Hoarders 6.11 – Diana, Dolores

A&E, Monday Nights, 9EST

A&E, Monday Nights, 9EST

Thank you for your patience with me regarding this recap’s delay.  My son has been hospitalized for several months, and we were finally able to bring him home last week.  (And since we here at HDJM do this for free, family takes precedence.)

This is penultimate episode of the season. Fingers crossed for a season 7!


Diana, Snyder, OK

“I’m kind of lost in my own world,” Diana says.  We see see her burrowed into a nest of blankets and clothing in a completely disordered room, lost in a romance novel.  “It’s comforting to have things around me.”

Her “things” that she surrounds herself with are about as far away from comforting as a person could get.  Food containers, used bottles, actual garbage and animal feces are all we can see.  Her daughter Reba calls it a filthy death trap.  She’s not wrong.  Diana’s son Andrew calls the house a nightmare.  These two grew up in this hoarded home, embarrassed by their living conditions and still bear marks of trauma.

Each child talks about the fear they grew up with, how worried they were that they’d be “found out” for living as they did.  Everyone is quiet, no one speaks up or speaks out, they all tip toe around the 800 pound elephant in the room.  And it isn’t the hoard. I’m going to mention now that serious abuse occurred in this family, for those that need warning.

Diana grew up in a home of an abuser.  They weren’t allowed to talk about her father’s abuse, and she remembers growing up constantly terrified of him, of being found out, of being punished for being abused. She doesn’t realize that she’s echoing her children’s fear of being found out as children living in a hoard.

Not only did Diana grow up under the iron fist of an abusive man, she married one. Reba recalls being beaten with fists at the age of three. Andrew remembers being threatened with a sledgehammer and with guns. Diana finally found the will and strength to get away from him.  Until that point, her entire life had been spent afraid.  Talk about some heavy PTSD…

She often wonders if she’d be a hoarder if she hadn’t been so savagely abused for most of her life.  (My guess: probably not.)  She was made to feel like she was nothing, like she was garbage, so it’s no wonder she lives in it.

Her children feel guilty for leaving her, but they really had no other option.  It was good that they advocated for themselves and moved away when they were old enough.  Diana wasn’t able to see their leaving for what it was, however, and grew more depressed.  “I lived so long for them and then [I didn’t] really have a purpose to live.”

She’s had surgery, cancer, surgery for cancer, and now her body is becoming far too fragile and weak to live in mountains of garbage.  She’s fallen and has been trapped in the filth until someone could get her several hours later.  This is no way for a person to live.

Dr. Melva Green with the sweet kewpie face and the gentle woman warrior spirit arrives and immediately assesses the situation for what it is: Diana’s pain is more emotionally based than physically.  And here is your reminder that depression hurts.

Diana explains her vision of how things came to be, and it sounds like she has an idealized sort of memory with her family.  A lot of her pain is about her family, both her wishes and perceived failures regarding her children, and shame over the men in her life.  She says “I feel like if I start crying I won’t stop.”

She won’t feel her grief, she hides from it.  Physically hides by piling up walls around her made of junk and emotionally by hiding in romance novels where things always work out in the end. Dr. Green points out that this is incredibly self-destructive.

Matt Paxton and the Got Junk trucks arrive.  He asks straight away how much in the house does Diana believe to be garbage?  “98%.”  Good!  This sounds promising right off the bat.  (Grief hoarders seem to be far easier to reach, don’t they?)

Matt wants to make sure everyone talks about their feelings, otherwise there won’t be any long-term results. To push things along, he drags out an old cooler he found that is filled with spoiled meat and soda cans.  Everyone appears to be embarrassed and looks anywhere but at one another.  And no one says anything. This is going to be a tough habit to break.

Dr. Green then brings Reba and Diana into the living room to try and get them to talk to each other.  Dr. Green asks Reba to describe the room and tell her mother how she feels, and out of nowhere, Reba begins to talk.  And when she starts, she finally gets it all out; she lets it all go with almost body-wracking sobs.

“Embarrassed. Abnormal. Alone. Dishonest. Closed off.  I can’t stand being here. It just reflects the very worst things inside of me and I don’t like it. I never feel good about myself ever. You can’t have a positive self image when you look at this and know that this is where you came from.”

I would bet diamonds to donuts that every child of a hoarder felt this way exactly.

