I watched a programme called Britain’s Biggest Hoarders on BBC 1 last night and I was astounded by the conditions in which some people actually live. The documentary focuses on Jasmine Harman, her mum who is a chronic hoarder and the constant battle that is living with someone who has this condition. The mission of the documentary is to have chronic hoarding recognised as a medical condition and to give support to the 3 million people in the UK living in houses that are piled so high with ‘possessions’ that they can no longer access the bathroom.
I imagine that my first reaction will be the same as most people who saw the programme, I was appalled by the state of the houses featured, in one house the couple hadn’t seen their living room for two years as the room and doorway were completely blocked, as was the bathroom preventing the family from using the bath or shower. Another man who was featured has asked for help after realising that the level of hoarding was damaging his health. I couldn’t help but think, just chuck it all out! Get a skip (or five) and a ton of bin bags and just bin the lot. How can people possibly live with broken windows, rats, rotting food and not seeing an inch of their floors anywhere in their house for years? But as the programme went on and Jasmine explained what it was like growing up in a house that was always messy, her fears about tidying up and the dread on hearing the door bell ring I realised that hoarding not about just chucking things away or being too lazy to clear up, it really does go much deeper than that. There is a psychological element to the condition where some sufferers believe that discarding possessions may result in something terrible happening, but as Help For Hoarders website explains, hoarding is not currently defined as a neurological disorder and most go undiagnosed.
I was close to tears watching the long-suffering wife of one hoarder who simply wanted her grandchildren to be able to come over and play, yet I felt equally tearful watching her husband deal with his possessions being thrown away from their overflowing front garden to avoid prosecution from the council. It took just an hour and an in-depth personal account from Jasmine to really open my eyes to this debilitating illness and how terribly ignorant my initial reaction was.
I don’t hoard at all, there are a small number of possessions that I consider to be priceless and would never ever consider getting rid of, and I count myself very lucky to be able to just clear out mine and my daughter’s wardrobes a few times a year to donate to charity. My husband is somewhere in the middle of the scale and seems hell bent on keeping old, washed out t-shirts for ‘decorating’ in. We’ve decorated twice in 12 months and he wore a brand new Next white t-shirt to do so. Still I can remain grateful that he doesn’t have a chronic condition. I think Jasmine Harman deserves much credit and compassion for dealing with such a personal problem in a very public way. Her own plight has open the nation’s eyes to how deep the problem really goes, I hope her website and programme will raise enough awareness to make a difference and bring help to those who need it.