Disclaimer: I recognize that hoarding is a mental illness. Hoarding affects entire families, often to devastating results, and you never know who might be reading so please be respectful in comments.
Billy Bob, Nebraska. (Mosquito noise.)
Seriously, my teeth are set on edge every time they make that noise – I expect the images on my screen to be piles of filth and flies. With Billy Bob, however, we just have a toy explosion. Every iteration of Barbie (the Wizard of Oz, Barbra Streisand, etc.) are still in their mangled, dusty boxes, and those are piled on top of each other, which are in turn piled on top of shelving and headboards. (Really, one headboard had theses boxes stacked four rows high.)
The house is filled with games, bobble-heads, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, and garbage bag after garbage bag of Hot Wheels. There’s a semi-busted Oscar-Meyer Weiner ride-on toy jammed in the living room. He’s pretty sure that there’s a small fortune in collectibles in the house, but you can only make money if you sell things. I always think of that whenever the hoarder makes that comment.
June is Billy Bob’s wife, and she hates how she’s been forced to live in squalor for almost 20 years. Oh, June, bless your meek heart. She’s the typical quiet, go along with what the man of the house says type of woman, and I really hope that by the end of this she gets her voice. Billy Bob has a daughter, April, who pushed for this clean up. June has a son by another marriage, Cory, and he simply loves his mother and wants her to be healthy and happy.
April knows her father is in failing health – he uses a motorized cart and a cane to maneuver, but the house is so filled, he can barely do that much. Cory remarks on how he always got Scooby Doo paraphernalia for presents. Cory, a grown man, isn’t interested in Scooby Doo, but Billy Bob just keeps buying it. June remarks on how lonely she is, separated from life by the hoard. She cries, and Cory just wants her to leave that house, but she won’t.
Billy Bob, a giant of a man regardless of his infirmities, also recognizes that he needs help. Remember how nice he is now, it’s not going to last. His doctor is my favorite, Dr. Robin Zasio. She knocks on the door and Billy Bob answers the door wearing a clown nose. She laughs politely. The nitty gritty: toys are happiness to him. He grew up in a home where his parents or grandparents would decide the expiration date on a toy or game and throw it away. Now that he’s an adult, he doesn’t have to throw anything away if he doesn’t want to. Hooboy, Dr. Z has a lot to work with here.
She lets him know that this is affecting his relationships with his wife and children. The stubbornness starts to leak out, replacing Mr. Madcap Clown Nose of before. She asks how much stuff can go (the house is literally filled to the rafters) and he says that 80 – 90% of it…is staying. Dr. Zasio is concerned by that – he claims to be selective in what he collects, but his “collection” is toys. That’s not very selective. When asked if he thinks he’s a hoarder, his reply is “No.”
She doubts his ability to commit to this process. Me, too.
Billy Bob pulls Dr. Darnita Payden as his organizing counselor. She’s a work horse that does not suffer fools lightly. She even brings an auctioneer to help get the home rid of any actual valuables. She’s also brought along four professional organizers in addition to her regular man power. She came to work. The auctioneer surveys everything and tells the camera that some things look good, but other things are so commonly collected, they won’t bring in much – if anything.
Billy Bob is trying to keep everything that is being passed out the door. Cory, the step-son, tries to keep his cool, but he’s upset on his mother’s behalf. He won’t express his feelings, as much as Dr. Zasio tries to help him. I feel for this guy, I really do. He tears up when telling the Dr. about how upset he is that his mother lives like this, but he is happy to finally have some backup.
The group all gathers to confront Billy Bob. Instead of listening to them, he tells them all that the auctioneer will decide what he will take, and the rest will stay, to be sold at a later time by Billy Bob. (If the auctioneer won’t take it, how on earth will you sell it, numb-skull?)
April tells him it’s all junk, and the real Billy Bob emerges.
“I don’t recommend throwing my things out,” he says, and each word is pronounced carefully.
Cory, who is getting his back up, asks, “What do you mean you don’t recommend it?”
“Did I stutter?” and we see that Billy Bob is a mean sumbitch that is used to controlling his family simply by the force of his will. Jean looks like she’s getting upset and Billy Bob turns to her and commands, “Don’t look at me in that tone.”
Oh, hell no, buddy, this isn’t going to fly with me. Nor with Cory, who demands to be left alone for ten minutes so he can cool down and not doing something he regrets. He is not okay with that threat his step-father just laid out. Billy Bob sits in his folding chair throne, holding his cane like a scepter, angry and confused at this strange turn of events.
Cory doesn’t think 10 minutes was enough. “You know what? Fuck that fat mother fucker.” He storms off the property. I don’t blame him.
Billy Bob calls a meeting. He’s had it, and boy, is he mad. “You guys made a mistake. The answer’s not throwing everything away.” No, Billy, the answer is throwing almost everything away and selling the rest to repay your wife for years of trouble. (Just me?)
He starts barking commands at Dr. Darnita’s people to one, staple the insulation back up in the attic. Two, clear out the middle aisle of the attic, and three, sweep the newly cleared spot.
