This is potentially the last episode of Hoarders (as of print, they’ve not been renewed for a seventh season) and as such, I’m going to end this particular recap with some personal thoughts. So that either makes you want to skip to the end or skip the end.
But first, we end the season with a couple that rivals Randy and his Randy-quinns. (Remember him?)
Fuzzie & Fredd, Ohio
We meet this pair of aging punks as they perform some music while wearing random masks, just a sampling of their selection of horror-house gear. Now, I want to state up front that I didn’t find their “collectibles” to be weird or gross. One of my closest friends is a fabrication artist that makes all sorts of crazy and bizarre sculptures on demand (hey, check out his site at eyecandyfab.com!)
The only issue I had with Fuzzie and Fredd was their inability to grow up and see the strain they were putting on their family. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the break down of the situation before our guys come in and attempt to help.
Fuzzie and Fredd, a couple that clearly are one another’s soul mate, are in their forties. They still live like teenagers. They collect comics and street signs, bizarre models and mannequins, anything odd and anti-establishment. They love making their special kind of music (hitting steel drums with the handles of screwdrivers, etc.) painting mannequins to look like a low budget Rob Zombie movie, anything odd and weird, and they’re into it. I have no problem with that at all.
But…they’re living on Fuzzie’s dad’s money. Chuck, his dad, is 79 and wanting to retire, but he can’t. He’s still supporting his son and his son’s partner, Fredd. He bought Fuzzie a three story house for them to live in (they were living in a van, previously) and these two filled it right up with their stuff. It spills out onto the front and back porch. So Chuck got them an 8,000 square foot storage room – which is now totally filled as well.
Fuzzie says at one point, “Hoarding is good because you have that thing when you need it.” What thing? That thing, man, the thing! Meanwhile, Chuck is working 10 hours a day and paying all the bills so Fuzzie and Fredd can spend time looking for more things to turn into art-type things to inspire them to look for more things. Endless cycle.
I want to stress that Fuzzie and Fredd aren’t bad people. They don’t seem like scam artists or charlatans or anyone with a hidden agenda. They seem like every scatterbrained (I say that lovingly) artist I’ve ever known in my life. I’d probably like them, even if their laissez faire attitude would make me a little crazy.
Fuzzie’s brother Jay and Fredd’s brother Zack aren’t as relaxed about it, though. They both find it unfair, and Zack finds his sister Fredd to be flat-out lazy.
“When you’re carefree and others aren’t [in order] to support your lifestyle, then it’s time to start caring.” Well, he has a damn good point.
Fuzzie and Fredd have that standard shopper hoarder standby excuse: they’re going to sell stuff for money. Problem is, Zack says, “Nobody wants to buy kazoos, man.” Ha. Well…that is pretty dang true.
Dr. Robin Zasio arrives and is blown away (in an amused fashion) by the eyeball lights and the headless mannequins and buckets of broken vibrators (factory rejects, not, um, overworked ones). She’s trying to figure out what makes these two tick when she learns about the warehouse. That’s $500 a month being spent to simply house more mannequin parts and pallets and other random stuff.
“You’re living like teenagers. You’re not teenagers.” It’s time to take accountability for themselves. They have to get a handle on their grossly disorganized thought processes.
Matt Paxton arrives and tells them straight up that their stuff is cool. (It is! Eye ball lights!) The problem is their ambition for these things is outstripped by space, the ability to do anything with this stuff and money. So they have to get it in their heads that things must go. Otherwise it all goes, and they’re homeless again. Matt does say that he wants to identify the things that really matter because he doesn’t want to take that away from them. Just the hubris.
Fuzzie is all smiles and “Yeah, man, cool.” But he struggles to part with anything. After a full day of this, Matt loses his cool a bit. “Look. You’re 43 years old. How many hobbies can you have?”
Huh. Fuzzie seems to think he can have all the hobbies he wants. Well, life isn’t that long, buddy. You have to pick something and let other things go. I mean, I’m never going to be a trapeeze artist, you know? Fuzzie shakes that off and tries to explain that he’s going to pay his dad back. Eventually. How? “I’m going to sell my motorcycles.”
