It was with a heavy heart that I heard confirmation that the A&E reality show “Hoarders” would not be filming new shows. Hoarders has been cancelled.
Having purchased a partially hoarded house I found some comfort in Hoarders, which profiled one or two homes an episode and “cleaned house” with the help of Psychologists, professional cleaning crews and the hoarder him or herself.
I know that some folks complained that the home owners were being exploited and objectified for entertainment, since audiences seemed simultaneously to enjoy and be disgusted by seeing the filth and mountains of mess (and sometimes poop). It seemed to me that the hoarders were getting help that they would not have otherwise received and were the better for it. The crew never laughed at or belittled the hoarders, instead they just tried to convince the hoarders that something had to change. Getting rid of the hoard was always a safety and mental health issue, and usually a financial necessity. Yes, it was a television show, but it wasn’t just about entertainment.
As for me, I found some brethren. I was not aware of the show while I was cleaning the worst of the worst out of my new house, a friend told me about it and said I should watch. When I did, I found that the shows gave me comfort.
Comfort you ask? Among the piles of wet papers and rotten food?
Yes, comfort. Because until I saw Hoarders I didn’t know that I was not alone in stumbling upon a collection of bottles of urine. Hoarders showed me that people other than the former inhabitants of my house have found themselves at a point in life where the kitchen is as likely a place to dispose of human waste as the bathroom. In Hoarders I saw how, like with my house, a home’s smell can make visitors gag while the inhabitants remain completely unaware of the stench. And at the end of each episode of Hoarders, I was amazed at how the hoarded houses looked after they were cleaned out, and it reminded me of how far my house had come.
So yes, comfort.
Now, as I help my parents clear out some of the decades of accumulated clutter in their house, I find myself using the techniques I viewed on Hoarders. I’ve learned to understand how so many things can simply be piled up — unused or incorrectly stored. My parents are not clinical Hoarders, and their house is still functional and the front rooms pristine. However, the private areas and attic and basement are full, and unsafe. My parents are like a lot of true hoarders in that they are old and grew up with next to nothing. Though my parents went to college, married, had children and bought a home, they were never wealthy. And they never moved. As a result, decades of stuff has never been relocated or inventoried.
My parents, and their parents before them, lived through some of the most economically and socially challenging times in United States history — the Wars, the Depression, the time both before and after the civil rights movement. I think they grew up with an underlying worry that they could lose what they have at any given moment, or that someone would try to steal it from them. So, like some of the clients on Hoarders, they ascribe value to things that no one would buy, and by piling up mountains of stuff, they endanger the most valuable possession they have — their house.
The show Hoarders helped me to know that even the most unlikely item has a story, that sometimes the story needs to be told before the item can be discarded, and that when the smallest treasure is exhumed from its grave of stuff, it triggers a memory — of a different time, a different place, a different person.
As I help my parents clean out I have specifically utilized a few Hoarders tricks:
1. Lay out a tarp to place items on, they look different in the light of day.
2. When cleaning out a closet, dresser, or any area, I don’t stand there and pull out items one at a time. Instead, I take everything out at once and set it all out, assuring my parents that we’ll return the items they choose to keep, but we need to get everything out first.
I’ve learned it’s easier for most people to justify keeping an unused item in a closet– it’s not hurting anybody — but it’s a lot harder to justify putting useless things back in once they’re out.
3. Try to do as much in one day or sitting as possible. It’s never a good idea to allow extra time to think about items.
This was the genius of Hoarders. It wasn’t just for filming that the task had to be accomplished in two days. It’s better for the hoarder to have to make quick decisions.
4. Remove discarded items immediately.
Even when possessions are marked for trash, there can be a “declutter remorse” if there is a bag or piece of furniture or appliances or tools left in view. It’s just too tempting for someone with hoarding tendencies to revisit the trash, go through it and bring stuff back in, promising to fix it, or find a use for it, or sell it — later. I’ve been known to load my parents’ trash in my car and take it home to put out in my own trash, just to avoid the temptation to “trash pick.”
