Hoarders 6.8 – BG and Lee, Chris

A&E, Monday Nights, 9EST

This episode has one of the most tragically beautiful homes in the show’s history, absolutely hoarded to the gills. And we also had another tender-hearted man that let his things separate himself from what he wants most: a relationship with his family.

 

BG and Lee, California

It’s not explicitly stated, but it’s pretty clear these folks are in San Francisco, living in an absolutely stunning Victorian mansion in the Queen Anne style. The attention to detail on the gables and relief panels is utterly gorgeous. The front of this home is all that we’ll be able to attribute beauty to, although the retired homeowners – wife BG and husband Lee – would beg to differ.

Inside the home is utter chaos. Crammed, packed tight, and filled with nonsense, BG and Lee have lived in their million-dollar home for decades, pushing and wedging in more and more things, all while driving a deeper wedge between themselves in the process. BG tells the camera that she “didn’t have the things I might have wanted when I was growing up.” We can see hundreds of board games, toys, wagons, tricycles, plastic slides, all manner of colorful plastic baby toys, that have been collected, shoved to the back, and left to collect dust.

But of course, these are “treasures.”

BG fully admits that she loves to shop and buy things, that she got Lee interested in “collecting,” and that Lee himself likes “a bargain.” Why buy something that costs $5 when you can buy an entire box of things for $2? And the junk piles up, no one lets anything go, and the tension grows and grows. BG currently has eight broken toes from trying to push through, climb over, or squeeze under the hoard.

Her toes aren’t the only things broken: they are currently legally separated as she feels he is constantly sabotaging her; he feels she has an “ax to grind,” and neither of them are willing to give up anything, including their grudges. (Those take up far more space than the actual hoard.)

He is a control freak, she doesn’t understand money and property, and they go ’round and ’round with insults and hurts, no one budging on their anger. But the simple truth is that neither can afford to live on their own. The house has tied them together for better or worse. BG says bitterly, “I’m not happy.”

Dr. Zasio arrives and says that yes, she’s there for the hoard, but she’s also there for their relationship. She tells the camera that it’s the most densely packed home she’s ever been in. It’s four floors (and a basement) crammed so tightly that most of the adults can barely squeeze through the little rabbit trails that wind through the home.

The house needs work – unless it was cleared and repaired, they couldn’t sell it for a profit. BG and Lee have it in their minds that their treasures can be sold to recoup their losses and make money. As Matt Paxton says repeatedly on the show, “It doesn’t matter how much it’s worth in your mind if no one is going to give you the money for it.”

If collection hoarders could ever understand that…. Well, there wouldn’t be a show.

Dr. Zasio tries to prepare them with the simple truth that most of this stuff just needs to go. It’s not going to have any monetary value. Lee completely ignores this, simply wanting to make money off of old plastic baby toys and ratty books.

Dorothy Breininger and the Got Junk trucks arrive with a 20-strong crew ready to go. They immediately start pulling things out of the first room available when everything is brought to a screeching halt. We’re talking minutes into the clean up, here. BG is livid. There is a table with a scratch on it, and clearly that’s the fault of the crew, not the years of having things jammed on top of the table. She says she wants some “rules and standards, because I’m not going to glue and replace everything I own.”

This doesn’t bode well. The crew starts again, and once again, BG stops the process. “I’ve had it! I said be careful!”

Dorothy turns to the camera, her forced grin hiding her extreme shock over the turn of events, and says, “They have locked the house!” Dorothy said that this was the one hoard she almost walked away from, and it’s easy to see why. There is so much blame, and none of it where it needs to be: on BG and Lee. Everyone else is the source of their troubles. Why, if so and so had only, or if you know who had just listened when… As my grandmother used to say, when you point a finger, you’ve got three pointing back at yourself.

The crew is allowed back in. …to the backyard, only. The harping and nitpicking starts in again with BG hollering at Lee for ruining things by “putting a bunch of crap on it.” Lee stops letting things go, BG starts shutting down, and this is just a hot mess.

This is just one corner of the backyard.

Eventually the crew is allowed inside, but only the basement where a massive rack of garments in plastic dry cleaner bags stand at the ready. But BG wants to try everything on, first while Dorothy tries to be patient. Lee butts in and starts telling them what clothes (all ladies clothes) can go, causing BG lose it completely. Her face is the very picture of rage here as she starts yelling at the room. She is sick and tired of being interrupted and having Lee answer for her. (And he does this a lot.)

