a confession, and a rant

I mentioned on Wednesday that I have been “pinning” creative project ideas for a while now.  For those that don’t know about it… Pinterest is an evil, time-sucking, glorious machine of completely self serving joy and delusion (if you need an invitation, let me know).  Or… it’s an online bulletin board of sorts.  It’s an electronic method of taking everything you’ve ever wanted to tear out a magazine to save for later and tacking it up on the wall (minus the magazine and the walls).
beautiful, isn’t it?
When I started using Pinterest and seeing all of the amazing things (read: entirely useless clutter) that could be made from everyday objects (read: trash) I thought to myself, “self, who has 6 cereal boxes, 4 egg cartons, and an old dish soap bottle just laying around?”  To which my self responded “no one!  we must prepare!”  So myself and I went to Target and bought a storage tub.  This was post Christmas and there were some great storage tubs on sale…  seriously, it was kismet.  So myself and I made a deal that if we could contain what angrywombat would lovingly refer to as “the hoard” within the storage tub, we could keep collecting until it was time to focus on making stuff.  A few weeks in this is what “the hoard” looked like.
yup
Fast forward to today and… um… oops.  I guess that deal I made with myself was pretty flexible.  This isn’t too terribly surprising, many of the deals I make with myself are.  They seem to follow this sort of formula: 
I will/will not do BLANK for X number of days/or until X happens 
(unless I feel like it or otherwise change my mind)
Anyway, I have a lot of work ahead of me to rifle through the hoard (and I guess evaluate my level of commitment) and I really should be using this precious child-free time to do so, but before I do I have something I’ve been wanting to do for a while and in the presence of my own beloved hoard this seems like as good a time as any.
Anyone here watch Hoarders?  Don’t be shy… it’s nothing to be ashamed of (well, I haven’t told you why it is yet so you have a reasonable excuse for now).  Hoarders is a show on A&E, likely inspired by their tremendous success with the show Intervention (which for all of its exploitative dramatizing does seem to offer people in desperate situations some treatment that really works), that features a story or stories about people who have put their health, homes, and often lives in danger because of a hoarding behavior.  
Each show starts out showing the featured “hoarder” living in squalor with weird deliverance style fiddle and whistling music playing in the background to make sure you understand exactly how terrible the situation is.  Then a few family members are interviewed and they all weigh in with their valuable expertise before you discover they haven’t been to the home or had a relationship with the “hoarder” in at least a decade.  Soon, the licensed mental health professional shows up to meet the “hoarder” and assess the case as hopeless.  The action really gets going when a crew headed by a professional organizer who “specializes in compulsive hoarding” (thanks to their new career as a celebrity on A&E) attempts to clean up the home.  Everyone is in on it this time: the “hoarder,” their family and friends, the shrink, the professional organizer, and the manual labor crew.  Anyway, more often than not the home doesn’t get cleaned up, the “hoarder” is forced to move, the crew’s time has been wasted, and the situation is now confirmed as eternally hopeless.  It’s terrible, and in the form of a letter to A&E I am going to tell you why.
Dear A&E,

Boy-howdy do you folks know how to make good reality television!  As a viewer of “Intervention” and “Beyond Scared Straight” I am a fan of your network’s intent to pair good entertainment with helping people repair their lives.  I think on both of the aforementioned programs you have been able to balance the frightening and sometimes dreary reality of real life with hopeful and inspirational stories of growth and self-responsibility.

