What Is Hoarders?
Hoarders is a one hour reality program that runs on the A&E network. It focuses each week on two individuals (or families) who have been identified as extreme hoarders. What does that mean? Now that it has been cancelled (after the 2013 season), the king of the hoarding TV hill is Hoarding: Buried Alive, on the TLC network.
Extreme hoarders are people who keep tons of crap in their homes, on their property, in their cars. What is in the hoard varies from person to person but the result is the same – their homes become less and less livable as stuff takes over.
Each episode begins by introducing us to the two individuals participating. Each tells a bit about their lives and their living conditions while we see pictures of their homes. Friends and family members also weigh in on the condition of the homes and the level of crisis caused by the hoard.
Nearly everyone who participates on Hoarders does so because there is an imminent threat of severe consequences resulting from their hoarding. Marriages dissolving, children being removed from the home, financial ruin and condemnation of the house and property are common themes running through the show.
In order to participate, the individuals agree to work with a therapist and an organizer. First the therapist meets with and discusses the individuals’ specific circumstances and underlying mental illness and then the organizers and their crews spend two days trying to prevent whatever crisis is on the horizon by getting the home cleaned out.
Hoarders has now been cancelled, but the TLC program Hoarding: Buried Alive continues the tradition of hoarding television. The program is very similar to the original Hoarders, though it tend to focus on one person at a time and there are currently fewer therapists and regular organizers involved. Hoarding: Buried Alive also has less of a tendency to sugar coat outcomes – we often see that these folks have a long, long way to go before their issues are really in the past.
Is Hoarders Staged or Real?
I see this question from time to time. Is Hoarders staged or fake? What about Hoarding: Buried Alive? Do people get paid to pretend to be hoarders; do they fill houses with stuff just for the show? Is it all special effects trickery? The short answer, in my opinion, is no.
Reality TV is popular with networks because it’s cheap to produce (and this is basic cable, people). Finding people with crapped up houses is cheap – crapping up houses is not. I’m sure this could all be done with special effects or they could fill (and usually destroy) houses all over the country in an attempt to make the viewers look like dorks, but what’s the point? It would cost far more than the show brings in and that isn’t how reality TV operates. If there’s no profit, there’s no show.
Also, the therapists and organizers here are legit (tab over and see their profiles). These aren’t people who appeared out of thin air as “experts”. They have real jobs, real educations and other patients with similar disorders. I don’t think these people would ruin reputations they’ve spent years building for the undoubtedly paltry sum they’re paid to appear on Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive if it was a sham.
So my answer? No, Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive are not staged. It’s not a fake or a trick. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, these people and homes are real.
Why do I watch Hoarders?
Why the hell would anyone want to watch a show about a bunch of crazy people who fill their houses with trash? Good question. I happen to find the whole thing fascinating.
Compulsive hoarding isn’t about being too lazy to throw things away. It’s a serious mental illness that leads people to hoard as a way to cope with stress, loss or just life. They honestly can’t stop, can’t clean up, can’t make it better on their own. The psychology behind each hoarder is unique (though there are plenty of common themes) as is his or her reaction to the therapists and organizers who arrive to help.
Is it gross? Yes it is. A lot of these homes are filled not just with stuff but with garbage and animal feces and vermin and anything nasty you can imagine. Bathrooms and kitchens are particularly prone to being vile.
Am I just a voyeur who wants to peer at the wreckage of an exploited mentally ill person? Probably. But I don’t care. And neither should you, if you enjoy the show. Yeah, it’s reality TV. By definition it’s exploitive. But it’s a whole lot better than watching to see who gets voted off some stupid island or which Kardashian is going to have a bratty tantrum on any given day.
The quality and quantity of actual help given to the individuals profiled on each show is debatable, but one thing is unquestionably true – this help is more than they would have received under any other circumstances. Hoarders provides both the immediate intervention we see on the show as well as aftercare funds to assist people in making long term changes. Family or friends are the ones who usually contact the show – where else are they to turn when someone they love has a home filled with used adult diapers?