Reba immediately feels bad for unleashing, though, sad that she’s hurting her mother with her words.  But it’s important for Diana to hear how her children are feeling so she’ll stop idealizing her past, telling herself that this hoard “just happened.”  No, it’s been there all along.

Reba continues to vocalize her thoughts, finding her voice and feeling like  it’s okay to tell her mother what she’s thinking, and to her credit, Diana listens.  They get a lot cleared out that day.  That night, Andrew finally arrives due to a work schedule conflict.  He jumps right into cleaning.

Matt brings Andrew to his old room to see if there’s anything he wants to keep.

“No, man,” Andrew says, shaking his head. “Clean slate it. It’s all a bad dream.  My childhood is like one of those things you have to repress, and keep moving on.”

Dr. Green points out that it’s not healthy to repress and move on – you have to face things, you have to call them what they are, you have to accept that it’s what happened, and then find a way to move forward.

Okay, then. Andrew faces it.  “I’m angry. Angry that it happened.  That it was allowed to happen.  We were raised to think this was the normal.” And that’s when Diana insists this wasn’t always the way their house had been. She is in some serious denial about the past thirty years.

“I hated a lot of my childhood,” Andrew says, almost vibrating from the force of his anger. “You’ve failed us. And what you’ve done will always have an effect on us. I’m never going to be normal because of what’s happened here. In some ways I’ll never be able to forgive you.”

Ouch.  I get it, I do.  Both sides.

Dr. Green quietly asks Diana if she wants to apologize to her children for not knowing better? For not choosing better? (I love how that was phrased.  Because come on, Diana didn’t know better.  I’m not excusing anyone, I’m just trying to understand everyone. Some people grow up without any example to use as a model of behavior, and Diana is one of them.)

Diana says, “I’m very sorry I can’t fix the past.”  Poor dear.  She stands a bit taller, though, her shoulders a touch more squared.  She starts in on the cleaning double time after that.

Day Two is nothing but positives. Over six tons of garbage are hauled out of the small home.  Flooring is ripped up, walls repainted, surfaces scoured.  Matt congratulates everyone (and did you have a head cold, Matt? Otherwise, awesome Kathleen Turner impression, there, ha.)

They all go into the cleaned out home as a family reborn, and it’s just lovely. Diana is shaking and trying not to cry (oh, cry! It’s okay!) and Diana just can’t believe it. “This is my dream furniture! It’s wonderful!” She’s completely overwhelmed and touched.  “[This] makes me feel whole, and gives me the chance to redeem myself in my children’s eyes and prove myself worthy.”

One of the best things said all episode: “Those bad memories went out with the trash and I can breathe again.”

I have high hopes for this family (and so does Dr. Green.)

After The Show:

Diana is working with both an organizer and therapist, and the lovely Reba is very involved with sorting out more things to toss and is helping her mother with home repairs.  Plumbing has been fixed and the roof’s repairs are up next.  Great job for a very sweet family that just needed to be told it was okay to be themselves.


Dolores, New York

I’m going to start you right off with this: Dolores is a tiny little spitfire of a New Yorker, and I liked her immediately.  She’s kooky, but she’s not boring.  Boy, howdy.

“I like the unusual,” she says.  Her house is like a flea market on steroids. Every surface of the ceiling is covered with hanging chandeliers (not wired in, just hanging), every available surface has something crammed onto it: glass bottles, baskets, canes, suitcases.  You want it, she’s got twenty of them.

Her son, Joaquin, says the house “is a freaking disaster.”  He laughs when he says it, though.  He’s seen this his whole life; it’s laugh or scream. Anna, the daughter, says her mother is always looking for a treasure. Indeed, Dolores then says that there’s nothing like hitting “pay dirt” and has a wicked gleam in her eye.

Uh oh, the shopper hoarder.  The most difficult of them all.

The kids grew up in this madness. They remember being dragged all over the city looking for things people threw out, going to flea markets, poring over garage sales. They graduated and moved away, and Dolores went full tilt into bringing things home, always with the intention of reselling it.  Uh huh, we’ve heard that one before.

The kids are now angry – they’re married, their spouses are fed up, and the grandkids can’t come see their kooky and artsy grandma because the house is absolutely a death trap. One time when she was away, a smoke detector went off, the neighbors called the fire department, and the fire department had to send their smallest crew inside to shut it off, and it still took them three hours to tunnel through. That’s, uh, that’s some dangerous stuff right there.

