A & E Hoarders :: Me & “Kim”!

Earlier this year, I was in contact with the always awesome Geralin Thomas, Professional Organizer and one of the stars of A & E’s hit show Hoarders.  Geralin said she was doing a shoot here in my area and would I be interested in participating as an organizer on the show.  Let me think about that (nano-second later)…um…yeah!

Gathering up a crew of talented organizers nearby, we grabbed our label makers (my favorite Brother PT1290 Home and Office Labeler), bins (I usually use Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Boxes)and Sharpies, and headed out to the site.  Our client, Kim, was an absolute delight to work with:  motivated, positive and ready to make a change.

The best part, besides working with Kim, was the behind the scenes peek into what goes on to make the show.  I’ve always watched it but wondered about how long it took and how many people were involved and where the drama comes from.  Had my questions answered here.  Envision 11 Professional Organizers, 1 therapist, a bunch of 1-800-Got-Junk guys, and what seemed like a dozen or more camera crew & staff from the show.  All in a 2 bedroom condo!  Plus they work with the client for a while before to make plans & preparations, as well as with the therapist and camera crew.

Click here to watch the episode!

When we arranged to work with Kim, we all were assigned areas that we specialize in or prefer.  I happen to love smaller spaces so I ended up in the bathroom & closet.  Many organizers were relieved they weren’t ‘cooped up’ in there but I loved it.  Sorting through all the hairsprays, jewelry, soaps, toothbrushes – and let me tell you – there were a LOT.  Did you see the toothbrushes on the show?? After gaining Kim’s trust with making decisions about what could be thrown out and what should be kept, progress was quickly made.

If you watched the show (or have watched previous episodes), you can see that things move quickly – and normally when I organize with clients – we work at their pace – so this was a change because people with hoarding issues also have difficulty making decisions.  Luckily, Geralin is such a pro and Kim was really ready to make a change.

So as I’m watching the show, I kept thinking, WHAT? When did that happen??  Being in the bathroom for 2 full days made me miss quite a bit.  But it also gave me the opportunity to really work with Kim, and get insights into her personality.  The weirdest thing that would happen is that I would be sorting & purging & containerizing (it’s a technical term) & labeling, then would glance up and there would be this huge camera lens in my face!  And then they put one of those close ups on national TV!  Aaack.  Personally I was surprised I had as much screen time as I did – but was really glad all the organizers involved were able to get a moment of fame.  I just wanted a minute of brag time!

Some observations:

  • People who hoard or compulsively shop or keep things that don’t make sense to the rest of us are not deliberately trying to infuriate those around them.  Their brains are just wired differently, and the ability to make decisions is skewed in such a way that what may be an easy call for you or me may be like ripping out the soul of someone else.
  • Hoarders see their things as precious, no matter what they are.  Stuff that I see as garbage or junk may be invaluable to them.  And I’m talking about plastic cups, faded clothing. scraps of paper or broken china.
  • For many of the hoarders, and ‘collectors’, I’ve worked with, every item they touch – touches them.  Each thing brings back a memory, a feeling, a place of self.  They have such value – not monetarily but emotionally.
  • Another one of the biggest factors is the fear of letting something go because they might need it someday.  I think this is common in many of us but with hoarders, it is taken to an extreme.
  • Many hoarders feel that they have a responsibility to ‘care’ for objects.  If something was given to them, then it is theirs to take care of forever, as if it would injure the person who gave it to them if they let it go.

Some before & after pics:

and after . . .

"Kim" bathroom before

Me working on the Hoarders shoot.

Some more pics from the shoot.  I have to mention that while the closet still looks crowded, it is a bit misleading because of how much was removed and discarded (over 65 bottles of hairspray alone), but also how much extra was brought in and stored from other parts of the house.  Every time I thought I was done with hair care products or cosmetics or toothbrushes, someone would walk in with another box!  The big box at the lower left in the after photo is there for future organizing – gifts for friends that needed a home.  I worked with Kim at a later session and we created a gift closet area in another room so there is now free space there.

Bathroom closet before

So I”ve continued to work with Kim at several more sessions, and she is making really good progress.  She’s super motivated to get her life in order and it’s been fun working with her.

Recently we worked on creating a computerized database of business cards so she doesn’t have to dig through hers to find the one she needs, and re-did her hall closet for tools, cleaning supplies and games.  It will be a lifelong struggle but I have confidence she will succeed.

PS Thanks to fellow organizer, Tanna Clark, for the great pictures – her camera and photo skills rock!