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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?

Arrrgh.

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

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(Deleted comment)
issendai
Jun. 23rd, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
According to off-the-show comments, they do lengthy phone consultations with the hoarder beforehand, then pay for aftercare if the hoarder will have it. Aftercare covers psychological treatment and sessions with a professional organizer. It's actually not a bad setup if the hoarder is into it--the problem is that the show focuses on hoarders who are being forced into it. That guarantees that aftercare will be useless for most of them.

Effective therapy is slow, frustrating, and bad television. The hoarder has to figure out which thought patterns are contributing to the hoarding and work on changing those patterns, while learning to face the anxiety of making decisions and throwing things away. It takes years. And for most people it's like recovering from alcoholism: You're not cured, you're just doing better. A fast cleanup helps some hoarders when it's done on their own terms because it gives them a fresh start, but the cleanup itself doesn't fix anything.

Hoarding: Buried Alive sounds like it shows people who are doing real therapy. (I haven't seen the show, so I can only comment on what I've gleaned from reviews.) It sounds more like a slice-of-life show about hoarders who are midtreatment, with no dramatic cleanups and fewer game-show antics. I really want to see it, even if it makes me tear my hair out.

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