Since debuting on August 17, 2009, the hit A&E series Hoarders has aired 120 episodes. The popular show is watched by millions of viewers who often believe the reality TV series is exposing a real problem and helping those in need.
Let’s dive into the show and see if it accurately represents a disorder that affects an estimated 5% of the U.S. population. While Hoarders gets some things right, experts have long argued over whether or not the show does more harm than good. To determine whether the show is helping or hurting those in need we first have to understand what hoarding actually is, how the show tackles the problem, and what experts have to say.
Hoarding Wasn’t Its Own Disorder When The Show Started
We have to give A&E’s producers a little bit of credit for bringing the hoarding disorder to the forefront of a larger conversation. When the show started airing it was long believed that hoarding was simply a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It wasn’t until 2013 that Hoarding became its own disorder.
The main distinction between OCD and hoarding is that people with OCD typically feel bad about their actions while hoarders derive joy from hoarding various items. Experts now predict that anywhere from two to five percent of the US population has a problem with hoarding.
Trauma And Abuse Can Lead To Hoarding
Mental health experts have often noted that many hoarders are the victims of childhood trauma or sustained periods of abuse which led them down a path of hoarding. In some cases, a single traumatic event such as the loss of a family member or friend can also trigger the disorder.
Hoarders often associate the traumatic event with positive memories and then attempt to hold onto those memories as a coping mechanism. In other cases, they hoard objects to cope with neglect and abuse they have suffered. Experts have argued that showcasing these individuals may not be good for their mental health.
The Link Between Hoarding And Genetics
While traumatic events can trigger hoarding, A&E’s producers noticed during filming that hoarding sometimes ran in the family, even if a traumatic event was not to blame for the condition. This has led to arguments by researchers over whether or not hoarding is a genetic condition.
The International OCD Foundation says anywhere from 50 to 80% of hoarders claim to have a relative who they also describe as a hoarder. Further, the study found that two hoarders living in proximity to each other can lead to more aggressive hoarding tendencies.
A&E Seems More Concerned With Gross-Out Factors Than Actually Helping People
Hoarders ran on A&E for six years with a common theme: show the gross-out factor associated with the hoarder’s home. It was a popular format that was ditched when Lifetime picked up the series for seasons seven and eight. Lifetime chose to focus on the actual hoarders and their stories.
When Lifetime passed on another season, A&E picked up the series for a second-chance run and almost immediately returned to focusing on disgusting and shocking details. The network then went one step further, showing never-before-seen footage from some of the show’s most gruesome and disgusting moments.
The Show’s Producers At Least Try To Help The Worst-Off Hoarders
It’s not hard for A&E’s producers to find people who will appear on the show. In fact, it has almost been overwhelming. A&E has revealed that sometimes hoarders beg for help on their own but most of the time it’s a friend or family member reaching out to the executives of the TV network.
Hoarders Executive Producer Jodi Flynn revealed to Xfinity that they pour over applications in an attempt to find letters from the most concerned friends and family members. Typically, they attempt to accept hoarders who have experienced failed or failing relationships or who live in homes that have become uninhabitable.
A&E Pays For Clean-Up, Therapists, and More
While some experts disagree with A&E’s approach, the TV series does try to do right by their appearing guests. Producers for the popular series pay for the entire home clean-up process, along with therapy intervention, and other experts who appear on each episode.
Producer Jodi Flynn admits that the cost is not cheap. Between hiring a clean-up expert and a cleaning company, a hoarder’s home can cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to clean up. The show’s guests pay absolutely nothing which can be a saving grace in itself.
Experts Are Conflicted Over The Show
Debbie Stanley is an expert who helps hoarders reclaim a normal life that’s been suppressed by their hoarding habit. She has attacked the TV show for focusing on the worst moments available. Stanley calls the show “exploitative” and notes that it’s “ineffective to ‘clean out’ a hoarded home for a weekend, through pressure or coercion, at a pace faster than the client can tolerate.”
On the other side, hoarding expert Marilyn Tomfohrde believes the show represents an “honest reputation of the condition” while noting that hoarders appearing on the show are some of the most desperate given their decision to invite a film crew and various other people into their home.
There’s Not A Lot Of Trickery In Filming
We’ve reported on a lot of reality TV shows and noted that many are edited in such a way to make them more interesting and even fake. Reddit user OkayGeorgia hosted an “Ask Me Anything” segment after watching Hoarders being filmed at his dad’s home. “It’s all very real. I mean, of course editors work their magic, but all in all, those people really do have hoarding problems.”
A&E claims that none of the hoardings is staged. Given that nobody is paid to appear on the show and real psychologists are brought in to help, the show does seem legitimate, at least superficially.
Animal Hoarding On The Show Has Led To An Arrest
Hoarding oftentimes involves animals and individuals with this type of hoarding addiction have appeared on A&E’s TV series. In 2016, one of those hoarders was a woman named Cora Belk. It was revealed on the show that she hoarded various types of animals who lived in squalor with her.
After the episode aired, police arrested Cora Belk and charged her with cruel treatment of animals. The arrest was issued after the show revealed various skeletal remains from nearly two dozen birds, turtles, and dogs.
Family Secrets Have Been Revealed On Hoarders
Helping hoarders clean up their homes oftentimes comes with an added bonus. While filming the A&E series, producers have not only helped hoarders overcome disastrous cleanup situations, they have also uncovered family secrets.
