue with diverse causes resulting in the act of extreme collecting & accumulation serving purposes like perceived safety, etc. We’ve seen collections of clothes, clowns and cats but except for the filth that occurs from the inability to clean with that much stuff, it wasn’t relatively empty rooms covered in, well, shit. Why is there shit without stuff now?! Don’t get me wrong, I like seeing people get access to needed help.

    And I guess Shanna reacted to throwing away molded, feces-covered food like a typical hoarder…she was definitely agitated and somehow believed she even experienced some joy in having the food. Poor Shanns just seems, more than anything else, a person mentally unfit to care for herself. I’ve never seen anyone regardless of the state of their home, not fundamentally understand why humans shouldn’t live like that. She needed a group home not a clean up crew. I just really do hope she’s okay now and living with some assistance!

  • Samantha Gur

    Copeophilia is listed in the DSM as a mental illness…