Hoarding: A Reality for Many

Due largely because of one of the latest and popular reality television show, the trauma and magnitude of hoarding has become well known.{{more}} You can watch that show and perhaps be amazed and overwhelmed by the out of control conditions that many individuals live in. Or perhaps you have a family member, or you suffer from being a “pack-rat,” compulsive collecting or are just overwhelmed by the accumulation of things in your home. There is hope and there is help.

One of the most famous cases of hoarding was reported in the 1940s in New York when two brothers, Langley and Homer Collyer, were discovered dead in their Harlem brownstone, essentially buried in over 140 tons of papers, belongings and debris. One of the first cases I personally encountered as probate judge was many years ago when the health department filed a conservatorship proceeding against a woman whose home had been condemned. Over the years, her property on the outside looked increasingly unkempt and unsightly. Eventually, neighbors began to see rats on the property. By the time the authorities were alerted, Lori was no longer leaving her home, her dog defecated freely throughout the home, deceased rats and rat droppings were discovered in her kitchen (what could be seen of the kitchen), in her food, and even in her bedding. To walk from room to room, one had to tread lightly and through a narrow “walkway” between papers, boxes, and clothing piled nearly to the ceilings.

Lori used a walker and was barely walking herself when the Elderly Protective Services social worker visited her home. She refused to let the worker in the home, claiming she just needed to tidy up a bit and that the lawn company had just missed mowing the lawn a couple times.

Her denial of the reality was both amazing and quite common to someone who suffers from hoarding. Although she was at one time a highly respected educator, she was now a widow, lived alone and had alienated the few people in her family. With the death of her husband, she increased her collection of items to the point where she, like the Collyer brothers, was nearly buried under it all. Letting go and losing something became an overwhelming and impossible plight – everything had a purpose or it might someday and where would she be if she needed it in the future? She had tons of plastic garbage cans in her garage in which she stored food, brand new clothing, light bulbs and other household items – all of which had to be discarded due to the rat infestation.

Despite efforts of a cousin who finally agreed to get involved and a court-appointed conservator, Lori’s home was beyond repair and ultimately had to be demolished. Lori’s health had become so compromised over the years that she was moved to a skilled nursing facility and an adoptive home was found for her dog.

Today Lori accepts where she lives, enjoys the facility’s on-site canaries as her new pets but if ever reminded of her former home, denies that the photographs are of her home and even accuses others are damaging it that way. Her denial of her condition has not subsided. She is in a healthier place – she is clean, physically healthy and even has the physical strength to walk much of the time. Her compulsions are under control and she is now safe because of the interventions of neighbors, social workers and the probate court.

The Milford-Orange Probate Court is located at the Parsons Complex, 70 W. River St., Milford. Hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 203-783-3205.