“What’s the point of living in the house when you ain’t got nothing?”
This episode features a hoard where Matt Paxton said elsewhere that he almost gave up. When the expert in extreme hoarding is beyond knowing what to do, you know you’ve got a situation that goes far, far beyond OCD hoarding or grief hoarding.
It wasn’t all shockingly dire, however.
Roxann, a stunning young woman and former model, looks like she has everything in her corner. Her smile is warm and happy. She has a beautiful baby boy who she’s raising alone, and she seems to delight in being a mom.
Monique, her older sister cuts through this idyllic series of shots with, “The house is just messy.”
Oh. Yeah. It’s pretty packed, huh? Roxann calls it cluttered. She basically doesn’t take anything out. She saves everything. In her eyes, she just has a lot of stuff. She calls it “upcycling.” Yeah, that’s hoarding. Finding something that has potential and never doing anything with it? That’s hoarding. Calling them vintage or full of potential doesn’t change the fact that there are just too many things, too many projects, and most of them will not get done. One person could not possibly complete every craft she seems to want to accomplish. Hell, five people couldn’t.
Richard is her new boyfriend and he’s more than a little shocked by his girlfriend’s home. They spend most of their time at his place, but she calls him a “neat freak” and it drives her bananas. But there’s no question this hoard is affecting her. The house was the core of her family for generations and now it’s a dirty little secret.
Her mother recently died in the home of cancer, and oh. I think I see where we’re going. Bless your heart, Roxann. I’m glad you had a good relationship with her.
Now it’s time for her to get her relationship with her mental health right so this doesn’t affect her son. Child Services are going to be called in if not.
Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, the Creole with Soul, arrives to meet Roxann’s friend Addy who has not been allowed inside for years. (Which should tell us this is not a “grief over her mother dying” hoarding situation, although that may have exacerbated an already existing problem.) Let’s take a moment to commend Roxann for reaching out for help, realizing she needs it not just for herself but for her son, too. That, as we know, is not easy. It’s never easy to admit we have a problem we can’t solve ourselves.
Roxann can’t enter her mother’s room without wanting to cry. It’s only been two months, and they were very close. As the good doctor says, “When the things go, the emotions flow, and this is going to be a river.”
A familiar face arrives as organizer, Standolyn! Things immediately are carried outside as Roxann and her sister work on their mother’s things. She says that having her sister there made it better, that she hadn’t felt like she could go through her mother’s things without her. I find that so fascinating, and I think it tells us a lot about the relationships in the family – they are a team. Roxann didn’t want to make “executive decisions” about their mother’s clothes and personal items.
It’s hard because they can still smell her perfume, sense her presence. Monique has a good handle on her grief, a healthy understanding that she is sad, that it is okay to feel sad and to miss her mother. That’s normal. The things in the house aren’t their mother and can’t replace her, so she’s just glad for the wonderful memories she has and the understanding that their mother is no longer suffering.
It’s good for Roxann to hear this. I get the sense her older sister sets the tone for a lot of her way of thinking. They’re good women, those two, and I love that Standolyn makes a point of reminding them she can see it.
When it comes to all of the crafts Roxann has, Standolyn says, “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you will.” Again, see the five people not being able to do all of the crafts Roxann plans for. She keeps all of her fabric, however.
Roxann and her boyfriend are put to work in the kitchen, and it’s not smooth-sailing. People are trying to express themselves to her, but she’s not really willing to listen. This is her push-back moment.
Standolyn, however, will not be deterred. She dedicates the next day to the girls’ mother, to make the house a place Roxann’s mother would be proud of. Unfortunately, the plan to clear the craft room starts off as a fight between the sisters. Addy pulls Monique outside to stop it. Roxann leaves the house and is gone for a while. Whoa. That escalated quickly.
Standolyn is not amused. If Roxann doesn’t return, Standolyn and Dr. Chabaud will pack everyone up and be done. She finally comes back, though, and the two sisters hug it out. And wow, she came back ready to work, tossing stuff left and right, making good, healthy decisions.
After three days and a cleaning crew, everyone comes back and it’s wonderful to see things orderly, tidy, navigable. It’s a great house and now it’s a healthier house, a good place for Roxann to raise her adorable boy.
“It lightens my mood, what I was carrying on my shoulders.” Everyone agrees her mother would love it. That sounds like the best way to honor a great mom, to me. And evidently it sounds that way to Roxann, too, as she’s been working hard to keep the house clean and tidy, using aftercare funds to keep it that way.
Great job, Roxann, and really good job Addy and Monique. What an awesome bunch of ladies.
Barbara, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
First off, I want to just say that Barbara had ten children and stayed at home. That takes a special woman, right there. It, um, might be time for those children to care for her, however. She says she loves being a homemaker, loves gardening, and calls herself a pack rat.
Barbara says, “The difference between a hoarder and a pack rat is you keep it more organized.”
I don’t have to point out that there is no organization in her home, do I? Or if there is, it makes a certain kind of sense to Barbara and only Barbara. “You don’t crowd your house up,” she says, matter-of-factly.
Of course her house is crowded. Of course it is. Her youngest daughter is clearly frustrated by her mother’s incessant dumpster diving, making a horrible problem all the worse. Jeff, her fifth son, says that everything was clean when he was little. Thirty years ago, however, Barbara’s sixth son—just barely out of toddler-hood—set a bunch of paper on fire upstairs in a bedroom, igniting the curtains. Jeff grabbed him, pulled him to safety, but the house burned to the ground.
