This was originally published In October, but we’re reposting it in light of yesterday’s season premiere. You can watch “Hoarders” on Monday night’s at 10/9 Central on A & E.
I’ve been transfixed by “Hoarders,” A&E’s new reality show about compulsive hoarding, since it premiered, and now Oprah’s jumping on the bandwagon, or shall I say, on top of the pile, by featuring the illness on today’s show (check local listings).
I didn’t think reality could get much more dire than A&E’s Emmy-winning “Intervention” series, with its strung-out sexual abuse survivors and co-enabling severely anorexic twins, but “Hoarders” presents a whole new type of horror: people who, thanks to their compulsion, simply can’t bear to part with any personal belongings. Any personal belongings. One child that was beginning to display symptoms couldn’t let go of used cotton balls. Used cotton balls.
These are not just pack rats, or folks who need a subscription to “Real Simple,” but people who have a serious mental disorder characterized by the need to “acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary.” Each show introduces us to two of the estimated three million sufferers and their issues, and then provides a professional organizer or therapist to help address the problem.
You see, these aren’t “Clean Sweep” or “Clean House” messy home situations, these hoarders are threatened with eviction, the removal of their children, divorce, and even jail time.
There’s Jill, who has a refrigerator full of out-dated, rotting, and maggot-infested food, most of which she claims is still good. Or Shirley, who has always taken in the spare cats nobody wanted only to not be able to care for all of them herself (not for the weak stomached), and Paul, who has acres and acres of old cars and garbage piling up as a way to pay for his grandchildren’s future and his retirement.
This morning I heard a radio host make a comment implying that A&E shouldn’t be making entertainment at the expense of those with mental health problems. But I don’t think the show works at the expense of anyone. I think it is of real value to the participants and to viewers. Yes, the show is absolutely engrossing television, but it also shines a light on–outing, if you will–a behavior that most people would just put down to laziness, not to a dysfunction that may be as intractable as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Sure, there is some personal responsibility that needs to be taken, as with all addictions, but these people face much deeper problems than simply disdaining a Swiffer and perhaps A&E and Oprah can help viewers with similar problems, or who have friends and relatives with similar problems, understand and remove the stigma from the dirty little secret of hoarding.
“Hoarders” airs at 10:00 p.m. ET on A&E. A new season begins on November 30.