Hoarders: Family Secrets 1.6 — David, Nora

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Watch Hoarders on Lifetime TV. Airs Thursdays, 9PM EST

We’re back!  (Sorry for the delay–feel free to scowl at me for my move not going smoothly.) This episode featured what Matt Paxton said was one of the most difficult hoards (both size-wise and obstinate-hoarder-wise) of his career.  This week seems to focus on usefulness.  Click the Read More to see how.


Nora, Kentucky

Nora has a beautiful green yard leading up to her house. She’s not only perfectly coiffed with Kentucky-Blue-Black hair (those are some lush locks, Nora!) and fresh makeup, she’s also a collector.  She thinks so, at any rate.  Ask anyone else, and she’s a hoarder.  Nora, you can tell, doesn’t like being called that, not one bit.

The problem with Nora’s mindset is that while, true, she’s been collecting things, she’s also not doing anything with them.  She just has them… all piled up on each other to the point where there’s not even a path beaten down through it all. She’s retired and really doesn’t need to be slip-sliding all over her purchases as she attempts to navigate through the house.

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And she really shouldn’t be living that way when she has a serious respiratory infection and COPD, to boot.  She’s fallen in the past, was trapped under the clutter until hours later when she was able to drag herself to something solid and stand up.  Her sisters and niece are all worried she’ll die in that hoard.

Nora’s attitude? So be it.  “I’ll die in the house before I let things go.”

And of course, this is metaphorical as well as literal.

We all wonder instantly what is it emotionally that she’s not letting go, and we learn that it’s her son, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor over 30 years prior, who valiantly held on for another 8, and whose portrait hangs pristine on the wall.  She keeps it perfectly dust free.  She also keeps the living room–where they spent his last days simply being together and loving one another–pristine.

Gentle Dr. Tompkins arrives, open and ready to listen, but Nora isn’t ready to talk.  Not about herself, that is.  She’ll relive her son Kevin’s final moments over and over and… there’s the block. There’s obviously a lot more to hoarding than just her sorrow over the loss of a beloved child or because of the internal illogic that throwing things away that were once his would be like throwing him away, but that all still tracks.

After so many years, the real challenge is going to be changing Nora’s set ways–she doesn’t see her house as a problem, after all.  It’s the old story of a frog being boiled alive slowly. You plunk a frog in a boiling pot, it’ll jump right out.  You put them in cool water and slowly heat it up, they don’t realize until it’s too late.

The hope is that we’re not too late for Nora.  Unfortunately, she instantly feels threatened by her sisters’ insistence that they’ll call APS if she won’t listen to reason.  They’re right, but I understand Nora’s anger, too.  Cory Chalmers is there, and it seems Nora has taken an instant liking to him. He comes up with a system of which she approves–the sisters out of the house sorting, with Nora making final approval.  It’s not the best situation, it’s certainly one of the slowest, but at least things are being pulled out of the house.

Day One is a disaster with Nora fighting everyone, but something happened overnight that makes Day Two far more successful.  Her nephew, a military officer, called to ask if he could come visit with her for a while.  She perked right up at the thought, and tells everyone that she’s ready to get the house just right for his visit.

I think Nora’s an old southern girl like me: nothing better than feeding and tending a man, ha ha ha.  I think that’s why she took to Cory so quickly, as well–he’s a grown boy needing her motherly tendencies. (Which makes me sad in some ways, because she really should have had her boy grow up and take care of her. I’m so sorry for your loss, Nora.)

Her heart is in the right spot, but her decision making isn’t. She can’t quite make sweeping decisions yet.  Inside the house, her sisters tackle the disgusting kitchen where Verle breaks down, overcome with sadness for her sister and guilt for not realizing what she sent her sister home to after they visited.

It isn’t until Nora comes in and sees her sister in tears (and learns why) that Verle calms down.  “Feel happy you’re helping me now,” Nora says before they hug.  Oh, they’re just a sweet group of ladies.

Nora has some fits and starts, but close to three decades of hoarding can’t be fixed in a few days. It isn’t until Dr. Tompkins and Cory hit on the genius plan of having all of her excess items (and they’re fortunately in good condition for the most part) donated to a group of families who lost their homes in a fire that Nora really gets behind the clean up.

She’s elated at the thought of being able to help people who lost everything in a fire, since that’s something that evidently happened in her past, too. She’s helping people, she’s giving things to folks in need, just as she envisioned doing one day for her son as he stepped out into the world on his own. It’s wonderful to see how lit up she is as more and more is gathered to be donated.

When Nora enters the newly cleaned home, she bursts into tears.  It looks like it once did: it looks like a home.

Dr. Tompkins says, “When Kevin was here, your house was filled with love and kindness.  You lost him and filled the space around your heart with things.  With the love of your family, love and caring fill the house again.”

She feels (and looks) lighter and happier already.

After the Show

Her sisters stayed two more weeks to visit and continue helping organize the house.  Nora misses some of her things, but she is keeping it clean.  Finding a therapist is another issue she’s not keen on, but baby steps.  One day, I hope, she’ll learn that a therapist is yet another person to whom she can unload unnecessary burdens.


David, Michigan

Well, we can tell right off that David–a jolly-faced handiman–is going to be obstinate.  He refers to being a hoarder as, “disorder with order!” If there’s order to his hoarded out three acres, it’s going to require an Enigma code to crack. The inside is bad enough, piles of clothes and boxes and food everywhere, but outside?

