I have no idea what possessed me to start watching it. Maybe it was boredom, or needing an outlet from the daily grind. Or reassurance that my cleaning as of late isn’t that bad.
I’ve been watching Hoarders for the past two-ish weeks. It started slow, as watching a show like Hoarders should start. Back when I lived at home, I watched one episode in its entirety. I couldn’t remember the lady’s name, but I remember her hoarding started as a result of her husband’s sudden death. Her adult daughter described her as being stuck in time.
However, the uniqueness of that episode was not the inanimate objects. It was her collection of deceased animals and insects. Cicada husks, mummified baby something or another (I’m seeing the jar right now with whatever was in there), and most incredibly – two dead owls she had preserved in her freezer.
Back then the owls did me in. I had to take a break from watching, then went back to finish the episode. I was not ready for the owls in the freezer.
In all fairness, most people wouldn’t be ready for some owls in the freezer.
Fast forward to today. I’ve spent the last two-ish weeks watching clips and full episodes on YouTube. I’m not able to watch episodes where animals are blatantly neglected or abused, so I learned pretty quickly to always read the comments and if anyone mentions animal abuse, click off right then.
Side note: I’m always surprised by how many hoarders have a cat living amongst the piles upon piles of literal garbage. Cats are particular about cleanliness, and I suppose the hoarder’s cat must be uncharacteristically forgiving. My Marina lets me know exactly when her water and food bowls need filled and Heaven help me if I’m moving slow in the morning and haven’t cleaned the cat box.
It’s also incredible to me how similar and different the individual hoarders are across the episodes. I’d guess I’ve watched about a dozen episodes – some full and some clips – and generally, there’s several ways the hoarders can go.
1.) Somewhat self-aware – these folks typically have a tragic loss or backstory, such as the sudden passing of a spouse or child; an abusive marriage or upbringing; or a traumatic event that prompted the hoarding. Sometimes they’ll admit they’re hoarders right off the bat, or they’ll use a euphemism to downplay how severe the hoarding is, as a way of trying to comfort themselves against the shame they feel. Those are the people you watch, root for and hope they can continue with after care once the show is done.
2.) Cognitively declined/impaired – they’re completely oblivious or in denial. A few of them are elderly folks who are heavily implied to be dealing with some form of dementia, or folks who were simply born that way, shouldn’t have been left alone, and now their home has become the neighborhood nuclear dump. The best and most disgusting example of this – reportedly in all of Hoarders history – is Shanna.
Shanna is … how do I put this mildly? To start I’ll give you all a brief backstory. She lived with her mother in the house before her mother passed away. According to Shanna, her late mother was a hoarder and the house was already cluttered before Shanna moved in, and got worse during the time they were living together and after the mother passed on. The house has a septic issue, so Shanna and her late mother used buckets and bottles to … take care of business. (Please tell me you all are getting my drift.) So the inside of the house and the backyard were buckets and bottles of human waste. I’m still both impressed and horrified by how many bottles and containers were removed from both house and backyard. The sheer volume doesn’t seem real coming from one person. Shanna also had a thing for eating contaminated food and decided as a last hurrah to eat something that was contaminated in front of Dr. Zasio and Matt. I think the food had human waste on it. It was something to see.
Dr. Zasio recommended she go into assisted living. The house wasn’t salvageable at all.
As a viewer you feel bad for this group, and at the same time you feel like you need to deep clean your own home and take a shower afterwards.
3.) Narcissistic hoarders – nobody feels sorry for these folks. They’re foul, combative with the cleaning crew and the professionals, and it’s obvious they’re not going to seek help once the show’s over, if their homes can even get cleaned in the first place. If these folks are parents, they’re oftentimes abusive towards their children and make their contempt towards the kids no secret. I felt so terrible for Susan, the daughter of hoarder Augustine. Susan wound up raising her younger brother Jason after he was removed from the home by Child Protective Services as a teenager. Frankly, Augustine is terrible. She has no remorse for what she put her children through and is ungrateful for the crew there to help her. Of course her hoarding is someone else’s fault – Jason’s father, her mother, and Susan for throwing away some stuff. All you wanted to do was give Susan a hug. That poor lady had been carrying too much for too long.
