Hoarders (the TV show) ~ Helpful or voyeuristic.

I was watching Hoarders on TV last night and I must say that show makes me cringe. Not because of the frightening degree of clutter in the homes, although that is alarming at best , but because of the way these poor folks are seemingly expected to deal with their clutter in such a short period of time.

I understand that the hoarders and their families have got to the point of desperation and something needs to be done reasonably quickly. Ripping of a band-aid, so to speak. This is especially the case where children have been removed from the homes by the authorities because of the risks involved to their health and wellbeing, but this is a problem that can’t be cured in one weekend? Granted we don’t see the preamble to these shows or if there is any follow through but if other reality shows are anything to go by, sensation is the end goal the producer is looking for not the welfare of the people involved. I could be completely wrong here and this is just my opinion but that is what I have taken away in the three times I have watched this show.

These mentally unwell folks have become so desperate for help that they open their “shame” up for the world to see in the hope that they will be cured. It seems to me though that not nearly enough is done to guide them through the situation and far too little time is dedicated to teaching them the skills to let go. One can easily tell that although the stuff is the physical problem the root of the problem goes way deeper than that. Ripping off that band-aid doesn’t make the wound under it go away. There is often the hint of the catalyst that began the obsession but then there is little if no more reference to dealing with that as the show progresses. The dialogue in the show is so open ended that it raises more questions that it gives answers. It disturbs me to think that other hoarders watching this show could be turned off from seeking help because they aren’t seeing any solutions there, no ah ha moments if you like.

I would like to think that these folks get some weeks if not months of psychological help before embarking on the actual physical event of sorting and removing the clutter but all indications show that this isn’t the case. If it is the case I think the show would be enhanced by a short narration at the start explaining this procedure in relation to each case. Instead we get a written report at the end stating whether the person “failed” or was successful at overcoming the problem. In the few shows I have watched the ratio in those reports have not been positive. I only hope that these dear people are set on the road to recovery and not permanently scarred from the experience and left in a worse state than they began.

For me these shows only appear to scrape the surface fo the problem. If you have ever watched this show please let me know what you think.

Today’s Declutter Item

Isn’t it annoying when you just want to buy one accessary to something but the most economic option is a kit that has several more items in it than you want.

DS accessaries


My Gratitude List

  • Something that made me laugh ~ http://youtu.be/ySey8kbOiO4
  • Something Awesome ~ When the new (Entertainment) coupon book has a buy one get one free main course at a restaurant you were wanting to try. Score!!!
  • Something to be grateful for ~ Remembering there is a spa bath in the house on a cool Autumn afternoon. Too bad I don’t have any champagne. 😉
  • Something that made me happy ~ Getting rid of another load of items to the thrift store yesterday.
  • Something I found fascinating ~ Army ants ~ those things are the piranhas of the insect world.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  • Change Decluttering is all about change. Changing the way you think about stuff: It isn't important. It can trigger memories but doesn't contain them. It usually becomes clutter eventually […]
  • Disassociation Part 5 ~ Sentimental Clutter Sentimental clutter, the final post in the Disassociation Series. Last but not least that is, because this one can be the most insidious of all of the categories of clutter. It sneaks up […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Colleen, I agree with you. I think it is so easy for the reality shows to exploit people but then leave them to struggle afterward. I haven’t watched Hoarders but have heard about it from friends who have and it sounds like they are just expolited. Sad.

    Edward Reid was a hoot. What fun. Thanks for the link.

    • Hi Deb J,
      like I said there may be more to the behind the scenes that we don’t see on the show but they would do well for their own reputation to show a little more of that if there is.

      The Edward Reid could really sing too!

  2. I absolutely agree. Although I have never seen the show “Biggest Loser,” I have theories on why it would not be helpful to the general public, and the same theories follow through on “Hoarders.”

    1. People with the same problem (obesity, hoarding) might watch the show and see that progress can ONLY be made with the help of professionals and a television program budget.

