To prepare for this particular episode, I’ll let you know that I have never seen more anger that had me worried someone was going to be hurt than I have in this episode. And we’re just seeing a 22 minute cut. Matt Paxton said that this was the episode that almost had him quitting the entire show. Not just walking away from a hoard, but quitting. It’s tough. (And there is anger in both stories, but allusions physical violence on the first, for those that need the warning.)
Joni is a retired teacher living in a modest house that is in shambles. “I believe everyone has an addiction. But I don’t really have anything I must have,”she tells us. “…except my things.” Well, yes.
A shot of the interior of house (what we can see) is a mass of unidentifiable stuff. Garbage, torn cardboard packaging, plastic bags. “I love costume jewelry, clothing…” Joni is a shopping addict. She’s many things, but that is definitely applicable, too.
Her granddaughter Teresa confirms that Joni will buy anything if given the chance. Coupon for gum? She’ll take herself to the store to get it. This is how she fills her time: by filling her house.
Her eldest son Joey is incredibly angry. He is barely contained rage held together by the skin of his teeth. (Which are bared.) He believes her house to be filled with jewelry – I assume he thinks the fake stuff is worth money? – “gold, little caches of money that she’s hidden from us.”
Just looking around this house, I find that hard to believe. But boy, does that tell you a lot about Joey. The house is actually filthy, not just packed with nonsense. A neighbor called in a complaint, and here we are today. The electricity and gas were shut off long before now as the house posed a major fire hazard. Sal, Joni’s boyfriend, stepped in and offered his place. And – as we’ve come to expect – she’s hoarded out his apartment. It’s affecting his stress levels to the point of pushing him towards a heart attack. She has to get her own house in order. In more ways than one.
Joni believes that her mother dying when Joni was still a young woman, coupled with her husband leaving her led to her hoarding. In her own words, “I’m not too good at holding onto people. Let me try to hang onto things.” At least she knows why she’s doing it?
The boys grew up in this chaos, and have serious anger issues. There are holes punched in the walls, things have been thrown and smashed. Joey admits all of this, and says that he “calmed himself” with drugs. Both boys became addicts early, which led to a life of crime, which led to prison sentences for the both of them. But Joey had a baby girl, Teresa. He gave up custody to his mother, who lost it because of the hoard. (Teresa went to live with her other set of grandparents.) Joey is still angry with her for losing custody of his child.
Over the years they’ve come into the house like bulls in a china shop, smashing things, throwing things away, and – as we’ve also come to expect – she reacts poorly.
Matt Paxton arrives and immediately recognizes what she’s doing. “Her hoarding echos the drug use of her children. She’s doing hard-core hoarding.” She not getting high on pot, she’s skin popping. The truth comes out quickly. She was embarrassed by her home, so to appease her guilt, she’d give in to her sons’ demands. Even if it meant money for drugs. Because, she rationalizes, if she didn’t give it to them (the money) they’d go out and do something to get it and get caught. Matt says she’s “paying mental debt with money.”
(Matt? You were on a roll. I’m just sorry for the whole situation you and the crew were in.)
Matt pushes through the back rooms as Joni can’t. He’s hunched over at the waist trying to not smash his head into the ceiling as he crawls over the hoard. And that’s when he finds all of the needles and spoons and ash marks. Yep, a lot of drugs were taken in that house. We can see all of the used needles, and boy, if that’s not a hazard, I don’t know what is. He can see how a room would get filled up, abandoned, and the family would move into another room to repeat the whole process over.
The crew is going to have to be mindful of all of the used drug paraphernalia everywhere when they arrive. Matt recognizes that this is it: no one in the family will take Joni in if this doesn’t work. She’ll be homeless, end of story.
Dr. Chabaud shows up the next morning, and Matt warns her straight away that this is a bad situation. The Got Junk trucks are hot on the doctor’s heels, but there’s no Joni, and no younger son, Frankie. Joey’s there, and tells everyone he’ll handle it. That means hurling abuse on the phone to whomever picks up.
“Where the fuck are you?” And that’s the calmest thing he says all episode. Joni arrives, no one is willing to hold off while they wait for Frankie to grace them with his presence, and Joni starts off ready to toss things. She deliberates, because that’s the process, but Joey is having none of that. Why think about anything? Why want to save anything? He grabs a pillow that was her father’s (it’s in the shape of a heart) and makes to rip it in two when Matt stops him.