Let’s do a simple math problem: a house is typically more expensive (exponentially) than a motorcycle. When Matt keeps pushing him to think about this logically, Fuzzie finally snaps back and gets angry. But – he starts getting rid of stuff. Like, a lot.
Fredd and Dr. Zasio meet an antiques dealer at the warehouse. Fredd estimates that she’s got a good $10,000 worth of items to be sold in there. The dealer offers her $100 for one lot, $50 for another, and $75 for a set of metal stairs. This is always the part of the show that makes me sad, when the hoarder realizes how little value their mass of “precious” things actually holds. All total, Fredd ends up with $900 and she makes a show of giving it to Chuck. Which is very nice. She says it’s the first of many payments, and I hope they stick to that.
There’s one thing she won’t sell, though, and it’s an old birthing table. (That would be awesome in a haunted house.) When pushed to explain why, she begins to cry and her brother Zack loses it. He pulls her into his arms, gets choked up and tells her, “You’re doing good. You don’t have to explain everything.” He says he’s never seen her cry in his life.
“I know they’re just stupid things,” Fredd says with a shaky voice, “but I look at them and they make me feel better.”
Just because someone looks blasé, or like everything is a joke and funny, it doesn’t mean that it’s not a front that hides something deeper. We’re never privy to what it is that leads these two to keep everything, but as Zack says later, “It’s not what we think is important; they do. They’re trying, they’re just different thinkers.”
They don’t clear the house or the warehouse, but it’s a hell of a lot more manageable when they’re done. There’s more work to do, but for now, it just looks like any other cluttered house filled with kooky items – it looks fun. Matt says, “We don’t want to change who you are, we just want you to be a little more buttoned-down so we can enjoy who you are.”
You can tell that they appreciated Matt and the crew respecting that they like the stuff that they like, and that there’s nothing wrong with liking odd things that don’t hurt anyone. They just needed help containing all the things they liked and organizing it in a way that has meaning.
Chuck follows through on his promise to cut them off financially for not clearing out the warehouse, which is a good thing for him to have done. The amazing part is that Fuzzie and Fredd accept this. They accept their responsibilities as adults and agree to take over their own bills. They take ownership of being a pair of hoarders, albeit hoarders who want to change.
They even make up a contract to stick to a schedule for clearing out the warehouse. That is hugely responsible of them.
After the show:
They’re both working with an organizer and a therapist. More importantly, they’re still clearing out the warehouse – no backsliding! – and will actually vacate the building ahead of schedule. They’ve begun paying Chuck back and are paying their own bills. Talk about seeing the light! Amazing leap forward with these two. I wish them many more years of shiny broken vibrators (ha ha!) and crazy art projects. I happen to be a fan of kooks, being one myself.
Nancy, Seattle, Washington
“I…think I’m a hoarder.” Nancy is a quiet woman that gives the impression that she’s sorry. This is a woman that feels very badly about too many things and has no idea what to do about it. We see her house, and some of what she’s so sorry about becomes clear.
It’s utter filth. It’s one of the worst of the fecal-covered hoards in the show’s history. Actual garbage is piled to the ceiling, and her two small dogs have literally shit on everything. Nancy hand feeds them from cans, then drops the cans for them to lick clean. She can’t seem to find it in her to ever throw them away. Ever. There are years worth of dog cans rotting in heaps, which means there are also years worth of fecal matter rotting in heaps.
Nancy literally walks on two feet of garbage any where she goes in the house. There is no heat, the house is dreadfully unhealthy for both her and her animals, and the whole ugly mess compounds Nancy’s feelings of worthlessness.
Her family is trying to help, at the behest of Nancy’s niece, Michelle. Nancy’s sisters Diane and Jeanine haven’t been in the home since 1988, and it was “messy” then. When they finally see the interior, they both burst into tears.
How did she get here? How did Nancy get to a place where she is trapped in a deep crevasse of garbage bags, soiled clothes, and crusty dog cans and poop? Several years before, she was going through the laborious process of adoption from India when India decided that they would not let anyone over 40 have a child. Nancy had just turned 41. She was devastated, her depression spiraling out of control as she systematically shut everyone out of her life. And here we are now.