Dorothy finally gets their attention and says, “What’s the story?” Is she dividing the house up for two kitchens and bedrooms, or just one? When BG tries to answer, Lee cuts her off, disavowing anything his wife has said, and fills in the rest. This is a really dysfunctional relationship, the kind that makes me want to slink away and not be infected by their rage.

After conferring with one another, Dr. Zasio and Dorothy decide to try something new: they’ll let Lee have his yard sale. The Got Junk crew will hang signs everywhere, and he can have the day to sell stuff. Whatever doesn’t get sold, Dorothy decides what to do with it. He agrees with a handshake.

Seven hours later, not one item has been sold. 93 people have come by. Not one thing sold. All day they’ve waited for this to wrap up, not saying anything as Lee wanders past pulling things back to the house. It’s not all BG like he wants to make us believe. Dorothy gives them 5 minutes to take things from the stuff out on the yard, and anything left will be carted off. Dr. Zasio scrubs her face with her hands, sighing in a frustrated manner, “Oh my god,” as they start sniping at each other over moth-eaten toys.

This, uh, is a much bigger problem than four days is going to even begin to address. Everyone is positively miserable, and the epicenter is with BG, who believes everyone hates her, including her children.

On Day Two (yeah, that was all Day One), the couple allows the living room and hallway to be cleared, griping the entire time it happens. Everything that is moved becomes an argument. The more that’s uncovered in the home, the more hurts are uncovered in the marriage. Dr. Zasio says, “Your stuff just covers up your issues.”

So let’s break that down: Lee looks at the camera with a bland expression , saying “My wife and I will be fine.” He’s completely oblivious to the hoard and to any problems in their marriage, really. BG’s shoulders are up around her ears, she has an almost permanent frown etched in her face, is completely stubborn and unwilling to admit any of her contributions to the mess. Talk about an impasse…

All in all, the crew only removed two trucks worth of junk, when Dorothy estimates that it should have been closer to fifteen. They sort of gave the two a living room and access to the staircase. The room is still packed with furniture and one wall is floor to ceiling boxes. BG actually says it looks “barren” and that the hallway – where she griped about a wall of boxes of Lee’s – looks “lonely.”

They’ve just described their relationship.

This is the “lonely” hallway.

Dr. Zasio is fairly certain that they’ll just fill the house back up again, if they don’t really stick to aftercare therapy. I think Dorothy will just be glad to get away from that toxic couple. Their misery is positively palpable.

 

After the show

They are both seeing the aftercare therapist, with therapy as their top priority. That’s good! They’re mostly focused on their relationship issues, which is even better. Removing the junk is just forcing them to actually look at one another (and hopefully themselves. That’s the key to stopping the blame game.)

Once they have a better plan for their future, they hope to work with an organizer to address the rest of the house. For the sake of that beautiful home (and the love they once shared), let’s hope it works out.

 

 

Chris, California

Chis is older, looking close to the age of retirement. He’s a thoughtful, quiet man with a shy smile. He drives a tow truck for a living, barely scraping by financially. Not because the job doesn’t pay a livable wage, but because of his hoarding.

“I’m not a regular, every day guy because I cling to everything I find comforting and pleasant.” How he finds his apartment comforting and pleasant is beyond me. It’s wall to wall junk. I say junk not in a derogatory way, but to properly define what he has. Chris loves to wander the streets, pulling things from trashcans, finding broken bits of machinery to be taken home and dismantled on his ever-present quest to find out how things work.

He does recognize that his home is cluttered. “Unusually cluttered. Unpleasantly.”

Chris’ living room. He sleeps on the floor in a sleeping bag.

Rochelle, his neighbor, thinks that Chris just doesn’t think the same way as other people. (Well…yes.) He’s “differently wired in the brain.” That’s quite astute. And in my armchair psychiatrist’s opinion (ha), Chris seems like he’s on the Spectrum. That would explain the lack of eye contact and the obsessive interest in taking apart machinery.

It’s not just his home that’s filled. Chris has eight storage units that are packed, as well. He spends about $19,000 a year on them. He’s had these for well over a decade. Keeping up with storage bills is breaking him. He stops using electricity in his house to cut expenses. He buys memberships to gyms so he can shower there, mistakenly thinking that he’s saving money. (There’s a real lack of cognizant thought that a gym membership might cost less than how much heating up water would run him.)

