The show Hoarders took the world by storm when it debuted on A&E in 2009. It highlighted a disordered behavior (which was soon declared its own actual disorder, as we’ll see below) that had yet to be fully shown to the general public. Hoarding, as it turns out, is more pervasive than we ever knew, and can totally ruin lives if left unchecked. Depending on who we ask, the show is either informative and redemptive, or exploitative of vulnerable members of society. Either way, pretty much all viewers has an opinion on Hoarders.
What people might not know, though, are some of the things that goes into the show. It's the production behind the scenes where the actual reality of being a hoarder is translated to a television audience. Here are 15 things fans (or haters) of the show may not have known. Get to know the show is made, the people who make it, and the people whose lives it explores.
15 Hoarding Is Its Own Disorder
Hoarding: the pattern of behavior which inflicts the subjects of the show Hoarders, was initially considered a specific form of a larger disorder, OCD (or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This was true when the show started, in August of 2009. However, as of 2013, the term 'hoarding' is now listed as its own disorder. Though people who hoard may also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there is a main distinction between the two: namely, those with OCD symptoms primarily feel bad while they are collecting and hoarding. Whereas many hoarders derive joy from hoarding as they collect their hoards (though, ultimately, this joy is not equal to the damage caused by their hoarding).
There are a number of different estimates for how many people could meet the diagnostic criteria for a hoarding disorder, but experts have generally reached a consensus that hoarding afflicts somewhere between two and five percent of the US population (as well as their friends and families).
14 Hoarders Are Often Survivors Of Abuse, Trauma, Or Neglect
When going through the back stories of the people featured in the show Hoarders, producers found that many of the featured individuals had some sort of trauma in their background. Sometimes, this was a childhood trauma or a sustained period of abuse, and sometimes it was a single event; like the sudden death of a loved one or the loss of a home.
There are often very clear connections with these past traumas and the specific ways in which hoarding manifests in their lives. Sometimes this means they hoard things that they connect to a positive memory, as a coping mechanism, and sometimes they hoard items that they did not have as a result of neglect or abuse growing up. This isn’t to say that all hoarders experienced either abuse or trauma — sometimes, there is neither in their backgrounds. However, there is a statistical likelihood that if someone is being featured on Hoarders, something traumatic and/or abusive occurred in their past.
13 Hoarding Sometimes Runs In Families
It's a common theme in Hoarders that a family member—usually a parent, sibling, child, or grandparent—is directly affected by their relative’s hoarding, and is trying to get them help.
During the filming of the show, however, producers also discovered that there are instances where there are multiple hoarders in one family. There are medical arguments that the compulsion to hoard can be genetic, and sometimes, children of hoarders develop hoarding tendencies of their own. According to the International OCD Foundation, around 50-80% of people who hoard had or have a first-degree relative who they also would describe as “hoarders.” Sometimes, if two related hoarders live in the same place, or even close to one another geographically, their individual hoarding disorders can exacerbate the hoarding disorder of their relative. This can sometimes cause a vicious cycle, where each hoarder ramps up the behavior of the other.
12 They Re-Vamped The Show For Their New Lifetime Audience, Then Swapped Back When They Went Back To A&E
For those not in the know when it comes to Hoarders, the show originally aired on A&E, where it premiered on August 17th, 2009. After six seasons, it was cancelled by A&E in February of 2013.
A year later, it was picked up by Lifetime, and Producer Matt Paxton said that the show specifically changed to focus less on the gross-out factor of the physical cleanups, and more on the human story of the hoarders themselves; the therapeutic healing process. “People want to see the gross stuff,” Paxton said, “but on Lifetime they are spending...more time focusing on the therapy. They are really making sure we show more of that mental process.”
The show aired in this way for two seasons. However, once A&E picked the show back up, insiders noticed that they decidedly returned to the gruesome details of the hoards, airing never before seen footage of previous episodes that definitely showed a lot more of the grossness.
11 There Are MANY People Who Want To Be On The Show
Because hoarding is largely an invisible disease (if you’re not in someone’s house, how do you know that they’re a hoarder?), you may miscalculate how many people there are out there who have serious hoarding problems. You also may miscalculate how many people would actually be willing to have a camera crew come into their home and film their sickness. Like, how has this show been able to film so many stories from across the world?
