Movies + TV

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Hoarders

This show makes me look at my cabinet full of canned pineapples differently.

Have you seen Hoarders on A&E? It’s excellent and amazing. And terrifying and painful. Each hour-long episode makes a visit to the homes of two different people suffering from chronic, compulsive hoarding. Mostly they’ve acquired massive arrays of random household items, although sometimes someone will have what resembles a specialty, meaning they particularly collect little boxes or dolls or cars or, um, rats. In every case, these people’s lives have become unmanageable, their houses have been damaged, their families have been gravely impacted, and the hoarders are facing enormous consequences such as eviction or losing relationships with their loved ones.

An episode of Hoarders will often include:
• yelling
• crying
• human and/or animal waste
• cats

Sounds pretty great, right?

At this moment, some of you might be thinking that I’m a really terrible person. Clearly, as a fan of Hoarders, I am revealing myself to be a total voyeur who likes to watch TV about other people’s misery. I would argue that you are only partially correct. It’s true, I do take a deep interest in the extreme turns that these people’s lives have taken and I have been known to indulge in a small laugh now and then at things I’ve seen on the show, like when Glen, the aforementioned rat enthusiast, said, “I’ll readily admit that I have too many rats.”

But there are times when I am genuinely moved by what goes down. Like when Richard finally came out as a gay man to his siblings after years of hiding? Or when seven-year-old Alex turns out to have developed hoarding tendencies just like his mom? I cried. See, this is a well-rounded program.

Not to mention that sometimes the people called in to help the hoarders are genuinely talented and helpful. In every episode there are some cleaning professionals who get involved, as well as a therapist. One of the regulars on the show is Dr. Robin Zasio—a therapist who specializes in compulsive hoarding. Dr. Zasio kind of reminds me of what Barbie might be like during her second career: a little older, a little wiser, but still always dressed in a coordinated outfit. Here she is counseling a family in Illinois looking a little like Ski Jump Barbie:

If Barbie grew up to become someone who changed people’s lives by throwing out their urine-soaked cardboard boxes, everyone would be proud of her! Anyway, one of the amazing skills that Dr. Zasio has is her ability to remain calm and collected when coming into a hoarders house for the first time. I would imagine that it takes quite a bit of talent and composure to step inside a home—and when I say step, I really mean climb because usually these abodes require scaling a junk mountain—that is often filthy, usually reeks of poop/rotten food, and is overwhelmingly crowded. Yet she always addresses the resident with respect. Deep down, she’s GOT to be thinking, Get me the frick-frack outta here! I love to watch Zasio in these glorious moments of self-control.

The professionals on the show have infinite patience for their charges. The hoarders rationalize every item, every pile of paper, every flattened, dead cat. Do they really need to keep that nine-pound box of bottle caps? Yes. They will eventually build that bottle-cap tower they’ve always wanted. Zasio and her colleagues are compassionate and calm as they listen to the hoarders and try to ease them down off of their bottle-cap-keeping ledges. It looks like a hard job. And it’s very admirable and kind.

But the main reason this show is so close to my heart is that it speaks to the little hoarder in all of us. We do all share that, right? Or is it just me? Check this out—here is a seemingly benign picture of my kitchen:

And here, a seemingly benign picture of one of my cabinets:

Inside view is looking pretty normal, as long as we agree to ignore that rogue bottle of glitter glue in with the food products. But then, look a little closer…what’s that behind the lentils and canned pineapples?

That would be my secret stash of magazines from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. I use them to make collages and cards and stuff—or, at least, someday I will use them to make collages and cards and stuff. No, seriously. I will. In the interest of honesty, I should also state that the pineapples could be counted as part of a hoard as well. I haven’t needed a can of pineapples since, like, ever.

So, anyway, in one of my favorite episodes, Arlene, a Hawaii native, is living in her house with her husband, BUT there is no room left in the house for her husband. He has to sleep in the car. And to make matters worse, he has a terrible case of scoliosis that makes his back very hunched. Arlene’s hoarding is probably some of the most impressive I’ve seen on the show—she has piles of things all the way up to the ceiling and is constantly living with the threat of being crushed by her teetering belongings.

Even though her situation is particularly desperate, Arlene is not really able to let go of her possessions. There is a really interesting/funny/sad moment in Arlene’s story where she is pressured by the therapist to find ONE item in the sea of junk to throw away. She responds with frustration and outrage: “You want me to go look for something now!?” The fact that she’s standing in front of a pile of trash is lost on her. It’s baffling and maddening and fascinating to watch. I sit and take it in, with my own tiny hoarder sitting on my shoulder. We are rapt.

Basically, being a compulsive hoarder is like feeling, deep down, that EVERYTHING is literally the best thing ever. If that’s the case, can we really blame her?♦

Lucy Wainwright Roche is a musician. When she’s not on the road, she lives in Brooklyn.

