Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hoarders

Monday evenings have become a kind of Dysfunction Junction at our house, as we curl up in front of the TV and watch A&E's prime-time offerings, Intervention and Hoarders.

We find Intervention compelling in part because we've dealt with addiction in Fellow Traveler's family and in our broad circle of friends. We recognize the behaviors, the rationalizations, the resistance to help. And we're also cheered by the success stories of this series. When we see the show postscripts that announce a participant has been sober for months or years, we cheer.

Hoarders is a different matter.

I've seen this behavior firsthand. My aunt M, in the later years of her life, could have been a subject for this show. Her hoarding literally drove her out of her own home. After she was hospitalized, I remember spending a day with my mother trying to sift through her mountain of collected trash, looking for family papers and keepsakes, and finally giving up when the job became too hopeless.

I also detect seeds of this disorder in myself. In my life my out-of-control accumulation of stuff has been, thankfully, confined to discrete areas -- to the infamous Alligator Room of The Cottage; to the trunk of my old car. And unlike my aunt, and most of the subjects of Hoarders, my struggles with material chaos have been less a matter of attachment to things -- I actually find a sense of happiness and relief in giving other people things I no longer need -- than a sense of being overwhelmed by the stuff of life to the point of paralysis...and more than a touch of perfectionism; wanting to come up with a system, a "right" way of wresting order out of disorder, before actually doing anything.

So Hoarders strikes home for me in the same way that Intervention strikes a note of fear in the heart of someone whose family is predisposed to addiction.

And what's especially troubling is the lack of success in helping the Hoarders subjects, who are picked on the basis of crises related to their behavior.  I visited the Hoarders website and was rather disheartened to see that almost none of the participants have made substantial progress in getting well. The producers admit that the short time frame in which the participants are compelled to clean up their homes is part of this poor track record -- the professional organizers and therapists assigned to each project may be able to help the individuals achieve some degree of order and cleanliness in their living spaces, but there's not enough time to adequately address the underlying behaviors. And...sadly...hoarding is a compulsion with a poor prognosis; there's no pharmaceutical or other therapeutic magic bullet.

Since I've been watching this show I find I've been paying more attention to housework; been trying to come up with a basic, not-too-rigid schedule for cleaning and tidying that cuts down my anxiety level and, on some level, reassures me that I am not in danger of turning into my aunt.

7 comments:

Mompriest said...

I don't watch either of those shows....but I have none plenty of each in my life...When I was in social work school the general response we were taught to deal with horders was, "they have a right to live the way they feel most comfortable." In other words, unless the person is willing to go into therapy and do the long hard work at figuring out what compels them to live this way, nothing anyone else does will help. sigh...

All I hord are books. Lots of them. Have a hard time giving away any book, even one I dislike. But for the most part they live on bookshelves.

Grandma K said...

I contend that all teachers have a bit of the hoarder syndrome. I taught science, and we used some of the strangest stuff you can imagine. Now I am a crafter, and I use some strange stuff. I really try to keep it all under control, but sometimes I wonder . . .

LutheranChik said...

Crafters are also hoarders...because you just never know when you might be able to use X skein of yarn, or when your favorite pattern company discontinues Y cross-stitch diagram...etc.

Crimson Rambler said...

and the one who dies with the most fabric, WINS!!!

Jody said...

"Hoarders" makes me really uncomfortable, because the subjects of the show are clearly suffering from mental illness -- we're not talking about people with an out-of-control fabric/yarn closet/room/garage, we're talking about people who can't find rotten food and who's hallways are 3-feet deep in dirty clothes, discarded junk, and other stuff. One woman went through the trash bin and pulled out a Slurpee cup "just in case" -- she ended up with 1400 boxed up containers of her stuff, many of them packed with a SHOVEL.

I'm guessing that it's family members who submit these folks for participation in the show, but I question whether the hoarders themselves are in any mental state meaningfully to consent.

Auntie Knickers said...

I'd be afraid to watch that show, too. I already have more books than I can reasonably read before I die. But I can't resist a used book sale (and it would be new books if I had more money). I do try to "deaccession" the ones I've read, though.

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