I was going to write about true crime documentaries tonight, but as I started this post, the show Hoarding, Buried Alive is on, and as always, I am blown away by the disease.
I can understand the hoarding of things, particularly family items. I am very close to my parents, especially my mother, and I can absolutely see myself having a hard time letting go of her things when she is gone.
It’s the trash I can’t fathom. And the animal feces. The kitchens that don’t work, the bathroom that are full of adult diapers, the COCKROACHES. How do people live like this? Even worse, how can they fathom making their children and pets live in the toxic filth?
The simple answer is that they just don’t see it. Something in their brains are wired to look at things differently, and that component often ruins their relationships with children and family members. As angry as I get at some of these people, I also feel sorry for them, because according to one psychologist I’ve spoken to, it’s often harder to cure than drug or alcohol addiction.
Being the research nerd I am, I had to do some digging to see if any criminals were known as hoarders. Unfortunately, since hoarding can be criminal if the city gets involved, I hit a brick wall.
So instead I bring you 3 Famous Hoarding Cases.
Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale
Edith and her daughter lived in a mansion in East Hampton, N.Y. The house was known as the Grey Gardens, and a documentary with the same name eventually told their stories.
Like many hoarders, Edith and her daughter were eccentric recluses. According to the research, they had over 300 cats living in their expensive hoard. And like many of the cases seen on the television shows, workers found mounds of empty cans and feces everywhere. But the mother and daughter made the news when the city tried to evict them for one simple reason: they were Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and first cousin!
Homer Lusk Collyer and Langley Collyer
Brothers Homer and Langley became famous after their deaths in 1947. Langley took care of Homer, who was blind and paralyzed, and spent his nights searching for collectibles. Officials believed the pair had 100 tons of hoard in their Manhattan brownstone. And to protect his precious tokens, Langley set booby traps.
He was killed when he accidentally triggered one, but Homer’s body was found first.
Langley was killed when he accidentally triggered one of these traps and found crushed beneath his hoard several days later. His brother starved to death.
Ida Mayfield Wood
Ida lived among New York high society in the late 19th century. She was very beautiful and had many suitors. Benjamin Wood, publisher of New York Daily News, eventually made her his bride. Their marriage wasn’t a good one, and he fathered an illegitimate child.
Out of guilt, Benjamin gave Ida large sums of money, and by the time of his death in 1900, she was very wealthy, and she was given control of the New York Daily News. But after 1907’s fiscal panic, Ida grew paranoid about money and withdrew from a normal life.
By the time she died in 1932, she’d hoarded nearly a million dollars in cash. The money was stuffed in pots and pans, and a diamond necklace was found in a Cracker Jack box. $10,000 cash was found hidden around Ida’s waist.
Do you know any hoarders? Have you had help one in your family or a friend? Lived across from one?
I think I work with one. He hoards boxes. Yesterday I kept tripping over a big one that took up most of his office.
Seriously, this is a horrible disease. What happens to people to make them this way? I just can’t imagine.
It really is. From what little I know, it seems like it is usually triggered from some sort of trauma or loss in life. And we lived across the street from hoarders at our old place. They had chain link fence with tarp around their property by the time we moved, and the city was always after them.
Tiffany A White
Hoarders freak me out. I have a few people in my family who might just fall into this category… because of this, I throw so much stuff away or give to charity. It just makes me feel dirty. I can’t watch the show. Can’t do it. An episode of CSI focused on a hoarder and they couldn’t find all of the dead bodies in her house all at once. Yikes!
That show totally freaks me out. I worry about certain family members at times (my great-grandmother was a hoader, though no where near the degree of some I’ve seen), but I don’t think it’ll ever get to the point of feces or filth!
I know someone who is a hoarder. In her case it is definitely related to losses, during childhood and adulthood. Until recently her elderly aunt was living with her. The aunt kept her hoarding somewhat in check, but several rooms of their house were floor to ceiling with just a small path down the middle. Now that the aunt has passed, we worry that our friend might end up buried under her own chaos one day.
Changing hats to psychologist: Another theory regarding the cause of hoarding is that these folks may have a genetic predisposition to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and that predisposition ends up being expressed as an obsession with keeping everything and anything. Throwing anything out creates tremendous anxiety in them.
Still, having said that, I don’t get the animal feces part. I guess eventually they go into so much denial about the mess they live in that even that doesn’t register on their radar.
Great post, Stacy!
Nice post, I was on my way to hoarding. Last Wednesday I had a bookstore owner come and remove in excess of 800 lbs. of books I’ve read and irrationally clung to. You have to start somewhere. Your examples, knew about all of them but never made the connection.
I tend to keep books and paper, but like you, I watch Hoarding: Buried Alive and don’t understand the trash, feaces and vermin. Hadn’t heard about the cases you mentioned above. I imagine whoever all that money eventually belonged to would have been ecstatic.
One of my family members was a hoarder. Not to the point of filth or danger, but her house was jam-packed with stuff that should have gone in the recycling or the trash. All of it was clean, but there was just too much. No one needs hundreds of washed-out yogurt cups! And she wouldn’t toss out things that were broken beyond repair. I think the Depression left its mark on her.
I can see how something goes so far wrong that it gets overwhelming to deal with, so they just don’t. Piles of crap (both sorts) would seem insurmountable after awhile. I was walking the other day and watched a woman stop in front of me. She picked up a button, brushed it off, secreted it in a pocket, and moved on. My first thought was “she’s a magpie.” She picks up shiny things to take back to the nest. I do wonder if she was a hoarder. I pictured her going to a little house stacked floor to ceiling with piles of buttons and old hair bows and things she found on the street.
I can’t watch that show…it always gives me the urge to clean heh.
Yes, I lived near a hoarder once. There was just a trail through the stuff to get to different places in the house. It was sad because she was very sweet, just clearly plagued by deeper issues. I couldn’t imagine ever living like that.
By the way, I’ve heard that a lot of people who went through economic crises later hid money. My grandmother experienced the Depression, and she had a habit of tucking cash here and there around her house. She didn’t hoard other stuff, just the money.
My ex-mother-in-law, terrible, horrible and frightening. What was worse, she still had two children in the house. She was somewhat reclusive and so it was difficult to get her out of the house but we finally did over a two week period, sent her to her mother. We literally went in with shovels and cleared out rooms of years worth of trash, broken furniture, cat feces and other horrifying things. We tore up carpet, had the house fumigated, painted walls. It took several of us, her son and some friends, plus me. She was going to lose her home if we didn’t get it fixed. There was only one working bathroom in the house before we cleaned it up, the stove didn’t work, the refrigerator was filthy and unsafe.
When she came back she was furious. I thought she was going to kill us both. She did’t speak to either of us for months (no real loss). She did eventually get help and started to understand what she had done to her daughters and why (loss of husband). During my marriage to her son, her house never reverted, I don’t know what happened after. I had never seen her house while we were dating by the way.