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.
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.
I love Dunkin Donuts. I know it’s just a chain of low-end Doughnut shops, but I go to Dunkin Donuts every day. The baked goods and food are not so great, but I do enjoy the coffee. When I moved, downsized, left the marital home, whatever you want to call it — I began a relationship with Dunkin’ Donuts that was very personal.
When the old house sold, the new “old” house was still being remodeled. “Remodeling” makes it sound so pretty and exciting — so HGTV-like. It wasn’t. It was more a combination of Hoarders, Clean House, DIY’s Renovation Realities and Jerry Springer. Oh, it was an adventure, but it wasn’t pretty. Some of the details of the renovation will be in other posts, but for this you need to know that the kitchen had already been demolished to the studs, see Toilet or Kitchen Sink — Who Can Tell? and the home’s only bathroom was under construction to allow for an over the tub shower and for my boy to be able to stand in front of the toilet — like a man. The tub and sink had previously been removed, only the toilet remained, temporarily, which looked like this: Did you notice the duct tape on the toilet seat? Did ya? Can you imagine the germ fest going on there? Although at least one of the prior owners wasn’t even using the toilet regularly, see Piss Puke and Porn, . . . that toilet was more than nasty. It was a bio-hazard. This picture was taken almost a year before I moved in, when the prior owners were still living there. Yet when I moved in, the same duct tape was still on the toilet, now covered in plaster dust and construction dirt which had stuck to the urine stains on the commode like a weird kind of sand art. Ew!!
We moved into this mess – in Summer — and it was hot. Wait for it . . . we moved into a true
. . . wait for it. . . hot mess!
But at least we had a toilet to flush, assuming we could use it without touching it. I kept a bottle of hand sanitizer on a bucket in the “bathroom.” This held us over until we could use the hose — outside. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention that since the bathroom ceiling and roof were being raised, there was no overhead light. A desk lamp plugged into the one working outlet gave us some light — because you need to see in order to use a toilet without touching it. You need to see — but not too much, not too much, not in that house. We were seriously roughing it.
Two days after we moved in the disgusting toilet was removed. I was slightly relieved, not realizing that a simple plumbing fixture could actually scare me so much. But this left us with no indoor plumbing at all. Huh. But when the toilet was taken outside and I saw it in the light of day? Well, no indoor plumbing became suddenly acceptable, preferable, actually.
Still, I wasn’t alone. I do have five children. One kid was thankfully going on vacation with another family for a week. That left four. Four kids with nowhere to wash themselves, wash clothes or prepare food. And the four kids left were girls, so going behind a tree — not so easy.
I schlepped the girls to and from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, along with our laundry. But my elderly parents also have only one bathroom as well and were quite distraught over our living conditions. They were distraught? Imagine how I felt. I had to downplay the situation to keep my parents (who are Olympic level worriers) and my kids calm. I pretended this was not that big a deal. I deserve an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. I don’t want a SAG award, because I can’t get over the sound of that . . . but I digress.
Of course the bathroom construction was behind, though I was given reassurances to the contrary. And, let’s just say my funds were not liquid at the moment, which severely limited my options. (This may be subject of another post.)
While the kids were at the grandparents or other activities (which I kept them in, so as to maintain normalcy and give them a place to go — literally — ha!) I stayed and worked at the house. Professionals were doing the bathroom but I needed to be around to supervise, and continue my round the clock cleaning and painting, see That Hoarder’s Smell, and also try to organize our belongings —which were stored in stacks of boxes that could not yet be unpacked. Of course, there was no need to unpack the kitchen because, well, we didn’t have one. In addition, the house was not yet secure — broken locks and doors — someone needed to be around.
My morning routine was as follows:
I would get up, roll into my clothes or keep on whatever I’d slept in (because so very few of my clothes were accessible to me) and head to Dunkin Donuts.