A&E’s Hoarders may be cancelled, but it has and will continue to help me. Now, as I watch my Dad go through piles of once expensive clothing piece by piece, stuff that’s over forty years old, suits that he has never worn and he probably inherited, clothes that have mice dirt on them and moth holes in them, I think,
“What would Matt Paxton do?” and I feel better.
And as I clear an area, making it easier for my parents to get around and find the things they actually need, I know that no matter how hard the fight was, the process is important, especially when it helps them locate and display — or even sell — the things that do have real value. Plus, I feel better making the home safer. But it ain’t easy. No, it’s not.
So thanks Matt and the whole Hoarders crew. You helped. You really did.
Just Me With . . . among many other things, a collection of vintage Ebony and Look magazines, a couple of flat mice (but not cats!), a tractor, bowling shoes, and more patience than I thought I could ever conjure up.
Piss, Puke, and Porn — The discoveries I made inside my new old house.
That Hoarders Smell — How to get rid of that awful smell.
Toilet or Kitchen Sink —- Who Can Tell? — I saw some nasty stuff in the old kitchen.
Exhumation by Accident — I dug up something in my yard.
Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure — Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.
I’m getting my house painted this week. I know I’ve written about painting it myself, describing how That Hoarders Smell inside the house was so bad that it engulfed me even while I was painting outside. So yeah, I painted the house already.
But I never finished.
I painted the front under the porch. Then I stood on the porch roof to paint the second floor. And, along with my nephew, I perched on scaffolding temporarily left by another contractor as I prepped, primed and painted the back of the house.
That left the sides, where the paint was peeling so badly that barely brushing by it caused a snow flurry of dirty paint flakes, some big, some small, some lead-based, some not.
So although usually one preps, primes and paints from the top down, I started from the bottom up, reasoning that since we were about to move into this house I didn’t want the children to be exposed to this peeling paint at eye level. The upper floors weren’t peeling or flaking as badly as the lower level and at least no one would be touching it. So, for safety’s sake I tackled the first floor. Well, safety and the fact that I could reach the lower level and paint it myself without scaffolding or big ladders that I didn’t own.
The top side sections, however, have not been prepped, primed, or painted.
It’s tacky. It’s been this way for over two years.
I had every intention of painting the rest of the house myself. A contractor friend even lent me some scaffolding and we put it up on one side of the house. Then, well, stuff happened, and I changed and eventually went off my meds, which gave me vertigo, poor equilibrium, extreme dizziness, and severe sensitivity to light. I couldn’t even think about doing it then. My friend eventually took his scaffolding back, unused.
Since then I have struggled with my half-painted house. I struggled to find the energy to paint my house, struggled to find the motivation and money, struggled to conquer my newly developed fear of heights, that I will fall and lay broken and bleeding in my yard —and no one will know.
And, I lost my Mojo. I’d done so much work on this little Hoarders house. I’d tried to make it nice. I did make it nice. But recently I’ve been feeling that no matter what I do to this house, which sits on a busy street and backs up onto the perimeter of an poor neighborhood, it will always be compared to the much larger marital home situated in a park-like setting. I don’t miss that home at all, and selling that home was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — that decision may be a subject of another post — but I don’t love where we are now, I tried . . .
- I installed a stone patio and fire-pit for us to enjoy — that no one uses.
- I partially finished the basement so that we’d have a place for the drums and could jam — but no one does.
- I made a music room for lessons for students that are fewer and fewer in number each year.
- I planted shrubs to give us some privacy — that died.
- I bought a shed to house bicycles — that nobody rides.
But. . . I never finished painting the house. Perhaps part of me became comfortable with my half painted house. Maybe it was some sort of admission of defeat. The move been an adjustment, a difficult adjustment. I’m not going pretend otherwise — anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of my accomplishments with respect to this home and my family. I’m happy that we have a roof over our heads and that the kids didn’t have to change schools — which was the reason why I bought the little hoarders home in the first place. And I know things could be a lot worse, and that things aren’t really that bad, or really bad at all.
Still, the unfinished paint job screams that there are still struggles in this home.
Anyone looking at it would ask,
“Cute house. But when is she going to finish painting it?”
Well, the answer is “Now.” I’m borrowing from Peter to pay Paul to pay some Painters that gave me a good deal because one of my “Friends Without Benefits” told them to.