He faces both bankruptcy and homelessness. He’s practiced being homeless, though, by staying away from the house for a few days. But his “experiment failed because [he] had a strong wish to be protected, to be safe.” This is a gentle soul that just needs someone to help him create a plan and show him how to implement it. Unfortunately, he’s not really willing to seek out help from friends or his two sisters, Gail and Caitlyn. All they want is to just get him help.

The “Creole with Soul” Dr. Suzanne Chabaud arrives on scene and tries to get into the house to meet with Chris but can’t squeeze into the door. She says that clearly he doesn’t want people to come in. (Yet he so clearly yearns for connections with people. It’s the hoarder’s conundrum that they create these shame piles.) He likes her being there, he says quietly, because she’s nice. He is an incredibly lonely man.

Cory Chalmers and the Got Junk trucks arrive soon after. Cory wants Chris’ sisters to see the state of the apartment. No more secrets – that’s the key to families healing. Caitlyn, the younger sister, is shocked to silence, but Gail is quite the opposite. “I can’t condone this type of living. If you die, who’s gonna pick up this shit? It’s going to be me. Personally, I feel like I bend over backwards to hold myself in check to be kind and gentle…and it’s really hard.” Wow.

Chris gets apologetic and starts stammering as she picks up a new head of steam. She starts yelling that she wants to strangle him, starts yelling at him in earnest and this grown man visibly crumbles in front of her, eyes squeezed tight, shaking, and lots of guilty nods. He begins to have a panic attack as she berates him. Bless his heart.

Dr. Chabaud asks him what he hears when she says those things. “I’m a disappointment because I’ve not done better.” She diffuses the argument and gets him to work privately with Cory.

They employ the 5 second rule: make a decision in five seconds, or it’s trash. This…doesn’t work well. Chris gets upset, shutting down any further conversation because his sister is mad at him, and he is failing, so he needs to hustle and get through everything as quickly as possible.

Cory tries multiple times to get him to slow down, but Chris tears through his things, randomly throwing things away or keeping them without really considering why. He also wants to touch everything. Every box must be sorted, every piece of paper examined. There’s just too much. Not to mention that there are still eight storage units that have to be addressed.

He’s clearly trying to escape responsibility and any raw emotions by tuning everyone out and just moving things from one pile to another. Unfortunately, that won’t help him in the long run. Cory gets him to breathe deeply to calm down as he spirals more and more out of control. A truck that has one storage unit loaded onto it is brought outside for him to see.

“This represents $7200 a year,” Cory tells him. One decade’s worth of bills means, “$72,000 just to have this stuff. And that is just one of [the] units.” Chris knows that financially he’s in trouble, so instead of worrying about five or ten dollars off the electric bill, here is a far more logical solution. He’s destitute, he knows it, but the hoarder pull is strong. He still wants to touch everything just to make sure it can be junked.

Dr. Chabaud pulls him aside and asks, “Think: what will my home say about me? More importantly, what does it say to you?” She’s tried to give him space to understand his language, but now she realizes that she has to talk to him in hers. She tells him kindly that he’s worth more than that stuff. He is allowed to live in a happy and fulfilling manner.

Chris suddenly has focus, and it’s as if he’s never been told that before – that he intrinsically has value and worth simply by existing. He starts making terrific choices and works quickly, but in a focused way, not a harried “I just want to be done with this” way.

“I’m enjoying the sensation,” he says. “It’s a new way of thinking. It’s almost like an intoxicant.” He and his sister Gail laugh and say “Carpe Diem!” to one another. It’s lovely to see that she’s making strides with her brother, as well. Gone is the harsh criticism, and here is the happy encouragement, the laughter, and a lot of visible love between siblings.

Chris’ newly uncluttered living room.

In the end, his entire house and five storage units are cleaned out. Cory’s team works through the night (what a bunch of awesome people!) to clean his house and get it looking nice for Chris. Chris, after being brought in, is simply delighted that he no longer has a house, but a home. The sisters are both filled with joy for their brother and the apartment truly looks brand new. It’s spare as far as decorations go, but that’s for the best. And it looks homey and comfortable.