Walking in quickly and giving the very hip “up” nod to the workers, who knew me as a regular, I would head directly to the bathroom where, in addition to the normal thing to do, I would wash my face, dry it with a paper towel, grab the toothbrush and paste stashed in my purse, and brush my teeth. When I emerged my coffee was ready for me. The largely Pakistani staff expected me, remembered my order, and never gave me a hard time about my frequent and prolonged bathroom visits — even when I had the kids with me and we did it as a group, waiting our turn, usually at night, which brings me to—
The night-time routine:
“Okay, kids we need to go and use the bathroom for the last time before bed. Get in the car.”
And we went to . . . Dunkin’ Donuts. The folks there would often give us free doughnuts, too! Plus I made friends with one worker even though there was a huge language barrier and I later helped her with a very personal issue — again something for another post.
I almost forgot that at one point there was a “Potty in the Basement” provided by the plumbers — really it was like an adult-sized training potty, except with chemicals. Yeah, that didn’t work too well either, partly because there was no light down there in the oil stained, crumbling stone basement, and partly because the contents of that potty needed to be dumped– not after every use because of the chemicals, but regularly. This meant carrying it up broken basement stairs, through the house and outside (walking a plank which extended from the back door four feet down to the ground, no deck or stairs yet) and then dumping it into the sewer line.
That potty overflowed once in the house. Ew. I just shuddered a little, thinking about it. Ew.
Damn, I’ve been through some shit, literally, shit . . . but I digress . . . and this post is getting long.
Realizing the bathroom remodel was going to take longer than expected, and when I finally had funds available (back child support was finally paid, on the very last day listed on the court order), I arranged for a port-a-potty to be installed in the back yard. After all, it was a construction site.
Oh the Port-A-Potty — it gave us another round of adventures . . . since it was Summer and my children were and are very afraid of bugs and the dark . . .
Anyway, this is how my love affair with Dunkin’ Donuts happened, it wasn’t just about the coffee.
Just Me With . . . a fully functional bathroom — now — though I still enjoy my morning coffee from my friends at Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Time to make the . . . Doughnuts?”
See, “She Asked For My Help” for the issue with my Pakistani friend.
I’ve watched and read too many crime dramas, in my day, yeah, I know. But some things make a person go hmmmm. A case in point.
The house I live in now had previously been occupied by, let’s say, a “different” kind of family. I bought the house and according to the terms of the sale, the family rented it back from me for six months. During the rental period I worked on the outside of the house and occasionally the inside. I got to know the family. Sometimes they told me things I’d rather not know, but people need to talk and what the hell, I’ll listen.
Five people lived in the house. There was the ailing matriarch I’ll call Betty. She was only in her early sixties but suffering with what became terminal cancer from lifelong smoking and hard living. She was an old soul. Twice divorced, she had had three children. A boy and girl in their forties and another girl in her twenties. I’ve previously referred to the grown son as PissMan, read Piss, Puke, and Porn, and you will know why. PissMan lived there with his girlfriend, I’ll call her Diane, a quirky, frail woman (probably ninety pounds soaking wet) who seemed to have some mental disabilities. Her head was too small for her body. That isn’t a joke, it’s an observation, by many people.
The younger grown daughter from Betty’s second marriage, whom I’ll call Lori, and her school-aged son also lived in the house. The boy was adorable, but disturbed. The older grown daughter Gina, lived elsewhere, but nearby. She was the one that got away, so to speak. She held a job, had a home. She had no children of which I was aware, but she had a female friend who was often around her, they may have been a couple. She was a second mother to her much younger sister, Lori, because Betty wasn’t always around for her in those early years. Betty went through periods of never leaving the house, so I was told. I’m sure the family loved each other, but there was a lot of resentment and drama.
You know those people who, without any real prompting, suddenly launch into the most horrific personal stories? Well, this was a whole family of them.
I learned that the matriarch Betty and her youngest daughter had both been victims of domestic violence, and had been in relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. I learned that the little boy has been in treatment because of his disorders resulting from his violent father and that there were ongoing legal battles over his abusive father’s visitation rights. The little boy’s sick grandmother, Betty, was his best friend. But Betty and the boy’s mom, Lori, mutually admitted that they have never gotten along. Betty and Lori told me so, separately.
