I’m going to give you a head’s up. If you’re the type that always needs a happy ending, I don’t know that we’ll get one in the end for this episode’s hoarders, Ron in particular. Speaking of…
Ron is a retired teacher living on an overgrown lot in a small community. He says, “I hate clutter, “ as he climbs up and over a massive pile of things to simply enter his ramshackle house. There are so many books and boxes and stacks of paper and just plain ol’ junk in his house that once he climbs onto it to enter, his hips are as high as the top of the interior door jamb. He estimates that he has a minimum of 5,000 books, over 10,000 pieces of sheet music, and thousands upon thousands of saved newspapers from the past 20 years.
Marisa is his daughter. Her goal is to help her father clean out the house so she can move in and care for him. Ron has prostate cancer that has metastasized into his bones and has also spread into his brain. It’s quite serious, but Ron has decided that he doesn’t have faith in doctors nor in their diagnosis. He has refused all medical treatments. We’ll later learn that he also has Diabetes II and is blind in one eye, so he has no depth perception.
Ron believes that a good 90% of his things are valuable “antiques.” Stacks of comic books and envelopes of junk mail are piled high in the kitchen, up against his gas stove. He keeps at least one burner on his stove constantly lit to provide warmth in the morning. He is almost petulant about how much of a tender box his house has become, saying that since there’s not been a fire there before, why would there be one now?
He was married, and happily. He, his wife and daughter lived lovingly together, until his “collecting” became too much for his wife, and she left when Marisa was 16. Ron instantly took his anger and sadness out on Marisa. She tells the camera that she grew up with nothing but love and praise from her father, and one day, when she was 16, she was hated by him.
Ron says he misses his wife dearly, still loves her, and recognizes that he is deeply depressed. It’s been 12 years. His anger drove his daughter away, even though she tries to connect with him on occasion, especially now that she knows how dire his health situation has become. She wants to clean out her old room, move in, and care for him.
Dr. Michael Tompkins (who reminds me of a WASPy version of the actor Richard Kind) meets with Ron. Once inside (after climbing over the mountain of stuff in the doorway) he becomes increasingly concerned with Ron’s living situation. Then he sees the burners and hears Ron’s excuses for why it’s acceptable for the gas to be on all the time. Not only is Ron endangering himself, but he’s endangering the neighborhood.
Dr. Tompkins tells Ron that ethically he can’t walk away after that without notifying Adult Protective Services. Ron blows that off, saying that it’s a bunch of malarky, he’s in no peril. Dr. Tompkins says that this is his professional opinion, but Ron is only mad that he might lose his imagined wealth, he didn’t ask for any of this (Ron was reported for his unsafe living conditions) and he’s mad that he welcomes the doctor into his home just to be shanghaied. He makes the doctor leave.
The next day, unmarked white trucks arrive, and I wonder if they didn’t bring in the Got Junk trucks out of a desire to appease Ron, or what. Cory Chalmers is his organizer, and he’s sporting a sassy goatee. He says in the morning meeting that Ron’s living conditions are deplorable (they are) but they’re here to help. Marisa is there, happy to help, happy that this is finally happening.
Ron immediately says he wants to keep thousands of newspapers he’s stored in Priority Mail boxes (also made of paper) in the garage that doesn’t close. He’s been saving them for a little girl in the neighborhood, and she’s now almost 30. Cory convinces Ron that it’s a smart decision to let them go, and Ron allows it.
Ron’s cousin Debbie comes to the house to see it for the first time after several years. She’s shocked after climbing in the door to see the extent of the hoard. It’s overwhelming, and she begins to cry, devastated that his life has come to where it is now. She finally gets to the stove and learns that he uses that for warmth and almost breaks down, she’s so sad for him. Cory turns off the main gas supply to the house for the safety of the crew. (Note: Cory Chalmers was a fireman for 15 years.)
Ron begins to sort through things, but he feels he must touch and personally inspect every item. Marisa tells him they don’t have time for that, and Ron snaps at her, “You haven’t been in my life lately to decide.” Dr. Tompkins calmly tells him that “There hasn’t been room in your life for her.”
Ron tries to regain the upper hand, “If I had my way-”
“You had your way!” Marisa shouts, pointing at the house, “This is your way!”
Dr. Tompkins takes her outside and congratulates her on working so hard to be heard by her father. This is one of those horrible situations where the child of the hoarder has really suffered the most, and there doesn’t seem to be any easy answers here. The doctor offers her all the support he’s able to provide.
Day 2, and Ron has completely shut down. He wants totally control. Only a small part of the entrance has been cleared away after a full day. He wants to save every single book and comic (they did box up hundreds of them.) Marisa wants to come back and help, but her father takes his frustrations out on her. He doesn’t really want her back, because that means he will have to hand over the controls to some aspects of his life, and he’s not willing to do so. He wants her to leave.