    2. People with the same problem (obesity, hoarding) might see the extremity of the shows and feel like “What I’m doing isn’t so bad compared to these people” and choose not to make changes in their lives.

    3. People with the same problem (obesity, hoarding) might watch the show and identify so much with the person featured in the show that they feel like their work has already been done, and they don’t need to make changes in their lives.

    At first I really enjoyed “Hoarders,” specifically and unapologetically for the shock value. The first few episodes, it looked like rather average people had really gotten stuck in downward spirals, and the help of professionals could really make changes in the way they view their lives and hoards. But as the show went on, the circumstances were more and more horrifying and increasingly unsanitary, and the featured people seemed more ill (and unwilling to BE helped) in every way. I really couldn’t take it anymore.

    I feel the same about other exploitative tv shows as well, especially “My Strange Addiction” and “Obsessed”, where the people featured on the shows seem like they are only getting surface level help when they really need deep, deep therapy if they are to live normal lives. And it CAN BE bad for the viewers. I have suffered from a germ-phobia, and when I watched others with similar phobias on tv, I thought “Mine has NEVER been that bad, therefore I DO NOT need help.” And that wasn’t true! I made real progress with counseling, affirmations, and prayer.

    So YES, I think these shows do no good for anyone – the featured person, or the audience – (maybe they are good for the business of the professionals!) besides a cheap thrill. Scratch that, if you watch it, you’re paying for cable tv. (For the record, I viewed these shows at the home of a friend we stayed with over the summer).

    • Hi Liina,
      clearly you see the same thing I am seeing. I must admit though that at least the Biggest Loser works on their “victims” for months before they unleash them back into temptation. Then again I suppose that is only the case if you aren’t tossed out early in the competition.
      I am glad you got counseling for your issue and that it was a help for you. Do you feel that chemical companies with all their advertising about sanitary practices have a lot to answer for when it comes to creating an unnecessary fear of germs in people? To me they seem to take things a little too far at times in order to sell more product and make record profits.

      • I know I am a bit behind, but I want to note that all of these shows have people living an unreasonable life to get to the goal in time for the end of the show. The biggest loser has people exercising 4 hours a day. Not possible when you have a job and family. The hoarder shows seem to expect people to clear out a life time of clutter (both mental and physical) in 3 days.

        On the other hand, I watch these shows, and think “there, but for the Grace of God, go I”. so in some ways the shows have had a very powerful effect on how I look at myself and the “clutter” issues I am not facing (of all kinds).

        Just found your blog through friends, thank you very much for being a light post in the wilderness!!

        • Hi Martha,
          thank you for dropping by to leave a comment (no comment is ever too late) and welcome to 365 Less Things. It is a pleasure to have you on board and say thank you to your friends for me for letting you know I was here.

          I agree with what you say here the problem can’t be solved in three days but if it does help others watching to keep in check there clutter then I guess the show is worth airing. I just wish they could take the time to do it right.

          I hope you find my slow and steady approach to decluttering helpful and feel free to comment or pose a question whenever you feel the urge. There are two ways you can do this. One is just as you did with this comment and the other is to send your comment/question to me via my Contact Colleen option where it will be seen by only me. Hope to here from you again soon and happy decluttering.

  3. I have seen the show 1 time, it had a young boy featured ( I think around age 7) he was already a hoarder. He cried when they threw away a happy meal box that was torn. My heart went out to him, but I kept wondering did they get help for him while he was still young or just let it go for the ratings of the show. How sad

    • Hi Colleen,
      that is exactly my point. If they consistently don’t show how they have helped these people then there is a good chance they just aren’t.

  4. Hi Colleen,

    confession from my side: For me “Hoarders” actually was a help. For the poor troubled souls exploited on the show: I guess not.

