(Originally posted in October 2010, and still relevant today.)
I’ve recently been fascinated by different documentary-type shows about hoarding. It is interesting to me to see the way the people are living and to see how their illness has affected the people around them. I usually watch with sadness as I see someone hurting and struggling and desperate for change, but completely unequipped to bring that change about themselves.
Most interesting to me, though, are their stories of how the hoarding began. The death of a loved one, perhaps, or a long-held dream that collapsed that their feet. It is interesting what leads them down the path they’re on.
I find it amazing, too, that from the outside, so many of the houses look normal. From the street, no one would know what is going on inside. No one would be able to tell that there is clutter and trash and indescribable pain behind the front door. From the outside, they look like every other house on the street.
Sometimes even the people closest to the hoarders have no idea what is going on. On a recent episode, a successful and attractive middle-aged man was seeking help for his problem, and his long-time girlfriend had never even been to his house. She had no idea how he lived and what he struggled with; when she went inside for the first time, she was shocked to find that she had to walk on mountains of clutter. Astounded, she kept saying, “How…? I had no idea…. How….?!”
That episode in particular made me really think about how we all live. Yes, the man featured in that episode had a problem with physical clutter and its affects on his life, but how many of us live in similar ways? How many of us have secret issues, struggles, and pain that we don’t let anyone see? I’ve been there. At times, I’ve been so depressed I could hardly breathe and so scared to leave my house that I simply didn’t for days on end. I’ve felt the loneliness and isolation of struggling with something alone. I know how it is.
I also know how it is to find out that someone in my life has been struggling, but that I had no idea. I know how it feels to get the phone call of news out of the blue. I know how it feels to be blindsided by something terrible going on in someone’s life, and to wonder, pointlessly, if there were signs I had missed or something I could have done. I know how that is, too.
We all have a tendency to be closed books when we think there is something inside that no one will understand…and to allow others to remain closed when their defensive fronts go up. The hoarders have reminded me, though, that if allowed to remain hidden in the dark, bad things become worse, and that we never know what is going on behind closed doors and hearts…but it can only benefit the people in our lives if we dig deeper. We can never know what is really going on if we never ask, and we can never find healing if we never open up.