However, in reality, there are MANY people trying to get onto the show. Executive Producer of A&E's Hoarders, Jodi Flynn, says that the show receives more submissions than it can actually handle, through both the show’s website and the larger A&E website. Sometimes, it’s the hoarder themselves who submits the application, but mostly it is a concerned friend or family member. Flynn and her production crew choose candidates that are in real crisis. Those who have become too overwhelmed with their hoarding to fix it themselves, leading to deteriorated relationships, habitability of their homes, and sometimes, even threat of eviction.
10 The Show Pays For The Clean-Up
One of the reasons why people might be particularly eager to get on Hoarders is the simple fact of finances. As a part of the payment for appearing on the show, the network budget for Hoarders actually pays for all of the clean-up, as well as the experts and therapists that help the subjects through the difficult time. For some people, the costs involved—when it comes to cleaning up—are a major source of stress that prevents them from actually changing their lives. Being on the show Hoarders makes that step easier to take. This also ensures that the subject gets access to people who actually know what they’re doing.
Jodi Flynn (again) had this to say about the clean up: "These are enormously expensive cleanouts. If people were to call [Hoarders partner in refuse collection] 1-800-GOT-JUNK or [Hoarders clean-up consultant] Matt Paxton’s company, Clutter Cleaner, these cleanouts can cost tens of thousands of dollars. There are no costs to the people who appear on our show."
9 Some Experts Really Hate The Show...
In the hoarding therapy community, there is definitely a lot of controversy when it comes to Hoarders. Some experts feel that the portrayal of hoarders in the show is frankly inaccurate, and are insulting to hoarders themselves.
Debbie Stanley, for instance, an expert who focuses on helping hoarders lead healthier, happier lives, feels that the way the show picks and chooses moments is manipulative, highlighting “moments of low or no insight, such as a client who cannot recognize that a food item is rotten, and then they zoom in on squalor.” She calls this sort of narrative structure “exploitainment,” and points out that many people who hoard are otherwise high-functioning, and are not abjectly living in squalor.
Stanley and others who think similarly believes that the show reinforces the perception of people who hoard as “societal outsiders, which interferes with the viewer’s potential for empathy, and leads to further marginalizing and hiding of hoarding behavior.” She also points out that it is “ineffective to ‘clean out’ a hoarded home for a weekend, through pressure or coercion, at a pace faster than the client can tolerate,” as it’s a “cruel and unethical” practice that “usually results in more severe hoarding.”
8 ...And Some Experts Think It's Fine
While there is definitely a serious camp of experts who are clear that they disapprove of Hoarders, others feel differently. Marilyn Tomfohrde, another expert, says she does believe that Hoarders gives “an honest reputation of the condition.” The way she sees it, the extreme amount of desperation and frustration that someone has to have in order to invite a camera crew, a producer, a sound crew, and a professional organizing team, all into their home (and their comfort zone), is reflective of how frustrating and desperate a hoarding situation can be. Though she and others like her are slightly concerned that a hoarder watching the show might underestimate how many hours and how much emotional work goes into a project like de-hoarding off camera, she does think that some episodes might be responsible for encouraging people with less severe cluttering problems to tackle a de-cluttering project so it doesn’t escalate to that level.
7 The Drama Is Real, But Obviously Produced And Edited
When it comes to reality shows, there’s always the ironic question of how “real” they actually are. Many reality shows, whether or not they admit it, will fabricate situations in order to heighten the drama of whatever scene they’re trying to create. To a greater or lesser extent—because all reality shows are technically edited—there is a certain sense in which they are removed from reality.
So where does Hoarders (which is often full of extremely emotional scenes where people and their loved ones confront hard, painful realities) fall when it comes to how real things actually are? It’s tough to say for sure, but according to one man who actually saw an episode being filmed and then saw the final edited product first-hand, the production crew keeps it relatively real (minus the usual editing rigamarole).
Reddit user @okaygeorgia answered an AskReddit thread about people who have been on reality TV shows, and said that his dad was actually on Hoarders. “Surprisingly,” he said, “it’s all very real. I mean, of course editors work their magic, but all in all, those people really do have hoarding problems.”
6 People Have Discovered Family Secrets
Obviously, Hoarders deals with some serious baggage, both emotional and physical. As I said before, being a hoarder is often the result of deep trauma, abuse, or other emotional wounds. Hoarders can often also suffer from additional anxiety and depression. The process of de-cluttering a hoard of stuff, in and of itself, is emotional, and often means addressing the damages that the hoarder’s compulsions have done to their family, friends, and loved ones.