Dr. Darnita butts in, “We are not here to sweep your attic.”
“STEP FOUR,” Billy Bob continues, “Everything I want goes back upstairs. I don’t care if you like it, this is the Billy Bob show.”
See what I mean about not having sympathy for this man? The hoarding is an illness, I understand that. The bullying behavior is just him being a jerk.
June asks everyone to just slow down with the clean up until Billy Bob gets on board with it, but Dr. Darnita has been here too many times before with others. She tells him that this is not “his show” it is the cleaning crew’s show, meaning, their decision as to how to be utilized. Billy Bob tells them, “Goodbye.”
Everyone walks away for a bit. Billy Bob doesn’t cool down, though, and starts bossing the crew again. Dr. Darnita tells him to stop, and he then “fires” her and orders her off his property. She just rolls her eyes, this isn’t the first time someone has flashed their eye spots at her to freak her out.
Cory pleads with his mother to stand up to Billy Bob, which tells you everything you need to know about June and Billy Bob’s relationship. Billy Bob starts in on Cory, and he just leaves, you know this isn’t the first time he’s been bullied by this hateful man.
Billy Bob kicked everyone off his property, so they all stand around the trucks just at the edge of the lawn. April tells them all to hang on, and goes to confront her father. She’s not afraid of him, at least. She tells her father that he simply has to allow this clean up to happen. I don’t know what magic words she used, but he eventually comes down and tells Drs. Darnita and Zasio that they can go back to work. Dr. Darnita calls it their “come to Jesus moment.” She’s not afraid of his bark in the slightest.
Billy Bob sits in a folding chair outside, sad as his possessions parade past. Dr. Zasio calls Cory and asks him to please come back. Hoarding is about families, and therapy requires the family, as well. She appeals to his love and concern for his mother, and because he’s a good son, he comes back. He says, “I’ll work with Billy Bob. He ain’t gonna like me, but he’s gonna put up with me.” Good for you, Cory.
They all work like the dickens to meet the deadline. The auctioneer has found maybe fifteen hundred dollars worth of stuff. I imagine Billy Bob thought his “collectibles” were worth far more than that, but don’t they all feel that way? Billy Bob followed through on keeping a large portion of his things, but they’re boxed and sorted and stacked in each of the rooms. That headboard with the dolls stacked on it is still there, inexplicably. Why not sell those?
This is the type of hoarder that I think upsets people and encourages prejudice against hoarders in general. The problem is that while everyone in his life is ready for the mess to go, he still has not recognized that he has a disease, or that there’s anything wrong with his choices. Without that, I just don’t see how you can have an affective change in lifestyle. In my (unprofessional) opinion, the man needs to address the simmering rage at being denied a proper childhood.
I have a saying: you can be mad at your parents for messing your life up until you’re in your mid-twenties. Then it’s time that the onus of your life and your choices falls on your shoulders, because you’re an adult. If therapy needs to happen to help you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, then get some. (Easy to say, not easy to do in this country, yes I know. That’s a rant for a different day. Mental illness is just that: an illness.)
Aftercare: He and June were able to have the family over for Mother’s Day, something they’ve not been able to do for almost two decades.
As of airing, he has yet to use the funds provided by the show to meet with a therapist and organizer, but he plans on it. Eventually.
Jean, Beverly Hills. (Mosquito noise.)
Jean, her husband Marty, their daughter (who suffers from acute depression) and their granddaughter Sabrina all live in a beautiful Spanish-Hollywood home on a nice street in one of the nicer cities in the country. The yard is well maintained and tidy. Inside the house is a completely different story. This house also happens to be Marty’s childhood home that was kept “neat as a pin” until Jean moved in. This sort of thing always upsets me, it’s such an intrusion on so many levels. It dirties the memories the original homeowner had, if that makes sense.
(Yes, I am once again playing arm-chair psychiatrist, please hand me my prescription pad for cocktails and M&M refills.)
Because of the unique situation with their daughter Carina and her mental illness, the burden of raising Sabrina has fallen on Jean and Marty’s shoulders. They’re happy to do so, as they love their granddaughter, but because of the enormous hoard, which has infiltrated Sabrina’s room at this point, they are at risk of losing her to Child Protective Services.
Betty is Jean’s sister. She is always smiling, always sweet-faced, but she is the one that will call CPS because she knows (as we know) that this is no place for an eight year old to live. Sabrina is starting to display bad habits, learned from her environment.
“Why clean? No one else does.”
This is said by Sabrina, and then later echoed several times by Jean. Jean is angry that no one pitches in, but you get the impression that they’ve tried, and she just keeps bringing more things in. Marty tells the camera that he will do anything to keep Sabrina. We don’t hear Jean say that, however. (That is usually not a good sign.)
Jean begins to get angry, “Everyone else can clean too, you know.” True. But when you won’t let them remove things, and then you keep bringing more things in, how can anyone clean? Dr. Scott Hannan will be her therapist through this process. He mentions how lovely the exterior is (and it is,) and how much of a disparity there is with the interior. When he sees Sabrina’s room, he becomes worried.