Weirdly, I’ve learned a lot watching this show. Not just that my taste in reality TV runs to the disgusting, but about the Compulsive Hoarding itself. It makes me more tolerant of people in my own life who I suspect have a low level hoarding issue. It makes me want to clean up the clutter in my house (always a good and necessary thing). It also sheds light on a disorder that most sufferers would never in a million years admit to having, forget seek help. Like anything else, the light of day is the only thing that ever removes stigma enough to allow people to try and change. Maybe it gives families of hoarders some hope. Maybe it even leads to long term change in the lives of some of the participants.
And yes, I also find it entertaining in a perverse way. The grosser it is, the more fascinating it is. I have my favorites among the experts who appear in the show, I have my favorite moments and episodes, I love seeing the transformation when people are able to do the work and their homes become livable.
Hoarders is definitely my guilty pleasure TV viewing. That’s why this page exists. Those of us who watch want to know more. So here, we have more. Tab over and take a look at the therapists or the organizers. Tab over some more and read my highlights. Tab again and find links to all the things I’ve written here about Hoarders and its kin – Hoarding: Buried Alive and Clean House. There may be such a thing as too much stuff, but there’s no such thing as too much Hoarders!
— S. Millinocket
pictures by Grap and Shadwwulf
Hoarding: Buried Alive Therapist Profiles
Dr. Beaton is Hoarding: Buried Alive‘s go-to therapist. She is a licensed psychologist and professional counselor with over two decades of experience. She is the founder of Atlanta’s Stress and Anxiety Management Clinic as well as an advocacy organization for OCD in Georgia. Her credentials and experience are impressive and is shows on the program. She’s professional and does not sensationalize or overstate the seriousness of the situations in which the program participants find themselves. I really, really like Dr. Beaton on the show – she’s rock steady in the face of some pretty nasty and horrifying stuff and she seems to have a really good feel for what each individual needs in order to deal with their hoarding.
Dr. Pike is the other therapist from Hoarding: Buried Alive that I most recognize. She is a licensed psychologist and specializes in the treatment anxiety, depression and PTSD (among others). She has extensive training and practices at the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center. She. like Dr. Beaton, is not at all prone to hysteria and calmly deals with even the most extreme program participants. She appears to be absolutely fearless and seems to do an excellent job of making participants feel calm and in control.
Hoarders Therapist Profiles
Ah yes, the therapists. Those individuals who make the show tick with their insight into the psychology of hoarding. Let’s get to know them a little better, shall we? Since this show was cancelled after the 2013 season, Hoarding: Buried Alive now has top billing.
Dr. Robin Zasio
Dr. Robin Zasio is, as she always introduces herself, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She works specifically with anxiety disorders. She owns and directs an anxiety disorders treatment center, a cognitive behavioral therapy center and a compulsive hoarding center. She sits on a mitt full of different boards and committees related to OCD, behavioral and cognitive therapy and related anxiety disorders. Her biography is nearly identical everywhere you look.
Somewhere in that overachiever’s line-up of credentials she finds time to be the most frequent therapist on Hoarders. Also, she finds time to get her hair and make-up done and her tan freshened before each show. She is a true superbarbie. I can find no information indicating that she has any human attachments so my natural assumption is that she is a robot of some kind. She’s also, in my opinion, the most annoying of the therapists on the show. She has a tendency to have an exaggerated look of concern whenever she discovers that a hoarder’s house is disgusting. No Duh, Dr. Zasio, have you never watched the show? She also likes to call nearly every hoard “one of the worst she’s ever seen”. Her concern for the people she treats on the show seems false and self-serving. How is it that she never smudges her make-up? I will give her props for dealing incredibly well with The Rat Hoarder. But I would really like it if all her hair was at last similar shades of one color.
Dr. Suzanne Chabaud
First of all, that’s Su-ZAHN. Don’t go pronouncing is Su-ZAN. That’s far too pedestrian. Dr. Chabaud isn’t really as snooty as her fancy name implies – she’s actually quite down to earth in her response to the extreme hoarders with which she works on the show. She tends to be fairly clinical in her assessments of the folks on the show, without the false emotional investment that others show (coughZasiocough).
