Friday, November 21, 2008

Screaming Fleas and Possible Help for Hoarders

I received the email below from a television producer who is working on a documentary series about compulsive hoarding. If it holds true to the spirit that the producer describes, this could be a welcome and worthwhile effort that will help raise awareness of hoarding. Of course, I can't endorse the project until we see what comes out of the editing room, but if you're interested in participating, please contact the producer directly.
Dear Hoarderson,

I am working on a groundbreaking new documentary series on compulsive hoarding that will provide a team of professionals that can help those in need get started cleaning their home, no matter how big or full. Right now I am in the process of connecting with companies and professionals who have experience dealing with compulsive hoarders and who may be able to refer them to me. I came across your blog and thought you might be interested in passing our contact information along via the website.

We are not trying to exploit or paint anyone in a bad light. We’re trying to spread awareness and understanding of this underreported disorder. We’re looking for compulsive hoarders who are at a crisis point, and need to make a change in their lives. As I mentioned we would provide a therapist, and professional cleaner and/or organizer to guide the guest through this difficult process.

I understand the very personal and private nature of compulsive hoarding, and don’t want to push anyone into doing something they are not comfortable with. We are simply hoping that people will be willing to share their stories so that other compulsive hoarders will realize they aren’t alone and can get the help they need.

Because of the private nature of this disorder, we understand that contact information can’t be given directly to us. So, we just ask that you pass our information along and people can contact me if they are willing to share their stories.

I’ve attached some information on what the show will focus on and who would be a good match for this project. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have any additional questions.

Warm regards,

Abby Lautt
Associate Producer
Screaming Flea Productions
206.763.3383 ext. 239
Here is the additional information that she mentioned:

Compulsive hoarding is a very serious problem affecting millions of Americans and their friends and families. But little is known about this disorder, and too often hoarders are misunderstood and can’t find the help they need.

We are casting for a groundbreaking new documentary television series that will provide a team of professionals that can help those in need get started cleaning their home, no matter how big or how full. No project is too big. A therapist and/or professional organizer will also be on hand to help guide our guest through this difficult process. Whether or not the guest is ready and able to clean out their entire home in this short period of time, with the assistance and guidance of a professional, they will learn valuable skills which will allow them to complete the task at their own pace and keep them from repeating the hoarding behavior in the future.

We are looking for people (as well as their friends and family if possible) willing to spend 3-5 days sharing their stories in the hopes of raising awareness for this misunderstood and underreported disorder. We understand that compulsive hoarding is an extremely emotional and difficult disorder, and it is our hope that by sharing the personal stories of our guests it will help others realize they are not alone, so they can get the help they need.

We are looking for people whose lives are in crisis because of their compulsive hoarding. The crisis can take an form. For example:
  • They are about to lose their homes
  • Their spouse is threatening to leave
  • They have health issues caused by the chaos
  • They have to find tax papers so the IRS doesn’t audit them
  • Their kids are threatening to cut them off
  • Or any other major issue that can only be resolved by cleaning out their home immediately!
There is no cost to the guest. All clean up services are paid for in exchange for participating in the show. Our hope is that this groundbreaking new documentary television series helps the general public better understand compulsive hoarding while helping compulsive hoarders resolve a crisis.

If you or someone you know is a compulsive hoarder please contact us immediately at:

I understand the private nature of compulsive hoarding and am available to answer any questions or concerns you or your friends and family might have. Please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will be happy to discuss your concerns. I can be reached directly at: 206-763-3383 ext. 239.

Abby Lautt, Associate Producer
Screaming Flea Productions
206.763.3383 ext. 239

Monday, September 01, 2008

Marrying a Hoarder?

I’m a member of several Yahoo! Groups devoted to supporting individuals impacted by their own hoarding or hoarding by others. A few days ago, a fellow sent a message to one of the groups, describing his experiences after recently marrying a hoarder, and wondering if things will get better. In addition to her hoarding, his wife appears to suffer from OCD checking behaviors. The hoard is already severe enough that they are trying to keep family from visiting them and discovering their secret. I sent a response based on my experiences as a son of a hoarder, but for some reason, it isn’t getting through to the Yahoo! Group, so I am posting it here:

The time to take care of this is now, as it will only get harder to deal with once your wife is settled into a pattern with you. My mom is a hoarder, and it is amazing how creative a hoarder’s excuses and delaying tactics can be, and when the excuses and delays are accepted, the hoard grows, and the trauma of getting to a more “normal” situation grows with it. You sound like a decent guy, so it can be tempting to take the excuses and delays at face value, but that is a mistake. Hoarders have great difficulty making certain types of judgments, and even if they honestly believe their own excuses, it doesn’t change the basic pattern of behavior. I’ve seen pictures of my childhood home from when my folks were first married, and it wasn’t too bad. Within a few years, however, only a couple of rooms were presentable to family friends, and within a few more years, no one was allowed in the house at all. Try to guess what that means when the furnace breaks or you need a plumber. I’m sure that my dad never expected how bad things would get with my mom’s hoard.