I was even a “Hoarders” viewer for a while… but I’ve taken the program off my DVR and I’d like to tell you a little bit about why (and what you could do to get it back on).  I’m going to do this in list form because that works well for me, I hope it works for you too: 
  1. Let’s start with the name:  Your program features people who are hoarding, but that doesn’t make them hoarders, and it certainly isn’t okay to take away their humanity by labeling them as such.  I think you know that labeling people by their experiences is in poor taste… if you didn’t know that wouldn’t you have called “Intervention”—“Drunks & Drug Addicts”? or “Beyond Scared Straight”—“Dumbass kids who are likely to end up in prison”?  Because I’m a strong believer that feedback should be constructive and contain suggestions whenever possible… how about a name that describes what happens in the show (again, just like “Intervention”)?  You could even do “Intervention: Hoarding Edition” (it worked for Extreme Makeover!).  I’d like to see the word “hoarder” removed from the vocabulary of any and all people involved with the show.
  2. Speaking of vocabulary: Let’s get another thing straight.  Hoarding isn’t a disease or a condition.  Hoarding is a behavior, and the presence of that behavior can be related to a symptom that someone is experiencing, and that symptom can be an indication of a mental illness or lack of optimum mental health, but you don’t diagnose someone with “Hoarding” and again, you certainly don’t diagnose them as a “Hoarder.”  So, from now on, let’s describe hoarding as a behavior which is part of a much bigger reality, not the reality itself.
  3. Now, how about those psychologists:  Wow.  I’ve met a lot of bad therapists in my life and it’s true that I have some judgements against any who would choose to practice their work on television… but all that being said, I think it is possible to have mental health professionals involved in the program in a responsible, constructive way.  The role of the psychologist here should be to provide support to the person who is engaging in the behavior.  One of the primary ways we can support someone is to hold on to hope for them and their family when they can’t hold onto it for themselves.  It is not productive or constructive for the psychologist on the program to label, judge, or evaluate the situation as hopeless.  It’s also pretty craptacular to see them sit by as the professional organizer attempts to administer “tough love.”  Finally, from a very catty place… why don’t we bring in professionals to do their makeup for them.  Thanks.
  4. The professional organizer: I love professional organizers… I used to want to be one.  Let’s examine the name they’ve chosen for themselves.  “Professional organizer” doesn’t suggest that the person in question has any expertise, experience, or ability to help someone who is experiencing some pretty significant life harm from a behavior that may be a result of a mental illness.  The professional organizer should be responsible for the cleaning and organizing the home, not trying to organize the thoughts of the person who did the hoarding.  If you insist that the professional organizer interacts with the person who did the hoarding maybe they could read a little Rosenberg first?
  5. Oh, and those trucks: I can appreciate that you are a business and you have to make money… but maybe the advertising deal for the 1-800-GOTJUNK trucks weren’t the most sensitive choice for this population.  You describe the people doing the hoarding as very attached to their belongings (no matter how invaluable they may be to you and me) so maybe it’s ineffective to throw those belongings into trucks that clearly broadcast to anyone who can read that the contents of said trucks are, in fact, “junk.”
  6. Speaking of setting people up for success: Many of the “hoards” in question have taken decades to build up… who decided they could be cleaned up in two days?  Even without the pesky interference from the person who has a strong emotional attachment to the possessions that make up the hoard or the act of hoarding itself… can you REALLY expect to clean up an entire home that is packed from floor to ceiling in two days?  Judging from the dismal success rate, I’d say no.  If you are really in this to help people, how about providing the time and resources to address both the mental, emotional, and physical issues in an effective way.
Well, A&E, that’s all I have for now.  I know you are a well intentioned group, and you truly want to help the people who participate in this program.  


Unfortunately the logistics of your program and the continued marginalization of a misunderstood population the professionals and language choices in the program promote aren’t going to do that…  


It’s certainly not hopeless, however.  People do recover from mental health problems.  With the supportive, loving assistance of family, friends, and care providers who can accept the person for who they are while encouraging growth and change through hopeful, and empowering services people can start to become responsible for their own lives and make their way back/or find their way to a community that is meaningful for them.

All the best, 
The Human Race

Anyone have any additions or changes before I send it off?

2 thoughts on “a confession, and a rant

  1. geneticload

    This is amazing! Also, could you talk about the obligatory camera shots that purposefully exploit the “hoarder” by showing them buried in their 1-800-GOT-JUNK pile is insensitive?

    I can’t wait for your letter about Storage Wars (although I actually love that show, or at least I love Barry).

    Reply
    1. bossypants

      Dear Barry,

      I love you. Can you take me with you to crawl through a storage closet and find me a masterpiece to keep with my always and remind me of our time together?

      Please!
      Love,
      me

      Reply

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