Dr. Chabaud is a New Orleans based Clinical Psychologist with focus on OCD and Hoarding. She runs an intensive program treating both in her home town. She participates in message board discussions on the A&E Hoarders website and shows both the compassion we expect from a mental health professional and the frustration we all feel as we watch the show. Personally, I like her. She’s caring but will be straight up brutal if that’s what the person in question needs to break through their resistance or denial.
I like Dr. Pfeffer. Even if I feel sorry for him having a name so close to Dr. Pepper. I find him to be the quietest therapist, most interested in listening to the folks on the show. He’s persistent and pushy when he needs to be, but in a laid back, conversational way that some hoarders really respond to. I think he’s my favorite of the therapists.
Mark Pfeffer isn’t actually a doctor – and he doesn’t claim to be one on the show. He has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and is a Marriage and Family Counselor. But his true passion appears to be his role as Director of the Anxiety/Panic Recovery Center in Chicago. That’s where his expertise for a show like Hoarders comes from and his grace under pressure shows his experience working with anxiety disorders. He never seems to be overwhelmed or overly concerned with the disgusting things with which he is presented, making him a great choice to deal with the most anxious hoarders.
Dr. Scott Hannan
I don’t see Dr. Hannan on the show as often as some of the others, but he has impressive psychology credentials. He has a PhD. in Psychology and in his practice specializes in treating an array of anxiety disorder, from Social Phobia to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He does both individual and group therapy at his home base, Hartford Hospital’s Institute for Living.
Dr. Hannan seems caring and compassionate on Hoarders, but isn’t afraid to say the things that sometimes need to be said in order to get things moving. I like his straightforward style.
The Institute for Living is also home base for a couple of the therapists with whom I’m relatively unfamiliar; Elizabeth Moore and David Tolin. They also specialize in anxiety disorders and are two therapists I’d like to see more of on Hoarders. Elizabeth Moore, in particular. I’ve only seen her a single time, but she did an excellent job of dealing with a particularly severe and difficult individual.
Dr. Michael Tompkins
Dr. Tompkins has a PhD in Psychology and practices at the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (which he co-founded). He’s also a faculty member at the University of California – Berkeley. He’s published numerous books and articles about anxiety, depression and hoarding. Dr. Tompkins is the only therapist I’ve seen who lists treating depression as a sub-specialty along with anxiety disorders. I think that makes him a valuable resource for the show – if you watch, you know how often depression plays a part in hoarders’ lives.
Dr. Tompkins is a therapist that seems to need just the right hoarder to be effective within the format of the show. I think he’s a little too soft spoken and a little too delicate with people to get much done in a short period of time. But he seems very genuinely empathetic and concerned for the welfare of the individuals.
Dr. Renae Reinardy
Dr. Reinardy has a PhD. in Psychology from Argosy University. She is the founder of the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Minnesota and specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Compulsive Hoarding and Trichotillomania (the compulsive pulling out of hair).
Dr. Reinardy suffers a little bit from the Barbie syndrome that makes Zasio so annoying, but she keeps it far more in check. Where other female therapists like Chabaud and Moore do not look like they’ve been “made-up” for TV, Reinardy often looks a little too perfect for her surroundings. In my (extremely shallow) opinion, that primping for the show makes it look like she cares more about how she appears on TV than how well she can help the individual. In her case, however, actions speak louder than mascara and she refrains from sensationalizing her involvement and is focused on the situation at hand in her episodes.
Dr. David Dia
Dr. Dia is a relative unknown to me. I’ve seen him, but seldom enough that I haven’t decided whether I like him yet or not. I’ve seen work with a child on TLC’s hoarding show Hoarding: Buried Alive, but don’t recall seeing him in a full episode of Hoarders. Undoubtedly that’s my faulty memory, but he’s not a frequent guest.
Dr Dia is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, with a PhD in Social Work and advanced training in Behavioral Therapy and anxiety disorders.
I’m sure there are therapists I’ve missed. I’ll update this page as I see them on the show.
