I’m Not a Hoarder! I’m an Artist!

Okay . . . I’m ready to admit it to the world . . . I am addicted to A & E’s show Hoarders. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I compare watching Hoarders to driving by an accident on the freeway. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to slow down and look, but you just can’t help checking to see if there are any dead bodies lying by the side of the road.

Hoarders is full of dead bodies . . . cats, rats, possums, birds . . . and the lives of people buried under mounds and mounds of stuff.

In case you haven’t seen the show, the premise is basically the same in each episode. First we’re taken on a tour of an anonymous person’s home, which is always an awe-inspiring train wreck. From basement to attic, people have spent years accumulating junk, (I mean “treasures”) until they have narrow pathways leading from one room to the next. Every surface from floor to ceiling is inevitably piled with an odd assortment of every possible thing you can imagine being in a house– times twenty. Sad-faced family members are interviewed and they tearfully try to explain what it’s like to life with and love a hoarder.

The hoarder herself (most of them are women) sits in the one foot by one foot space she’s carved out for herself in front of the TV on the couch and talks about her “collections.” Most of the time, these people are in extreme denial about the condition of their home. I remember one woman being interviewed and as she was laughing off the situation some of the stuff behind her started to fall on top of her. Another woman had to go to a local gas station to use the toilet and wash up because she couldn’t get into her bathroom.

We usually discover that there has been some traumatic event in the person’s life that triggered the hoarding or caused it to worsen — a death of a loved one, a disability, a sick spouse, children leaving home and moving far, far away. Sometimes the hoarders are men, but usually they are women and part of their problem is compulsive shopping. Clothes and shoes and purses are piled in heaps everywhere, much of it with tags still attached. Many of these women pride themselves on being able to find bargains that they just can’t pass up at thrift stores. And the men are often junk collectors, buying broken things so they can be fixed.

After we get a good look at the miserable situation these poor people are in, the experts come in to help. Usually a crisis has brought them there. Maybe someone’s called Child Protective Services to remove children from the home. Maybe the city has ordered them to clean up their property or face enormous fines and jail time. Someone called for help (and called A & E), and now there’s a psychiatrist who specializes in compulsive behaviors and a professional organizer with a team of people ready to help remove all the crap and get this person’s life back in order.

And so they begin. Usually there’s a struggle. The hoarder may move so slowly, pouring over every tiny scrap of paper or broken toaster to decide whether it should be tossed or donated or SAVED! Well-meaning family members watch on the sidelines with incredible frustration. Or they rant and rave and throw their hands up in despair. You know that they would just like to take a giant shovel and just start scooping and tossing everything into the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? trucks that are standing by. But the hoarders just can’t let go. “Save, save, save . . . okay, toss . . wait, wait, wait . . . let me look at that again” they say about a boxed Christmas decoration covered with rat urine and feces. EEK! And that’s not the worst of it. This show is not for the squeamish . . . believe me!

But 80% of the time, by the end of the show, yards and houses have been cleaned and the hoarders have looks of stunned relief on their faces. A postscript at the end of the show will tell us whether they are using after-care funds to continue working with a therapist or professional organizer or has refused help. Either way, you can’t help but wonder whether it’s going to last.

One of the recurring mantras you hear from family members on the show is that they just can’t believe that their mother/father/spouse has chosen stuff over them. It’s like these people spend their lives building walls around themselves as a challenge – – come in and find me if you love me enough.

So why do I watch such a depressing show? Well, I take it like medicine because I can see a tiny little piece of myself in these people. I’m sure my mother was a hoarder, especially when it came to clothes. Having lived through the Depression, she had a really hard time throwing stained, torn and out-dated clothing away, even if she hadn’t worn it for years.

One of the most vivid episodes of Hoarders was about a woman in her seventies who hoarded food. Her refrigerator was a disgusting sight. The psychologist was trying to get her to throw expired food items away, but she felt like if the package wasn’t swollen it would be fine to eat.

On her floor was a black, moldy, rotting pumpkin. A worker was trying to scrape it off the floor with a shovel. “Wait, wait,” she cried. She bent over that shovel and talked to that melting pumpkin. “You were so lovely,” she said. Then she reached her hand inside the darkened pulp and pulled out some seeds! “I can plant these,” she said. It just breaks your heart.

Now I’m not saying that I am a hoarder, but I can definitely see the possibility of falling over to The Dark Side. And I watch the show to keep myself in check and also so I can say to myself, “I may be bad, but I’m not THAT bad!” My “treasures” have been contained to one semi-well-organized room . . . okay, and part of the garage. Oh . . . and the bookshelves in the living room. But you can’t count the books . . . I don’t think.

Still, you can imagine my dismay when last Monday’s episode featured Julie from Englewood, Colorado who considers herself a . . . wait for it . . . an Altered Artist! What?? Now that really is hitting a little too close to home!

Here’s Julie, looking through boxes and boxes of stuff and she’s looking at every little broken thing as a potential piece for an art project. She pulls out a lovely duck decoy with a broken beak from a box and says, “I could use this for something.” And I’m thinking, well it’s a little big, but it does have possibilities.