Boy, does Joey not like anyone in authority. (Prison sentence, I guess we can put two and two together here.) Matt continues to jump in to tell Joey to back off, let Joni make decisions, that’s how she’ll get better. He doesn’t care. His way or the highway. Joni is clearly intimidated by her son and does whatever he says to do. At one point, though, she says she wants to keep a heart-shaped dish (she has a thing for heart-shaped items.) and Joey loses it. He smashes it in front of her, then leans in, his face menacing and cruel.
“Now you can’t have it.”
So this should go well. Dr. Chabaud is beyond frustrated because Joni needs to choose these things for herself. If she doesn’t, she doesn’t stand the chance of getting better. Joey is clearly happy with being a dominating, controlling jackass. He’s just so rage-filled; he has no filter, no barrier of what is acceptable behavior.
Matt tries a different tact with him. Joey was addicted to drugs but got sober. How did that happen?
Joey says, “I went to jail and was forced to [be sober.] So that’s what I’m doing here.”
As the day goes on, Dr. Chabaud is more and more disturbed by what she’s seeing. She says flat out that Joey never should have been a parent. But it was put on him, so there was no choice. Joey then turns his never ending anger on his missing brother, Frankie. He gets him on the phone and starts screaming at him to get there ASAP or he’s “going to smash your fucking car!”
Frankie arrives, giving Joey the chance to scream at him some more for not being there earlier. As they’re yelling at each other, we hear a commotion across the street and a woman begins sobbing. Matt panics and demands a phone, or for someone to call 911. He races over there with some of the crewmen (who are putting their cameras down to assist) and it’s Joni. She’s tripped (Matt confirmed that she actually fell and he witnessed it, I want to report) and has fallen and hit her face. Oh, the poor thing! She is just a pitiful creature, Joni.
Meanwhile, Joey and Frankie have not stopped their screaming match. They’ve just brought it over to where Joni is being given first aid. Matt loses it (justifiably so) and tells them to “Go somewhere else to fight!”
Joni admits that it’s always like this, always has been. Matt tells the camera that it’s the most dysfunctional family he’s ever been around and points out how you can still hear them fighting. Keep in mind that he was with Hannah the chicken hoarder and that horribly broken family. Neither Joey nor Frankie called for help. Matt did. (If you didn’t think Matt Paxton was a stellar human being before, I hope you think so now. Hit 5 Decisions Away and show him some love, would you?)
Matt offers to ride in the ambulance with her to the hospital, but she turns him down. She does, however, give him permission to do to the house as he sees fit. Let’s get to work, then. He has the crew pulling things out and making a good dent in it when Joey goes bananas. He found a scrapbook of fireworks labels in the trash, and he specifically said to not touch anything in one room. (Well, things do migrate in hoarded houses, but whatever.)
He refers to that being thrown out as “rape,” and if I may? Rape is rape. Don’t use that word to stand in as your placeholder for a god damn scrapbook of paper labels, please. Dr. Chabaud points out that this is an old wound of Joey’s, that in his mind it doesn’t matter what he says, he’s going to be disregarded. He’s absolutely livid and throws something towards the production staff (we hear a noisy clatter), then gets right into Matt’s face to yell about a desk.
Matt has said that his crew put their cameras down at one point to offer physical protection for him. It’s bad, guys. The whole team decides as one that it’s not safe to be there, and call it quits for the day. (Joey, it should be noted, looks pleased with himself. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about this guy, nothing will.)
All night long they get threatening calls from Joey. Matt believes without question that Joey wants to cause him and anyone else physical harm. They’re done. He won’t endanger the crew for this awful man. And it’s terrible on multiple fronts, because Joni really needs help. Dr. Chabaud goes to Sal to plead for more time for her to get things in order.
Joni is there, actually, and has a huge purple goose egg on her eye. The doctor says, “I want you back in your home, but that’s not going to happen.” The house needs about $100,000 in repairs for starters. It still needs to be cleaned out, as well. Dr. Chabuad will look into aftercare for her in addition to help at Sal’s apartment. She notes that Joni has simply got to learn how to say no to her boys. She can’t throw money at their problems anymore. She needs boundaries so she’ll stop turning to hoarding.