One of my favorite people in the show’s history, Dr. Michael Thompkins, arrives to help. He can smell the house from the outside, where he greets Nancy with his quiet demeanor and smile. That spells danger, and he knows it. As kindly as he can, he tells Nancy that he cannot go in there without risking his own health and will need a rebreather. He actually dresses in a biohazard suit with a full face mask and enters the house. Nancy has no real answer for why she lives the way she does, she just looks completely defeated. And it actually appears that she has no idea that the entire house is soaking in dog urine and fecal matter.
“I think there was a moment where she just surrendered to it and gave up,” Dr. Thompkins says.
And while I know that people want to tsk tsk people like Nancy, say how obvious it is that her house is disgusting, say how could she not know? I want to point out that people do this all the time in other ways. There is the person who ignores that their eating habits are leading to their health issues. The person who over-exercises and destroys themselves that way. The woman who can’t leave a bad marriage, the student who fails because they have decided they’ll never catch up. Etc.
We judge Nancy because we have the benefit of walking in at the third act. It’s obvious to us. Every day that she feels a little more sad, her depression sinks its roots into her mind a little more, and she sees the same thing every day, so what’s a little daily growth to the pile? And it’s never-ending. But our crew is here to wake her up and help her see (hopefully) what we see.
Dr. Thompkins looks around at the mess and softly says, “It breaks my heart, Nancy.”
“I’m sorry,” she says, and she sounds contrite. She sounds like she would apologize for every problem in the world.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Dr. Thompkins replies. “That’s just how I’m feeling when I think about you living in these conditions.”
(Is there any wonder why I adore him? If ever there was a person who needed someone to just simply point out that they care, that they see her hurting and it makes them hurt, it’s Nancy.)
He gently helps her to her feet and walks her out of the house. She says quietly, “I hate living this way.”
Cory Chalmers and the Got Junk trucks arrive soon, and they explain to the family that the bio-crew will need to go in, first. They do – with snow shovels. There won’t be things to salvage here. Nancy does say, however, “I want to say please do not ask me why I want to keep something.”
Cory smiles wryly and explains that not being questioned is what got her in this place. Jeanine, Nancy’s older sister, drops her hand on Nancy’s shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “What’s of value is right here.”
When the family is supportive, boy do things change for the better. These sisters are positively devastated to see how Nancy has been living. They’re angry that they let it go on, they’re upset that it’s gotten to the point where bio-crews are needed, but mostly they’re just unbearably sad to think that someone they love has put so little value in themselves.
Jeanine, crying, says, “I can understand people collecting more stuff than they need, I can understand that. I can’t understand this.”
When someone says that this has to be rock bottom, that it can’t get worse, Dr. Thompkins says something brilliant. “It’s like Dante’s Inferno. It doesn’t matter which circle you’re in, you’re still in hell.” This is Nancy’s hell.
Jeanine becomes angry. “She is more valuable than the crap in that house!” Nancy tries to separate herself, obviously feeling ashamed and just incredibly miserable about the whole affair. Oh, Nancy. She’s been alone and isolated for so long, and it’s heartening to see her sisters so vehement about helping her. That’s what it’s going to take.
Jeanine is apparently having a mini-breakdown as she leans over at the waist, heaving with sobs. “I’m just upset. I’ve never experienced anything like this. There just aren’t words.”
Nancy quietly says that this was why she never said anything. She didn’t want to burden her sisters with her sadness. Oh, Nancy! She utterly breaks my heart.
Diane wipes her face and tells her sister, “Life was never meant to be walked alone.”
“I didn’t know if I could trust you,” Nancy says. “But now I know I can. I’m sorry. I was afraid of judgment and rejection, but I’m not feeling it at all.”
If there was ever an episode to show someone – someone who needed to know that they could come clean (ha) about their hoarding, someone who was terrified of their family’s reaction – this is the one. The mess is awful, there’s no doubt about it. But the mess can be cleaned and removed. The person behind the mess still matters. The person behind the mess can get help, can move forward, can get healthy and happy and live a full life that doesn’t revolve around shame and secrecy.
