Hoarders 8.14 – Maggie, Ann

hoarders mental illness reality

(Sorry for the delay. When you do this for free, you have to take the paying writing jobs first, unfortunately…)

Maggie, Phoenix, AZ

“I love to be called Grandma. I don’t consider myself to be a hoarder. But I don’t know.” Maggie is without question a hoarder. The house is so filled you can barely see the ceiling. I suspect the camera crew had to wriggle in on their bellies to get most of the interior shots. They’re literally pressing up against the ceiling.

Zinith is her granddaughter. “It’s chaos,” she tells us. Peaches is Maggie’s daughter, who says her mother considers herself a “smart shopper.” Uh oh.

Maggie, a little wisp of a lady, says in a quiet, trembling voice, “I just see a lot of things I shouldn’t have bought. I’m ashamed.”

And this, again, is why we come to this show quietly, thoughtfully, to listen and learn. These people have felt ashamed of their behavior, didn’t know how to get proper help (families and loved ones just clearing things out is a Bandaid), and are very bravely putting all of their faults out in the public with the hopes of helping someone else.

We learn that Maggie had fifteen deaths happen in succession, including her husband. My word, that is too much. Oh, my heart aches for this family. Too, too much. “It devastated me, but I never cried.”

“I don’t think she grieved properly,” Peaches says. “Shopping was her therapy.”

Well. I think we know Matt Paxton will be arriving on scene.

We also meet Cici, another granddaughter, but because Cici’s mother died, Maggie raised her as her own daughter. Cici, who has grown up in the hoard, calls it “The monster house”. She can remember the house being cluttered at first, then it growing out of hand. She’s frustrated by the secret that she was made to keep, to promise to keep in fact, that she and Maggie have had to sponge bathe outside in addition to the hoard.

By late high school, she no longer followed the “what goes on in our house, stays in our house” rule and told her aunt about the hoard. (Good girl, Cici. Never keep secrets that hurt people, especially when YOU are one of those people.) Peaches took her to live at her house. Maggie was brought out of the home, too. She secretly continues to buy more things, adding them to the house.

Donte, Maggie’s great-grandson, is worried about Maggie’s health. We all are, to be honest.

Dr. Robin Zasio arrives with hugs and smiles, and not a moment too soon as Maggie begins to grow emotional just talking about all the family she’s lost. It’s time for Maggie to grieve, poor lady. Donte and Dr. Zas climb the mountain of stuff and try to make sense of what’s even in there. Even Dr. Zasio is shocked by the immense hoard. The family is full of hugs for Grandma Maggie, though.

I feel like we’re going to need to remember all this hugging and loving. This one isn’t going to be easy.

Matt Paxton and the Service Masters Clean crew arrive, and I think Matt said there were 10 crews needed on this hoard. It’s huge. His challenge: It’s such a massive hoard that he can’t afford to take time out to pussy-foot his way around things. He must move the hoard outside and get started, or there is no way they’ll be able to get it done in three days. It’s not that it’s a huge house. It’s a huge hoard.

Matt would normally have someone like Grandma Maggie cooing and bumping shoulders with him by the first day, but because they don’t have much time to get to know each other and let trust build up, she’s on edge from the start. She also wants to keep everything at the start. Well, we knew that was coming.

Matt tells us, “You now how you get that person who hits that certain age and says, ‘Screw it. I’m going to do what I want to do’? Grandma Maggie hit that three years ago. This is going to be a long week.” Ha ha ha!!

Donte and Cici can’t get her to commit to throw away anything. Matt says he needs to fill two dumpsters per day to stay on schedule, and they’re close to the end of Day One with an empty dumpster. Oh, no…

Day Two and nothing has been tossed. Matt pushes the family into a back room to work, trying to get their emotions high. Well, success. Cici storms out and bursts into tears in Dr. Zasio’s arms. Dr. Zasio makes Grandma Maggie bear witness to what this hoard is doing to her family. Can she understand the cause and effect happening here?

“I promise you,” Maggie says, holding Cici in her arms. She promises to try, to learn, and to clean the hoard. Boy, did she ever follow through. 20,000 pounds of trash are hauled out in less than 36 hours. But… the house is still half full. Now it’s the last day, and Matt braces his team for it not being easy.

Matt takes Cici into the mostly-emptied house in full bio-hazard gear for precautionary reasons in order to allow her to confront her childhood. Cici gets emotional, and for good reason. Now that a lot of the stuff is out, Matt gets his crew to working. “Cici’s had a lot of broken promises,” he says. “I can’t be another one.”

…I’ve mentioned how much I love the folks on this show, right?

This crew works overtime to keep their promise. It’s not easy, and Maggie still struggles, but they push to work overtime. They aren’t able to get a cleaning and decorating crew in there like usual, but the house is cleaned out. You can see how large the house is, the bones of a home to come.

The crew worries there will be disappointment. Nope. They all can see the blueprints for a new life, and it’s awesome.

Maggie says, “I’m happy that I get to be back home. And we’re going to live happily ever after.” Oh my gosh. I love everyone in this sweaty, massive hoard. Except it’s not a hoard anymore! Whoo hoo!

After The Show

Cici and Maggie are still making repairs on the house, but they’ve moved back in. Maggie still struggles with getting rid of things and isn’t interested in therapy, but the family is still hoping she’ll change her mind.

Ann, South Carolina

Ann, an aesthetician, is a lovely woman with fabulous skin. And she’s a hoarder. Michael, her live-in boyfriend, is at his wit’s end. You can’t get into the front door, hallways are blocked, the bed is getting hard to gain access to, and I mean that literally. Austin, Ann’s son, hates going in the house. The piles make him anxious, the dogs’ used puppy pads cover the floor, and it’s just a miserable situation for everyone.