    I had a phase when I watched as much documentaries about hoarding as I could lay my hands on, and for me the effect was positive. I could picture myself there some years (or probably decades) down the road, if I I did not change my behaviour. I admit that I wanted the change before I watched and so the fear and repulsion these shows evoked in me worked wonders. I think the visualization of clutter habits out of control sped processes up for me. It also made me understand that some habits or thoughts that don’t seem insane or harmful in the beginning (I am going to read all those magazines, I’ll repair it, I’ll make something out of it …) can be the roots of a dangerous blindness to clutter that finally leads to hoarding.

    Probably for someone who is just looking for an excuse to not change, watching “Hoarders” might be harmful. But for those who decided for decluttering and are not natural neatfreaks with only hidden and sorted clutter, the shows actually pictures parts of our homes, I guess (I have to think of Cindys Shed – rats included – or, my basement with unruly stacks of boxes of partly unknown, forgotten and by no means sorted contents, blocking the way to more of such boxes, sigh). And it shows that you better take control over those “secret places” before they take over your house – because they apparently can and do …
    It was a wake-up call for someone not sleeping anymore, but not really ready to get out of bed either, if you like …

    Thus said, I think the show is not really helping the folks but taking advantage of their misery in a nasty way. It’s immoral.

    What I found much better to watch (though it has überdramatic music and everything): „Help! I’m a Hoarder“

    • Ideealisten, I’m so glad to hear the points I made about how the show could help no one refuted! Thanks for another point of view!

    • Hi Ideealistin,
      thank you for that comment it was very enlightening from another perspective. This is exactly why I asked as we all have a different point of reference and yours was clearly not the same as mine. It is good to know that you were able to take something from this program and ones similar that spurred you on to make a change in your life before things got out of hand. I will keep that in mind in future and perhaps watch the show again and see if it changes my perspective.

      We don’t have Help I’m a hoarder here but I might search the internet and see if I can watch it there.

      One other question this program raised for me was ~ do the authorities who remove the children from these families refer the sufferer to medical (psychological) assistance to to help cure this clearly insidious psychological condition. Surely the health department renders some free assistance when the situation gets this bad. These are the sorts of question I would think another hoarder out there would be seeking while watching a show like this.

  5. I watched maybe two episodes of the show completely and fast-forwarded through a few others. At the time I was helping my sister-in-law sort through and disperse fifty years of accumulated family possessions–a task very easy for me since I had no sentimental attachment to anything–but she really did, and more and more of it kept getting earmarked for the storage unit(s). I started to suspect borderline hoarding tendencies, and watched the episodes hoping to gain some insight into the mindset of hoarding. Seeing the show helped in that I was quickly able to understand that my sister-in-law was nowhere close to having this disorder, I became more patient, we started having more fun.

    The extreme nature of the show is attention-grabbing. Watching it made me feel a bit hopeless–aside from all the psychological issues only superficially addressed, where was all the stuff in the dumpsters headed? To landfills? How are we supposed to feel good about that? Also, impossible to feel good watching peoples’ shame and dysfunction.

    By far the most interesting episode I watched centered on an artist who collected “found” objects for sculpture, and had been warned by his landlord that the apartment had become unsafe and needed to be really thinned back or he’d be evicted. Most of his stuff hadn’t been bought in stores and was nature-based and actually somewhat fascinating–I found myself imagining the potential of it all, the glory and creativity of being so resourceful.

    I agree with the analysis of the previous poster regarding the overall effects on viewers. I suspect most viewers fall into the “I’m not nearly that bad” category. Also, the time parameter of the show–where everything has to go in a couple of weeks or long weekends–is quite in opposition to your “slow and steady wins the race” strategy.

    • Hi Gail,
      I hope you managed to convince your sister in law to part with a reasonable amount of stuff. Being too emotionally attached to stuff can be a real problem for some people especially when the generation above them passes on and their possessions come down to that person. They then find themselves unable to give any of that away as well and the problem gets worse.

