Amelia Langford examines her fascination with Hoarders, and picks some of her favourite moments from the gut-wrenching reality show.
I’ve never met a ‘freegan’ but my friend Harriet used to live with one. She said it became difficult to throw anything away – permanently at least.
“I once threw out my shampoo bottle, which had a couple of millimetres of shampoo left in it. The next thing I knew, the damn thing was back in the shower,” she said.
It must be a little unnerving living with someone who goes through your rubbish every day. Sort of like a modern version of the Julia Roberts movie from the 90s, Sleeping with the Enemy, when that creepy but handsome man was obsessed with her.
I think I’d become paranoid around a freegan and start hoarding my rubbish. Private detectives always say you can tell a lot about a person by inspecting their rubbish and I hate to think what mine might reveal.
I do admire the freegan’s spirt of adventure though. They will often go ‘skip diving’ to find hidden gems among the rubbish. It must be satisfying to find a piece of steak for dinner or a loaf of artisan bread.
I like free stuff as much as the next person but I’m also happy to trade. I will give you this crumpled note and some of these coins and you can give me that book. Or blueberry muffin. Nothing wrong with that and saves me having to go through rubbish bins.
Like all of us, I have tendencies. Rather than being a freegan, I’m probably closer on the spectrum to being a hoarder. That’s probably why I’m fascinated by reality television shows about extreme hoarding.
I know from watching a lot of these programmes (they’re basically mini-documentaries) that there’s always something behind the hoarding. It’s never just a bad habit that got out of control – it’s an emotional problem. That’s what the psychologist or ‘professional declutterer’ says when he or she comes to visit. They step into the house in a white haz-mat suit and gingerly look around, afraid the floor is about to cave in under the weight of all the stuff. They invariably find themselves faced with complete chaos. Hundreds of cats, for instance, all mewing and asking for food. Or piles of newspapers from the 1960s that reach the ceiling, or a dead cat flattened by newspapers.
But the psychologist will always play it cool and mask their shock with “Oh my” and “Well now, this looks like it might need a bit of a cleanup.” Never “My God, you’ve lost the plot. This place is a complete dump”. Instead they will have a “chat” with the hoarder and encourage him or her to talk about what the clutter means to them and whether the stuff still ‘serves’ them.
But once things start getting thrown into the skip, the hoarder often gets upset or angry. They will march down to the rubbish skip and fish out a broken heater covered in rust and say: “This still works! It just needs to be fixed.”
They’ll be outraged by the sense of waste – of throwing away something perfectly good. (In that regard, they are similar to the freegan.) The psychologist will be patient and talk the hoarder through the crisis: “Okay Bob, I hear you. Why don’t you make a case for keeping the heater and then we can decide?”
Bob will nod and hold the heater tightly to his chest.
“When did the heater stop working?” the psychologist will ask.
“Back in the winter of 1984. The year momma died.”
The shrink will nod sagely. “I see. Okay everyone, we’re gonna let Bob keep the heater. Just for now.”
You can imagine the TV crew rolling their eyes at this point.
By the end of each episode, there’s usually some progress – perhaps one room had been cleaned up. But the rest of the house generally remains a mess.
The psychologist will tell the camera: “I’m proud of Bob. I believe he’s made a lot of progress.” Then the show will end with an update before the credits roll: “Six months later, Bob is still challenging his belief system around the keeping of old, broken things. He continues to move forward.”
We all know what that means.
My favourite show is when the obsessive-compulsive cleaner meets the hoarder. Who comes up with this genius?
The person with OCD will proudly tell the camera that they use six bottles of bleach a day to clean their house. They will be filmed walking through their house checking for any dust on the mantelpiece or asking their husband to wash his hands in bleach before entering the kitchen. They are then introduced to the hoarder and help them discard all their rubbish before cleaning the house. It can often be very emotional with both people sharing their own struggles. And the house usually looks fantastic by the end…
I suppose if most people had the choice, they might choose to live with an obsessive compulsive cleaner over an extreme hoarder. At least that way they wouldn’t have to crawl through a tunnel of newspapers to make it into the living room (that actually happened in one episode.)
But back to the freegan. Eventually, my friend and her flatmates had to throw him out. He was coming home with old, bruised fruit and vegetables that would sit rotting in the fridge. He would promise to use the produce but it would usually just end in a puddle of fruity decay. That was years ago now. I wonder if he’s still a freegan. Maybe he’s moved onto something new – like hoarding.
The five greatest hoarding TV moments
1) Most unexpected hoard
The house full of teddy bears and the woman who couldn’t bear to give them away
2) Most innovative hoard
The man who made a tunnel out of newspapers so he could gain access to his living room.
3) Biggest hoard
The hoarder who needed 16 storage units for her possessions and still didn’t have enough room.
4) Most surprising hoard
The hoarder who discovered a homeless person had been living in her cluttered basement
5) Creepiest hoard
The retired ventriloquist’s collection of hundreds of dummies that had overtaken her home. During the programme she spoke to the camera via the dolls.