We meet all kinds of interesting people at Load of Rubbish. While some people are pleased as punch to get rid of an old table or TV, there are others who contact us for more involved jobs. We have been into a fair share of homes over the years, and hoarder’s homes always seem to be the most difficult. There are some even we cannot tackle, but others where we can’t help but give people a hand, often the family members who are there to clean up the mess after things deteriorate beyond the point of no return. That was the case with this hoarding case.

A Family’s Desperation:

When Hoarding Gets the Best of Someone

The boxspring pushed against the windows was the least of the worries in the bedroom. It looked like someone has picked up the room like a snow globe and shook it. The room was littered with everything from books, movies, clothes, and memoribilia

The boxspring pushed against the windows was the least of the worries in the bedroom. It looked like someone had picked up the room like a snow globe and shook it. The room was littered with everything from books, movies, clothes, to vast amounts of memorabilia

Load of Rubbish recently got a desperate phone call from the children of a woman who had just been moved into nursing care. On top of dealing with the transition, and their mother’s mental health issues (dementia), they also had to clean out her apartment. The end of the month was on hand and they needed to empty her co-op, but the task was beyond their abilities. While we’ve seen worse, there was evidence that their mother suffered from hoarding.

As we’ve noted before, hoarding is a mental illness. A person who suffers from this disorder struggles to part with items, regardless of their inherent value. It is the vast quantity of stuff though that is the real problem. And the fact that the items that are kept, often fall into such a state of disrepair or dishevelment, that the value they may have originally had is now lost. Such was the state when we walked into this co-op.

Telltale signs of a smoker—yellowed walls and the shadows of former pictures

Telltale signs of a smoker; yellowed walls and the shadows of many former pictures—none worth saving

Upon opening the door the first thing that hit us was the smell. While we were not privy to how long the woman lived in the home, it was long enough for her to leave an impression. It was obvious that she smoked, if not from the smell, than from the film of smoke which coated everything. The door was left open to keep our path clear to the truck that waited outside, but the fresh air that blew in was welcome nonetheless. We quickly opened the windows to give ourselves more breathing room as well.

Cigarette smoke wasn’t the only problem. While the woman’s children had started the task of cleaning up, it didn’t take long for them to become overwhelmed. There was pet hair everywhere. Books and movies were scattered throughout the one-bedroom apartment. A phenomenal amount of knickknacks littered every surface. To anyone else’s eyes it might have all been junk, but to the woman who lived there, they were an important part of her world. Therein lies the illness.

Movies, current and older, mixed with word searches and books were everywhere, and give a picture of who the resident was

Movies, current and vintage, mixed with word searches and books were everywhere, and paint a portrait of the woman who lived there

For every bit of organization that existed, there was an equal amount of chaos in the apartment. Where kitchen cupboards had a semblance of order, filth trickled down the cupboard doors. While multiple bookshelves were lined with movies and books, they were covered in thick layers of dust and pet hair. The linen closet housed blankets and recognizable objects, but the adjacent closet held precariously piled amounts of random objects, from an axe to Christmas wrapping paper, to a tin of saved pet hair. We can understand why the woman’s children called us in a panic.

Mother, friend, reader, animal lover; all pieces of a woman

Mother, friend, reader, animal lover; all pieces of a woman whose life and hoarding touched the LoR crew

Underneath it all though, was a woman. She was a mother, a reader, a lover of animals, an appreciator of indigenous lore, a smoker, a watcher of movies, current and vintage. She tried to keep her brain sharp with Sudoku and word searches. A sense of humour was evident in funny fridge magnets. Flipping through a random photo album found under piles of rubbish, you could see her laughing with people, presumably friends and family. She was a part of something bigger. And she happened to have a mental illness that made her life a lot less livable.

Now she resides somewhere where hopefully her needs will get met. She won’t have to contend with bags of rubbish preventing her from walking across a room or billowing pet hair clinging to everything in sight. Perhaps her health will improve living in a cleaner environment and maybe her relationship with her children will improve because of that.

As for all the myriad items that were collected from her home, little will be saved. Her children took what they wanted and most of the rest of the items were piled into the truck. It was taken to Green Valley Recycling. They go through everything that comes in the gate, looking for anything which may potentially still hold value or be able to be recycled. Our truck pulls in and gets weighed. Once emptied, it is weighed again to determine the dumping cost. Hopefully they will be able to find some items to recycle, but in this case, it was questionable. It wasn’t one of our easiest days, but is a necessary service for those in need. For the family of this woman—a hoarder, mother, friend, and person—they were grateful we were there. Just another day in the life of the Load of Rubbish crew…

A lifetime's worth of possessions relegated to a junk removal truck and bound for recycling

A lifetime’s worth of possessions relegated to a junk removal truck and bound for recycling