      From what I see, of the Hoarders Show, the sufferers have a tendance to continue to accumulate items in order to cloak themselves in some sort of security blanket of useful stuff. There is a catalyst that starts the obsession and then they just don’t seem to be able to stop. This sentence in your comment said it all ~ Most of his stuff hadn’t been bought in stores and was nature-based and actually somewhat fascinating–I found myself imagining the potential of it all, the glory and creativity of being so resourceful.~ he clearly had the same thoughts about the stuff as you describe but just didn’t know where to stop.

      I am sure also that most of the sufferers on this show weren’t “nearly that bad” to begin with either. So lets hope that message at least gets through to the viewer and they can see the need to put a halt to their accumulation before it does escalate to that level.

      You are certainly right that the time parameter of the show is a long way in opposition to my “slow and steady” approach. What I think these people need is a lot of counselling before anyone even enters the home to start cleaning out. At least then they would have a few strategies to cope with the loss they must me experiencing and have at least a glimmer of realisation that the stuff is not key to their survival. Either way it is all very sad and I don’t know that I would bother to watch it again.

  6. Hoarders is on the Arts & Entertainment channel in the US, while a similar but more helpful series called Hoarding: Buried Alive is broadcast on The Learning Channel, also in the US (although we get both in Canada). In both cases, the participants get to work with a psychologist (although I think this was not seen by viewers in the first season of Hoarders) and there is a bit of insight given. I find Hoarding: Buried Alive to be much less about the shock value and much more about explaining how things could get that way and how psychologists were able to help. Disclaimer: I have watched no more than a dozen shows altogether, and had to refer to wikipedia to make sure I was remembering the differences between shows correctly!

    Personally, I found the shows helpful in the somewhat small dose I watched, because it gave me additional information, along with reading, on the causes of hoarding and some approaches to dealing with it. I could see that I have a tendency to hoard, and I need to take action now to avoid ending up the same way. After I learned all I felt I could learn from watching, it felt wrong to keep watching for three reasons: I felt like a voyeur, I found it depressing to watch the worst episodes where there seemed to be no progress made, and – very important! – I could be taking action rather than sitting watching TV.

    I think it is also vital to remember that the bottom line for the TV stations is all about making money 🙂 Having said that, though, there seem to be some successful outcomes. Some of the shows I saw dealt with people who were highly organized and their homes looked clean, but they just had too many things. Others were not organized, were visibly filthy, and most of the stuff was what would normally be considered trash. The people with simply too many belongings seemed to do better than those who collected garbage.

    Interesting post and comments!

    • Hi Jo,
      the episodes of Hoarders that I watched did include a psychologist but there seemed to be very little time devoted to that aspect. I have not seen the other show you mentioned but it sure sounds better.

      I am glad these shows have been a help to you and that you gleaned some useful information from them. I loved that you decided to spend your time taking action on your own issues rather than sitting there watching the TV. Good for you.

      I also did see some successful outcomes on the show but one still has to ask themselves is there ongoing treatment for those folks to help stay on the right path. These problems don’t disappear overnight they are no different to alcoholism, gambling or any other addiction.

  7. Hi Colleen,

    actually as non-U.S. I watched neither show on TV but in tidbits people put on youtube. I did not really research where „Help I’m a hoarder“ comes from but it more looks like a single documentary than a series.

  8. I agree that they don’t seem to give enough emotional help to these people and they try to make them part with too much too quickly making them shut down completely. I look at the outcomes and feel sad that what they have done has not helped these people at all and in my opinion possible made it worse. I think a “”slow and steady” approach along with psychological help would be much better for these people.

    • Hi Debra F,
      I also feel sad for these people. I did once see what appeared to be a good outcome on the show once but even at the time I thought that guy wasn’t as emotionally afflicted as some and just appeared to be more lazy than anything else. I think it would possibly be better to remove the sufferer from the situation altogether to receive psychological training while the house is cleared out in their absence ~ let someone from the household make the decisions of what should stay and what is excess. You don’t take an alcoholic to a bottle shop and ask then what they are prepared to part with or house a gambler in a casino during gambling re-hab or a drug addict in a crack house…

  9. Television is designed to be gripping viewing and that’s about it!

    So Hoarders isn’t about helping the basic issues of hoarders, any more than Biggest Loser is about curing the fundamental problems behind weight loss or American Idol about music.

