Hoarders is one of the greatest guilty pleasures on television. It’s very life-affirming. Whenever you watch it, there’s a 99.9% chance that your life is better than the life of the person they’re documenting.
Hoarders, like any good show, works on a pretty tight formula. The key to enjoying the show is to understand and savor each ingredient WITHIN the formula.
So let’s go!
The show starts by showing brief clips of everything you’re about to witness in the coming episode. It usually covers one or more of the following: a) Something so gross that the psychologists or clean-up crew swear “it’s the worst we’ve ever seen”, b) An altercation between the hoarder and their immediate family, the clean-up crew, or the shrink, c) Some sort of ah-ha! moment where the clean-up crew uncovers something dead.
Two black title cards appear on the screen: “Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. More than 3 million people are compulsive hoarders. These are two of their stories.” You need to be able to recite this from memory. Two points if you can read this aloud without laughing.
The producers film an interview with each hoarder, accompanied with footage of their absolutely frightening homes. At this point, you start to rate each hoarder on a crazy scale. Obviously these people are certifiable, so a 1-10 scale is moot. Instead, you start from “super nuts” and go all the way to “whack-job psycho”.
Here Comes the Shrink
The shrink stops by, and is somehow able to hide their complete and utter revulsion to the house they’re visiting. They could be standing in a pile of used diapers, and they still won’t register a response. If you really want to make this experience fun, play “Guess which shrink” before the pre-interview is over. It’s usually one of five different psychologists, who always preface things by saying:
“I am such-and-such, I am a licensed psychologist, and I specialize in OCD and compulsive hoarding.” Two points if you can recite this from memory when the psychologist appears.
The shrink then speaks to the hoarder, and you know they’re doing their own internal version of the crazy scale. You can tell right away when they think someone is beyond batshit crazy, because they’ll get super gentle and patronizing. At this point, we learn what triggered the hoarding (death in the family, a personal illness, etc.)
Like this part was in any doubt. The show makes you think, “Oh wait, this person may not allow a cleanup! What will they do?” OF COURSE this person will allow a cleanup. There’s no show otherwise. The shrink cuts a deal with the hoarder, and the cleanup is underway.
Here Comes the Crew
In come the folks at 1-800-GOT-JUNK. The leader of the crew always identifies himself as a hoarding clean-up specialist, which always makes me think, “This dude NEEDS hoarders. He has no freakin’ job if these people get rehabilitated. I’ll bet he secretly mails them junk a few months after the cleanup is over just to increase his job security.”
The cleanup crew uncovers something really really gross, like some kind of dead animal body, or a pile of roaches, or some kind of hidden poop-stash. The head of the cleanup crew is always there to witness this, and nearly tosses his cookies. Two points if you can eat during this scene.
The clean up is going swimmingly until: MELTDOWN. The hoarder invariable loses their shit at some point, and they start ranting like madmen/women. “Don’t throw away that shit-covered Chutes & Ladders board, I need it.”
The cleanup grinds to a halt as the psychologist tries to right the ship. Many times a good cop/bad cop scenario will occur between the shrink and the cleanup leader. The shrink will take the soft approach, and the cleanup leader will be the asshole. Nine times out of ten, they will be able to resume clean up. Oftentimes a family member will be there, and they’ll nearly derail the entire process by acting like a complete jerk.
The Job Is Finished (Sorta)
The cleanup crew finish the job, leaving behind an empty shell of a house. The walls are all stained, the carpeting is gone, and a few pieces of broken furniture remain. It’s a pretty big depress-fest, really. I almost find myself missing the junk.
The Final Evaluation
At this point, it’s time to evaluate the hoarder’s chances at rehabilitation. I judge this on one set of criteria, really: The eyes.
If the hoarder seems to have SOME life behind their eyes, I feel like they have a shot at fixing their lives. At least they can understand they have a problem, and can possibly deal with it.
If the hoarder has dead shark-eyes, they’re done for. They have these lifeless, black pupils that show no sign of rational thought behind them. See for yourself the next time you watch. These people will freak you out. If “the lights are on, but nobody’s home” you can pretty much guess what will happen to a particular hoarder: absolutely nothing.
Aftercare Title Cards
This is the last part of the show, where A&E lets you know what happened to the hoarders they helped (or sort of helped). Most of the time the person accepts aftercare money and continues to see a shrink. Sometimes, they don’t. Once in a while a hoarder is so bad that they should just write, “This person is pretty much fucked. Sorry.” Extra points if you can guess all of this correctly before the title cards are revealed.
So there you have it! Grab some friends, some popcorn, and two wheelbarrows full of rotting garbage. Now you’re totally equipped to really enjoy Hoarders. Godspeed!