There was an update episode two years after Augustine’s original aired. Augustine hadn’t changed a bit and was still emotionally abusive and dismissive towards Susan. At this point the psychologist for them, Dr. Chabaud, took Susan by the hand, led her out of the house and told her to cut ties with her mother.
The only thing this group does is heighten your blood pressure.
Hoarders is one of those shows I started watching from a place of morbid curiosity. The first few times I watched the show as clips on YouTube, I didn’t feel anything beyond the surface level wondering of how they could possibly amass that much stuff in the first place. Then I started watching full episodes, watching the hoarders and their families. I can’t watch the show from a casual spectator’s place once the families start talking about what happened that prompted the hoard. It’s extremely raw. No lights, no reality TV editing, just raw grief and anger and untreated mental illness coming out as obsessive compulsive hoarding.
This brings me back to the episode I first watched those years ago with the owls in the freezer. Owl Lady’s real name is Kathleen. Like I mentioned earlier, her hoarding began following her husband’s tragic death 25 years prior to the show. Kathleen was a teacher, and had a love for the natural world, which is what prompted her to collect and preserve deceased animals. Back then I watched in horror, but now I watched and found myself completely understanding her.
I’m a diehard animal lover. I grew up with cats and dogs, and pets are very much family or “babies.” Marina is currently sitting on the chair behind me while I’m typing this, purring away in one of many spots she’s forged around the apartment to be close to me. She’s the emotional equivalent of a child, and thinking about the inevitable, of her getting older and declining until it’s her time to transition into the afterlife … well, I know it’s a natural part of life, but I’m not ready or wanting to think about it. Hell, I’m such a softie with animals that seeing roadkill can upset me. As bizarre as this is, I can’t help but feel sorry for the animal that’s no longer here. People I can take or leave depending on the day and how premenstrual I am, but animals are sacred.
At one point during Kathleen’s episode, I want to say (can’t remember right now) Dr. Chabaud asked her about the owls and why she wanted to keep them. Kathleen broke down crying about saving them, and it finally registered to everyone this was about wanting to save her creatures in a way she couldn’t save her husband, and how deep grief went. Thinking about where grief had taken me this year after losing Grandpa, I found myself thinking how if I had anymore heartbreak in a short amount of time, I’d likely have an owl in my freezer. I’m currently feeding the two stray cats, Miss Boop the possum, sometimes a raccoon and the neighborhood birds. Everyone is a few disasters away from wanting to keep an owl in the freezer.
Kathleen’s episode, while heartbreaking, ended on a positive note. To her credit, while extremely grief-stricken, she wasn’t full of crap and owned the mistakes she made. She wasn’t mean or disrespectful to the crew, and offered a sincere apology to her daughter. It became apparent over the show Kathleen has a beautiful heart. Her episode ended with a clean home and a surprise for Kathleen – a nature collection out in the open so she could display her specimens. Mother, daughter, and Dorothy the organizer shared one of the sweetest moments I’ve ever seen on Hoarders.
On the surface Hoarders is a hard show to watch. But settling in and digging a little deeper, it’s a story that can do one of two things. It can either leave you in despair about how far south the human condition can go, like it did with Shanna, or break your heart entirely like it did for Susan and Jason.
And then, it can fill you with hope at how resilient humans can be during the worst things to happen. How even when the odds seem to be stacked so high against them, with honesty and humility in getting help, people in the darkest places can put one foot in front of the other and start climbing their way back. Kathleen’s episode affected me this time watching in a way I didn’t expect, and at the same time, I felt the hope of someone saving themselves.
I didn’t ever see myself watching Hoarders, much less writing a long blog post praising one of them. But here we are and I’m not mad about it. So with that all being said, thank you for stopping by my corner of the internet. Wherever you are in the world, I hope all is well and you’re at peace.
Yours in writing and life,