By now, most people have at least heard about the A&E show Hoarders. The basic premise of the show is that psychologists, who have experience with hoarders, and clean-up crews or professional organizers go into someone’s home in order to help them get their hoarding problem under control. The houses that are visited in this show can range from being filled with an over-abundance of stuff, to houses that are literally falling apart because of the amount of trash and decay that are in them. On more than one occasion, I have been appalled by what I was seeing, but at the same time I was incapable of changing the channel, and I am not the only one.
Many people not only watch the show, but they are fascinated by what they are witnessing. How could you not be? After all, complete strangers are opening up with their deepest and darkest secrets for all the world to see. I sat on the edge of my seat while listening to the woman who tied herself in a portable potty chair to sleep in at night and wore diapers because her bathroom did not function. I wondered how someone could live in a house where part of it had been eaten by the goats kept in the backyard. I have even felt the distress that a mother was feeling because her daughter’s stuff was taking over the house.
In its own way, this show full of sad stories and sad people has become incredibly popular. I believe some of its popularity is rooted in that fact that we see at least a part of ourselves in the stories that are highlighted in each episode. We all have that object we refuse to part with because we have placed sentimental value on it. On more than one occasion I am sure most people have collected piles of stuff in their house and have had at least some mild difficulty allowing someone else to clean up their “organized chaos.” I bet we all could find something with an expired date in our refrigerators. Many years ago, when I was a single, broke parent, I used to keep empty cereal boxes in my pantry, just so it looked like I had more food in the house than I did.
Another reason I think this show has gained such a following, is that it allows us to feel slightly smug and superior over those people who are sharing their lives with us. We can safely acknowledge that we might not be very good at keeping our clutter picked up, because our house is not nearly as badly cluttered as what we are seeing on our television screens. Or maybe we can admit that our bathroom currently needs to be cleaned, but at least it does not resemble the worst of the bathrooms you might find in a run down gas station. It makes us feel good because we can see that we have better self control in our lives than those people do.
At some point during last season’s episodes I realized how close I have been to becoming one of those people. One of the things I have in common with most of the people who have been on that show is depression. Instead of sleeping their depression away, some chose to try and divert their internal deep sadness and fill up an empty place in their heart with stuff. Others, especially the ones who had piles and piles of trash in their house, seemed like their depression was so deep that they had simply lost the motivation to even carry a piece of trash to their garbage can.
For me, Hoarders has lost its fascination. I identify too closely with the people and stories on that show. I have replaced that Monday night time slot with The Real Housewives of New Jersey, a group of women that I totally cannot relate to.