Hoarding: Buried Alive Cleaner and Organizer Profiles
I don’t know these folks as well as I knew those on Hoarders. The format of the show puts the focus more on the participants and far less on the organizers helping on haul away day. As much as I enjoyed watching Cory Chalmers or Matt Paxton on Hoarders, I think this focus is more appropriate. I will fill in this section as I am able, however. These people do amazing work under some terrifying circumstances.
Hoarders Cleaners and Organizers Profiles
These are the people who put the gloves on and delve onto those hoards! Brave and (usually) caring, these are the professional who help dig out from under.
Or, as I like to call him, Extreme Cleaning Specialist Matt Paxton. Matt is the man with the shovel. He gets the biggest, most disgusting hoards because he isn’t just an organizer, he’s a cleaning specialist. His crew knows how to suit up to handle the foulest of hoards and he isn’t squeamish about the crap he discovers.
Matt founded Clutter Cleaners in 2006 after helping a family member de-clutter their home of many years. His business offers a wide variety of cleaning and organizing services, but on Hoarders, Matt is the go-to guy for the biggest clean-ups.
I love Matt. He’s one of the only people involved with the show who is willing to express what we’re all thinking – the sheer amazement and frustration over what some of these folks have stashed in their homes. He likes to roll out numbers – like the number of tons of garbage removed or the number of rats found.
Sometimes I hate Matt, too. He can be impatient and unrealistic, expecting people to just clean up their messes without always remembering that he’s dealing with people who have a serious illness that isn’t going to be “fixed” in two days.
But overall, he’s the man when the going gets rough and he shovels shit like no one else.
Cory Chalmers also tends to be called in for the big, gross jobs. He founded Steri-Clean, a hoarding clean-up business in California, in 1995. It was through his work as a firefighter and paramedic that he recognized the need for someone to help people dig out of unsafe, cluttered homes. He continues to work as a firefighter as well as running his cleaning business.
I like Cory a lot. Like Matt, he tends to get handed the big, ugly hoards. He’s pragmatic and straightforward, willing to tell an ugly truth when it needs to be told. He deals well with some of the folks who are not just anxious, but also abusive and mean. He’s willing to tell people that either they can change their behavior right now, or they can wave goodbye to the opportunity to resolve their immediate crisis. I’d like to see more Cory.
Standolyn is a Certified Professional Organizer who owns a business in Massachusetts. She doesn’t specialize in hoarding like Matt or Cory, she’s a more all-purpose organizer who works with all sorts of people who find themselves to be organizationally challenged.
Standolyn is a good solid organizer. She doesn’t get flustered by the weirdness that she’s sometimes confronted with and she’s good at getting people going in a positive direction. She and the other professional organizers are called in when there’s something to salvage in a home – she can help get the things worth keeping into a reasonably organized place.
Standolyn is one of my favorite organizers. I like her style – she’s great at problem solving and working within the comfort zones of hoarders. She does a really good job getting past potential breakdowns that can bring a clean-up to an end.
Oh, I love Dorothy Breininger. I don’t think she’s the most effective of the organizers, but I love her empathy for the individuals and their issues. She’s the organizer most likely to dig around a little bit in someone’s psyche and give them a shoulder to cry on when the going gets tough during a clean-up. Her style doesn’t work with everyone – some of the tough men brush her off as ineffectual and a busy-body – but when she’s got a good match she’s enthusiastic and really invests in the individual.
Dorothy is a Certified Professional Organizer who runs the Delphi Center for Organization in Los Angeles. She has appeared widely on television discussing organization and she has taken part in the authoring of several books and a documentary film.
Darnita L. Peyden
Dr. Peyden is new to me in Season 4. I’ve seen her in only one episode, but so far I love her! She’s straight forward and tough but thoroughly invested in the success of the clean-up.
Rather than a cleaner or organizer, Dr. Peyden is a Life Management Specialist. She has a PhD. in Psychology like lots of the therapists but has taken a different, more comprehensive approach to her discipline. Rather than being the organizer, she brings in the organizers and cleaning specialists. She seems like a powerful resource for both the therapists and the individuals on the program. She has written 3 books and is the Executive Director of Dr. DClutter Life Management.