They really, really can.
It turns out that the house is unsalvageable. There is far too much structural damage for Nancy to be allowed to live there. But miracle of miracles, another niece has a spare room at their new home and has made the offer for Nancy to live there. The family misses her. They want her close. They don’t want her hiding herself away any longer. Nancy is overjoyed; she’s realizing just how much she’s missed her family, too.
(And then Nancy takes a private walk through the house, apologizing to it. Bless her tender heart, I swear. I’m getting choked up just thinking about her bruised spirit.)
After the show:
She is living with her niece through the winter and will soon begin working with a therapist. She’s putting her house on the market as-is (probably to be scraped and sold as a lot, I’d assume) and has plans to use that money to buy a home near her family. All the best to you, sweet lady.
As the show has yet to be renewed, this could be the last episode. The effect this show has had on me is immeasurable. I will fully admit that I went into this series in the beginning as a rubbernecker. I had little to no sympathy for the “disgusting messes” I saw. I used the show as a tool to get my house spotless before sitting down to watch like some sort of car wreck.
And then I started paying attention. I had vicious anonymous messages for my reaction to Loretta. I recognized the familiar autistic patterns with Phyllis, and had to think about why my initial reaction was negative when we were introduced to her. I cried with Roy’s daughter as she begged and pleaded with her dad to let things go, and again when he gave her his aftercare funds for therapy because she mattered that much to him.
I’ve learned that when Dorothy Breininger is on my screen, there are children who have been hurting but more importantly, they’re going to finally be heard. Dr. Chabaud, the Creole with Soul, is going to connect with the hoarder on a “you’re not getting one over on me, now let’s hug it out,” level. Dr. Thompkins’s careful hands hold people together, people that seemed to be broken beyond repair. Dr. Zasio’s spunky attitude gets those folks that dig their heels in to let go in more ways than one. Dr. Melva Green connects with women and empowers them to make changes to their whole selves. (All of the doctors are so wonderfully paired with their clients, Mark Pfeffer, Scott Hannan, all of them.)
Cory, Matt, Dorothy, Darnita, Standolyn, Geralyn… all of the organizers have to face some pretty horrible conditions, and they do it with their chin raised, their hearts open, and ready to push where the hoarders needs. (And some of them do it with some seriously terrific one-liners, and I will always laugh at “It smells like sugar and butt in here.” Oh, Matt “Flat Cat” Paxton, you are priceless.) The show has done a wonderful job of matching the right teams to the hoarders, be it for a grief hoarder, a shopping addict, or other mental disconnects that have led them down their messy path.
Then there are the hoarders themselves. The poor woman who built literal walls to protect herself after having been raped twice is someone I will never be able to forget – and that’s a good thing. Kind and gentle men who didn’t have the tools to maintain relationships, and so held on to the only things they could: their stuff. Broken people who hid themselves away (some angry, some incredibly sad) and put little to no value on themselves.
I’ve heard back from many of the families that have been on the show, grateful for the experience and the help they’ve received. I’ve had private messages from people who cannot watch the show but read these recaps, grateful that we (and I’m including you, Dear Reader) have made a place that is judgment-free to discuss how we can be better at this whole humanity thing. I’ve connected with some of the staff on the show and felt humbled and amazed that they were even paying attention to us here.
Most of all, I have learned empathy. True empathy. You just don’t know what leads people to make the choices in life that they do. Behind every filthy home has been a person with a story, a person that has needed someone to bear witness to their pain, a person that just needed someone to give them the tools to fix their problems. And often there are families behind that person, families that are angry, sad, and many are desperate to welcome the hoarder back into the fold. And when those families show love, things change.
It could be a show about hoarders, but really it’s a show about choices. It’s a show that is unflinching in its depiction of what those choices can result in, be they good or bad. And more often than not, the show turned someone’s life into something good, something with hope.
If this was the last episode, and I hope it isn’t, I’m incredibly grateful to have learned that I wasn’t a very kind person before. But I’m trying to be better. Thank you, A&E and all of the wonderful people that made the show happen.