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Hoarders: Linda and Todd

The Linda and Todd episode of Hoarders that's currently online at A&E is... well. Subtly but earth-shakingly different from the rest of the series?

Let's start with Linda, whose house is almost impassable because of the mounds of papers and accumulated debris. She says things got bad after her youngest child left for college; her kids say no, she was always a hoarder, and they are SO MOTHERFUCKING TIRED OF HER SHIT. Her daughter's blunt: She never had a childhood because of her mother's hoarding, and from high school on, her goal was to get out and stay out. Both of the kids who appear on the show say that their goal is not to clean up their mother's house so they can have a relationship with her. Their goal is to clean up their mother's house so they can move on and leave their mother behind. Yes, their stated goal is to clean up so they can be closer to their mother, but the things they say when they're frustrated and unrehearsed are mighty telling.

And the crew, the ever-supportive crew of Hoarders? Tells them flat out, "Your mother is always going to be like this. She's not getting better. You need to detach from her."

Hoooooooly shit.

The crew is almost always intensely pro-family. They're willing to admit that hoarders are hard on their families and that codependent adult children need to become less codependent. But they also encourage family members to preserve their bonds. There's one deeply repellent episode, Claudie, in which the crew spends most of the session trying to maneuver Claudie's estranged husband into taking her back. How far were they willing to go? Her husband had been living hundreds of miles away and out of touch with her for a year, but when they took Claudie on the first walkthrough of the house, there he was in the living room, playing the piano. That far. If the situation is so bad that someone has to say "This person is never getting better" or "Family members need to break off relations with this person for their own sanity," the show almost always has family members say it--not the crew. Hearing a crew member say, "This situation is hopeless, run for the hills" is like hearing a member of Congress say, "We have no effing idea what any of these reforms will do in the real world. We're shooting in the dark and hoping for the best."

So Linda's segment is a little piece of awesome, even with all the misery and failure it represents.

Then we come to Todd's section. Todd is a gamer geek who gets emotionally attached to trash and who has difficulty organizing. Early on, he admits that he drops things in the first spot he sees, and then leaves them there for a year. His apartment is a royal mess. It's not to the catastrophic levels we're used to on Hoarders, but it's several times worse than the apartment of your average WoW addict who can't be bothered to clean. Hoarding experts agree that Todd's difficulties are an early stage in a pattern that's going to end in compulsive hoarding if Todd doesn't get help immediately. Todd's girlfriend recognizes this, and has refused to settle down, marry him, and start a family unless Todd learns to break the pattern.

So they start cleaning. And it's great. Todd puts up a stink but is learning how to undo old habits of thought. Todd's girlfriend is cautiously optimistic. Then the therapist pulls her aside and explains that it's going to be the girlfriend's job to notice when Todd is slipping into old patterns and snap him out of it.

Excuse me?

Have these people not seen what happens when a partner is put in charge of their spouse's hoarding? Have they not been watching their own goddamned show? Nobody can manage a hoarder but the hoarder. Uncontrolled hoarder + responsible spouse = uncontrolled hoarder. That's why Hoarders routinely cleans people's houses to forestall divorces, prevent Child Protective Services from taking kids away, derail evictions, and keep hoarders from going to jail. Not because family members haven't tried hard enough to manage the hoarder. Because hoarders are, by definition, unmanageable.

The girlfriend says she doesn't want to be the kind of partner who nags. Good! She seems to accept that this is her fate, though. After all--goes the unspoken logic--a hoarding specialist told her so, and would a hoarding specialist give her bad advice?


Half spectacular win, half spectacular fail. I want to boot the episode halfway through a window.



Jun. 23rd, 2010 01:55 pm (UTC)
I'm ambivalent about the show myself. It's run almost like a game show, with a focus on fast cleanouts--"Can this team clean out this incredibly dirty house in two days? Meet their obstacle! Her name is Jane!" The deadlines are so short that they seem designed to heighten the conflict. The conflicts themselves follow the same pattern so routinely that I've started to wonder how much is reality and how much is editing. And at the end--well, there's always a big blowup on Day 2 and the hoarder always digs their heels in for a climactic confrontation, and then the show cuts away to check up on the other person, and when they come back, the crisis is over and the house is clean. Whaaa? Something is being lost in the editing, and mentally ill people are being pushed to create TV-ready crises. It destroys a lot of the good the show might do in educating viewers about hoarding, and I don't doubt it damages a lot of the hoarders involved.

Do I think it helps the families? Occasionally. Sometimes there's a genuine crisis, and the show's participation staves it off--getting kids back from Child Protective Services, for instance, or preventing an eviction. The Season 1 followup left me with the impression that the authorities are more lenient with hoarders who appear on the show because their participation is a show of good faith, and possibly because the show has staff who know how to work the legal angles. There are also a few hoarders who are genuinely motivated to change, and being on the show has helped some of them.

But as for helping most of the families... no, probably not. The intervention doesn't stop most hoarders from hoarding. In fact, it seems to play into the sick system hoarders' families have set up--"everything will be better when the house is clean," they say, and often the show agrees enthusiastically with them. Except that the house doesn't stay clean. And the intensely pro-family slant of the show means that therapists rarely tell family members, "Look, this is hopeless. You need to save yourselves." It's bog-standard for family members to say, "If this place doesn't get clean and stay clean, I'm gone." Then the place doesn't get clean, or it gets clean but doesn't stay clean, and at followup, the family member IS STILL THERE.


So by and large, no, most of the families don't seem to get any benefit except preventing the immediate crisis. They also get a whackload of false hope and a little more reinforcement for their family's sick system.

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