Joni is still living with Sal and is working steadily at cleaning out his place. She’s also working with a therapist to deal with her hoarding issues. Her family believes they can still clean out the house and are working on that.
No news on whether or not Joey is back in jail, but I have suspicions that it won’t be long before he is.
We meet Millie spreading shredded cedar bark mulch in her garden. Millie says she is addicted to plants. (I can identify. People who read this and know me in real life? Shut it. I don’t have a problem. Ha.) From what we first see, it just looks like a rambling garden, veggies and cottage plants all intermingling. Then the camera pulls back more and you can see the piles of dirt and rubbish piling up. Doodads and trinkets and bottles (meant to be decorative, but it’s a hodge podge of…stuff) are everywhere.
“If it’s pretty outside, no one will notice the inside.”
Let’s take a moment and acknowledge that this particular mindset could have been expressed in a multitude of ways. She could have been addicted to plastic surgery, bulimic (or anorexic), she could be a shopaholic in debt to her eyeballs. She’s chosen to make her outsides “pretty” by sticking plants in front of the problem.
Her oldest daughter is Jessica. The house is packed, Jessica tells us, and you can’t even get in. Jessica is now an adult with children of her own. She’s now in the position of mother and can see how unhealthy her upbringing actually was. She can see how deeply in denial her mother is. Millie just thinks she has “collections of really cool stuff.”
Chelsea is the youngest child. She’s 17. All of her early memories are of living in a hoard. At a young age, she was taken from the home by CPS. After two weeks, Millie had the house clean and she was returned. But it didn’t last. Scared by the changes in her life, things were made worse for Chelsea by constantly being removed, placed with a grandfather, then returned to her mother, only for the cycle to repeat itself over and over. She has now issued her mother an ultimatum: choose her, or choose the hoard.
Millie believes the source of her hoarding is from her childhood. Her mother fell very ill when Millie was 11, and it was up to her to raise her younger sisters. She did the cooking, cleaning, general parenting, and she’s still holding a grudge. She’s “rebelling, maybe.” Jessica just thinks her mother is selfish and put a tremendous weight on her children. She’s not wrong. (But her mother is mentally ill. And is deeply in denial about it.)
Jessica says, “It’s hard to have sympathy for it, to be honest.”
Dr. Michael Tompkins arrives, and I’ve gone on and on about how much I adore him and how gentle he is. But when he comes into a situation like this, I feel like it’s that he’s actually there for Jessica and Chelsea. Not that he’s neglectful towards Millie, just that he can tell the girls need someone like him. (When you see him and Dorothy Breininger together, you know children need someone to advocate for them. That’s the Hoarders 1-2 punch.)
The doctor, while standing in a pile of garbage, asks Millie directly if she believes she has a hoarding problem. “No, I do not think I do.”
See, she believes hoarders have dead animals in their house. Waste basket stuff on the floor. She doesn’t have that. (She does, she just can’t see it.) She’s incredibly defensive about the process. She thinks people just see her as lazy and that gets her back up. What really upsets her, though, is that her children complain about her as a mother, like she’s failed at that.
(My guess: taking care of her sisters tapped her “mother” gene, and she’s still holding onto that time and her aborted childhood as evidence that she “served her time.”)
Dr. Tompkins: If a fire broke out, how long do you think it’s take for you to get out?
Millie: I don’t know that I’d want to get out.
Dr.: What? What?
Millie: [whispering brokenly] Just what I said. Because it would all just go when I go.
Dorothy Breininger arrives, and that’s because there are kids that need her Mama Bear protection. She does notice, though, that the family is acting as if there’s no problem. We see them all laughing and joking together behind her. You can see, though, that there is a lot of resentment just under the surface.
The Drag It Outside begins (remember, Dorothy is the genius that takes everything out of the house, making it harder for them to want to bring it all back inside) and something glass is broken. Uh oh.
Millie begins to cry, angry and telling herself that her fears are justified by the lack of care people are showing her things. (It was clearly an accident.) But these aren’t just things, they are an extension of herself. To treat her things poorly is to treat her poorly, which is her big fear and pain in life.