Geralin is not my favorite organizer. She’s very competent, but to me she comes across as a little cold and impersonal. Her manner is very upbeat, which is great, but I just don’t feel the warmth or sincerity from her that I feel from some of the other organizers and cleaning specialists. She’s definitely a good match for the individuals that do not need hand holding or a good scolding to get it together – she seems to work best with those who are already internally motivated.
Of all the organizers she seems most invested in the show as a means to further her career. That in no way means she doesn’t care about the people she’s brought in to work with, it’s just an observation on her level of investment in the show itself. She seems to be far more focused on Hoarders than any of the other organizers or therapists who appear on the program.
Geralin is a Certified Professional Organizer.
I know there are organizers I’ve missed. I’ll update this page as I see them on the show.
Highlights, Lowlights, and Other Weirdness
I’m not sure what to call this section. “Highlights” seems a little cheery for moments from a show about mentally ill people and tons of crap. But I do have my favorite moments. Some because they were incredibly foul and extreme, some because they were inspirational, some because they were shocking, surprising or just plain weird, even by Hoarders standards. This, of course, will be an ever-evolving page – I plan to continue to have favorite moments and this is where I’ll put them. I’m going to start with the most recent and work backwards. That way I can plop new ones right on top!
Along with offering up some new show features (like Matt Paxton spending the night (!) in a hoarded house, the Season 6 opener brought us Patty. Patty was an abused wife whose alcoholic husband had left her with vast emotional scars and eventually, a completely crap filled house. What was special about Patty was watching her change through the episode. She became less fearful, more talkative and less muddled. She even brightened physically as she worked with Dr. Zasio and Matt Paxton and their teams to reconcile her past, clean up her hoard and strengthen her bonds with her sons. Quite inspiring!
The Season 5 opener and one of the most sympathetic hoarders ever. A man in the throes of recent and deep grief is forced to clean up his hoard or lose his home. I really hope for a happy ending for this man.
Wow, Randy. A collector of vintage arcade games I can’t tell if Randy is a hoarder or just wanted someone to move his stuff. One of the more unusual scenarios I’ve seen on the show.
Oh, my. One of the craziest things I’ve seen on this show is Janet plopping down into her one chair and virtually disappearing into her hoard. She’s a pee and poop hoarder, which is always foul, and draws Cory Chalmers as her extreme cleaner. The man is a saint. Her family is a disaster, she seems cognitively impaired and the whole situation is entirely unhealthy – physically and mentally. The Hoarders team is lucky to have gotten out of there with their sanity intact after dealing with Janet’s 9 loony kids. I hope they do a follow up someday on Janet. I wonder if getting out of that filthy environment helps her be more mentally functional.
The Season 2 finale. Glen’s entire half of his episode was a highlight, and some serious general weirdness. The man had over 2000 domesticated rats in his house – he didn’t even live there anymore! The truly surreal shots of his rats literally coming out of the woodwork when they were fed was tempered by his sweet disposition and his real emotion over the well-being of his “pets”. Even though his house was really bizarre, his hoard was fascinating and unlike other animal hoarders we’ve seen he really seemed to want the best for the animals involved more than he wanted to keep them. Seeing him get a fresh start was definitely a highlight and he was someone for whom I have a lot of hope for a brighter future.
I know. Two animal hoarders in a row. But this woman was such a piece of work I can’t leave her out. She absolutely
qualifies as a highlight, a lowlight and major general weirdness. Hanna was the matriarch of what may be the most dysfunctional family ever profiled on Hoarders. That in itself tells you a lot about how extreme and bizarre she was. She kept a small farm full of animals in absolutely atrocious conditions – including a trailer filled with chickens. She was also completely nuts. Verbally abusive in the extreme to her family as well as the Hoarders team, she was the nastiest piece of work, well, maybe ever. Her psycho family wasn’t far behind. She didn’t need Hoarders, she needed psychiatric evaluation. She has the distinction of screaming the most ferociously at Matt Paxton. I think even he was taken aback by this whack job.
