California Family Living in Squalor Finds Hoarding Help on TV

PHOTO: Bonnies compulsive hoarding nearly drove her teenage daughters, Blaire and Paige, to the breaking point but things began looking up for the family with a visit from A&Es Hoarders crew.
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From the outside, sisters Paige and Blair appear to have a typical teenage life. They share a room, swap clothes, and bicker like siblings do.

But their life is far from normal. Paige, 17, and Blair, 15, live with their mother, Bonnie, who is a compulsive hoarder. Recently, Bonnie's hoard was so large that it took up most of their California house. When they were inside, the girls spent much of their time in one of the few areas of open space in the home -- a small area on their living room couch.

The family had reached a breaking point.

"We have trouble holding in our anger," said Paige. "It gets to the point where we want to have physical fights. It gets crazy. It's too much."

Every room was filled to capacity with discarded soda cans, mountains of laundry, and three-foot-high piles of junk. Their kitchen was unusable -- they cooked their meals in a microwave and washed their dishes in the bathtub.

PHOTOS: Children of Hoarders: Living in Filth

Their family's life was defined by the hoarding engulfing them. It was impossible for the girls to do the most basic of activities, like picking out an outfit for school, and inviting friends over is out of the question.

"No one's allowed in our house," Paige told "20/20's" Elizabeth Vargas. "We can't really tell them why. We just say, I'm sorry, we can't let you in," she said.

While their home seemed chaotic, the girls adjusted to the mess.

"You just get used to it after a while," Paige said. "So it's not like, in my mind, this is crazy. It's just natural to us now."

Both Paige and Blair started adding to the hoard, something common among children of hoarders, according to Dr. Suzanne Chabaud, a psychologist who studies children of hoarders and has appeared on the A&E show, "Hoarders."

"At some point they give up in utter frustration, because they can't fix it," Chabaud said. "Sometimes the children say, 'I just gave up, and I stopped picking up my things.'"

Paige, Blair and Bonnie realized they all needed help if they wanted to save their family from falling apart. They were chosen to be profiled for an upcoming episode of the A&E show, "Hoarders." A team of cleanup crews, professional organizers and psychologists arrived to help them clean out their home and help the family work towards normalcy.

After two days, their helplessness was replaced by hopefulness.

"When we were first walking through the house, I just saw how much progress was made," Blair told "20/20." "It just made me so overjoyed to see all of this."

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While Bonnie and her daughters managed to clean up the hoard, over 90 percent of compulsive hoarders revert back to hoarding at some point in the near future, according to Dr. Randy Frost, an expert on hoarding and the author of "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things."

For many children of hoarders, it will be a lifelong struggle to not only help their parents, but help themselves lead normal lives.

"Children of hoarders were not taught to organize, to clean, to put things in proper places," said Dr. Chabaud. "Children of hoarders are in constant search of making meaning of their lives."

Websites like ChildrenofHoarders.com field questions like "How often do I change my sheets?" and "How many clothes are too many?"

Bonnie and her daughters are determined to stay focused on keeping their home clean.

"It's really overpowering to see all this stuff, to work through it the whole day," Paige said. "You have to keep motivating yourself. I need this to happen for us," she said.

The biggest payoff from the cleanup may be something many teenagers take for granted -- a sleepover with friends.

"It would mean so much, I haven't had a sleepover in so long," Blair said. "I'd invite all my close friends that have never been in my house. So it'd be really good, and they'd be so happy too."

Watch the full story on the latest episode of "20/20" online.

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