The psychologist in his infinite wisdom says, “You know, when you’re an artist, and you do altered art, everything looks valuable. It’s very hard to throw anything away.”

Don’t I know it.

14 thoughts on “I’m Not a Hoarder! I’m an Artist!

  1. Yes, I see the value in stuff too but I am at the same time compulsive about getting rid of stuff that I will never use (although some of my skinny clothes should no doubt go. LOL) There is value in some items but there is a big difference between a bit of found metal or broken pottery and a rotted pumpkin. Although…. :))

  2. I recently came upon your public domain image site and it is now bookmarked on my computer. I am also a teacher and an artist (I create mostly cards and scrapbook, but I occasionally try something new). I wanted to thank you for the images-so many in one place is quite the treasure chest! Also, I began a card with one of the images and finished another, they are both posted on my site, should you care to take a gander.

    The not-yet completed one:

    The finished one:http://joyfullycreative.blogspot.com/2010/11/fairy-good-day.html

  3. I too watch hoarders for therapy. My husband definately has hoarding tendencies and I have a feeling that if it weren’t for me, he would be buried in a house of tools and equipment. Watching the show has kept me in check. Now I really try to force myself to create with what I have, it makes it tougher but in the ned, I buy my supplies to use them right?


  4. Definitely made me smile. I’m a craftaholic from many generations of savers. I call my artistry Chaotic Arts and Crafts, but ask me where something is and I can usually find it. Exception being my missing jewelry pliers set I hadn’t seen in a couple years that was in my designated craft room. Who knew?
    Lots of great images here!

  5. Thanks for this post… I really get this too… I am a collage artist and bookbinder and my studio is getting too full of stuff and starting to hinder the creative process. I was thinking “get organized”… but not I’m thinking “get rid of”! Always a tough call.

  6. The other common thread this show has is this, the “hoarder” is always and intelligent, articulate and otherwise functional person. The dysfunction is in the amount of stuff they have.

    My mother was an “artist” and “hoarder” too. When she passed away it was a tiny pathway through her house. It was sad to see that she could never have enough stuff.

    I recently went though my art and cafts stuff after moving to a new house, things I have spent good $$ on and kept myself to selected items, others will be auctioned off on ebay with the hope that someone else will realize thier artful potential.

    Thanks for all of the great images, love them

  7. I watch Hoarders too. It is indeed sad. Some of those folks are really disturbed. And yes, I can see myself to a tiny degree in some of those folks. It fascinates me how deep their denial is.

  8. I am a Level 2 Hoarder and after watching the series my husband has called me a hoarder until I have chased him through the house with the dust mop!!! Heehee! I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the show- I mean it gets really disgusting and really sad! I think sometimes that they are all just crazy and you can kind of see that light in their eyes- it totally makes me want to load up the car and donate to the local thrift shop which I did do few times after I first started watching it! Loved this post- just found your Blog after searching for reliquaries- had to comment cause I always say “I can make something with that!” hahaha! Happy Holidays!

  9. It’s so sad, but it makes you feel glad that there are people out there that accually care about them. It’s like that other show about people with really strange addictions. You’re a bit repulsed by them, but you feel so pitying towards them. Sometimes I have a hard time watching those shows, because it’s almost like pulling a joke on them. Hey, you have an emotional problem? We can make a TV show out of it and make money! I think they’re well-meaning shows, but that’s really what their reasonings boil down to.

  10. This was to funny! Now I am afraid to go into my crafting space! Just this morning, My husband emptied a small vitamin bottle and as he went to throw it out I was thinking….what can I do with that! LOL You title may become my tagline! LOL It works for me!

  11. A friend sent me a link to your pages on images in the public domain, and what did I find? A visual feast and a world of ideas, wit and the wisdom born of experience. How generous of you to share all this! thank you! I’ll certainly be back.

  12. Have to admit, I also can’t resist watching the shows on hoarding. You really feel for these people, especially those who know they have a serious problem but are completely incapable of finding a way out. It makes you wonder about our relationship with things, the meanings we attribute to them and the fine lines we draw between having “enough” and “too much”.

  13. thanks for an extremely well written essay! as an artist that discovered photoshop years ago, i have been hoarding images, and have a very seriously stocked library. thank goodness they don’t take much space. i can totally relate to finding “uses” for the strangest things… art inspiration lurks around every corner. evolving from my oil on canvas career, i knew i HAD to make grand collages…a spiritual mandate! so from jealously guarding and toting with me, my papers, seedlings of beads, stamps etc, and a ton of supplies my craft biz sister accumulated too, i eventually did turn into very impressive large scale work, it only took me ten years of wanderings, movings, etc, to FINALLY set up a huge and very complete studio, (of course,i had to go buy all the shelves and racks and tables,MORE massive amounts of all the good stuff, gesso’s, inks etc. just to get STARTED. That alone took another year. & then… Viola! Fulfillment! it ALL came together, validating the YEARS of longing, yearning, dreaming that only “obsessed” artists understand. art supplies before cute shoes! thanks for allowing me to hoard in a healthy way, with your great images too♥.

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