“She was never really the same after that.”
Ah. Grief hoarding. This isn’t easy if the hoarder can’t identify the source of the grief and move past it. The house she has now is the one in which she began hoarding. A few months ago, her husband died and Barbara fell ill, now staying with her son Jeff until she returns to health and can get back to her home, is her way of thinking. The problem is that Code Enforcement is aware of the situation, so the house must be cleaned or they’ll take it and raze it.
She wants to be back in her home with all of her many, many things, but sleeping on filthy bedding in a narrow, tottering canyon of boxes, garbages, and forgotten memorabilia is nowhere for Barbara–or anyone–to live.
Mark Pfeffer is the psychotherapist who will be working one-on-one with Barbara. He’s first greeted by her sons. It hurts them to know she sleeps on a makeshift pallet of blankets in a hallway with a groaning tower of boxes and garbage walled up on either side. They can only go so far into the house before the possessions block off everything.
Mark lays it out for her: Your things have taken priority over your family. Starting tomorrow, you’re going to be faced with choosing between them. She covers her face, rocking, clearly distraught.
“You can’t accept me the way I am,” she says softly, unable to make eye contact.
Both men tell her gently and full of love, “We do accept you. We love you. We’re going to help you. We’re not going to give up on you.”
“…I want you to.”
“We’re not.” Her son leans over and gives her a kiss. Well, that sharp crack you heard was my heart breaking. And not just because of these grown men, her sons being as loving and present as they are in their mother’s life.
She rejects the love of her family to keep hold of her possessions, you see. This… won’t be easy.
Well, good thing they have Matt Paxton and all the Service Master Clean trucks on the scene. This is his wheelhouse. He also says this is one of the biggest hoards he’s ever done, and he’s worked on more than 2,000 of them. Yeesh. Because they can’t go through the front door, they’ll have to go through the side yard, clean that, and then work (hopefully) into the house to clear a path to the front door.
A box of mismatched toys immediately has Barbara in tears. She’s been “collecting them” for her grandchildren, you see. Everything is sentimental. Everything is precious. Everything has value. She lost her first home, she’s lost her husband, and she can’t lose this tattered, filthy box of playthings, too.
This is a lot. She’s shaking and crying, overcome with a sense of loss as her children try to encourage her. She’s so anxious and tender, that Matt tells everyone to just let him show her things and let her instruct. No judgments, no interruptions, let’s just see what choices she makes in the beginning.
She lets several things go, and for good, healthy reasons. It’s not a lot, but it’s better than we’ve seen. They’re earning her trust, but it’s really slow going. There are about 15 industrial dumpsters that need filling. Yeah, it’s that bad.
Matt says they have to move fast on Day Two, and Barbara is already pushing. The problem is, in the kitchen they’re finding all manner of contaminants, rat feces and mold, and everything in there must be tossed. Barbara is devastated. Even the potting soil, she questions. Yes. Everything. Especially the potting soil, because it’s probably a massive breeding ground for who knows what.
It’s like with Judy from the previous episode, every bag of garbage is its own catastrophe.
Mark isn’t easy on her, because he can see the way she’s used her tears and emotions to get her family to leave her and her hoard alone. He tells her she must learn.
“I’m not going to learn. It’s going to make me bitter.” Oh, Barbara, I want to hug you and yet laugh when you said that in your almost child-like voice.
I love that Mark won’t let her get away with it. It’s not mean, it’s not cruel, it’s life-saving. She checks on Matt’s progress in the kitchen, and her anxiety spikes. To her, nothing is “trashable.” The more they push, the less her timidity stays. Yeah, this is a woman who raised ten kids. She has steel, and I love that the experts know this and hold her to the plan.
Seeing her sons bagging up the living room without consulting her throws her in a tailspin. “I wish I’d died with Joe,” she cries. “What’s the point of living in the house when you ain’t got nothing?”
She can’t understand that if they don’t help her now, she won’t have the option of saving anything. She’s beyond reason. Another hard decision is made with Matt and Mark: she’s losing it and they’re seriously concerned about her health. A path will be made to the front and back doors so, as Matt says, “If this catches on fire, you can choose which door to escape.”
The front room is packed to the ceiling. It took Jeff a considerable amount of time “spelunking” through the massive hoard to figure out how to even get to the door. It took three days to clear two exits. It’s not about anything but safety at this point. Her son says, “This isn’t safe enough.”
“I agree,” Matt says, shaking his head in dismay. Everyone wants her to have a better quality of life, so they choose to see this as the first mile of a marathon.
Barbara feels hopeless. I think at this point everyone else does, too.
She chooses to keep her home, to keep working on getting it cleaned, and there are just no easy answers for her. Not without her complicit in her own healing, that is. Hopefully she’ll use her aftercare funds to address not only her grief, but her hoarding.
This episode to me showed how important two things are for any sort of recovery or betterment: a loving, supportive family, which both hoarders had, but most important, a willingness to do something about it. Barbara was clearly digging her heels in, stubborn to the very end that there was nothing wrong with living as she was. Roxann, however, made a decision early on that she wouldn’t inflict that sort of thing onto her son and was willing to accept help.
Standolyn summed it up best: “By reaching out now, you’re making it so we don’t get a call from Joaquin in 20 years.” Precisely.