Millie takes to sorting through every piece of trash, bringing the process to a screeching halt. The good doctor tries to talk with her, to identify what her process is. “To go through everything and to let go of stuff.” It should be noted that by the end of the day, nothing has been let go.
They find dead mice and show her; it’s one of her definitions of what makes a hoarder, and she can’t argue it. Oh, of course she can – she says sure, she has tendencies… Nothing leaves the property that day.
Dr. Tompkins tries to appeal to her love for her daughter and getting her back, and he says that he believes she’s being ambivalent about the process. He points out that when she set out her goals, getting Chelsea back was last on the list. (Poor dear.) He feels for Chelsea, who just wants a home and mother.
Jessica is frustrated, but says clearly that she’s not going to give up on her mother. Millie gets angry, though, and says, “Did I give up on your when you were doing what you were doing?”
Dorothy is not having this deflection, though. “How about a thank you to this woman who just said she won’t give up on you?” she yells. Oh, is Millie defensive. She just won’t listen to anything, won’t hear anything good, only hears the bad and is ready to lash out. Oftentimes this means the hoarder is close to a breakthrough. Not this time.
Millie argues with Jessica about what a mother’s job is, and Jessica calls her out on her poor parenting. Meanwhile, Chelsea stands off in the background, aloof and palpably sad. Dorothy tries to redirect Millie to get things moving to a good place, but Millie is stuck on expired foods. She just “wants to see what it is.”
Okay, then let’s address the ten sewing machines. Why? Why does anyone need ten? Millie flat out refuses to give away a single one of them. Her sister JoLynn shows her a pebble that evidently Millie has been hanging onto. She won’t even get rid of a rock. Millie is unmoved, so JoLynn hurls it away.
“Get your ass out of here,” Millie seethes. “I had a plan for that rock!” This is…hopeless.
Millie shuts down, JoLynn leaves, and Jessica just wants Millie to figure this out. Dorothy gives Millie a chance to cool off, then show that she can let something go. Millie agrees to some busted furniture and a few other pieces. Meanwhile, a crew is inside cleaning the house from top to bottom. Once it’s finished, it’s really lovely. Everyone oohs and ahhs the seriously incredible transformation.
Dr. Tompkins wants another positive moment, so he takes everyone outside to bring them together. Everyone hugs and Millie says brokenly, “I miss you guys!” It’s the first hug the production team has seen all week. Dorothy asks Chelsea what it feels like.
“I don’t know, rare?”
Millie appears shocked by that admission. This is how deep her denial is – she seems to have forgotten that Chelsea hasn’t been living with her for years and years.
Dr. Tompkins has the rock in his hand. Smiling, he asks her if she’s ready to give it away, as it’s a symbol of so much that’s been wrong with the family. He hands it to her, and we all have high hopes for her breakthrough.
“I really…want this rock,” Millie says quietly. With her voice stronger and turning accusatory, she says, “And I do resent the behavior displayed yesterday.” That noise you heard was me groaning.
So the house is nice, but Millie can’t and/or won’t help herself. The prognosis isn’t good until she decides to make that change. Dr. Tompkins sighs and says that at least they’ve made a launchpad for Chelsea to spring herself into emancipation.
Millie is working with both a therapist and an organizer to improve her life. Chelsea is not living full time in the house, but they are getting along much better now than they have, so there’s something to be happy about.
I don’t even know what to say about Joni except for how unbelievably sorry I am for that whole situation. To be terrified of your children… There aren’t any angels here, she definitely needed to address her hoarding, and without question giving money to her sons while knowing it would go to drugs was just wrong. But it was so clear that her hands were tied when it came to giving in to them after a certain point. Just a sad, sad situation.
I’ve never made bones about struggling to find empathy for the mothers that choose their hoard over their children – that rubs something raw in my soul. But Millie is so clearly delusional about her own health, that I think it might be easier for me to recognize the illness. That doesn’t mean that I’m not glad that Chelsea is almost old enough to get out of that situation permanently. The loss of a mother for her formative years is something she is going to struggle with for the rest of her life.
One thing I love about this show is that it educates the viewers. Aren’t we better at recognizing the signs? Understanding motivations? And the more we’re able to identify, the faster we can be to offer support. Which means the faster they can get help so that families don’t languish for decades, falling almost completely apart.
It’s not much, but it’s something. When you know better you do better.