This was the episode for people with horrifying backgrounds. It was also a reminder that shopping addicts are some of the toughest hoarders to work with – there’s not a clear path to the emotional connection with an object to address.
Susan, Tucson, AZ
We see a blonde-bombshell of yesteryear smiling at a Yard Sale sign. Here she goes. This is Susan, a truck driver by trade, and boy, does she like to buy stuff. But she’s not a shoe shopper, or anything of that sort. She likes the same stuff guys like: trucks. Boats. Rvs. Copper wiring, Metal sheeting. Auto parts. Her house – when you can actually see through the stuff outside to recognize that there is a house on the property – looks like a true junkyard.
Her adult children are Charles and Jennifer. They are spitting mad with their mother, no one as much as Charles. Susan buys things believing that she can fix them up and sell them, making a profit. It’s all a bunch of pipe dreams, though. She never does fix a thing. While this is aggravating, this isn’t what makes the children so angry. It’s that Susan lives with her elderly mother in the hoarded out house.
Mimi is a sweet-faced lady. She has to ride a mobility scooter to get around through the hoard, which means that most of the house is off-limits to her simply by lack of being able to get through the canyons of stuff. She also has a prosthetic leg, but it’s been damaged and Susan won’t spend the money to fix it. (To the tune of $400. Meanwhile, Susan has a new tool box for a garage out front that she off loads. Those aren’t cheap.)
And this isn’t even the worst of it. Susan loves to find other “collectors” (read: hoarders) on Craigslist to meet up for fun, partying, and swapping. They aren’t the best of people, these Craigslist men. In fact, when Susan went back home to Texas for her father’s funeral, one of these “friends” came to her house, knowing she wouldn’t be there, but all of her stuff would. He tied up Mimi in her wheelchair in the bathroom, gagging her, and then proceeded to rob her at gun point.
Mimi tells the camera that she asked him to go ahead and just shoot her and be done with it. He let her live.
Susan, meanwhile, earned a $425,000 inheritance from her father’s estate. Within a year and a few months, it was all gone. But Susan was the new owner of a shrimp boat, an oyster boat, a house in Dallas and another in South Dakota, more Rvs, and so on. She had the idea of fixing all of this stuff up, selling it and “getting rich.” Not only is that not a possibility, she’s close to having to declare bankruptcy to deal with mounting debt. She’s living off of Mimi’s retirement funds.
Susan has a niece, Brandy. Brandy is livid about all of this, especially that Mimi is being jeopardized by Susan’s hoarding. She plans on arriving for the clean up and handling up on all of this mess.
Dr. Suzanne Chabaud will be Susan’s medical support (and Cory Chalmers will be her therapeutic organizer). She realizes just how many sheds Susan has, and that Susan hoards big ticket items. The doctor asks her about Mimi, and if she’s okay with the lack of space that she’s granted there in the house.
Susan replies, “Well, I guess. She doesn’t voice problems much.”
Dr. Chabaud points out the $400 repair for Mimi’s prosthetic leg and how that’s not a priority. Susan doesn’t really have a response. Mimi comes in on her mobility scooter and tells the doctor (with a nervous face) that she can’t say she wants things because “Susan will get them for herself.” This is just a bad situation.
Cory tries to get her to let go of two of the trucks that won’t start, mostly so they can get into the backyard and start clearing out big things, and it’s a struggle from that moment. They’re perfectly fine, she can’t junk things that are perfectly fine, they aren’t being reasonable. Cory sighs and is clearly frustrated with her as he explains that they have no access to clean. She grabs a can of gasoline (she brags about keeping it inside, not connecting to the massive danger that is) and pours it into one truck’s tank. We can see it leaking out of the rusted out gas-tank. She then splashes some on the carburetor (man, that’s old school. I bet that old truck has a choke on it, too), with instructions for someone to turn the engine over. Everyone (especially Cory) is amazed that it didn’t blow up in flames.
With two of the junker trucks out of the way, the crew can finally get a dump truck behind the house to get working. Now if they could only keep Susan on task…. She’s scatter-brained and bounces from here to there, easily distracted by the next item in her periphery and its potential. Dr. Chabaud practically orders her to stop moving around so they can set up a plan of attack. Instead, she piles up “important” scrap metal as Cory and Susan’s son Charles attempt to roll a van out of the way. The tires on it are flat, so they’re really putting their backs to it.
We hear a shout from Charles; the “important” scrap metal has twisted and fallen as the van was moved and has ripped open his knee. He needs immediate medical attention. Susan doesn’t react much to this, and Cory is quickly reaching his limit with her. (Not to mention that his greatest ally in standing up to Susan is now gone.)