However, sometimes, during the course of this emotionally and physically draining process, deeply held secrets are also unearthed. One notable example occurred during an episode in 2012, when a hoarder, known as Richard, said throughout the show that he felt like an outsider, and that his family didn’t accept him for who he was. His family, however, all said that they wanted to accept him, but he would not let him in. Later in the episode, his sister confronted him and told him that he needed to be open with them, he finally broke down and came out as gay to them for the first time. It was a secret he had been holding onto for decades, which manifested itself into his hoarding problems.
5 Animals Are A HUGE Issue — And This Has Led To Arrests
When you think of hoarding, you usually think of a huge pile of junk. The whole issue of a huge pile of stuff is definitely real, and can definitely negatively affect one’s life. However, something that the Hoarders producers learned was that inanimate objects are not the only thing people tend to hoard. In fact, many hoarders actually hoard animals, meaning they take in way more animals than they can feed, or way more than is safe or sanitary.
On various episodes of Hoarders, the production crew has dealt with people that have hoarded chickens, dogs, cats, rats, snakes, rabbits, horses, and pretty much any sort of animal you could think of. Hoarding animals is incredibly serious: it can pose a health risk to the animals themselves, as well as any humans in the house.
However, what you may not know from watching Hoarders is that sometimes, the animal hoarding cases they deal with result in actual criminal arrests. In 2016, Cora Belk, who was featured on an episode of Hoarders, was arrested on the charge of cruel treatment of an animal when authorities found the skeletal remains of about two dozen dogs, birds, and turtles in her home.
4 Once, They Accidentally Featured A Convicted Sex Offender
Hoarders, as with any reality show, definitely tries to vet the people it features in its episodes. But sometimes, things get through the cracks.
Sisson, who was not a veteran at all, was also a sexual predator, having been convicted in 1981 of sexually attacking an 18-year-old Eastern Michigan University student (when he was 35). He has also been arrested six times since then. When the Hoarders people figured that out, they deleted his episode.
3 Really Intense, Disgusting Things Have Been Found In Houses
The concept of Hoarders is obviously based on non-habitable living conditions. From clutter and a whole bunch of useless stuff being saved in a space that isn’t big enough to hold it. However, sometimes the threat of clutter is totally overshadowed by some truly disgusting daily life by-products that usually don’t get hoarded, but unintentionally do.
For instance, there were several cases in which the bathroom either did not work, or had become a storage space for items in the hoard. In these cases—and I’m talking multiple times—people either just went in buckets, or actually saved their urine and poop in containers strewn around their homes.
In other instances, rotting food basically sprang entire mold colonies, and in others, a huge amount of cats created what was referred to as “tons of fecal dust” all over the surfaces of the home. In one of the creepiest cases, there was actually a mummified cat, who died somewhere in the hoard and actually became mummy-esque because the crevice preserved her body.
2 There's A Serious Relapse Problem
In your average episode of Hoarders, there’s a narrative arc that goes as such: a) the hoarder or their concerned friend explains why their house isn’t habitable; b) there’s usually some sort of struggle about why the house needs to get cleaned up; c) the hoarder eventually agrees to let the specialists in and the cleaning crews come in and do what they do best; d) the de-hoarding happens, and the house is basically habitable again.
Sometimes, however, there’s a dark side to what happens when the cameras get turned off and the crew goes on to do their next de-hoarding. There’s actually a pretty serious relapse rate for hoarders who do not continue on with regular monitoring and therapy. After all, just because you removed the stuff doesn’t mean you removed the impulse to collect it. In fact, during the show’s "Where Are They Now" episode that tracks hoarders a year after their episode was filmed, four out of five of them had relapsed and had a hoarding situation in their homes again.
1 The Thing That Most Hoarders Have In Common Will Surprise You
In an interview with The Ashley, Hoarders Producer Matt Paxton revealed something that really illuminates the plight of the people featured on the show and suffering from a Hoarding disorder. When asked what the one thing was that most of the hoarders he has worked with tend to have in common, he said that it was the fact that they were caring in nature.
“Surprisingly, a lot of the people that are afflicted with this disorder have one common trait,” he said. “They are caregivers of some sort.” While most people think of hoarders as people who cannot even care for themselves, let alone others, the reality of the situation is actually quite different, according to Paxton.
He went on to say that in his experience, “the majority of our hoarders are caregivers—teachers, social workers—which means that they are caring, loving people. It’s a misconception: people think hoarders are nasty people. They’re actually cool, caring people. Most of the stuff they save they give away to other people, actually.”