Hoarders 8.7 – Dick, Karen

hoarders mental illness reality

[Previous episode]

Sometimes when someone won’t choose you, you have to choose yourself.

Dick, Pomona, CA

Dick, 83, is a retired mechanic who likes to shop at Dollar stores. Boy, does he. His “collections” range from costume jewelry to arts and crafts, magic supplies to knick-knacks, but don’t worry. He’s not a hoarder. He has plans for all of this. He just hasn’t gotten to it yet. He’s 83, remember, so his time to get to this stuff is running out. Sandy is his long-time girlfriend They met on the dance floor and just clicked.

Their gears slowly fell out of whack, however. He moved in with her and the stuff built up. “I lost my home,” she tells us. The whole house has been taken over.

Kim, Sandy’s daughter in law, does crime investigations for a living. “This is the worst home I’ve been in.” The house is essentially unlivable. They sleep in tiny cleared spots, can’t eat or move around inside, and there’s no way to actually live in there. Mark, Sandy’s son, is very upset with how he perceives his mother to be controlled by Dick.

Sandy was so ashamed by the hoard that she kept it from her family for decades. But Dick had a heart attack, was hospitalized, and when Kim asked if she could go into the house to help with things they needed, their dirty secret was out. Mark was devastated and tried to organize a clean up while Dick was in the hospital. They carted out 13 tons from the front rooms alone. Well, we know how that turns out—they’ll just bring stuff back in and even faster than before. That’s exactly what has happened.

In addition to the house being hoarded out, it turns out that there are nine storage units as well, all filled. They’re broke. Sandy is a shell of the woman she once was. They’re living in an apartment and are going to be destitute if they don’t solve this. It’s pretty clear Mark blames Dick. This is probably going to be a very emotional clean up.

Dr. Zasio arrives and tried to determine how they see themselves. Well, Dick does not believe he’s a hoarder so this is going to be like herding cats, I bet. Sandy’s granddaughter Michelle is already crying before she even goes inside. She loses it when she does, bending at the waist from the force of her sobs. “I can’t believe my grandmother would live like that.” The toilet is… Dear god. The kitchen… [shudder] It’s bad.

The fridge and freezer are teeming with maggots and flies and mold, black, noxious liquid spilling out between the broken rubber seal. It’s a horror show. Sandy begins to cry when she can no longer hide that this is how she’s been living. When Dick is asked, he’s not bothered by anything in the house. It’s just fine. Take that in. Remember how I described the fridge and freezer. He sees nothing wrong with it.

My prediction: I think we’re going to be helping Sandy and not Dick.

The Got Junk? trucks arrive with Dorothy Breininger, and I love this pairing because Dorothy will speak up for Sandy until Sandy learns how to speak for herself. It’s what Dorothy excels at. Dr. Zasio checks in with Mark, who gets emotional right away. Everyone is in tears and emotional, though, everyone except Dick, who sits and is unmoved. He’s completely detached, not helping or participating. Dorothy tries to capitalize on that by getting him to shrug and agree to putting all garbage on the truck. He doesn’t want to sort, doesn’t want to help, so can he just give them a green light? He does, so Dorothy gets those snow-shovels out and loads up the trucks tout de suite.

But then… there’s a pretty big poop they find. It’s not from a mouse or rat, it’s from a possum. There’s a massive hole in the floor and the walls, and Dick says that was here before him. Well, if your trash sits in piles covering every inch of floor and wall space, you can’t work on house upkeep can you? Mark is so angry about the denial pouring off Dick as the damage to Sandy’s house is revealed. Sandy finally speaks up and blames Dick, but Mark gets it right.

“This is your fault, too.”

She accepted it and didn’t stop it, so she does share some responsibility. She takes that on, and it actually makes her stand a little straighter. I bet so. Acknowledging faults, seeing how to fix it and doing it? That’s excellent work right there, Sandy.

Dick tells Dorothy that someone probably brought all of this stuff in, because he didn’t do this. Mark is blown away and Dorothy even had a dropped jaw for a second there. Dr. Zasio knows how problematic this level of denial is. Dick then tells them he’s going to leave town because he’s been embarrassed by this process. He’s walking away from Sandy.

…and the hoard, leaving everyone else to deal with it. But let’s focus on Sandy.

Sandy, who has shared a life with him for 30 years, is in shock. He wants to walk away and leave her holding the bag. Here’s your come to Jesus moment, Sandy. She says to Dr. Zasio that he can leave and she’d be happy. He hurts her and clearly doesn’t love her, and I can’t argue with that. But ugh, how painful.

Sandy gives blanket permission to the crew to clean up. Dick sits in a chair daydreaming until he sees a costume jewelry box going on the truck. Aha, now that there’s possibly “money” being thrown away (probably not), he wants to be involved. Dorothy and Dr. Zasio cut into his rant to remind him that this stuff is why their lives are falling apart.

It means nothing to him. He just wants his money back. Dr. Zasio asks if he wants the stuff or Sandy. He waffles a lot, and Sandy says he’s going to have to live with that stuff and not her.

Good job, Sandy. Good freaking job. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get a bit of this, so the effort shifts to supporting her since he chooses his stuff over her. Wow. It’s the last day, so the house is getting cleared out and inspected to see if she can even live in it.

Remember that 13 tons had been removed prior to the show. They pulled another 13 tons out. That’s the magnitude of this hoard. The damage to the house is bad. Structurally speaking, the house is basically destroyed and will cost hundreds of thousands to repair. They can’t live there, so where are they going to go? Dick says he’s going where Sandy goes. Oh… really?

