What’s the difference, really, between having an intense VHS collection and having an addiction to hoarding? How do experts define having a "problem" with discarding possessions? Don't most people have mental and emotion attachments to the things that they own? In large part the result of shows like the wildly popular Hoarders, television viewers have come to see this frightening form of mental illness as something that only happens to completely crazy people living in rural areas. But the truth of the matter is that hoarders exist in so many different varieties that many would-be hoarders might not even know that they're a single purchase or a lingering piece of mail away from being formally classified as suffering from the condition.
Sure, most people – even if they are avid collectors of some peculiar item – aren’t stacking up newspapers to their ceilings until they fall over and crush them, but, according to experts, collecting something until it physically crushes you isn't the necessary precondition for being considered a hoarder. A hoarding addiction can come from out of anywhere; some people are natural shut-ins, while other hoarders are dealing with an intense trauma that they never received treatment for. The unfortunate truth is that some hoarders who aren't receiving the proper care, might be heading towards a horrible death.
According to hoarding statistics, around 19 million Americans currently suffer from severe hoarding. And hoarding is linked to homelessness, house fires, and other mental disorders like OCD. Some receive treatment for hoarding addiction, but the majority of hoarders go undiagnosed and untreated, resulting in the horrific – and often long undiscovered – deaths of hoarders each year.
Homer and Langley Collyer were a pair of millionaires who liked two things and two things only: creating bomb booby-traps to ward off intruders and living in a mansion full of garbage. In the 1940s, these two brothers lived amongst their piles of trash in a Manhattan row house, with Langley caring for his blind brother Homer. Langley believed that the key to restoring Homer's sight was vitamin C, so he fed his older brother 100 oranges a week to try and restore his vision. (Apparently old Langley wasn't aware that it's carrots that turn your eyes into night-vision goggles.) Good-hearted Langley also kept piles of newspapers around, assuming that one day his brother would want to catch up on current events after his eyesight returned. And then something crazy happened – the Collyers were killed by one of their own booby traps in 1947.
After receiving a tip that someone had died in the Collyer home New York City, police went to Manhattan where they had to break in through a second floor window to gain access. From there commenced a three-week long manhunt that began in the piles of old newspapers, phone books, and furniture boxes in the home and took police all the way to Atlantic City in search of the brothers.
When they finally re-searched the home, police found the brothers buried no more than ten feet away from each other, beneath mountains of their hoarded trash.
A 51 year old compulsive hoarder in Spain died in early 2016 when one of his piles of garbage collapsed around him. His body wasn't discovered until a friend who lived in the Canary Islands became worried after not hearing from his hoarding buddy for a while and called the police. The mass of trash that had been collected was so substantial that firefighters had to be called in to help remove the body. An officer on the scene described it as "something out of the ordinary."
Uniquely, the man suffered from a condition called Diogenes Syndrome, which, although related to hoarding isn't something all hoarders are formally considered having. Diogenes Syndrome is a particular manifestation of hoarding that some elderly hoarders experience in which they not only hoard but they also routinely refuse offers of help and personal care and show extreme social alienation.
In 2014, Beverly Mitchell, a 66 year old woman from Cheshire, Connecticut died from accidental asphyxiation after she was crushed by her own crumbling floor while in her basement. The first floor of her home was so heavily stacked with the items Mitchell had spent years hoarding, that it simply gave way. Mitchell's body wasn't discovered until a week after her death when local police and fire units cut a hole in the side of her house, and began using a back hoe to remove the debris from her home.
Following Mitchell's death and exhumation from her home, officials deemed it "unfit for human occupancy" and boarded it up with plywood.
After diners at the East Village restaurant Spiegel Cafe began to complain about the smell of dead rat in 2016 that seemed to be pervading the premises, the corpse of a man in his 40s was discovered rotting above the establishment. Known to his neighbors as "Box Man" (so-called for the amount of boxes full of stuff he was seeing carrying into his apartment daily) was discovered decomposing in his apartment above the restaurant.
The odor of the dead body was made made even more pungent by the fact that New York City was in the middle of a crazy heat wave, which sped up decomposition. Only a few days after Box Man's discovery, almost a dozen bags of trash had been removed from the apartment.