You may have noticed that telly has developed a bit of a fascination with hoarding of late. It seems to have kicked off with Channel 4’s Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder at the end of last year – a fly on the wall (probably one of several, in this case) documentary about an extreme hoarder living in a village near Dorking.
Richard Wallace had a serious collection of stuff indoors, but it was his collection of rusty bits of cars and garden rubbish outdoors which was really getting the villagers’ backs up, as it was putting their bid to win the Britain in Bloom award in severe jeopardy (priorities, people – we could try and help Richard to help himself first).
The documentary makers did try to address Richard’s underlying issues of abandonment and grief, until it became clear that what he was really seeking wasn’t to get rid of all of his stuff, but somewhere bigger so that he could cram more of it in, depressingly.
Since then we’ve had Channel 4’s Get Your House in Order – a more no nonsense approach, and then the BBC then decided they’d better jump on this hoarding bandwagon as well, and responded with Jasmine Harman’s poignant programme about her continued attempts to deal with her mother’s hoarding habit which, it has to be stressed, were still difficult even after several months of therapy.
Now, Channel 4 is at it again with The Hoarder Next Door, a rather scaremongering title suggesting that behind your beloved neighbour’s wisteria and net curtains could be a complex internal maze of empty ketchup bottles and telephone directories dating back to 1985, with barely any space to breathe, eat or sleep.
Imagine if this HORROR was lurking right next to you!, it shrieks. It could be interfering with your load-bearing walls! And no wonder nobody wants to hold a Jubilee party in your street!
Of course, any show like this begs the question of why these hoarders would want to expose their bizarre living arrangements and neuroses to the nation. Some of these people’s best mates haven’t even been in their houses for yonks, so quite why they’d invite a film crew in – that’s assuming they can actually get in – does seem strange.
But when you think about it, it’s not really that surprising – hoarding is clearly a psychological response to something, but, unlike more widely acknowledged and dangerous mental health issues, probably isn’t at the top of the list for new research.
Also, it isn’t really clear where these people should get the specialist help that they need, and a telephone directory from 1985 isn’t likely to help them much on that front either. So, in The Hoarder Next Door, Channel 4 have sent in psychotherapist Stelios Kiosses (whose name disappointingly isn’t Stelios Kisses, but you can’t have everything) to help them out.
So far, he seems to have a pretty high success rate. Last week we had jazz fan Paul, who had taken the old stereotype about male music nerds (that no matter how messy their houses are, their record collection will always be in order and pristine) to the extreme. Although he now admits that he’s running out of space and things are getting disorganised and messy, you still get the impression that Paul would be able to lay his hands on an Ornette Coleman rarity with his eyes closed, whereas the rest of his possessions choke his living spaces like debris from a battle.
That is, until Stelios gets to the bottom of things with his six-week recovery programme. He simultaneously helps Tricia (who was once in Coronation Street – a fact which is rammed down our throats at every available opportunity for some reason) to deal with the mountains of stuff in her house, and a rat problem so disgusting that – if you haven’t already seen it – I suggest you make sure your tea is well digested before watching.
What is really striking about all of these programmes is just how similar these hoarders are. Extreme and intractable their problems might be, but ultimately, if we can understand them, they have the same neuroses as many of us – they just express them in a different way. How many times have we all held on to stuff that doesn’t fit us in the hope that we’ll ‘slim into it’ eventually? How many of us have a drawer full of antiquated mobile phone chargers we’ll probably never use again?
It’s in us all, somewhere, possibly hidden in between some bins under a collection of late 70s Mandy annuals.