David has all sorts of ideas for projects.  He also has all sorts of materials for those projects.  Cars and buses and RVs, partial buildings and siding and wood and metal and corrugated tin sheets and… It goes on and on.  For three acres.

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He may have ideas for everything, but the guy can’t stop driving around town looking for more “treasures” to be used in projects that won’t happen because he’s constantly stockpiling for the next project.  [hums Dear Henry]

His older sister Linda is pretty fed up, his girlfriend of 20 years Diana is seriously fed up, and the county is ready to clear it themselves–and send David the bill.  David knows that he’d have to sell his land to cover the cost of the bill, and then he will be destitute.

We all can see the obviousness of this: stop putting more crap on your land when you 1) don’t have the time for the projects, and 2) the projects won’t matter when you have no land and no materials for the projects.  But that is why this is a mental illness–the thinking is all jammed up inside.

Long-time no-see Dr. Scott Hammond arrives and can immediately see that David is a man in love with potential. (And with a girlfriend of 20 years, I’d say that’s pretty durn accurate. This man can’t pull a trigger for anything, ha. I kid, I kid. Marriage isn’t the be-all, end-all, I know.)

David is king of Shoulda Coulda Woulda Island, and it’s about to have a population of one, even though he says softly to Diana as she nervously walks through his home for the first time in years, “I love you, no matter what.  It’s just stuff.”

It hits her that he may not change. And if not, she’s going to have to walk away from this relationship. He assures her he’ll let it go, but can he?

Enter Service Masters and Matt Paxton with three massive, industrial-sized dumpsters that David immediately begins to micromanage their placement.  See, he knows what’s smart, and how to make this work, okay?

“You can be smart and lose the property,” a nearly fed-up Matt huffs, “or shut up and get to work.”  It’s not unlike that great point Standolyn made a few episodes back: you want to be right and in this mess alone, or be silent in your rightness and in a clean place?

An auctioneer arrives with the promise of taking 75% of the land’s mess to be sold and reused, and it’s one of the few bright spots for David.  At least they’ll be put to use somewhere.  However, 75% isn’t enough to get Code off his back, so they all need to buckle down and get to work.

David losing his cool and getting irritated as more and more stuff is hauled away isn’t helping.  But from his perspective, everything on his land, from a busted washer to a broken down RV to a tarp-covered shed had a purpose, a use, a finished image in his head. He could see where that awning was going to go, how that shed would be painted a cheery yellow, and now it’s never going to happen.

He’s in mourning, too, and it’s the death of his work dreams and his future, all disappearing on the backs of trucks. It’s not easy for him, but the only alternative is this: He hangs on to it, and the county takes it from him, regardless.  And then charges him for the pleasure of cleaning up.

It’s massive. Matt says at one point that 20,000 pounds of garbage were hauled off the property, but is it enough?  Code comes out, sees the tremendous amount of work they were able to do, and says that as long as David keeps at it, they’ll hold off on taking over.

Inside, though, David keeps fighting everyone.  As soon as the house gets cleaned, he’s going to use those stacking mixing bowls to whip up batter, then he’s going to use that waffle iron to make Diana waffles, even though she has the same one, and he’s going to use that stuff, dammit!

Diana hits her limit. “As soon as, as soon as, as soon as! I’m sick of hearing those words! Keep your stuff! Keep it!” She leaves in tears as David clutches a busted, dirty box to his chest.

Linda comes in with all the sternness of a big sister and tells him that he’s going to focus on what can be donated.  As soon as he tries to explain why he needs something, Linda gives him a sharp look and says, “No, you don’t.”

“You’re right.”

“I’m always right,” she replies.  And if you’re a single child, this is the sort of thing you missed out on every day of your life. Not going to lie, I laughed pretty hard at how Big Sisterly she still is. But dangit, she’s right.

The house gets somewhat emptied–enough for David to live fairly comfortably inside.  He can eat and relax here, and if Diana is willing to come back and try, there’s room for her, too. (I think that’s what she’s been waiting on.) He let his women push him, and it turns out that was the right decision. Diana is overjoyed, throws herself into his arms, and says she’s ready to try again.


After the Show

David and Diana are doing better than ever, David’s seeing a therapist, and the house is still getting cleared.  But it’s getting cleared.


Show Discussion

I got the strong impression that Nora wanted to be needed.  She bought things to be shared–food, clothes, household goods–then seemed to get caught in her grief over no longer having her son there to be the recipient of her largesse. She’d toss them aside, go on to the next day, and start finding things to be bought all over again. It was a vicious cycle, made all the more sad by her museum-like memorial to Kevin, the one place in the house she kept clean in honor of his memory.  As soon as she was able to be useful to others (by donating her excess to a worthy cause), the prison of her grief appeared to be shattered, and she was able to make the healthy, forward-moving decision of letting things go and actually putting those extra goods to use.

Which is exactly what hung David up, seeing that those items were going to be used immediately, strangely enough.  David saw usefulness in everything, obviously. Everything had potential, but he was the holder of that potential.  Sure, another person might take that fourteenth awning he’d held onto, but would they be as happy as he would have been as they hung it in just the right spot?

And through Diana we saw yet another example of how hoarding affects their loved ones: she couldn’t help but see him choosing the stuff instead of choosing her. It’s not that simple–nothing ever is–but her thought process is logical.

I do continue to love the fact that the show is focused on the families and loved ones as well as the hoarders.  We’ve seen over the past seasons that hoarders without that safety net don’t make forward strides as much as those who do.

What were your thoughts? And does anyone know what conditioner Nora uses? ;)