42 Comments

  • mamacass February 2nd, 2012 11:10 PM

    Totally one of my guilty pleasures. Also, totally collect things for me future “collages.” No shame.

    http://www.cassandrahsieh.com/

  • witch-season February 2nd, 2012 11:12 PM

    This reminds me of my grandpa’s house. One day he said I could go in his office and grab whatever I wanted and I found some interesting stuff. I found vintage playboys, witchcraft books, Pink Floyd records, Che Guevara, John and Yoko pictures and a 1920s Dior bow-tie.

    • Izzy February 3rd, 2012 11:20 AM

      Your Grandpa seriously has some seriously amazing stuff in his house.

    • Tyknos93 February 3rd, 2012 1:31 PM

      My best friend and I LOVE vintage playboy. The articles are so great and they Interviewed people like Stanley Kubrick and Jeff Koons back then. The women have actual bodies and I think the nudes were very tasteful. Here I was just thinking we were odd.

      • Tavi February 3rd, 2012 1:34 PM

        I love them too. The colors and the design and the fonts and the photos. Blacklisted writers.

      • Tyknos93 February 5th, 2012 6:36 PM

        They are alot classier than most men’s mags today :-)

  • SweetThangVintage February 2nd, 2012 11:19 PM

    BUT MY KIDS COULD WANT IT SOME DAY!

  • taste test February 2nd, 2012 11:21 PM

    I’ve never watched Hoarders because my mom has hoarder tendencies and I’d rather not find out exactly how hoarderlike they are. She’s not even remotely as bad as the people on this show, but my house is definitely over the line between Messy and Kinda Concerning. I like to think it will keep me from letting my own place become a giant pile of crap when I move out, because, yeah, it gets old.

    With that said, this is a really good, interesting post. Also, its tags are hilarious. I both want and do not want another post to be tagged with “junk mountains.” haha

    • onehandclaps February 3rd, 2012 12:25 AM

      I’m in the same situation. Except I found my mom watching Hoarders once, and it was just too surreal to see her not even register that she was even remotely like it. I mean, she’s not *that* bad, but man there were some bad years.

      I’m the same too that her messiness has kind of made me kind of obsessive in a neat way~

      • Marguerite February 3rd, 2012 6:00 AM

        My mom is the complete opposite! literally, her favourite holiday is boxing day, because we can “throw out all of our stuff to make room for christmas presents”. shes thrown out all the greatest toys and story books without our permission, so now there is now way i will possibly remember my childhood :(

  • puffytoad February 2nd, 2012 11:33 PM

    Canned pineapples are good on pizza.

    • julalondon February 13th, 2012 5:32 AM

      That’s what i was thinking…

  • Elisa February 2nd, 2012 11:36 PM

    These kinds of shows make me fear myself, as a human being. Eyeeeee needa go clean my room now.
    Also: have you ever seen that one about people with an otherworldly devotion to couponing? Not a thing, couponing. But they do it.

  • Sugar February 2nd, 2012 11:46 PM

    Matt Paxton is the best thing ever.

  • Katherine February 2nd, 2012 11:50 PM

    “At this moment, some of you might be thinking that I’m a really terrible person. Clearly, as a fan of Hoarders, I am revealing myself to be a total voyeur who likes to watch TV about other people’s misery. ”

    I totally relate! I enjoy watching Toddlers and Tiaras, but I’m worried that makes me seem like a sicko creep.

    But anyway, I really liked this post. Only recently, I actually took the time to go through all my old magazines and make a collage!

  • juliette February 3rd, 2012 12:14 AM

    You should see my Nan and Pop’s house… totally neat and tidy, but then open the 2nd bedroom’s door and prepare yourself for a jungle of clothes, board games, cat ornaments and cricket books printed in the 70′s. It is impressive. I believe the hoarding gene has been passed down to me.

  • cherrycola27 February 3rd, 2012 12:17 AM

    This was literally the best Literally the Best Thing Ever.
    “I sit and take it in, with my own tiny hoarder sitting on my shoulder. We are rapt.”
    My closet is a tiny little hoard heaven. I wish it wasn’t, and it’s really not THAT bad, but there are just some things I can’t get rid of. I’m afraid that one day my Things I Can’t Get Rid Of pile will grow out of my closet. Scary.

  • sedgwick February 3rd, 2012 12:19 AM

    hoarders is one of those shows (as well as toddlers and tiaras) where i’m like: this shit only happens in the USA where everyone is crazy. I mean, you are allowed to have GUNS there! (please don’t mind my prejudice) but yesterday i came across a tv show where psychics try and find a person locked inside a car boot in a random car in a carpark in order to convince sceptics. so think we’re all crazy too.