She breaks down outside with Cory, who advises her to get some help. “I don’t have the money to get help!” she screams. “I don’t have the money to help him!” Cory is very upset by this. He understands where she’s coming from, and does his best to give her hugs and moral support. Dr. Tompkins says she should be proud of herself, because she truly has done everything she could to help her father.
She can walk away from this, she should walk away from this and not let guilt eat her up. She doesn’t believe it, though. Cory hugs her some more and tries to help her feel good about all the struggle she’s dealt with concerning her father.
Back inside, they’ve cleared as much of the kitchen as Ron will allow. The cabinets have not been touched, and boxes are jammed inside, the outsides are covered in cob webs and dead insects. He will not allow them to be cleaned. Next is to give him a safe place to sleep, and he has a loft bed. The top is essentially a piece of plywood over supports, and boxes of things are crammed up to the ceiling. He sleeps underneath. Cory says that he cannot allow his team to clean out the bed portion because the supports to the overhead are either damaged or completely broken in half.
Ron is blown away by Cory’s concern, it’s almost as if he believes the boxes up there are creating stability. Cory pushes to let his team remove the items from the top, and after some hemming and hawing, consents (even though Ron thinks they’re being foolish.) As soon as Cory begins moving boxes, items begin falling on him. Ron says to just leave it, he knows it’s safe. He then berates Cory for his “unethical” methods and how he’s going to ruin Ron financially.
Here’s where it’s just mind boggling to me. I know this is a part of the disease, but you can’t make money if you’re not willing to sell things,. And you can’t sell things when they’re soaked in rat urine and covered in mold.
Ron starts in on how much his stuff is worth, and Cory cuts him off. “One time I want to hear from you what your daughter is worth.”
Ron replies, “More than all of this.”
“Then stop bringing up dollar amounts on every little item we’re questioning you on.”
Dr. Tompkins explains that Ron is very deep in his illness, he just wants more space for his things, as if that’s the only problem here. Ron eventually kicks everyone out of his house; he’s completely shut down. Marisa comes one last time to try and connect with her father. She starts crying, and he finally looks concerned for her well being. He tells her, “I can handle these bureaucrats.”
Dr. Tompkins tells the camera that sometimes there are no solutions for some people. Marisa cries to her father again, “I want you to be happy. I’m never going to be happy, so you might as well be, that’s the best I can do.” Bless her heart, she just wants to love her father and have him love her in return, but he can’t see that.
Dr. Tompkins offers her one last bit of advice, to not put her emotional trust in her father. He will call APS, and says that he will be baffled if they continue to let him live there.
Aftecare: Ron decided to give his aftercare funds to Marisa, so she can have the therapy she’s needed for years. It’s the first selfless thing we’ve heard of him doing. She’s currently working with a therapist. Ron’s case is still under investigation by APS, there has been no positive changes with any of his many health issues.
Carol: Dayton, Ohio
Carol looks like any bag lady you’d see on the street. Except she’s not homeless, not yet. Her home is currently too filled with junk and too damaged from the hoard to live in, so she and her cat live in her truck, parked outside her home. Her truck is also filled with hoarded items.
Michelle is her daughter, and they both have the same sweet, high-pitched and soft voice and gentle demeanor. When Michelle was young, you could white glove her mother’s house. Carol suffered three tragic deaths right after one another in 1996, her ex-husband, her husband, and her mother all died within months of each other. It proved to be more than she could handle. A crippling depression sank in, but instead of dealing with any of her grief, she went shopping.
The hoard in her home extends out the back and side doors all the way to the property line. It’s covered in places with tarps. The city has finally had enough with her not caring for the mess and has condemned her house. If she can’t clear it in five days, it will be taken from her and most likely bulldozed. Carol is unable to enter any of the rooms at this point, beyond a path in the kitchen. The kitchen is completely unusable, and hasn’t been utilized since 1998.
Carol’s friend Smokey, another gentle soul that just wants the best for his friend, is there to help her in any way he can. Carol tells the camera that “I used to have a really clean home. After everybody died, it just didn’t seem important.” Now she feels she’s ready to change her ways, she doesn’t want to live and feel like this any longer.
Dr. Robin Zasio will be her therapist. She finds Carol asleep in her truck, smiles at the cat, and begins working with Carol to get in the house. Dr. Zasio says the house is uninhabitable. There is urine soaking into everything, rat feces and contaminants everywhere. There are cracks and holes in the walls and ceilings. She notes that Carol never grieved for any of her loved ones, she’s ignored all of her emotions for 15 years. She says Carol is a worst case scenario: a brief time limit has been placed on her to get the mess cleared.