“How many people in your life are going to be affected before you’ll stop moving stuff around and stacking it everywhere?”
She has no response. No look of remorse. It’s becoming clear that she processes emotion in a completely different way from her family, which is why they all frustrate one another. Brandy is done pussy-footing around. “Enough about her stuff. This has to be about Mimi and [Charles and Jessica].” If no one is important to Susan, she won’t be important to them.
They start to clear out the house, focusing on two rooms that have value to Mimi. Brandy is hilariously bitchy about the process, I have to say. Grabbing a ratty old suitcase, she flings it towards a dump truck while saying, “Look at this nice suitcase! That could be saved to go to someone….” The handle falls off. “Aw, that ain’t going to make it through customs.” Ha.
Susan shrugs off Brandy, saying Brandy has issues with her because of how Mimi is treated. Oh, well, I guess. It becomes clear, though, that it’s not just how Mimi is treated. She’s not safe in that house, period. Susan is going to continue to befriend dangerous people and expose her elderly mother to them, and Mimi needs to be removed.
Dr. Chabaud says to Susan (who looks confused), “Try to let your heart know ‘This is for my mother.’” Mimi rolls her scooter into the back of a vehicle. She’s going to the hotel where Jessica is staying, and future plans are being made for long term living. Jessica wants her near her, but that remains to be seen.
The crew cleared out two rooms and focuses on making them look nice and tidy in hopes that it will inspire Susan to do the work and help herself. While it looks lovely (and so, so clean), Cory believes fervently that Susan will just fill the space up again. Everyone can agree that they’re happy Mimi is gone from that place, though.
It’s hard to feel joyous about new carpeting when everyone believes Susan will cover it up with junk again, and soon.
After The Show:
Susan is on the road currently (she’s a working truck driver) but says that she plans on working with a therapist when she gets back. Given the sight of her work truck and how it’s hoarded out, I won’t hold my breath.
More importantly, Mimi is living with Brandy in Texas.
Michael, Greenville, South Carolina
A grey-haired, whey-faced man looks at the camera and says sadly with resignation, “I’m Michael. I’m 58. And…I am a hoarder.”
The house is a filthy nightmare of curios and “collectibles.” The ceiling has fallen away in places, so thick, grey insulation floats over everything, a foot deep in some places.
“I spent most of my life collecting rare and pretty things.” There are piles of picture frames, ceramics, dolls, stacks and stacks of books. “I admit it’s way too crowded.”
Michael’s sister is Christine. She clearly loves her brother, but hadn’t seen the extent of his home until recently, and she was shocked to the core by it. Michael can no longer pay for his water or electricity, as he buys items “to be sold.” We find out that the water and power were cut off years ago when we meet his ex-girlfriend, Theresa.
“It was rough,” she says, detailing her attempt to date a man that has ceased to shower or change his clothing. She tells us that it’s hard for him to let people love him. Micheal has diabetes, but without refrigeration, he can’t maintain his insulin at safe levels. This doesn’t stop him from injecting “sketchy” medicine into his system, though.
With a loving sister, a caring ex-girlfriend, how has Michael gotten to this place? Michael has an incredibly unique back story. Christine and Michael’s father was a former Nazi soldier. Not just that, he was SS. He was determined to raise perfect Aryan children that would be strong, represent his morals, and lead the “Deutschland Erwacht.” Michael calls it the Fourth Reich. Unfortunately for their father, Michael wasn’t interested in any of that sort of thing.
Michael is a gentle man, quiet, emotional, caring. He never could measure up, and he says his father quickly figured that out. Michael’s father was their home’s cook. One night at dinner, he made something “special,” and proceeded to ask Michael how he liked it. Did he really like it?
It was Michael’s pet rabbit. “I knew he was a monster from that moment. A dark, frightening murdering bad guy.” It’s something out of a horror movie, and it was this nice man’s actual life. It’s a wonder that he only hoards (as in, that he doesn’t have a substance abuse problem, as well as a host of other issues).
Matt arrives that night, wanting to spend the night with him and get to know how he lives. After some delicate and careful maneuvering, they manage to get back into the bedroom with a bag of take-out chicken. They set up a picnic on the bed (the only surface) and Matt laughingly points out that he’s already “sweating my balls off.” It’s easily 100F outside, and it’s that, if not more, inside the house without air conditioning.
Michael details how he’s fought rats and mice over food in the past, prompting him to napalm his home with rat poison. He ended up with huge welts all over his skin for some period of time. This is no way for a person to live.
He believes everything in his house is worth at least $40. Matt says something really wonderful and on point: “It’s only worth what someone is willing to give to you. You can end up homeless while you wait for the ‘right buyer.’”
