I used to work for a hoarder for about five years. She contacted me when I still advertised on Craigslist. When I answered the phone, she burst into tears. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I thought this would be easier.”
“It’s all right. How can I help?” She explained to me her situation. She had been hoarding ever since her mother dies 3 years ago and she brought all of her things to her house. Ever since then she couldn’t seem to throw anything away. It had gotten so bad that her and her husband started to get respiratory problems and last week he threatened to leave her if something was not done. Always loving a challenge, I decided help.
Having watched the TV show Hoarders for years and having clients with some aspect of hoarding tenancies, I thought I was prepared. I mean, I am The Cleaning Lady after all. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I drove up to a huge Colonial-Style house in a rural, gated community. The lawn and bushes were neatly manicured and the flower beds were filled with Zinnias and Pansies. I thought I was in the wrong place and checked the address again. Nope, this is it. I went up to the door and rang the bell. That set off what I can only describe as the hounds of hell trying to break through the door and eat me. Oh boy. Then I heard a woman yelling and unlocking the bolt. As I prepared to get mauled to death, the door opened and a sweet-looking lady with a cherub’s face greeted me along with her three, very fat Labrador Retrievers, sniffing and licking me. Phew. We made our introductions and she invited me in.
What I walked into was a real-life episode of Hoarders. The very large foyer was filled floor to ceiling with boxes, and from the look of it, they were all Amazon and QVC boxes, most of which had never been opened. One thing I did learn from watching Hoarders was that compulsive shopping can turn into hoarding as all the purchases accumulate.
We maneuvered to the living room, which was filled with piles of clothes, on the floor, on the furniture, on the tables. The only clear spot was at the end of the couch, large enough to fit a human. The shelves that lined the living room were filled with so many knick knacks that they resembled the shelves at a thrift store, but with a thick, grey dust over everything. In fact, the whole house smelled musty and stale. All I could do was nod and give a fake smile. I hoped my raised eyebrows didn’t give away the panic attack welling up inside of me. Your challenge, should you except, is to avoid black lung, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
The kitchen had no discernible counter space left due to the stacks of dishes, glasses, and pots and pans everywhere. Mostly clean, just everywhere. And the dining room looked like a mail truck exploded in it. Nod, smile.
The master bedroom was off of the main part of the house. Surprisingly, it was relatively clean, with only the contents of the one of the walk-in closets spilling out. The king-sized bed was neatly made with ornate pillows and a sequinned duvet cover. “My husband stays in the bedroom,” she said. “I try to keep it nice.” Smile, nod.
She explained that there were four bedrooms upstairs but she couldn’t open the doors to any of them anymore because they were full. Eyebrows, eyebrows, eyebrows! I could feel myself getting lightheaded, succumbing to the mental fatigue of information overload, or in this case, overloaded-house overload.
“So what do you think?” she asked. I wanted to say, “No way! Call the Hoarders people. You need professional help.” Instead, in spite of myself, and seeing unlimited job security, I nodded and smiled for real.