A Whole Lot of Hoarding Going On

Two weeks ago, we treated ourselves to an episode of  “Hoarders” on A&E. It was one of the most exhausting hours of my life.

I was prepared for the mess, the whining, the indecisiveness and the crying. But I was not prepared for the dramatic foreshadowing. Or the family stand-offs. Or the ominous hoarding music, better suited for a Keith Morrison bit on “Dateline.” You would think that the deep-voice narrative and scary background noises would be the prelude to a closet door opening to reveal a foggy apparition standing there with a knife poised in the air.

But it was only pool noodles.

The first step in these situations is, generally, to admit you have a problem. But I argue that the first step is to get your act together pronto because walking down your driveway is a horizontal line of professional organizers wearing face masks, accompanied by a licensed counselor.

As Linda stood in her front yard, witnessing the dozens and dozens of garbage bags and cardboard boxes being hauled to the curb, things turned ugly. She began rifling through the bags and crying and blaming and pointing. Enter the counselor.

Hand on Linda’s shoulder: “Linda . . . Linda . . . what’s going on here?”

And Linda? Broke. Down.

Inside the house, her husband of 10 years and boasting the most delightfully thick Southern accent, sat fully clothed on the closed toilet seat (he had nowhere else to sit) and moaned about his lot in life. His love for Linda was apparent — “I love her,” he said over and over, “but I don’t deserve to live like this.”

Baby Linda learned early to hold tightly to what was rightfully hers. She would grow up to pack 17,000 square feet of junk into a two-bedroom rental and star on a special episode of A&E's "Hoarders," shaming her family and puzzling a nation of viewers.

A clinically diagnosed hoarder can cram 17,000 square feet of total junk and garbage into her house, but she can’t fill 60 minutes of programming. So the folks at “Hoarders” feature not one, but two hoarders in an episode. It’s like a bonus.

Todd in Arizona lived in what was once probably a decent apartment, but has been overcome by garbage up to his thighs. Somewhere in his 20s, with his life before him, Todd could neither open nor part with soda bottles, which were everywhere. As with Linda, Todd was to be assisted by a team of organizers, crammed into his apartment and shoveling clothes and garbage into manageable piles. They would graciously ask something like “keep or toss?” with each bath towel or pair of pants. We learned quickly that Todd was in no way capable of discarding rugby shirts.

But the strangest part was the commentary from his longtime girlfriend. Girlfriend? How did they make it past the first date?

Anyone who watches “Hoarders” or “Clean House” sees pieces of themselves. And you’re a liar if you say you don’t. I’m looking around my office this very minute, and I see a laundry basket filled with hopes and dreams of eBay listings and quick cash. It’s been there for about four months. A quick look inside one of the drawers in our master bathroom reveals a problem. Nothing in here is usable. Nothing. A cursory inventory: prenatal vitamins from 2000, Visine Dry Eyes Relief that expired in November 2005, a 2006 prescription for Hyoscyamine, a tube of Clearasil that I’m fairly certain I had in college. What’s this yellow and blue box? Hey! That’s not funny! Who put Preparation H in my drawer?

Is this a symptom of hoarding, sloppiness or laziness? And is there a difference? They say you can’t take it with you. That one truth is the motivation that makes sense and inspires me to empty this drawer. Because no matter where I go–and this is comforting–I won’t need Preparation H and dry-rotted prenatal vitamins.