Ann and Michael owned a spa, and the building owner sold it without much notice, leaving them to scramble to move their products and equipment into the house. Which… exacerbated things, to say the least. Yes, Ann is running the spa in her hoard. Not a conducive environment for a spa-day, in my opinion.

Ann tells us that after her mother and brother passed away, her hoarding problem started to grow. It’s not clear, but I gathered that she inherited a lot of things from each family member with the intent of going through it for donations and such, and just never got to it. It’s been 10 years.

“If I have [their stuff] around, I feel like they’re near. If I let it go, then they’re gone.”

Ah. Is Matt going to do both families, then? Oh, no. Dr. Green will be here (and I’ve loved the gorgeous purple in your hair, so you know).

Michael explains that keeping all of that stuff as a way to hold onto her deceased family means she’s inadvertently pushing away her living family. Tensions are high between these two. That’s a lot of tension: a business in trouble, a relationship on edge, and a hoard. Yikes.

Ann’s cousin Robin meets with Dr. Melva Green to walk through the house and start the intervention, essentially. Robin hasn’t been to the house in years and says it was immaculate. Well, it isn’t any more. Robin breaks down into tears. Ann says that if she gives her family’s things away, she feels like she’s giving them away. She fears the memories will be gone.

I will say this: her saying this is huge. Often times we meet hoarders who don’t realize this is why they’ve kept every single filled ashtray with their deceased husband’s cigarette butts. (That was an actual thing.) I hope this speaks well to the outcome.

One thing I’ve loved that the show has done this season is to give the doctors time to talk about what’s happening in the mind of a hoarder, and they didn’t disappoint this episode. Dr. Green, after finding a sealed off room full of Ann’s mother’s things, says to us, “This is so deeply symbolic of what’s happening to her. Her heart is so completely hoarded out with all of the trauma, the grief that she’s not been dealing with.” Her heart, her mind? They’ve been blocked off from grieving, from moving forward.

She’s blocking her own progress. And when you lay it out so simply it makes so much sense, but often times we can’t see the pattern until we step back and get a little distance. It could be hoarding, it could be habitual lying, overeating, drug addiction, sex addiction, over-exercising, a million things. We all have our defense mechanisms to deal with trauma when we’re not capable of getting distance, if not physically, then emotionally, and seeing the root cause of our behavior.

This is why you should never judge. You just don’t know what a person has gone through or what trials they’re dealing with.

The 1-800 Got Junk trucks helmed by Dorothy Breininger get to the scene—and Dorothy, you look smashing in your scarves these past few episodes, thought you should know—and challenges the family to talk about why the hoard exists in the first place. It’s really clever of her, because it puts the family on the spot for why they’ve not said anything, it gets Michael to express himself in a succinct way, and it also forces Ann to address all of her loved ones about her inability to grieve in a healthy way. Now we’re all on the same page.

“We are here to help you make decisions,” Dorothy says, “to help you stop hanging onto this stuff.”

…I’ve mentioned how much I love this show, right?

And then right off the bat, Ann finds a dirty nylon bag and tears up. It was one of her brother’s medicine bags. You and I can see it’s useless. It’s a dirty, stained common nylon bag. For Ann, though, it’s representative of her brother. Just like the broken driving game controller for Windows 95. “Don’t just say this is no good,” she says, growing frustrated.

I think that is the psychological threat that needs pulling, the “this is no good” angle. Dorothy wants to interrupt this pattern and create a new one. Dorothy shifts to encouraging Austin to speak up to Ann about his wants.

I want to take a second to talk about the different between validating bad behaviors and being empathetic. They aren’t the same. I can absolutely understand that while a person is suffering from mental illness, that does not give them license to mistreat or abuse people, to shirk responsibilities or in some cases, break laws.

Hoarding (or any mental illness) is not an excuse and shouldn’t be used as one. But I can look at a situation and understand why a person did those things. I can understand that they have a mental health issue that is preventing them from thinking clearly or behaving rationally. I can understand the cause to the effect, in other words.

When I see people get angry about the behaviors of hoarders, in this case, I always assume they don’t know that it’s acceptable to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” so to speak. (I do not think hoarding is a sin, please don’t send me messages.)

“Is this just a dumping zone?” Dorothy asks. The mother stuff is on the surface, and Dr. Green and Dorothy notice that there’s a lot of other stuff in there. So this isn’t quite so cut-and-dried. “This is a huge room of denial.” And we learn that Ann lost her twin.

“That’s like losing yourself,” Ann says. She took her twin’s daughter in and adopted her. So basically Ann hasn’t allowed herself to feel anything; she’s just been taking on. And if that doesn’t hit you with the metaphor bar, I don’t know what will. It’s time for her to really deal with all of this.

But first, a set-back by going outside and seeing that Austin has thrown things away without her permission. Basically, Ann is being made uncomfortable, so she’s falling back on previous patterns of behavior. This is how she’s survived.

“I am trying,” Ann says. But it’s hard for people on the outside to recognize that. Especially when all the dogs and their stuff are in Austin’s room.

“You’re not changing,” Austin says. To Ann’s credit, she apologizes and demands a hug. Ha ha ha ha. Southern to the core.

Dorothy gets her to make good choices about her brother’s clothes, donating them to people who could use them. She’s able to clear her mind and focus on good things instead of being mired in the past. And this lets her make sweeping choices about her stuff, and it’s awesome. Oh, Ann, I am so proud of you.

The family gets to walk through, and it’s a whole new place. It’s clean and clear, and everyone is in tears with their jaws dropped. I love how supportive Michael has been this whole time. He’s so proud of her. What a great outcome.

After The Show

Ann has kept the house clean, is spending time with her family, and she’s seeing a therapist.