Pop Culture

Guilty Pleasures: Hoarders

So, in our last installment, we discussed a show about ghost stories. This time, we’re going to examine a TV show that’s perhaps more frightening than visits from the dead: Hoarders. I would hope this show doesn’t need description, but a quick summary: the show focuses on two individuals or families who are dealing with hoarding. The first half of the show is setup and the initial therapist visit, and the second half is the agonizing cleanup process itself, which for dramatic purposes takes place over two days.

Hoarding is a condition where an individual or family collect and keep food, clothing, and other belongings, even when they don’t have room to store it, or (as is the case with food) it is worthless or dangerous to keep. It is nearly universal that rooms most of us consider necessary to survival, like the kitchen or bathroom, are partially or completely blocked off by piles of stuff. Sufferers of hoarding aren’t just messy, disorganized, or simply “pack rats.” The amount of stuff they own contributes to bad air quality, pest infestation, structural damage to the house, and presents the hazard of tripping, falling, or getting trapped.

Watching Hoarders, you see the condition of the homes, you hear the hoarders discuss why they keep their things, and you see their obliviousness to the terrible state of their homes. You bounce between extreme irritation and sympathy. For every time you blurt out “You’re just lazy! Clean your house!” you at least once cringe quietly as a grown woman cradles a stuffed animal before throwing it in a dump truck with “1-800-GOT-JUNK” in four-foot high letters on it. The show does an exceptional job of making you feel superior to the hoarders without (usually) feeling contempt for them.

Hoarders is an outstanding motivator to clean your house, in a sort of paranoid and antsy manner. After watching poor Matt and his extreme-clean team shovel pounds and pounds of mouse poop out of a dirty corner of someone’s kitchen, you’ll probably end up scrubbing your kitchen counters until your scalp stops itching. That alone is good reason to keep it on your DVR.

Other than the poop, the most remarkable aspect of Hoarders is watching the level of denial that the people who hoard seem to be operating with. I have literally watched a woman be shown multiple deceased pet carcasses found under mounds of stuff in her house, then calmly say that “those can go” into the dump truck. One woman said that if she just had a bigger house to store her things, it wouldn’t be a problem. Another had external storage units in multiple states but denied their existence even as her sister showed her the receipts from the storage company.

I’m fairly certain I’ve seen every episode of this show, and my one criticism is that they have formulas that recur frequently. There are the long-suffering family members; often grown children who claim that their parent kept the house clean until one traumatic event triggered their hoarding. There is frequently a live-in family member who is outed over the course of the episode as being complicit in the hoarding. There is the “miscommunication” that happens during a too-smooth cleanup day where items meant to be saved end up in the dump truck, followed immediately by a hoarder’s breakdown. Perhaps there are only so many ways to tell the same story, but I wish the show would rely a little less on “gotcha” gimmicky moments.

If you’re feeling like your place is a mess, or if you’re trying to motivate yourself to go through some old boxes or neglected drawers, nothing will get you moving faster than Hoarders. Just don’t eat while you’re watching.

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