I’m waving the white flag in surrender. I will not finish painting the house myself. But I will not leave it partially unpainted for another year as a shrine to my failure to renovate our way into happiness — or the land of denial. I’ve got to think of resale value and protect my investment. So, I’ve called in the professionals.
It is what it is. And it has to get done. At least it won’t look tacky anymore.
“Maybe it will lift my spirits,” I thought, as I’ve been feeling a bit blue lately.
And then, the universe threw me a bone.
The painters here are very nice guys. Just now one of them stopped me and said,
“I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, but I gotta tell you . . . you look just like Halle Berry. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that? Mike (the other painter) said it yesterday, too. I’m a movie buff, so I would know.”
I have to say, I’m starting to feel a lot better about hiring these guys to paint my house. A lot better.
Just Me With . . . a paint job in progress, in butter cream with hunter green trim, done expertly by — my new best friends.
Postscript: The painting is finished. The house looks great, it really does, and just in time for Winter.
Sadly, one of my kids informed me that her friends told her that they aren’t allowed to come to our neighborhood, for fear they might get mugged.
The house I bought was not as bad as some of the houses you see on Hoarders, at least the whole house wasn’t. But the third floor attic bedroom was as bad as those hoarders’ houses. This is where the man who I call PissMan, his girlfriend and their cat (sans litter box) stayed. The cat just relieved itself on all the stuff up there — clothes, cardboard boxes, etc. I needed this room to be a bedroom for two of my kids. It had to be completely transformed.
The master bedroom that became my room was the second worst. That is where the family matriarch stayed until she was confined to a hospital bed downstairs, and eventually passed away. See What Happened In My House? Murder? It was in this room where at least one cat was confined with a litter box, sans litter. This cat threw up a lot on the old hardwood floor. Nobody cleaned it up. Old hardwood floors –150 year old unmaintained hardwood floors– have many cracks, they do not have thick coats of Polyurethane to repel liquid. They act as sponges, soaking up whatever is dropped on them. Cat urine, feces, canned food and cigarette ashes had been dropped on them and left there in the Summer months, with no air conditioning or adequate ventilation.
This house had been a house of smokers for many, many years. The walls and ceilings had once been white but had turned a brownish-yellow. So, underneath all of the animal and human excrement smells was the smell of years of cigarette smoke. In addition, there had been some water damage in some of the rooms.
This added another smell — wet plaster, wet rugs and mold. Hmmm Hmmm Good!
Some rooms were worse than others as far as the hoard goes, but the whole house stunk. The smell was bad, really bad. It was so bad that I could smell it from the outside, while I was on the porch roof painting the exterior of the house with oil based paint.
Imagine — a beautiful Spring day, being up high in the sunshine — flowers blooming, birds singing — yet I could still smell the inside of the house — and it was enough to make me nauseous — and seriously question my decision to purchase that house. What was I thinking? (Well, I was thinking I had to move, I wanted to keep the kids in the same schools, and with five children and no money I had very little choice . . . but I digress . . . )
Paint fumes? Not a problem. Fumes from in the house? Problem.
The smell is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. You know when a smell is so pungent that you begin to taste it? Have you ever smelled a diaper after days in the trash, or after it has gotten wet? Are you familiar with that neglected service station bathroom smell? Cat urine? A litter box that hasn’t been cleaned in — months? Well, that shouldn’t happen, but just imagine. Adult human urine and feces? Has anyone ever let milk or cream go bad — like until it gets lumpy? Let’s see what else — food. The family cooked in a kitchen with absolutely no ventilation. Oh yeah, and soap. These people washed, but the usually comforting smell of soap just added to the soup of nastiness. The home’s overall smell was sour and sweet and nauseating, stronger in some areas yet pervasively throughout everything.
It was nasty.
Eventually, however, the family who had lived there for four generations, left. Five people, two cats –at the time (previously there had been many more cats, I’m told, and various other pets. The mom/grandmother loved her animals. See Accidental Exhumation; Be Careful For What You Dig For) plus human urine, feces, trash, piss soaked carpet remnants — all gone, though not in one trip.
Finally, the only thing left was their security deposit. Given the items they tried to leave me, i.e. bottles of urine, and various other debris including used adult diapers and crack, yeah, I kept their money.