I learned that when he was a child PissMan had been in an accident from which he never fully recovered (I think it must have been a head injury). Sister Gina always resented him because Betty babied him and never let him truly grow up because of it. PissMan did grow up to have a drug problem, however — crack, that is. He also has a grown son from an early marriage. This young man allegedly beat his disabled girlfriend. I met them both. The girlfriend had recently decided to give her abuser another chance.
I also learned that PissMan and his current girlfriend Diane had had a child once. Diane was so small, I had a hard time believing that she could carry a child at all. She had the body of a ten-year-old. Diane told me “they” took the baby away. Diane was counting the days until this child was old enough to look for his birth parents. (I secretly hoped that the child never did so.) Diane also told me that PissMan was her “first.” (Let the record reflect that I did not ask for this information.)
Youngest sibling Lori seemed to hate her brother PissMan and his girlfriend Diane because of the way they lived ( like hoarders, cats and all). Plus, PissMan and Diane did not seem to do much. Other than walking to the store or to the bank to cash disability checks, PissMan and Diane seemed to spend hours just sitting on the porch, smoking.
Over the six month rental period, the mother, Betty, became progressively worse, though her mind was still intact. PissMan and girlfriend Diane took care of her. In the last month, youngest daughter Lori had found somewhere to move with her son, and they left. The older daughter, Gina, only visited from time to time. Eventually, Betty was confined to a hospital bed in the front room because the home’s stairway is too narrow to get the bed and supplies upstairs. By the end, Betty could not get out of bed.
Betty was still talkative and seemed to enjoy company. I would sometimes visit with her when I had to be at the house. PissMan and his girlfriend Diane stayed with her around the clock, feeding her, caring for her, even when she became immobile and incontinent. Care did not always include good hygiene, however. Toilet or Kitchen Sink — Who Can Tell? Gina would come around to visit on occasion and help when Betty needed to go to the doctor, since she had a car. But Gina did not make frequent or even regular visits.
Regardless of their shortcomings, it was PissMan and Diane who were there for Betty. They seemed to really care.
The date the family was scheduled to vacate the home was fast approaching, and the family was looking into finding a facility for Betty. They had not had any luck. They didn’t know where they would go, let alone how they would house and care for a dying woman.
One Spring day I was at the house working outside and was surprised when the older sibling Gina came outside. Gina wasn’t often around. She explained that she had come to give PissMan and girlfriend Diane “a day off” and sent them away for the day. Mind you, as I explained earlier, PissMan and the Girlfriend rarely went out much, even before Betty needed so much care. I hadn’t known them to stay away for the day, I hadn’t known Gina to stay around all day. I thought it was strange at the time.
I didn’t go inside. I didn’t stay long that day. Though PissMan and Diane seemed to welcome my company, Gina didn’t seem to want me around.
When I came back the next day, no one was home. Betty had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and had been transported to the hospital the day before, sometime after I left. Having lapsed into a coma there, she was taken off of life support, with her family surrounding her. Reportedly it took hours of watching Betty laboring to breathe before she finally died. It was not a peaceful passing to watch, according to youngest daughter Lori. It was horrible, she said.
I think it was PissMan’s girlfriend Diane who later told me what happened that last day. She said simply that Betty had choked on coffee — and that she wasn’t supposed to have coffee.
I’ve always wondered —
Why did Gina, who wasn’t around often, suddenly decide to give her brother and his girlfriend “a day off” and spend the day alone with her sick mother?
Why did PissMan and his girlfriend Diane uncharacteristically leave the house and stay away all day?
Why, while in Gina’s sole care, did Betty suddenly choke?
Did Gina do something to make sure that her ailing mother Betty would never have move in with her?
Or, to be more direct, did Gina send Diane and PissMan away for the day so that she could kill her mother?
Just Me With . . . suspicions.
I’m just sayin’ . . . .
Postscript: PissMan and Diane asked to stay in the house for an extra month so that they could find a place to live, having been distracted from doing so earlier because of Betty’s illness and death. I gave them the extra month. Ironically, it was Gina who found them a place to live, and it wasn’t with her.
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?