I haven’t had cable in some time, which is rarely of any concern, though it does occasionally put me well behind the curve with regards to shows that have weaseled their way into the zeitgeist, or at least become of fascination to my friends.
Hoarders is one such show, extensively referenced by my parents and a number of friends (with a mixture of amusement and horror. So, needing some mild distraction while doing repetitive work last week, and my curiosity having gotten the better of me, I downloaded a season.
Umm. Wow. They weren’t kidding.
Perhaps starting with the first episode of season 2 was a bad idea, given it was a house/woman so badly off that they only featured her that episode. (Usually there are two houses/homeowners featured per episode.) As a friend noted, there are two kinds of hoardings: stuff and filth. Sometimes it’s very clear which type of hoarding it is; sometimes it’s a combination. The “stuff” hoardings are much easier to take, though the filth ones certainly carry more jaw-dropping train wreck fascination.
One woman’s condo didn’t seem terribly dirty, but her depression-fueled compulsive shopping left it simply packed to the rafters with stuff. This is a bit different from the woman who walled off her bedroom because it was very cold in there. You see, the goats had eaten the siding and chunks of the back wall of the house, so there were large holes in the walls…
By about 10 minutes into the first show I was traumatized, and itchy, with an overwhelming urge to run home, throw out everything I own, and scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush. (I gather this is a not uncommon reaction.) When they dug TWO dead and dessicated cats out of the carpet (from under ~8000lbs of garbage), I nearly got the vapours. When they found the upper plate of the homeowner’s dentures, I nearly barfed. (They never found the lower plate.)
After all, on TV you can only get a visual idea of the mess, but when you see a stiff mass of matted fur on a shovel and realize that that died and decomposed within the house, and no one noticed it was there, it hits you just how bad it would have to smell in there all the time. (They never said how many cats she owned, though they did mention she’d had dogs, which had been seized some time before, and in his teenage years her son was removed from the home and placed with his sister.)
In another house the woman’s power and water had been cut off for at least a couple of years, so she just used adult diapers, which she stuffed in bags (or not) and left them to pile up. What exactly does a bathroom with a four-foot-high pile of used diapers smell like? Apparently it becomes a powerful destructive force, since the waste had “eaten” a large hole through the bathroom floor (like a, “Hey, there’s the basement!” hole, not just through the linoleum or something).
It’s funny discussing the show with people who are familiar with it. My shock and awe at these scenarios are “Yeah, and?” commonplace to them. I guess you get a bit inured to it after a while. You’d have to, else your mind would explode. And really, though some of the scenarios are very different (age or financial state of the hoarders, type of contents being hoardard, etc.), they all become fundamentally similar at a certain point. We are talking mental illness here, or, in many cases, multiple issues.
Interestingly, of all the people I’ve seen so far, most seemed… largely present, if not healthy. One or two, however, had that weird, crazy person calm, and you could see in their eyes that they just really weren’t all there. You almost felt better about the belligerent people, since at least they were invested and aware (if fighting it). The others you just kinda wonder what would happen if they eventually snap out of it and then have to process everything that’s gone on. Or maybe they never will get it; some of them are already elderly, after all.
And some of the people you just know, if they went back in six months to a year, the people would be well on their way to re-accumulating mountains of trash.
It makes me realize, certainly, yet more careers I totally wouldn’t be suited to. Hoarding specialist? Yeah, not so much. I think within about five minutes I’d be screaming at the person to put that rotted sponge BACK IN THE GARBAGE. Not calmly reasoning why said item doesn’t really have sentimental value. Or the compulsive shopper woman who had to see and touch every item before she could decide if it was keep/donate/throw away.
This is, of course, assuming I wouldn’t take one look at these houses and immediately order them burned and/or bulldozed as is. And as if these glimpses into people’s epically messed up lives wasn’t enough, at the beginning of every episode they remind you that there are over three million hoarders in the US. Most of whom aren’t getting that kind of help, I imagine, whether with the tv crew strings attached or not.
I don’t think I could handle having cable anymore if everything on nowadays is that mind-boggling…