So they were gone. Their stuff was gone.
The odor, however, remained — not surprising considering all the piss bottles and all. See Piss, Puke and Porn.
Damn, thinking back on all of this. I can almost taste that smell again. Ew.
Anyway, the following is my public service announcement and my personal account of how I got rid of . . .
That Hoarders Smell:
Hard scrubbed with good old-fashioned Pine Sol, barely diluted, rinsed and wiped down with water, repeat. Repeat until layers of dirt and smoke were removed. Spackle, sand.
Primed with oil-based primer. This is the kind you cannot wash off with soap and water. This is the hard stuff. If you get it on your clothes, they are ruined. If you get it on your skin or hair, either suffer through washing with turpentine or paint remover, or wait until it wears off on its own. The oil-based smell is strong. A mask is required for safety. Given the smells I was trying to eradicate, I welcomed the chemical smell of the paint, though, I admit.
Paint. I bought the thickest (and unfortunately the most expensive) paint I could find. Paint, repeat. The walls and ceilings required two coats of paint to deal with the smell and smoke stains.
Scrape the cat feces and vomit, and tape residue (they used tape for many repairs),
Sand the floors (some floors I had professionally sanded, but taking off a layer of floor did not, unfortunately, take away the smell, it some areas it made it worse).
Seal the floor (and odors) by painting with oil based floor paint. (The floors were in pretty bad shape, staining and them and covering them with clear polyurethane probably still would not make them look good, plus there was a time issue, since we had to move in immediately and therefore needed to be able to walk on the floors right away.)
All in all, smell removal was a huge process. Though it was nice to choose wall colors for my new digs, my painting of every surface of the house had very little to do with decor. No, my painting had to do with odor control. It had to be done.
Not surprisingly, now I enjoy watching the show Hoarders on A&E, though I had never heard of it when I was cleaning my house. Watching now I’m never surprised when those Hoarders houses get a fresh coat of paint. It’s not a makeover, it’s a smellover.
Now? Now my house smells good. But it’s a freaking miracle. A miracle brought about by hard work and some angels, very extremely cool people who volunteered to help me. A post dedicated to these folks is forthcoming.
Just Me With . . . no more smell, and a sudden urge to clean.
Related, Goodbye Hoarders — The television show Hoarders has been cancelled.
One of my daughters wants a cat. I have nothing against cats, but after going through what I did to clean this house, I can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to smell a litter box, even just to clean it.
Ah yes, my landscaping work. The back yard was a mess. There was a retaining wall that wasn’t retaining much, there were stepping-stones beneath inches of wet decaying leaves and muck, there was mud. There were bricks, rocks, slate and overgrown I don’t know whats. My raking just to clear the path turned into landscaping which turned into demolition of a retaining wall which turned into completely regrading the yard.
This required digging, and dig I did. I removed pounds of dirt, along with natural stone, and man-made brick and concrete. I made archeological finds — railroad ties, nails, barn and shutter hinges all likely from the 1800’s. I uncovered a mysterious large concrete block with an iron pipe through it — still don’t know what the heck that was, but it was too heavy and went too deep for me to move so I buried it again.
I removed brush and plantings gone wild. Dig around the roots, flip and pull. It was kinda cool. And I was transforming my new home from a very scary place to what I hoped would be a cute little Victorian actually worthy of saving rather than one step from the wrecking ball. The kids were, as usual, and like many of today’s healthy red-blooded children, inside. They were enjoying some sort of technology, while I toiled outside in the fresh air. I was on my own. No power tools. No help.
When I was digging and moving earth I pulled up some trash bag type plastic. Okay, I’d already pulled a lot of this stuff up. The prior owners used garbage bags as landscaping fabric. As I pulled I saw that the garbage bag had something light-colored in it –some white cloth. I wondered, “Now what could this be? A buried treasure, maybe?” I dug and pulled.
Just like with the shrubs gone wild, I dug around it, started to flip it out of the dirt, reached down (with gloves of course) for one last pull . . . and . . .
I’m not usually a screamer.
But when I pulled, the bag ripped open and the cloth fell out. The cloth was stained, had something stuck to it, something . . . that appeared . . . to . . . be —- HAIR !!!! This is what turned me into a screamer.