Also, since Michael is a renter, this is an even tougher situation. He could step in line and do everything Matt asks of him, but ultimately the house isn’t his. He could still end up homeless.
Dr. Melva Green arrives and gets the 411 from Matt on Michael’s living situation and how he puts financial attachment on everything. Michael asks the gathered crew to handle his things with care “as a kindness to me; it would mean a lot.” He’s such a nice man, truly.
An appraiser is brought out to help Michael get a reality check on what things are actually worth. Things are half as valuable as he imagined, and that’s when he’s lucky. Many things are worthless. They’ve been damaged, neglected, or never were worth anything in the first place. It’s devastating for Michael to hear. “It’s the destruction of something I love.”
As Matt pushes Michael to accept the reality of the situation and to allow the devalued items onto a junk truck, Michael becomes increasingly anxious. The more he’s pushed, the more visibly he’s stressed. He’s clearly getting to a 10 on the anxiety scale and begins to express his fears, saying that he feels like a caged wild animal. He worries that it makes him sound psychotic; it doesn’t. It makes him sound like a person under stress.
Matt claps his hands together to get Michael’s attention and this gets a very intense and fearful response from him, to where he tells Matt to not hit him. Of course we know Matt Paxton would never, but there’s a lot more to this story that we’re not privy to. (But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to interpret that there was physical abuse in the home.) Michael bursts into tears.
Dr. Green points out in a gentle way that the stuff is now a wall between Michael’s life and relationships, things he says he wants. “But I love stuff like this. I love each and everything here.”
Oh, dear. Matt tries one more time with his “most valued possession,” an impressionistic painting. Maybe it does have value, maybe not. Maybe it will be what gets through to Michael. Michael, of course, believes the painting to have tremendous value. He swears the people of the Antiques Roadshow loved it and claimed it had a value of $100,000. Our appraiser says it might be worth $200 or $300. Michael hits bottom and starts crying.
Dr. Green steps in to guide him through these feelings. He’s always tried to measure up and get validation from his father, who is no longer living. Maybe through collecting things he believed were “nice,” he could have gotten approval from his father? He imagined his father there with him as he collected things, sought other items. Now all he can hear is his father’s derisive laughter, mocking him for getting to the place where is now is.
Matt asks, “Are you a hoarder? Or honoring your father?”
“…I’m a hoarder.”
“But are you still trying to honor him the best you know how?” Matt asks. He then relays a personal story about his own father, the good, the bad, the desire in every young man to get their father’s love and approval. When Mr. Paxton died, Matt realized that he had to move on and live his own life and honor himself. That’s how you honor your parents. “Be the man you are.”
It’s excellent advice. Michael agrees that it is and seems ready to let stuff go, be sold, whatever is needed. His sister steps in and hugs him tightly as his ex-girlfriend smiles through her tears. The crew gets working double time. Matt finds a room that has been sealed off and discovers that the rood is caved in and the asbestos ceiling tiles are friable. This is seriously dangerous and could easily lead to the house being condemned.
Everyone has their shoulders up around their ears working hard to clean the house as best as they can so the inspector won’t condemn the place. Walls are repaired and repainted. New appliances are brought in, and Matt even attempts to put in a faucet to get the plumbing up to code.
The inspector arrives and checks the toilet for flushing, the air conditioning, so one and so forth. There is a huge hole in the ceiling in a back room that couldn’t be addressed and he notices that there’s a water leak. There’s a long list of things to be done to the property, the inspector explains, but if the ceiling is addressed first and within the week, Michael can move back in if the landlord is willing.
He is. Everyone sighs in relief and a little giddy laughter breaks out. Michael is very grateful to all parties involved with this process and gets emotional when he sees how clean and tidy the house is now. “You’re like effing angels,” he says, unable to look at anyone in the face. When Matt points out that the air conditioning works, Michael manages to break out in a huge grin and get excited. I’m from the south, y’all, and living in the summer without A/C should be a criminal offense.
They even made a tidy bed for his dog, who he hadn’t been able to properly care for. Basil’s tail is wagging fit to beat the band, the family is happy and supportive, and this was a good job all around.
After The Show
The fresh start Michael has been given has been great for him. He’s detaching himself from his failures. “A huge weight has been lifted off his chest, and he can breathe.”
He is living at home, working with a therapist, and auctioned off some of his items that did have value. The proceeds went to repairs, and they’ve all been crossed off the to do list. Tremendous success all around!
Side note: Normally I’m very dedicated to having these recaps and discussion posts on time, but there have been extenuating circumstances that have prevented that. Eventually I will have last week posted for continuity, but if you could bear with me and know that only the most serious of problems keep me from my job, I would greatly appreciate it.
Be good to each other. We’re all pretty fragile under that skin.