Inside the House of Hoarders

These people may seem messy, but they actually suffer from an anxiety disorder known as hoarding - an excessive collection of items and the inability to get rid of them


    Cindy Carroll

    Cindy Carroll, 54, of Westerville, Ohio, started collecting things at a young age. Her dad was in the Air Force and so she moved around a lot.  "When we moved away, I could take things with me, I couldn't take the people with me," Carroll said. "By the time I was 12, I had a pretty good collection of things. I always acquired things and couldn't throw them away." Carroll, who has been married 36 years, said her anxiety over the past 15 years really triggered her hoarding problem to the extreme.  "My husband wasn't impressed, but he loves me, or he wouldn't have put up with it," she said. 

    Cindy's House

    Carroll's problem had become so bad, her two grown children had not been to her house in about four years.  "I knew I needed help," said Carroll, who was frightened she would one day hoard to the point of being unable to leave her house. 
    That's when she contacted The Learning Channel, hoping to be featured on the show "Hoarding: Buried Alive." "We would do family gatherings at my brother's place," said Lori Fresch, Carroll's daughter. "I knew it was bad, but I had no idea that it was that bad until I walked in that first day."
    Carroll's story was accepted for the show, and she was provided with a therapist and an organizer. Fresch came to Carroll's house for the first time in four years for the taping of the show. 


    "My mom always had a thing for newspapers, magazines, coupons, and of course, books on how to get organized," Fresch said. "But, I was always there to help her keep the house clean and help with the laundry and the things that she had always struggled with because she would get distracted so easily. My mom had the back room that was her's and it was piled high with stuff, but since my brother and I still lived there, she couldn't let it get too bad in other areas of the house. ...It didn't get really bad until after I moved out, because then she had another empty room to put more stuff in." Fresch said her mother's hoarding made her feel "sad." "Her family has always loved her, we just didn't know how to help her," said Fresch, seen here helping Carroll sort through some old items. "Now we do!"


    Carroll continues to work with her therapist and Fresch said she is doing much better these days.  "She's able to throw away old magazines and newspapers without having to look at them. ...She still struggles everyday with letting go of some things, but it is getting a little easier. I know this is going to be a long process ... but, I'm looking forward to the day I can bring my son over to grandma's house for the first time."


    "Hoarding interferred with my job," Carroll said. "I was constantly organizing; I'd get one room clean and I'd move everything to another room. I had to move stuff outside. When I would buy something, I would think, 'This will make everything perfect.'" Carroll said she isn't sure how she deals with her anxiety, but her therapist and organizer have played a big role in her steps toward recovery. "I got rid of 120 bags of garbage," Carroll said proudly.

    Laura Glasgow

    Laura Glasgow, 34, of Wilson, N.C., also suffers from hoarding.  She said her problem began to get worse after her third child was born, and she suffered from postpartum depression - a form of clinical depression that can affect women after the birth of a baby. Dr. Julie Pike, a psychologist at Anxieties Treatment Center in Durham, N.C., said it's estimated that 2 million people suffer from hoarding in the U.S. "Contrary to popular belief, hoarders are not lazy," Pike said. "They are extreme perfectionists."

    Laura's House

    Glasgow and her husband didn't fight about much - but they did fight about her hoarding, which is why she contacted the producers of TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive." The show filmed her story, and gave Glasgow a therapist and organizer to help her with her problem. 


    The Mayo Clinic’s website lists isolation as a trigger for hoarding. Other triggers and risk factors include genetics, stressful life events, age and perfectionism.


    Glasgow said her house was so cluttered, her kids could not invite their friends over to play - and this made her feel guilty - so she bought them more toys to ease her guilt. This just fueled her hoarding.  Pike said Glasgow is on the right track, and if she continues to work with a therapist, she should be OK.  However, hoarding is like alcoholism - it is a lifelong condition, Pike said, and one has to always monitor it.   

    Attempting to Organize

    It’s not known why hoarders develop this kind of problem, but Pike said researchers think it has to do with both nature and nurture.

    "We found an abnormality on a chromosome," Pike said. "The other piece is in the brain. The part of the brain that is involved in decision making is different in people who hoard. They do it to avoid the distress of having to make the decision of whether to let go of something." To learn more about hoarding, watch "Hoarding: Buried Alive" at 9 p.m. Sunday on TLC. 
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