Jean immediately passes blame onto Sabrina, who is eight years old, for not cleaning it. It is filled, filled with junk. Not toys and clothes, although that’s tucked away here and there, but just junk. Boxes and fabric and half-finished projects. And an eight year old is expected to keep this clean?
Jean had a liver transplant ten years ago, and ever since then she’s maintained a “life is precious, hold on to everything” mindset. She also tells the Dr. on the house tour that it’s “not normally like this,” and that she’s “careful with food.” The kitchen is filled with filthy dishes and garbage. There’s a pot of dirty liquid with used utensils floating in it. But she’s not normally like this, you see.
When I was in college, I had a roommate for a brief time that was a bit of a hoarder. Baby-hoarder? Well, she didn’t collect babies, she was a fledgling hoarder, we’ll call it that. She kept food and dishes hidden in her bunk, in her shelves, under her pillow, anywhere that wasn’t communal. The packages of food I could deal with (they were chips in bags, containers of candy, that sort of thing) but the dishes were what I could not abide.
I grew up in the south where dirty dishes = roaches, and if you’ve ever been to the south, you just shivered. I have a visceral reaction to dirty dishes and spoiled food, I can’t help it.
Also, at one point in the tour of the house, I noticed crates of cat litter, but never saw evidence of a cat, not a litter pan, droppings, or the actual cat. Maybe she uses the plastic bins for more storage?
Jean meets her organizer, the always peppy and rarin’ to go Dorothy Breininger, who happens to be a producer on the show. She tells Jean that her number one priority is for the people living in that house to be safe. Dorothy asks Sabrina if she’s worried. “Nope! Toss it all!” Good for you, kiddo.
Betty, Jean’s sister, does a wonderful job with Sabrina. “Oh, we’ll give this to someone who needs it, yay!” and gets Sabrina to help bag up old clothes and toys. I get the impression Betty was an elementary school teacher, or some other type of caregiver for young people. She’s a sweet woman, and she is not going to be a tough nut to crack.
Jean becomes increasingly distressed, grabbing things and repurposing them in her mind. “Oh, I can make this into…” and “Gosh, that was meant for…” Sabrina, her newfound control over the hoard, tells her grandmother to “just find something you want to get rid of.” Jean is too involved in looking at each individual item to register what was said.
Betty pulls Jean aside and tells her, “We gotta get it clean,” in a gentle, yet firm tone. Betty is smiling so hard, I think her teeth will snap. She’s trying to stay positive, but it’s not easy when someone is pulling a filthy bit of fabric from 10 years of garbage with the goal of turning it into a dress for a child. Betty tries again, “There’s a limit to how much one person needs. And once you’re over that limit, you’re in somebody else’s territory.”
I think that’s the most astute thing a non-doctor has said on this show in its four year history.
Betty is in Jean’s kitchen, which is a nightmare of filth and smell. Her sweet disposition shows a few cracks as she tries to not vomit. She just can’t take it, and she feels so terribly for Sabrina. Bless. The going is slow, but they eventually reveal a baby grand piano under the mess in the living room. Jean keeps seeing things that excite her as the clean up continues.
Dorothy breaks it down for her. It took 11 people 2 hours to kinda/sorta clean the living room. That’s 22 hours of man power, which is just over half a work week. She needs to stop impeding their progress and let them work faster, or nothing will be done. To her credit, Jean steps aside and lets them work on the dining room without her. She’ll go outside and organize those items, instead.
Dorothy has a disturbing find in Sabrina’s room (no, it’s not the missing cat.) An old Christmas tree, now dried to kindling, was jammed in the bedroom near the place Sabrina sleeps. That is a massive fire trap (if my old stop-drop-and roll PSAs taught me anything, it’s that Dick VanDyke warned me about dried out Christmas trees!) When Dorothy mentions Sabrina having been in danger, it seems like that cuts through the fog of minutiae that fills Jean’s mind.
But then Jean sees fabric that she wants to sort for future projects. Betty is just overwhelmed by how much is left in the house, the enormity of what’s outside in the yard, and I just don’t think Jean is going to get it. Jean is a classic project starter and not a finisher. Dorothy and Dr. Hamman put everyone on the task of just helping Sabrina at this point, to make the house livable for her.
Ten tons. That’s how much is thrown out of that beautiful house. Sabrina’s room is organized, clean, and looks like a nice room for a little girl. The beautiful living room with coffered ceilings and Spanish chandeliers is still filled, but it’s sorted into stacks of boxes. Progress, of a sort. Sabrina sits at the piano (get someone in to tune that thing!) and Jean promises the camera that she won’t ever let it get to previous badness. We’ll see, Jean.
Aftercare: Jean is using her funds for therapy, and is working with an organizer to help with the rest of the boxes and things she kept after taping. Sabrina has been able to have friends over in a normal capacity and is thriving in her new, clean environment.