Andrew and the Squatter
Andrew had a home in a really affluent neighborhood that he had filled with crap. That’s nothing particularly new or different. What makes Andrew part of the High/Low/Weird is that he had allowed a homeless guy to build a shack on his property. It isn’t often that a hoarder actually starts hoarding people. The squatter actually tried many times to get in on the action during the show. Andrew was just a really wacky guy with a brother who wanted to feud and a massive, unsafe hoard including a homeless guy. Yep, everyone’s favorite neighbor. His outcome would definitely be considered an epic fail.
Sir Patrick and Camelot
Sir Patrick was one of the most interesting and also one of the saddest hoarders I’ve ever seen. He had filled his house with “treasures” to the point where it was simply unsafe. He referred to it as his Camelot. Unfortunately, he spent all his money acquiring his dolls and knick-knacks. Sir Patrick was such a sweet and lonely man, it was hard to really want him to get rid of his things – the things that he loved. His hoard was not an unholy mess – everything was loved – but with so much stuff there of course turned out to be unseen vermin and general foulness. He was a highlight – it was great to see him get his home cleaned and he was immensely interesting in his hoarding pathology.
Doug the Single Dad
Doug did not have the worst house we’ve ever seen – far from it. But he did have two adopted children that were going to be removed from his house if he didn’t get rid of some of his stuff and make the house more livable. This was a really interesting situation in which an obviously loving and caring man, who had 2 children with special needs, got overwhelmed and fell back on hoarding to cope. Obviously, it made things worse and spiraled into a vicious catch-22. Seeing the change in the behavior of his troubled son as the home was cleaned was truly a highlight of the series.
Tra the Firefighter
Tra was a really interesting example of how hoarders hide their behavior from the outside world. A competent, functioning firefighter, Tra eventually lost control of his hoard and his job performance began to suffer. He was horrified at the idea of his co-workers knowing about or seeing his home. Tra was a great example of the notion that not all hoarders are nuts or shut-ins or part of the massive weirdness we so often see on the show. Until the crew began to get into his hoard he seemed like a regular guy, when forced to face the hoard his anxiety was palpable.
Bob and the Yard Tent
There have been a lot of Hoarders episodes where people are in danger of losing their children due to their hoarding,
but Bob and his wife managed to take it to a new level. They had stuffed their house with so much stuff that they – and their children – were living in a tent on the lawn. With winter coming. Somehow they had managed to avoid having the children taken. This was an amazing example of how far people will go to protect their hoard at the expense of their own and their family’s safety and comfort. They were living in the front yard!
Dale the Artist
Dale was living in an apartment in a subsidized building. His excuse for his hoard was that he was an artist – he was either going to use the things or he just loved them because they were beautiful. Dale didn’t have the worst hoard ever, but as an apartment dweller he had to report to a landlord and he wasn’t going to have a place to live if he didn’t clean up. A highlight because it’s somewhat unusual for the show to depict an individual who is a renter – where the consequences can come about a lot quicker than if they owned their own hoarded home. Dale was also just a really interesting sort of guy.
Jake and the Dog Hair
Jake was a really young hoarder – only 21. He was so anxious over his situation that he was frequently in tears and considering suicide. Living with his lump of an uncooperative alcoholic father didn’t help. Jake was also very dramatic. I can imagine that those who knew him got sick of his histrionics after a while and stopped trying to help. But he was an incredible example of the intricate psychology behind hoarding – he was afraid to pick up the dog hair in his home because he thought it would hurt his dog. He was all kinds of irrational but fascinating in his determination.
Kerrylea and the Multiple Houses
Amazingly, this woman hoarded up one home so completely that she and her husband bought another one! Of course the idea was to clean out and sell the first one and of course that never happened. By the time Hoarders arrived they were going financially belly-up. This was an early episode in the series but remains one of the most amazing examples of the financial lengths to which people will go to protect their hoard.
You can see more Hoarders episodes and clips on the A&E Hoarders website. You can buy the Complete Season 1 (seven episodes) and the Season 2: Part 1 (seven episodes). You can also buy individual episode DVDs through the A&E website, but the price of $25 is pretty steep for a 50 minute broadcast.
pictures by Jessica Reeder
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