In 2012, an episode aired with a hoarder named Richard. During filming, it was revealed that Richard’s own isolation from his family and a long-held secret had manifested itself into a compulsion toward hoarding. Richard finally decided to tell his family he was gay. His family members accepted his sexual orientation and he was soon moving onto a path of healing.
A Predator Was Accidentally Featured On The Show
As we previously noted, the producers for Hoarders receive thousands of applications every year. In one case, someone forgot to perform their due diligence and the show allowed a deviant predator to appear on the TV series.
Patrick Donovan Flanagan O’Shannahan told producers his name was Roger Sisson. In reality, he was a 65-year-old repeat felon responsible for attacking at least one 18-year-old woman. Producers removed the episode from airing once O’Shannahan’s true story was discovered. Sisson has been arrested more than half a dozen times according to various reports.
Disgusting Stuff Found On The Show Is Real
Hoarding is a serious disorder and it often brings with it serious consequences. If you’ve ever questioned whether disgusting items found on the show are real — they sadly are. In some cases, people hoarded so many items in their bathroom that they started going to the bathroom in buckets.
In other instances, so many cats were found in homes that it created “tons of fecal dust” that clung to the surfaces of the home. Mold colonies from rotting food and even dead animals are among some of the more shocking items found inside hoarders homes on the show.
The Show’s Relapse Rate Is Incredibly High
Hoarding is a serious mental condition that requires ongoing treatment. Simply cleaning up a home and sending the cleaners on their way is not an effective treatment plan. A&E does provide a therapist immediately after the clean-up effort but then the hoarder is left to deal with their problems on their own.
It has been revealed that during “Where Are They Now” episodes a shockingly high four out of five hoarders relapsed within the first year and began to almost immediately returning to hoarding once the cameras were turned off.
Many Hoarders On The Show Are Actually Caregivers
Hoarders Producer Matt Paxton told The Ashley that many of the hoarders who have been featured on the show work as caregivers. They tend to serve in jobs such as teachers and social workers, “which means that they are caring, loving people. It’s a misconception: people think hoarders are nasty people.” Paxton says many of them even love to give away items they have hoarded.
It’s obviously dangerous to lump all people of a certain disorder into one category but it’s also interesting to hear the observations from someone who has now visited with more than hundreds of hoarders from around the country.
The Clean-Up Work Isn’t Always Finished By The End Of Filming
While most episodes of Hoarders end with participants marveling at the clean-up job that was finished within days, the clean-up process can actually take much longer to complete. Verna Carter’s Westside Santa Cruz house looked spotless when her episode aired but she told reporters that it was hardly a finished product when filming ended.
According to Carter, her front yard was littered with items for nearly two months and “They didn’t even get upstairs to my attic,” she told Patch. In defense of A&E, Carter did note that she had so many items that the crew simply ran out of trucks to move it all.
Hoarding Is Big Business For One Of The Show’s Biggest Stars
Matt Paxton has been featured on 70 episodes of A&E’s Hoarders alongside his crew from Clutter Cleaners. Their mission might seem altruistic but in reality, it’s big business. Matt founded Clutter Cleaners and has since authored the book “The Secret Lives of Hoarders.”
Matt is known throughout the country as “Mr. Hoard” and it has made him a wealthy man. His company’s growth reminds us that while A&E might help clean out homes, hoarding is actually a big business opportunity for the show’s producers and paid participants.
The Show Glosses Over The Various Reasons People Hoard
While A&E’s producers have done a fine job of showcasing some of the most extreme cases of hoarding, the show’s “infotainment” approach has glossed over the very real reasons people hoard.
Studies have shown that emotional attachments to objects associated with loved ones, the desire to “retain information” from newspapers, books, and other objects, and even a desire for perfectionism can all lead to hoarding. The show’s simple solution of just removing the objects that are viewed as obstacles to recovery really doesn’t help to address real underlying issues.
The Shock Of Seeing Their Clean Home Is Probably Genuine Shock
Many hoarders suffer from a condition sometimes referred to as “clutter blindness.” When shown photographers of their own homes they often don’t recognize rooms that were once filled with their stored items. In extreme cases, some hoarders have completely forgotten about the existence of an entire room simply because it was filled to the brim with items. When asked to draw a blueprint of their home, the room has sometimes been left off their diagram.
So when hoarders are shown their clean home on A&E’s Hoarders there’s a very real chance they are genuinely shocked and confused by what they are seeing.
Not Enough Intervention Is Given By The Show’s Producers
Let’s be honest, cleaning out a home and giving volunteers a few therapy sessions is not going to cure them of their disorder. There are currently no medications available specifically to treat hoarding and experts largely agree that it requires routine cognitive-behavioral therapy with a therapist who specializes in the disorder to bring about real change.
Hoarders fall short in providing expensive long-term therapy which likely explains why in some re-visiting segments four out of five hoarders had reverted back to their old ways within one year’s time.
It’s Not Always About Trauma
Another area some experts have taken issue with when viewing A&E’s Hoarders is the idea that everyone on the show has suffered some type of heartbreak or life event that has triggered their hoarding. This is simply not the case.
Experts have noted that hoarding can manifest itself even in people who have had no major life trauma. Ultimately hoarding is a complex issue that can’t be and possibly shouldn’t be broken down into a one hour show created for entertainment purposes.