Dr. Scott Hannan (hey! We haven’t seen him in ages!) arrives with a friendly smile and a steel spine. He asks her when she was ever going to sell off these things, since that was the original plan for bringing it all in.  And did she know how unlivable the house is? Oh, did that rub her feathers the wrong way.

“I hate to break it to you–” No you don’t. “–but 90% of people who own flea markets live like this.”

And?  That’s supposed to make it okay? We quickly get to the meat of it: Dolores doesn’t like the idea that people are judging her for what she likes and how she lives.  I can understand that.

“I’m not some freaking idiot. I still am entitled to respect.”

True. She absolutely is.  And now the task is to help her see that people are showing their concern for her safety, not calling her names. (But you know some people are.)

Another long time no see organizer shows up, Darnita Payden! (She does so well with folks who dig their heels in – people who hold onto things because they’re interesting and people who have major organizational issues.) She tells Dolores that she’d like to pull everything out of the garage and use that as a staging space for things Dolores will be keeping. (That’s so smart. She’s putting it in a positive light to get Dolores to not freak out and think everything’s getting tossed.)

Well, Dolores starts off angry. She shuts people down quickly; she’s trying to hurry things along so they’ll all pack up and leave her alone.  Everything is an argument, every item has a justification for being kept.  Everyone is trying to take away her free will, in her eyes.

“I don’t have to be like anybody else, I can just be like me!”  This is true.  But we’d all like to see you live a few more decades and not be crushed to death, Dolores.

Dr. Hannan tries to push her, get her worked up (it doesn’t take much) and then asks her about her thought process.  “What? Who the hell are you to worry about my thought process?” (This woman is all of 90 pounds and silver haired, and I bet she could arm wrestle the entire crew.)

She’s found over the years, no doubt, that shutting people down with righteous anger leaves her alone to continue doing what she wants. The problem is that the city is now involved, and she can’t continue to do whatever she wants.  The house will be condemned and she’ll be homeless.

Her son says something brilliant (something Cory and Matt have both said in their own way) “Some stuff is valuable, but it’s not worth losing your house over.” I’d like to add in that it’s also not worth losing your life over.

She can get involved now and have some say in things, or the city can bulldoze it to the ground and she gets nothing. She’s like a trapped animal, biting at the bars as a last ditch effort to be safe. She actually walks away, yelling at everyone.

Darnita finds her and convinces her to come back (this happens off screen) and to give her children the ability to make choices in what stays and what goes.  She agrees, and then tosses out that she’ll never speak to her children again, though. Oy vey, Dolores.

Darnita says, “They’re not doing this to hurt you. They’re trying to help.”

Dolores then learns that some of her things are being set aside for a decorator to make the home look nice after clean up, and she loses her damn mind. Oh, is she livid.  How the hell is some stranger that claims to be a decorator going to know what she likes?  How on earth will they be able to make her house something she’s going to be happy with?

“I have a right to be irritated!”

I can’t help it, she’s all bark, and I bet she’s a total crack up when not being pushed to anger.

Day Two comes around with something accidentally put on a truck instead of set aside for keeping.  Darnita apologizes to Dolores, who for some reason (they talk off camera) decides to let things progress.  Who cares why, let’s just get that house cleared out!

Dr. Hannan and Darnita gather everyone together. Dolores says that she’s relieved things are gone, because now she doesn’t have to worry about them.  They’re not her responsibility any more.  (Oh, do I love that.) She’s finally understood how unmanageable her life had become.

The dreaded decorator has come and gone, and surprise! Dolores loves what they did. She says it looks “elegantly antiqued,” and I agree.  She really likes it.  “I guess…I’m entitled to have a nice house.” Ha. Yes, yes you are.

The kids love it, the grandkids are over the moon to have a way to see Grandma, and Dolores even says a little sheepishly that she’s thankful to the decorator, even though she “cussed him out.” Ha.  Seriously, this lady. Love it.

She’s asked what her favorite thing is: the space.  GOOD ANSWER! She even says she doesn’t want to fill it back up. She hugs Darnita and Dr. Hannan and apologizes for being resentful.  She’s good people, Dolores.

After the show:

Dolores postponed working with a therapist “for a few months” [uh oh]. the house still needs some structural repairs, but her son Joaquin is helping her with that.

No backsliding, Dolores! (I’m 50/50 on her maintaining her momentum.)