    I’ve been profiled on TV for my lifestyle choice of extended breastfeeding. When the show aired, absolutely no supporting facts (too boring!) were included, although the friendly interviewers listened with apparent interest to my solid scientific and historical reasons for my choices and recorded plenty on tape. But they edited out what didn’t fit their desired profile.

    • Hi Jess,
      this is no surprise, sad but no surprise. I am sorry you had to find out the hard way how this process works.

      I am just glad that in Australia or at least NSW that there is a system in place for free medical help for people suffering from any degree of psychological disorder. It makes me happy to pay my taxes.

  10. I think shows like those mentioned can be voyeuristic, I feel great compassion towards the people shown as they often have huge problems and I am definitely one of the people who watch and think ‘oh I am no where near that bad’. some of the shows are really sad to watch 🙁 no other real comment , just how I feel

  11. These shows have motivated me to work on my clutter before it gets the better of me/my home. I don’t think I’m a hoarder since I don’t have a sentimental attachment to things, nor do I bring a lot of stuff in or have a shopping addiction. But stuff still comes in as a part of normal life, and it’s a challenge to keep an equal or greater amount going out via recycling, freecycling, trash, etc. I struggle with depression, so often I come home and just want to veg out, even though on the way home I make plans and have good intentions. Anyways, these shows do remind me to keep working at it. I’m more likely to watch them occasionally than every week. (Hoarders on A&E and Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC. I haven’t heard of the other show mentioned.) On one show, a woman had tons of expired food in her fridge that was basically in a soup of who knows what that had accumulated in her meat drawer, and I went straight to my own fridge and got rid of everything that didn’t belong there!

    • Hi Wendy,
      I am glad to hear you are getting something out of these shows, that is great. Depression can have a detrimental affect on getting things done that’s for sure. I can sympathise from a position of experience on that subject. Fortunately for me I often reacted in the oposite fashion and tended to be overactive as a response.
      I think I saw the episode you are talking about with all the food. I can understand it inspiring you to clean out the fridge.

  12. I have watched maybe one episode and found I just couldn’t handle the sadness of watching those poor people. Having helped people declutter (some really overwhelming messes), it makes me, like you, cringe. While I’m all about decluttering, I just can’t watch those shows. Obviously, I’m not the target market for the show–I hope people will change, not just the house.

  13. Everything you just said!

  14. Hi Colleen! I have seen you comment once or twice about “Hoarders”, and it seems to me that the more we talk on the subject, the more it seems, that this show goes to far. I used to watch “Clean Sweep!” with Peter Walsh, and that was nice, funny entertainment. People had messy rooms, subscribed to the show and had the rooms made over, with some decisions about disposing excess stuff. They did made things fast, but the participants were always eager for the change. It was very seldom that people had the odd angry moment, about ONE thing. So that did inspire me to declutter. I watched bits and pieces of “Hoarders” on the internet and it just gave me the hives!!! I mean all that stuff, angry people, crying (sometimes), no control at all! I like shows that bring people for a change, but to treat a mental illness as if it was a “the house being dirty and cluttered” that was the problem, and not something else and the house’s state was just the consequence… Not good entertainment at all. So I, for one, think that these shows hurt people.

    • Hi Andréia,
      I did see some of the show Clean Sweep when I lived in America and Peter Walsh was very sensitive about the feeling people had about getting rid of sentimental things. The situations on that show were a lot less drastic as they are on the hoarders show but the treatment of the people was a world away in difference. I could watch Clean Sweep over and over but not Hoarders.