    • missblack February 3rd, 2012 1:26 AM

      hehe you should watch ‘Only In America’ which is a show on the history channel wherein Larry the Cable Guy goes around tracking down things that could only happen in America, like a guy who plays guitar in his underwear in Times Square and makes $5,000 a week. Doing that.

      • I.ila February 3rd, 2012 8:37 AM

        The Naked Cowboy!!! I’ve seen him. It’s really funny some of the looks tourists give, but the New Yorkers just sort of walk by.

      • sedgwick February 3rd, 2012 10:06 PM

        Only in America is like my catchphrase. i will definitely watch that show!

  • marineo February 3rd, 2012 1:01 AM

    I’ve resisted watching this show due to the fact that I have many hoarder tendencies myself. It’s definitely not as bad as the people on the show. My dresser always fills up with little things, knick knacks and broken jewelry and other found objects. Every once in a while my dresser is covered and I have to clean it, which is an almost painful experience, because i can’t bear to part with any of it. So I just put it in a shoe box, which i put under my bed. Although I have devised a system that i can leave that stuff in my room for a year, and if i miss it, I can keep it, but if not, i must let it go. it works pretty well, but i worry that my quasi-hoarding will develop into real hoarding. And that is scary.

  • missblack February 3rd, 2012 1:23 AM

    I’ve always felt like someday I’ll end up a hoarder because:
    a) my maternal grandmother has major hoarder tendencies (I’m busily working on deciphering the underlying psychological issues)
    and
    b) my mom (as daughter of aforementioned almost-hoarder) likes to throw everything away, even, say, the box of my favorite winter sweaters that I’d put in the basement for storage.

    And I can never watch Hoarders because I feel too bad for the people, like, HEY, MAYBE THEY WILL NEED ALL THOSE SWEATERS ONE DAY, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN THE APOCALYPSE WILL HAPPEN.

  • karastarr32 February 3rd, 2012 3:22 AM

    Omigosh, my mum and I lovee to watch this show when my dad isn’t home.

  • I.ila February 3rd, 2012 8:38 AM

    What about the House episode where they go into this guys house and they find his wife under a pile of stuff and then find out that she is a hoarder and they have some sort of fungus (I think.)

  • erin February 3rd, 2012 10:13 AM

    Literally the best thing ever: A few summers ago, me, my mom, and my grandma were trolling around town looking for garage sales. My grandma took us to this one that had been going on for DAYS. Apparently the house had belonged to a recently deceased hoarder. There was so much stuff. Not even gross stuff either, just stuff. I remember we left with a ton of nail polishes (never opened) and a bag of silk scarves (one of which I’m wearing today) and my grandma got a bunch of vintage fabrics. It was one of the best garage sales I’ve been to.
    keepingupwithunstuck.blogspot.com

  • RockHatesMiriam February 3rd, 2012 11:50 AM

    Me and my dad are the only hoarders in my family which drives my Mum and sister wild! Especially as I have to share a room with my sister, it’s a hard line to walk, let me tell you! My mum once threw away all my chilhood toys because there ‘wasn’t enough space’ and now I have no teddies pass on to my children. It’s so sad :(

  • Narita February 3rd, 2012 12:26 PM

    We’ve got a show like that in the Netherlands! Finally something we have too, although I don’t remember the name. It’s pretty good yeah.

  • riotworthy February 3rd, 2012 5:07 PM

    Not to self-promote or come out as a packrat, but I did write something recently that is my tribute to the hoarders because I want to secretly believe that they’ll outlive us all:

    As published on http://onbarcelona.blogspot.com

    Hoarders Make the Best Pirates

    Yo-ho-ho and a pile of rut,
    Governed by a few furry queens.
    Count the years in albums and sevens,
    Discolored by brine and old salt.

    Thousands of texts guildered,
    A sutler’s hatch under stairs,
    Bonds mildewing on cellar seas,
    Plastics and handles craft into rafts.

    Epoxy the lines between baskets and shelves,
    Block bandits with weeds and newspaper shanty,
    Chantey yourself about mead between meetings,
    Ignore the drin of telephone and port.

    No quarter for you and the she-cat,
    Heap the mail unopened against sill,
    Fire forward fortifications
    Against flow of electric stove and light.

    Fair wind against the flogging by states,
    Nasty notes from next door,
    Live without water flow and need,
    Outlive them all in folds.

  • joliejoeley February 3rd, 2012 5:31 PM

    I didn’t realise until I read it that I have some serious hoarding tendencies. I don’t have a bed or a carpet anymore, it’s just covered in clothes. and every single draw is full with pointless magazines and books and make up and empty food wrappers. I think I might have a tidy up… But yeah, the show is the best thing ever.