Sandy isn’t having it. She can’t live with him, and he actually accepts this. That was the right decision. Dr. Zasio says he’s the most resistant hoarder she’s ever worked with. But Sandy is getting a new start at least, so that’s something.

And a reminder that while yes, mental illness is something we need to be cognizant of and empathetic towards, it is not an excuse to treat people poorly. Best of luck, Sandy.

Karen, Albuquerque, NM

Karen is a first grade teacher. “I always have children’s best interest at heart. I would hope that none of them go home to a house like this.” Tanya, Kathryn and Travis are her children. They tell us that her mother hoards everything. Paper items related to potential school projects in particular, as well as anything she can get at a thrift store. Julie is the best friend who has only been inside the home years ago, and it was bad then. She dreads what it must look like now.

Karen uses the “I’m a teacher” excuse for why she has four boxes of warped, dusty worksheets, six bags of play materials, on and on it goes. Karen wasn’t like this when she was married. The divorce—and they’re all awful, all of them—was bad. But in her case, her husband left the family, and her oldest son believed he was the cause. Devastated by this, he took his life. This is when it got bad for Karen. Bless that poor family, my gosh.

Kathryn and her son Ryland moved in due to financial reasons. This is a terrible environment for him, both that it’s not safe and that he’s learning awful habits. This is a situation where Ryland could easily be taken by CPS. There seems to be a lot of love here in this family, but a whole lot of dysfunction warping that love. Here’s to hoping our team can get in there and clean more than pathways through trash tunnels.

Dr. Green arrives and meets Julie, the best friend, to go on a walk-through. Karen and Julie hug and clearly care for one another. I think everyone cares for Karen. Maybe it’s about getting Karen to care about Karen? Dr. Green notes that Karen has covered her mirrors. She says that it’s because she doesn’t ever want to look in a mirror. She’s stated before that she doesn’t even believe she’s worthy of having a bed. Oh, Karen.

Julie pulls her friend into her arms and tells her how it breaks her heart that Karen feels that way about herself. Dr. Green wants to get to the bottom of this sense of worthlessness as well as making sure Ryland isn’t removed from the family.

Standolyn comes to help organize, and I think she’s a perfect match for Karen. Gentle, tender, and super organized in a way that I think a teacher would appreciate. Standolyn finds something from Karen’s older son out on the front porch and almost tosses it before Karen catches the mistake. She begins to lose it emotionally, so Standolyn points out that it was something precious, but Karen had it on the outside porch. It’s time to make her son’s memories precious, it’s time to grieve and process and move forward instead of being stuck in denial and sorrow like she’s done for years.

Dr. Green has the family work together, with the hope that they’ll communicatie some of these hurt feelings. But first, they’ll have to get Karen to stop treating the boxing up process like a garage sale. It’s slowing things way down.

Karen’s daughter Tonya, who is estranged, finally arrives. It’s very tense between them, and Tonya is pretty tight lipped. But she’s there. Tonya and her daughter Lexi start working through stuff without permission, and Dr. Green points out that she can’t just do that, so Tonya grits out a smile and dumps her bag back out on the table. “We’ll get permission then and throw it out the right way.”

Tonya doesn’t believe hoarding is a condition. You can just throw stuff away, dontcha know. Tonya, pull up a chair. We’ve all been there. Then we started watching this show, and we all learned. We’ll wait for you to catch up, promise.

Standolyn puts her with Karen in the bedroom to get it out, get out their feelings. Tonya is pretty derisive. Karen perseveres, and says her stuff is her wall to protect her feelings. She knows Tonya thinks that she’s a bad mother, and she’s sorry she couldn’t be better. She’s sorry she wasn’t the right wife (oh, honey, no), sorry she made her daughter sit in judgment of her, and sorry for everything, it seems. Karen, you’re breaking my heart.

She’s also so glad that Tonya’s even still there. But Tonya is pretty hard. She’s clearly had to put up a wall of her own, and please remember that this is a survival technique for children of hoarders, so let’s not be so hasty and judgmental of Tonya. We all have our reasons for behavior.

Karen really wants her daughter’s love here, and it’s pretty amazing to see her give her daughters permission to do what they feel is best. There doesn’t appear to be a selfish bone in Karen’s body.

Outside, however, Karen struggles to throw things away. She’s still looking at individual items. Finally, finally she gets that it’s just junk. She says almost in marvel of how she’s lived for years, “It’s… just garbage.” It’s senseless stuff in boxes. “It’s so pitiful. I just want this chapter in my life over.”

She had her breakthrough! The crew picks up speed hauling trash out of the house and a cleaning crew gets to work. The reveal is shocking in the best of ways. Ryland’s mouth drops open and is all smiles. He has a room to himself, but Karen’s room is so beautiful and calm and peaceful. Her kids say “this is a whole new Karen.” They all want to support and love her, and that’s so wonderful. You can see the relief her kids feel over this transformation, not just the house, but in their mother.

She looks into a mirror and says, “I love you. I love who you’re going to become.” Aww!

Show Discussion

Dick still insists he has no problem with hoarding, while Sandy is attending both co-dependency therapy and individual therapy. They’re living together for the next three months until the lease is up on the apartment, then they’ll go their separate ways. (Oh, please stick to that, Sandy.)

Karen is seeing a therapist and isn’t hitting garage sales. Ha! That’s great. Even better? She’s hosting a family meal for everyone for the first time in 15 years. Oh, that’s the best ending for this tender-hearted lady. Great job everyone.

You can watch all episodes of Season 8 (and 1-6) on A&E.com, as well as On Demand through your local cable provider.