  15. My husband won’t let me watch Hoarders! We watched one episode, and the people’s problems weren’t fixed in the end, so it was a bit voyeuristic. I would really rather watch something that educated me if I’m going to spend an hour in front of the television, even if the subject matter is fascinating. (I didn’t learn anything about cooking in the last series of Masterchef, so I’m not wasting that time every night again this time!)

  16. This show, I never miss. It does make me grumpy and I yell at the telly sometimes, but it puts things in perspective. I think, overall it is terribly, terribly sad.

    • Hi Francesca,
      first of all I would just like to say welcome to 365 Less Things it is a pleasure to have you here and I hope my blog will be a help to you in your quest to spend less and minimise your possessions. I read several of your blog posts while I had my 6:30am coffee and I must say yours is quite a story. I look forward to seeing you progress and work off that debt your “wonderful” ex left you with. We all make mistakes in life but it is never too late to turn things around and you are certainly now on the right path to do that.

      I agree with you assessment of the Hoarders show, it evokes the same reaction from me.

  17. Colleen,

    You are so right! I don’t think there is really much more to the counseling and cleaning than what we see on the show. How can anyone possibly solve a problem in 3 days that probably took years to create? I feel badly for these people and I don’t think any of them are really helped. They did a follow up show one year later on some of the hoarders and all but one was right back where they had started originally.

    • Hi Melissa,
      well those results say it all don’t they? I would have been ashamed to air that if I was involved in that show.

  18. I’m the type that loves to declutter, so I thought I’d enjoy watching “Hoarders”, but I didn’t.

    The one show I saw, the hoarders were very angry, and I don’t believe their issues were ever resolved.

    Someone mentioned the woman that had the sludge in her meat drawer. That reminded me of the show, “How Clean Is Your House?”

    That show is horrifying in an amazingly fascinating way. If my house looked like that, I wouldn’t be inviting cameras in. Watch an episode or two of that, and you’ll find yourself overcome with an urge to go scrub something, even if your house is clean and it’s way past your bedtime.

    • Hi Becky,
      that is funny but sadly true and yet even that show “How Clean is Your House” seems to address the issues of how things got that way better than Hoarders. The thing that annoys me about the people on HCIYH is that they are often just plain lazy slobs.

  19. For me and many of my friends, Hoarders literally gets us to clean up. During commercial breaks, I get an overwhelming urge to put away things that were left out, take out the trash, load the dishwasher, etc, and then plop back down on the couch when the episode resumes; I’ve heard this from many other people as well.

    While they do offer follow-up care and are often dealing with people who have reached some very serious time-sensitive deadlines (losing their homes or losing custody of their children) that won’t wait for months of pre-cleanup care, I definitely agree that it’s a sensationalist show.

    • Hi Rachel,
      welcome to 365 Less Things and thank you for taking time out to canvas your friends on this subject, it is good to get a variety of opinions. I am so glad that the this program is inspiring you and others you know to dive into a episodes of five minute cleaning/decluttering. I can understand why it would have this effect on people because lets face it no one want to get to the stage where those poor folks are at. Perhaps the show works better as a deterrent than it does as a help to those already afflicted.

      I agree with you and stated as much in my post that cleaning up the home can’t wait when being evicted and losing custody of children is involved but the psychological cure just doesn’t come that fast. I have even noticed in the “follow up” at the end of the show that some peoples children have not been returned to them because the authorities do not believe that the person has been cured of the problem. All in all it is a sad situation. Let’s hope the show is a wake up call to people who may not have reached such depths of despair and are able to see that they need to seek help before it comes to that.

  20. I agree with you. I was just watching Hoarders and searched for this exact topic to see if anyone else ever felt this way. I usually don’t watch reality TV, but the few shows that I have watched seemed to at least give a lot of money and prizes to the people who were on it. On Hoarders they never seem to have enough time to clean the house (hey, maybe they should plan more time?) It seems the poor people on the show don’t recieve much for allowing their “shame” to be announced to the world. At best they get an empty, dirty house. It’s like they are a freak show and no longer a person. I know you wrote this post a while ago, but I just had to chime in.