The Got Junk? trucks arrive along with Matt Paxton. He tells her and the crew at the morning meeting, “We’re here for one reason – we don’t want you to lose your house.”
Carol is demure and grateful. “Thank you.” This attitude will not last.
They start her outside the house, and she works well, happily tossing bags of garbage, rotten and broken furniture, and fabrics left exposed to the elements. They actually fill a truck in one hour. Dr. Zasio and Carol go inside to begin the real work. Dr. Zasio finds out quickly that Carol does not like to be pushed. Her quiet and delicate demeanor is replaced by an angry spitfire that has a strong fight or flight instinct.
Dr. Zasio tried the “3 Second Rule:” you have three seconds to decide what to do with an item. It starts off okay, until Dr. Zasio (who is wearing gloves at this point, and I don’t know that I’ve seen her ever wear them before) holds an old blanket up and asks if she can throw it away. Carol believes it can just be washed, or cleaned with a little bleach and be fine.
Dr. Zasio tries to explain that it’s far too filthy to be considered, and Carol flips out. She berates the doctor for not knowing how to clean, how it must be easy for her to just buy something new, and while I can understand her argument, sometimes you just have to lose things. Especially considering that it’s a moving blanket, not a sleeping blanket, and it’s obviously soaked in filth and covered with mold.
She rages at them all and storms out. The doctor follows her outside and tries to talk with her, but Carol shuts her down, “I can’t work with you, I’m sorry.” Her rage is completely out of control at this point, she’s not willing to stop yelling for anything, not even Smokey, who just tries to figure out what is happening. Smokey begins to cry, worried, and Dr. Zasio comforts him. She tries to learn about Carol from her friend, but Smokey just knows she has a short fuse since all of the deaths.
Carol and Matt get into it when Carol starts saying how he can just throw it all away, she’s not going to show up tomorrow. Matt tells her that if that’s the case, he’s not coming tomorrow, that’s not how this works. She doesn’t like him going toe to toe with her, so she leaves. Again. It’s not a productive day in the end.
Day 2, and Carol has come back, motivated. She and Matt get to work inside the house, and he puts her on a room downstairs. She, unfortunately, begins in another room and completely loses focus. He tries to tease her to get her attention by offering her $20 if she’ll just turn around and look at him. She waves him off, and he ups it to $20 and he’ll take off his shirt. Ha. She didn’t even catch it.
He’s able to redirect her downstairs in the kitchen as he gets back to work. Dr. Zasio shows her the kitchen table and how rat urine has soaked into the wood, warping it in places. She tells Carol it must be thrown away, which just starts Carol off again. She can clean it, she can’t replace it, what is she supposed to do without a table?
(Well, Carol, you’ve been living in your truck for 6 months, you don’t have a table in there and managed?)
The doctor and Matt work around her after that, they must clean it out enough to help her keep her home. They pull out rakes and snow shovels to move massive quantities of filth off the floors and into the trucks. Loads are cleaned out, but since she refused to work on any of the causes for her hoarding, she is at an extremely high risk for bringing it all back in once they’re gone. Dr. Zasio doesn’t think she made any headway with Carol, she’s too shut down and closed off, even to her friend. Matt also has low expectations for any recovery for Carol. She’s too angry, too afraid of dealing with any of her emotions.
Aftercare: Carol is using her funds for therapy, which is a plus, and she seems to be motivated to move back into her house. She is still living out of her truck. She has been working on things in the home to get it back up to code, which is a positive.
Show thoughts. According to Ron’s daughter, he has hoarded long before his cancer began eating up his body, so my original thought of the cancer in his brain possibly affecting his decisions seems to be moot. Dr. Tompkins has said recently that he does not expect Ron to have any “ah ha!” moments this late in his life, that it’s a sad situation for his daughter, but thankfully she’s getting the help she needs to cope with who her father is. Mostly I just feel terribly for Marisa, who seemed to be a very gentle person that wants nothing more than to be of use. Hopefully the therapy will give her some peace.
Dr. Tompkins has also stated that he was relieved Ron gave the aftercare funds to Marisa, as what would have most likely happened otherwise was that Ron would use the funds to rent a storage facility to simply relocate his things. I didn’t realize they had the possibilities of doing that!
As for Carol, I just felt for her. She clearly came from a rough background (in that she’s obviously suffered tremendous loss and has been in serious financial straits) and the idea of getting rid of things was abhorrent to her. Her inability to understand that some things just can’t be cleaned with bleach was a huge hurdle for the staff, I’m sure. But it’s heartening to see that she’s getting some help. 15 years of hoarding isn’t going to be fixed overnight. At least she’s getting much needed help.