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Obsessed with A&E's 'Hoarders'

All you need to know about the addictive reality show

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We’ve compiled all you need to know about the addictive reality show chronicling people who just can’t get rid of stuff.

1. How do the show’s producers find their subjects — and how do they know they’re really hoarders and not just garden-variety slobs?
At first, the producers cast a nationwide net, reaching out to therapists and professional organizers in search of potential candidates. ”It took quite a while to book the first seven episodes,” says exec producer Jodi Flynn. Now that the show is a hit, the situation is dramatically different. ”We literally get hundreds of submissions every week,” Flynn says. To separate genuine hoarders from the merely messy, the producers rely on input from therapists. ”Basically someone crosses the line from just being messy to being a hoarder if it truly has a detrimental impact on their lives,” says Flynn.

2. Is it difficult to shoot in the hoarders’ houses because they’re so littered?
Extremely. Hoarders crew members navigate slowly and carefully around the massive piles of clutter. (In one recently shot episode, the cleaning crew removed 22,000 pounds of junk.) Sometimes the filth and odor are so extreme, hazmat gear is required: In a past episode, the production crew found 35 dead cats buried under heaps of junk. ”That was difficult,” says Flynn. ”You couldn’t help but feel for these poor animals. It’s heartbreaking all around.”

3. Why do the subjects agree to be on the show? Aren’t they having their mental health problems exploited for entertainment?
Compulsive hoarding — which, according to estimates, may afflict as much as 5 percent of the population — is largely a hidden condition, and most hoarders keep it secret out of shame. Finding a therapist can be difficult, and cleaning the mess can cost thousands of dollars. The show provides both free of charge. One season 1 subject, Jennifer (the series withholds last names), says the benefits of being on Hoarders far outweighed any embarrassment: ”Besides the immediate gain of getting our house cleaned out, it was a chance to show people what hoarding is. There are so many people who have this problem and don’t know what to call it and don’t know how to get help, like we didn’t.” Robert Sharenow, vice president of nonfiction and alternative programming at A&E, says the show is careful not to exploit or sensationalize the issue. ”We’re not staging some supersized, crazy stunt for the sake of TV. This is really what happens when a hoarder tries to tackle their problem.”

4. Okay, but what becomes of the subjects after the camera crew leaves?
Hoarders offers months of follow-up care from therapists, organizers, and cleaning crews. Some subjects, like Jennifer, show lasting improvement (”I’ve almost gone to the other extreme of major organizing,” she says). Many, though, still struggle. ”There’s a huge variance in how much this can help somebody,” Flynn admits. Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College and the author of a forthcoming book about hoarding called Stuff, says that the show sometimes makes the fixes seem a bit too easy: ”Changing hoarders’ behavior and the nature of their attachment to things doesn’t happen quickly. It takes a lot of time.”

5. Why are so many viewers fascinated with Hoarders?

Whether or not they personally know a hoarder (and many of us do), everyone battles clutter, says Flynn: ”Who doesn’t have a junk drawer? Who doesn’t have old T-shirts from college in a closet? It may not rise to the level of hoarding, but anyone can understand that.”

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