  • unicornrider February 3rd, 2012 5:59 PM

    I’m a hoarder of clothes, I just can’t seem to throw any of it away because I’m always thinking “someday I’ll find something to go with this” or “what if I throw this away and than end up regretting it later because I bought a skirt that matches it perfectly?” or “I’ll fix this and than it’ll be awesome”

    • db February 3rd, 2012 7:31 PM

      OH GOD I DO THIS TOO
      WHY CAN’T I STOP

  • stylepukka February 3rd, 2012 7:09 PM

    i will never look at hoarders in the same light ever again. while i’m not particularly interested in showcasing rats, there are pretty deep connections between everyone and their secret obsessions.

    stylepukka.blogspot.com

  • v.v. February 3rd, 2012 10:19 PM

    Hoarders is also my guilty pleasure. It is compelling. Both my parents are hoarders and so I was raised in it. I thought it was normal. I can remember being attached to silly things that should have been thrown away at an early age. The TV show is my therapy, and has taught me a few lessons. I still fight it, because I love garage sales and the goodwill store, but I try to limit myself and ask myself “do you already have this?” when I want to buy another coffee perculator or iron from the 60s.I am an artist, so I am always hoarding magazines for future material too.

  • streetcreature February 4th, 2012 2:05 AM

    I’m too scared to watch the show… Gives me the heebeejeebies! Great insight though. I will definitely consider checking it out now that I know it has substance and isn’t merely torturing these poor people.

    http://street-creature.com

  • C.Claire February 4th, 2012 11:02 AM

    Literally the best thing ever – Lucy Wainwright Roche! I saw a concert with her and Neko Case a couple months ago. She is an amazing artist and hilarious!

    Rookie – how do you collect all of my favourite people onto one site? amazing…

  • Sparkie February 4th, 2012 6:29 PM

    Oh so that’s what me and my mom have haha, no I’m just kidding but we have lot’s of stuff in the attic that we keep in case you know . And I have a ton of magazines in my closet that I like to keep just so I can go back to them in a few years haha .

  • monkeyfoofoo February 5th, 2012 6:43 PM

    I felt bad for the rat guy, he loved them. Also the lady that had all those cat corpses around her house. Kitchen Impossible is one of my favorites also, how can those places stay in business.

  • oriana February 6th, 2012 11:39 PM

    My mom’s boyfriend’s mom is an organized hoarder and you guys would love her house! It is two stories and an attic filled with wall-to-wall photographs of her grandkids, rooms filled with records, a room dedicated to marti gras (for no apparant reason), and a 4 car garage that has only about a 24″x2″ rectangle to walk in. And of course I love watching hoarders too :’)

  • xgiovanna February 8th, 2012 9:47 PM

    Lately I’ve been into minimalist thinking, downsizing, etc. I love the idea of living with less things, in a clean, fresh place. I recently threw 40% of my stuff away, from clothes I never fixed or felt good in, to books I didn’t read, general knick knacks and old stuff. I don’t regret it at all. I took pics of what I thought was cool and that was it. I’m by no means a minimalist, but everything I own has a designated place and I only kept things I actually USE. Letting go of crap feels great, man. I mean, some people even do the “100 thing challenge”. My biggest problem is with craft supplies, but it’s ok as long as it’s organized, and also realizing how much I own makes me buy less of it. This all made me a smarter shopper, and I try to buy things that I actually need and clothes I can get a lot of wear out of, quality>quantity, etc.
    Posting this here makes me feel like a bit of a dumbass. This goes completely against Rookie’s aesthetic of cluttered shrines and stuff (which somehow I also adore), and it’s a conflict I live with, lol, but I just feel better this way. Still I kept my cactus terrarium with fake flowers and a saint inside.

  • appledarling February 11th, 2012 1:39 AM

    oh man… my uncle that still lives with his mom (my gramma) has like…. 2000 vhs tapes in the living room…. and if you move you can knock them down, and you can’t knock them down or you’ll get yelled at. and i thought THAT was bad….

  • Caligirl February 13th, 2012 6:48 PM

    Here I’d been thinking that I had no obsessions, BUT you proved me wrong the very first day! It started when I was 10 and found a bunch of Seventeen magazines that an older girl had stashed. I now have hundreds of magazines, and am jealous of the magazines from the 30s through 60s. Where did you find them?

    My magazines are stacked under bookcases, have taken up the shelves inside an armoire, live in bins under my daybed, and sometimes spill out into stacks on tables and/or floors. When I run out of room, I go through huge stacks of them and tear out the clothes, furniture, recipes, and so on that I like, and toss the rest in the recycling bin. My boyfriend thinks it’s excessive, but I could have worse habits.

    Some magazines like Lula are too beautiful to tear apart, so it’s probably good that it’s hard to find.

    I tried watching hoarders on Netflix once or twice, but started to feel ill when they show the fridges, then I have to turn it off. At least magazines don’t have expiration dates.