Hoarders Fill Rooms With Trash, Clutter, Worse

"We've seen some stuff that could be rides at Disneyland," said Williams. "But we've actually seen from situations where one lady we worked with had no plumbing in her home for over a year, and we all know the purpose and need for water, and she was able to survive without it for some time.

"We've seen situations where people allow their pets to do their business in the house. ... There are times where we are taken aback by it. I've been called by a crew in one instance where they had to abort the job. They just couldn't do it. ... A couple of them had vomited, they had gotten sick on the job site, there was human feces there, it was just literally a mess."

Everyone knows someone who keeps too much old junk around or has a hard time clearing away life's accumulated clutter. But hoarding is different, say those who've studied it.

Dr. Jamie Feusner of the University of California-Los Angeles studies hoarding and offers therapy for people trying to overcome it.

"Hoarding, or compulsive hoarding syndrome as some people call it, is a condition that is thought to be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder," said Feusner. "And this is a really severe problem that actually affects quite a bit of the population. It's probably about 2-5 percent of the population have this problem."

Feusner said simply helping hoarders clean up isn't the answer.

"This is something where these people really have no ability to get rid of [things], and when you talk to them, you'll find that it's not so easy as, 'Oh, they just haven't had the time or they've been putting it off or they just got busy and these things piled up,'" he said. "They really have difficulty throwing away every little thing that most people would consider trash."

'I Felt Really Helpless'

Janet Lamping, who, with Breininger's help, cleared the overwhelming mess that filled her house, insists hoarding is not a mental disorder. Lamping said she did not consider herself a hoarder, and the problem is manageable.

"I can hear [Breininger] saying, 'Do it now, put it in a box, get rid of it, get it out of here,'" said Lamping.

Lamping's house still has rooms that aren't clutter-free, but she says she's working on it.

In Lamping's case, as in many hoarding cases, a loved one called for help.

Lamping's daughter Amy was desperate.

"I felt really helpless, and kind of like I was watching a train wreck in slow motion every time I came home," Amy Lamping said. "It was very painful, and I think I dealt with it just by leaving, staying away as much as I could."

She said she doesn't share her mom's optimism that all the work done cleaning up her mom's house has solved the problem still buried underneath.

"I don't know that I could say that my mom is completely better yet," Amy Lamping said. "I don't think you can just jump right out of something like this because it's taken years and years to get to where it was. It's going to take years to get out of it, I think."

Lloyd Drum is also working on his problem, with Dorothy's tireless help.

As a young man, Drum was a tidy MIT student. He understands his problem better than most.

We asked him about the possible connection between hoarding and mental illness.

"I think there's probably a mental component to it, but I don't think it's that severe in my case," Drum said. "So there's the possibility that maybe I'm lonely and want stuff around to keep me company. ... I think that's part of it."

But for Lloyd, the clutter is no bother at all.

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