“I want to keep this process going, keep moving forward into more dimensions of what makes me happy,” he says with an arm around his sister. He loves being with people and now feels like he’s worthy to have people visit him. (Seriously, bless this sweet man’s heart.)

Dr. Chabaud asks him, “Would you like to have people come visit from time to time?”

“Yeah,” he says. “That choice is…precious.”

This whole family is seriously lovely, visibly proud of their brother, who clearly looks proud of himself. As he should be.

 

After the show

Chris is working with a therapist that specializes in OCD and hoarding, per his request, as well as an organizer. He is actively working on the remaining storage units being cleared out and has started bringing friends over to his home for the first time in decades. Well done, Chris!

 

Show discussion

If there’s anything we’ve learned in six seasons of this show, it’s that nothing is more important for recovery than a supportive family. Time and again we’ve seen families go at each other viciously where the outcome seems bleak, the hoarder pulling into themselves more and more as a defense mechanism.

When families air their grievances, let go of secrets and honor each other as having the right to make choices for themselves, to be themselves, they pull together in a supportive way, encouraging progress with love. Those are the stories that have the happy endings.

Personally, it’s hard for me to watch the shows where there is so much vitriol and anger involved. The yelling and blaming, the finger pointing and stubborn attitudes that block any progress whatsoever. For us on the outside, it’s so clear that it’s contributing to the problem (if not the problem), making the viewing of the episode a frustration. I try to take something away from each of these episodes, because I am a firm believer in therapy and what the show is about.

I think what I’m taking away from BG and Lee is how easy it is to hold on to resentments when you feel like you’re not being heard. So that’s the solution: make yourself heard. Not in a mean way, not through shouting, but through clearly expressing yourself. And the other important aspect is to NOT INTERRUPT. Boy, is that a short coming of mine.

And I am continually fascinated by the mindset of “collector” hoarders. Their items are treasures, highly valuable. They’re always going to sell things “one day” and make a lot of money. The disconnect they have with what they see – something precious and valuable – with what we see – a busted up LIFE boardgame with pieces missing – is the crux of the issue. If that hurdle can be cleared, progress is usually made. How the doctors and organizers get the hoarder to recognize that hurdle is endlessly fascinating to me.

Finally, the physical act of acknowledging that you’re throwing something with no value away is the best therapy possible. When Chris was shuffling things without thought from pile to pile, there were no connections being made in his brain. Once he decided that something was actually worthless, he threw it away and felt peace from the act. How cool is that? There’s a reason why the crews make the hoarder have an active part in the clean up – it’s absolutely essential for their recovery.

Please like & share:
  • Celli

    She tells him kindly that he’s worth more than that stuff. He is allowed to live in a happy and fulfilling manner.

    Chris suddenly has focus, and it’s as if he’s never been told that before – that he intrinsically has value and worth simply by existing.

    This is where I teared up. And this is why I read your recaps – even when it’s an ep I know won’t be good for me to watch, I can come read your recaps and get something positive out of it.

    • Oh, that is just lovely to hear, thank you! I really and truly believe in what this show sets out to do, and have nothing but the highest regard for the crew. It’s SO WONDERFUL when they’re able to get through to people to help them see that they matter and that they’re worth more than a life of chaos.

      <3
      (And in case no one has said it to you before, you, too have value as a person simply by being you. After all, you're the only you there is.) :)

  • darlarosa

    Hi I’ve just discovered all your lovely recaps. They are awesome.

    One thing that Chris’s story and relationship with his sisters made me think is that…sometimes the relatives have this assumption that everything is not right but fine. By that it is like some of them know that mentally their hoarding relative is off in some way, but they don’t quite understand their impact and assume the hoarder knows they are loved and that everyone is only looking out for them. Part of me wonders if Chris did not feel like he was loved by his family, and if Gail assumed that despite her more aggressive personality that he knew he was both loved and valued when her statements indicate otherwise.

  • Minx

    I know this is an old post, but I just watched this episode. I think Chris is on the autism spectrum, and that he would benefit from some real help. Look at his problems with social interaction, lack of eye contact, how rigid he is to doing it his way, and how he seems completely unable to cope in the busy sorting environment. He also has has a fascination with electronics his whole life, and describes how taking them apart makes him feel. I truly hope he got some help and is doing better today.