This first episode of Hoarders is available for streaming via Amazon as a Prime Instant Video here: http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Ron-Jill/dp/B004U6O9AM. It opens with a few shots of the hoarded homes in question and some key voice-over bits. Like all of the Hoarders episodes, this definition is presented at the beginning:
Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.
More than 3 million people are compulsive hoarders.
These are two of their stories.
Jennifer and Ron are the first couple–Jennifer is described as a compulsive shopper who describes the addictive high she has for shopping, and Ron attributes his disorganization and hoarding to patterns he learned from his father.
They have a toddler who lives in their messy home with them, and 2 other children. This home is dangerously messy, with food, dirty clothing, and other debris which covers stairs, flooring, doorways, and most other surfaces in (and outside) of their house.
Code Enforcement came after complaints and said if conditions didn’t improve rapidly, they would come back with a warrant. Their fear was that Child Protective Services would then take their kids.
The second situation is 61 year old Jill, who lives on her own and is mainly a food hoarder. She also hoards other things, and unfortunately has cats, which always complicates the matter. Dirty dishes overfill the sink and counters. Jill is a renter, and the landlord has threatened to evict her.
Jill has a sister and son who appear in the episode and both are aware of how bad the situation is at her house.
Jill explains that periods of poverty in the past have led her to hold on to food and to buy things on sale. Her son agrees that she is a good cook, but the rotting and molding food around the house means that most people wouldn’t want to eat anything in that house.
After these introductory segments, Hoarders explains that each home has a looming deadline of extreme consequences, and that the Hoarders crew has come in to help out. The crew consists first of psychologists and professional organizers, and then brings in the clean-up crew, which is often the 1-800-GOT-JUNK people and trucks.
Jennifer and Ron knew that CPS may take their kids, but that failed to motivate them to clean up. As the organizer talks with her and tours the house, it is clear that Jennifer has a huge amount of denial. Generally hoarders use language which make them seem powerless or victimized by inanimate objects or other people. Also, language which minimizes how bad things are is common, such as “a little bit” messy.
Jill is confronted about the flies in her house by the psychologist, who bluntly asks if there is rotting food in the stinking living room they’re standing in. At first she says “No.”
Then she admits there is a rotting pumpkin on the floor. Then a bag of rotten lettuce…
There are actually multiple piles of rotten food in the living room and elsewhere.
Watching other people’s severe denial has made me wonder what I’m in denial of. This search for honest self criticism was important to me to see the areas of my life and home I’d been neglecting.
Many hoarders have placed recycling and reusing as higher priorities than having a safe and sanitary home. It is important to become aware of priorities. While recycling and reusing are nice, it’s OK to throw things away or haul them to a landfill, especially if there is a large amount of clutter filling yards or living spaces.
While the cleaner is scooping the rotten, moldy pumpkin into the trash (while wearing a air filter mask), Jill first talks to the pumpkin, thanking it for its existence, then can’t resist picking out some seeds from the muck. This even happens in front of the TV cameras. Jill also insists on saving many expired items from the kitchen, even though she is under threat of eviction and has the crew and TV cameras around her. She clearly is stuck in unhealthy patterns she doesn’t have much awareness of.
Back at Jennifer and Ron’s, Jennifer and the organizer tackle the bathroom and find an overdraft statement which Jennifer hid from her husband. Overspending on her shopping addiction has cost her hundreds of dollars. Meanwhile, Ron admits that he has never realized how emotionally attached he is to “stuff.”
Jill, in sorting rotting food with the helpers, says that her intention in hoarding food was to be self-supporting. The conflict is pointed out that this behavior has led to her likely being evicted. The fridge is completely gross, there is rotting meat and vegetable fluids filling the bottom of a product drawer which leads helpers to gag and nearly vomit. Jill still looks for items in this muck to save and eat.
Many hoarders eventually reach a defensive, angry point. It is of course very emotional to have other people throwing away one’s possessions. This is the point where the hoarders need to be counseled to realize that their lack of skills created the situation and could re-create it if they don’t make strong effort to continue the changes.
The Hoarders shows usually end with statements about what happened afterwards. In this first show, Jennifer and Ron’s children were able to have friends over. Jill started therapy and wasn’t evicted on the condition that progress continues to be made.
Having watched many Hoarders shows, this first episode is a great introduction to the problem, the people, and the treatment. Most hoarders aren’t as severe as these, particularly with Jill’s massive amounts of expired and rotting food. Still, seeing these extreme cases should motivate most people to do a little better job keeping spaces clear, keeping their fridge clean, and being thankful for what they have and don’t have.