I ran inside to get a kid, any one of them would do. I needed a witness (well actually, support). The youngest ones were curious enough to venture out into the sun. And we, of course, did the mature thing.
We took a stick and poked at it.
Because, not only was it a cheese cloth like old world material, brown blood stained and showing bits of hair type stuff, it had a bulge in it.
So, we poked some more.
My optimistic child said the bits of hair like stuff was really mulch. Gotta love her — but the stuff was not mulch. I untangled the cloth with a stick, revealed and uncovered . . . some skin, a skull and bones. EWWWWWWW!
I had exhumed a pet of the prior owners. I didn’t need to call in CSI or NCIS or any of the Law and Order folks to figure that out. Thank God it wasn’t the remains of a human. Remember, this is the 150 year old house of Piss, Puke, and Porn — it could have been anything.
By the size and shape of the skull I surmised that this thing had once been a guinea pig, maybe a rabbit, possibly a kitten. It must have been a cherished pet at one time since it seemed to have had a proper burial — complete with a white shroud. And, I presume, it was resting in peace. That is, until I got to it. EWWWWWW!
There is a beautiful contemporary country song, sung by Miranda Lambert, featured on her album, Revolution, called “The House That Built Me.” It’s about a troubled adult going back to visit her childhood home to get grounded. Miranda sings to the current owners of her old house. . .
I bet you didn’t know under that live oak,
My favorite dog is buried in the yard.
Yeah, okay, Miranda. Love the song, it makes me cry. But as the new owner of the former childhood home of somebody, where somebody buried their pet in the yard and moved away — only to leave poor unsuspecting landscaping me to dig it up . . . well, it’s not quite the same sentiment.
More sticks and a shovel were used to dispose of the remains, remains that the kids now wanted to keep. I caved and we left the skull out for the rest of the day. Other critters must have carried it away during the night because it was gone by morning.
Just Me With . . . lots of dirt, a shovel, and apparently — a pet cemetery. EWWWWW!!!!!
This house had some bad mojo, no joke. See, What Happened In My House? Murder?
As I noted in Piss, Puke and Porn after I bought my new old house I allowed the prior owners to rent it back from me for a number of months while my marital home was on the market. During this time I worked mostly on the outside of the house.
It needed it.
When it got closer to move-in time I did do some work/planning inside the house.
It needed it.
One fine day I was in the kitchen measuring, trying to come up with a plan to remodel the kitchen which, again, was nasty –I mean it had stained, smelly carpet — IN THE KITCHEN! Once white ceiling tiles which were brown from cigarette smoke and water damage, and the kitchen boasted a lovely exposed toilet pipe, etc. But I was financially challenged and wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to afford all the home renovations needed at one time. I briefly considered trying to live with the kitchen “as is’ for a while. (Of course, after removing the carpet and massive cleaning and disinfecting.)
During the rental period, the matriarch of the family, bless her heart, had become ill. She was staying in a hospital bed in the front room (the hallway was too small to get a bed upstairs). Her common law daughter-in-law (the one living upstairs with Piss Man) was her primary caretaker. See What Happened In My House? Murder? The daughter-in-law seemed to want to befriend me. I can talk to anybody, really, so we were chatting it up. Mind you, this was before the discovery of The Piss Collection.
But then something happened.
Piss Man’s Girlfriend had gone to check on the Matriarch. I stayed in the kitchen, pondering — what to do with this mess? Then, Piss Man’s Girlfriend returned with a full bed pan and proceeded to empty it — into the kitchen sink — INTO THE KITCHEN SINK !!!!
She did this right in front of me!!!
My hopes of my family using the existing kitchen for a while and thus staggering the home renovations were dashed, or should I say splashed down the kitchen sink. A kitchen sink currently being used and surrounded by dishes and food.
When the family moved out of my new old house, the entire kitchen — including the kitchen sink — was demolished by a friend and I — within days. We lived for four months with no kitchen at all. But I’d rather have no kitchen at all than —-
Just Me With . . . The Ever Popular “Toilet — Kitchen Sink Combination.”
Related: What Happened in My House, Murder?