Hoarders Review: Season 1, Episode One, “Jennifer & Ron/Jill”

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.

Jennifer and Ron's house.

Jennifer and Ron’s house.

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.

The adaptable toddler navigates the hoard to find his toy.

The adaptable toddler navigates the hoard to find his toy.

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.

These were the stairs to Jennifer and Ron's basement.

These were the stairs to Jennifer and Ron’s basement.

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's hoarded kitchen.

Jill’s hoarded kitchen.

Jill has a sister and son who appear in the episode and both are aware of how bad the situation is at her house.

Can you find the cat in this picture?

Can you find the cat in this picture?

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.

Jill says she's a great cook.

Jill says she’s a great cook.

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.

But not such a great dishwasher.

But not such a great dishwasher.

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.

Cheerios, anyone?

Cheerios, anyone?

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.”

"Is there some food rotting in here?"  "No."

“Is there some food rotting in here?” “No.”

Then she admits there is a rotting pumpkin on the floor.  Then a bag of rotten lettuce…

"I forgot about the pumpkin," she said.  I"t was a beautiful specimen!"

“I forgot about the pumpkin,” she said. I”t was a beautiful specimen!”

There are actually multiple piles of rotten food in the living room and elsewhere.

There's a rotten squash, too.

There’s a rotten squash, too.

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.

I guess you can't call this a 'crisper' drawer anymore...

I guess you can’t call this a ‘crisper’ drawer anymore…

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.

Hoarders & Hoarding: Buried Alive TV Show Reviews

I’m a happy Amazon Prime member.  The fact that free 2 day shipping on gajillions of items hasn’t bankrupted me nor turned my house into a Super Hoard is another testament of how much progress I’ve made on the hoarding and shopping patterns I was taught as a child and fought as an adult.

One of the coolest new features of Amazon Prime is Amazon Instant Video.  What started as a shipping club has turned into a free video streaming service as well.  This service has several seasons of Hoarders, Hoarding:  Buried Alive, and Confessions:  Animal Hoarding for Prime members.  I think I’ve watched them all.  When I started watching them over a year ago, I still had some areas of my home with minor hoards, such as the basement shop area and my top dresser drawer.  Watching Hoarders and seeing the exaggerated effects of procrastination and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) hoarding issues motivated me to finish sorting and organizing my own home.

Hoarders shows on Amazon Prime for free streaming.

Hoarders shows on Amazon Prime for free streaming.

While I found watching Hoarders to be therapeutic, it may not be so for someone still in the stages of denial and active hoarding.  In fact, I know my mother would simply say “I’m not that bad, and therefore don’t need to do anything.”  But for mild hoarders, family of hoarders, or interested people who want to see the destructive, unhealthy effects of serious hoarding, these TV shows are strong medicine.  It’s nice that each involves a psychologist or psychiatrist, along with the compassionate clean-up crews.

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Spaces Used for Intended Purposes

Isn't that what a bathtub is for?

Isn’t that what a bathtub is for?

This is a picture of my Mom’s tub a few years ago.  I live several hours away and only visit a couple times a year.  I don’t stay at her house; there’s no room for me and my wife.  It is a 4 or 5 bedroom house with 2.5 bathrooms, architecturally.  Functionally, it is a 1 bedroom house with 1.5 bathrooms and 5 storage units.  I don’t drop in randomly, and my Mom knows I have judgements about her hoarding.  My sister and I have offered to help clean it up.  Since this picture, I’ve pleaded with Dad to get professional help for Mom, I’ve offered to go to counseling with them, repeated offers to help out in any way I can.  I’m totally ignored.

Denial is such a huge part of hoarding.  It seems to be what puts it firmly in the ‘mental illness’ category.

In the official signs and symptoms of hoarding, spaces in the home unable to be used for their intended purpose are a key sign.  Now, if this tub were the only area of clutter, that may be understandable.  But at that time it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.  Here’s what the garage looked like that day, and I’m sure it’s the same now (6 years later) if not worse.  There’s definitely no car in the garage, and hasn’t been for over 20 years (since I got in trouble for organizing it enough to get 1 car in the 2 car garage).

A Hoarded Garage

My mom and dad’s garage has been hoarded full of stuff like boxes, old clothes, shopping bags, and unused furniture for years. The only thing not in there is a car.

I understand that some people do projects in their garage, such as setting it up to be a woodworking shop or art studio.  But I don’t think this qualifies as even modern art (cardboard sculpture?).

I’m pretty certain my sister and I will end up cleaning this up.  It has been like this for years, and it would be amazing if it wasn’t full of spiders.  If mice get in there, it will be horrible.  Of course, this is a fire hazard.  The main circuit breaker is behind this pile on the wall.  It appears that most of these are empty boxes, but in standard hoarder fashion, they are mixed with full boxes, shopping bags, old clothes, some furniture from grandma’s house, and who knows what else.

I’m sharing these pictures partly to help myself process the situation but also to let my readers know for sure that I come from a real hoarding background and am still struggling with how to “Help Hoarders Stop Hoarding” in my family.

I haven’t heard a peep from my Mom or Dad about my concerns or offers (I’ve done this in writing and on the phone).  But it was my Mom’s birthday a few days ago.  I couldn’t bring myself to send her any physical gift, so I sent her an iPad game via e-mail and called her for a chat.  She has a huge collection of glass–blue glass, red glass, etc.  Years ago I was excited to give her a blue glass vase.  I think it disappeared into the hoard.  There’s no room for her to really display things nicely and store other things appropriately.

When I asked Mom what she did for her birthday, she replied that she’s “really into” St. Patrick’s Day this year, and had gone to a new antique mall in town to buy some green glass.  “Really into” means “buying more crap” by the way.  Christmas decor must be 10-20% of the hoard.  Other holidays are probably catching up.  Oh joy.

I learned many of these behaviors:  procrastination, collecting, impulse buying, leaving piles of stuff around until you don’t even see them as piles.  But I changed.  I worked on myself, I worked on my hoarded areas.  Now I treasure order and organization, and take care of clutter and piles quickly.  They make me uneasy, and clear areas make me happy.  This took reprogramming my emotions, anxieties, and priorities.

It feels so good when spaces are open and able to be used for their intended purposes!