As an aside, if you are planning on having children, please give serious thought to the impact that growing up in a hoarding environment can have on a child. I spent my youth hiding from people when the doorbell rang, making excuses to friends and relatives about why they couldn’t come and visit, getting teased constantly by all the other kids in the neighborhood, and a lot of things that are much worse and can echo well into adulthood. Also, hoarding parents often use the kids as excuses, e.g. “Well, it’s hard to get things cleaned up and squared away when the kids running around.” Many kids hear stuff like that, and end up thinking that the hoard is their fault and feeling guilty. I was probably twelve years old before I realized that I didn’t cause the hoard and that I wasn’t the reason we couldn’t have repairmen in the house to fix things when they broke.


The fellow indicated that his wife was not likely to see a therapist, so I sent a second message (which did get through), listing a few self-help resources:

On a cheerier note than my last email, since your wife isn’t ready to see a therapist, there is a pretty good book called Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Beverly Beyette.

It goes into some of the “cognitive-behavioral” self-help methods for people with OCD. Even though there is some controversy over whether hoarding really is OCD or something else, the methods described in the book seem like they would be helpful in a lot of situations where someone is trying to change some difficult patterns of behavior.

The Children of Hoarders support group has a list of some other books that might be helpful over at Amazon:


Monday, June 02, 2008

A Trip to the E.R.

(Note: I also posted this on the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! Group earlier today.)

My mom went to the hospital around 11 PM last night, complaining of severe pain in her hands, arms, and sides, and feeling extremely warm, even though her bedroom was fairly cool. Now, my mom has had strokes and fought hard against getting an ambulance and going to the emergency room, but this time around, she thought it made sense to go, so I figured it must be serious. (I live a few hours away from her, so I get my clues where I can.)

My sister got to the hospital around midnight, and sat with my mom through the blood drawing, the Q&A with nurses and doctors, and then, just as she was figuring that it was time to go home and come back in the morning (it was around 2 AM), the emergency room doc came in and gave my mom some Tylenol and discharged her without further explanation. (Not going to go into details, but the doc seemed to be a real piece of work.) My sister asked the doc if he noticed that mom can't walk, mom is now pushing 200 lbs, and that sis is a petite 5 foot 2. Long story short, they had to arrange a medical transport service to take her home. By then it was a little after 4 AM.

Here's where it gets good:

When the doc gave her Tylenol, my mom wouldn't take it at first, because "I never take that kind of stuff." Nope. Not Tylenol, not aspirin...nothing. "Drugs" upset her body. "I don't want those chemicals in me." Of course, she'll take any supplement that she hears about on the radio or TV, by the fistful, but she won't take a pain killer when she's in pain. She says, "I'm a SURVIVOR! I adapt!" (She places extra, almost pouty, emphasis on each syllable of "survivor," like she's proud that she doesn't take appropriate action. She said the same thing when we were kids, and we couldn't let a repairman into the house to fix little things like ovens, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, etc.)

Anyway, back to the story...

We've discussed on the message board how hoarders appear to have some very distinctive speech patterns, like not being able to distinguish between critical information and ephemera, taking ten minutes to say something that could be said in one minute, due to unnecessary detail, etc., etc. Well, at 4:20 AM, my mom called me to tell me that she was back home.

She told me all about the ambulance driver, whose "name was Jeff -- isn't that something? What a coincidence! Another Jeff!"

Jeff, a very unusual name, of course, was the name of one of the kids I hung out with in high school, oh, 25 years ago.

"Jeff and the other guy were so funny; we had a good time! He lives in Springfield. I wonder if they know so-and-so."

Then she switched gears, and told me that she heard a little kid crying in the emergency room. "Gee, I wonder what was the matter with him. I didn't get a look at him, but I could hear his parents. They had some kind of an accent. I don't know where they were from. There was a lady who looked like she might have broken her arm, too, but she didn't look like she was in much pain. I had it worse than her, I think."

You get the picture. I managed to get a word in edgewise, and asked her, "Well, how about YOU? How are YOU? What did the doctor say?" Another roundabout story of how even her cat knew something was wrong with her, since he kept looking at her funny, etc. etc., and that she had dinner a little late, etc. Finally, I said, "Mom, it's 4:30 AM. Are you OK?" Like usual, her response to a direct question is, "Well, I have to tell you the story." "No, Mom, the ambulance driver's home town is not 'the story,' your health is the story. It's after 4:30 AM. Tell me if you are in any pain, or tell me if you are still overheated." After about two or three tries, I interrupted and said, "Obviously, if you are well enough to talk about the cat, I can go back to sleep now."

"Oh. Okay. Boy, your sister was bent out of joint."

Me: "Mom!"

"Are you coming down to see me today?"

Me: "You're fine, I'm going to go to work. Bye."

"Oh, everyone is in such a hurry!"


Another day in the life of a COH...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Maintenance Free

I've come across a wonderful new blog by a fellow child of a hoarder, and I've added it to my blogroll. Please check out Maintenance Free when you get a chance - the blogger is a very good writer, and she has some pictures that look very familiar.