It’s like a bad car accident, said Chris Bull, producer and director of the television show “Hoarders.”
“You don’t want to look, but once you do, you can’t look away,” Bull said.
Bull, a Bainbridge Island resident, has been affiliated with the show for several years. And as the A&E Network’s program goes into its 10th season, it’s changing its focus somewhat, Bull said.
“We’ve always done one-hour shows, and in that hour, we’ve featured two individuals who are hoarders,” she said. “Throughout the show we’ve gone back and forth between the two.
“But at the end of last season, we did a two-hour long show that featured one hoarder and the public just loved it.”
In that episode, the show featured a North Carolina mansion, a historic home, that was filled “from floor to ceiling,” Bull said.
“The home was sold and the new owner wanted to move in, but couldn’t get the previous owner to leave,” she said. “They didn’t want to boot her out because they grew to love her.”
So, the new owner contacted the show for help.
The experience left the show’s crew thinking about the fact that hoarding, a mental health disorder, can and does affect anyone.
“So often people stereotype hoarders as older people who live in doublewide trailer homes or low-income neighborhoods,” Bull said. “But that’s not always the case. It affects people of all socio-economic levels, all races, genders and age.”
For the coming season, “Hoarders” wants to feature those who are hoarding on large upscale homes, those who are hoarding inside and outside on large properties, or those who own several properties that are all full of belongings. With the extra time, the show will be able to delve deeper into the person who hoards and explore hoarding in more detail.
“We know that there are those kinds of situations here in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “We’re looking to find them.”
The search may not be as hard as it seems.
Statistically, there are 19 million hoarders in the United States, which is about 6 percent of the population. And, the rate of hoarding is two times the normal rate in persons with obsessive compulsive disorder, according to mental health websites.
“It is an illness,” Bull said. “In everything we do, we treat these individuals with respect. We only work with individuals who want help, and who have a support system in place, like family or friends who are willing to be a part of the work.”
With each case the show features, the hoarder is given professional psychiatric help, as well as assistance from experts in sterile cleaning and companies that will remove debris. Each case can take from three to five days just to begin removing items from the home.
“Thousands of dollars are spent on each individual hoarder,” Bull said. “We never pressure anyone into anything. Not one scrap of paper is ever removed without their permission.”
And there is aftercare.
“Each hoarder we feature is given a year of therapy at no cost to them, in order to help them continue to deal with their illness,” she said.
Just why people save things — and keep collecting and collecting and collecting — is complicated, Bull said.
“There’s always a trigger,” she said. “In my experience, it commonly happens after a divorce. Or when a person feels rejected. Their children aren’t speaking to them for some reason, or their family has deserted them. It can also be tied to emotional, physical or sexual abuse.”
And, there are different types of hoarding. Some people keep anything and everything. Other people hoard animals. And there are those called the “shop and drop” hoarders.
“With them, they can’t walk away from a bargain,” Bull said. “They will buy things they don’t want or need, thinking that there will be a use for them eventually. They bring them home and just drop them somewhere on their floor.
“Or they buy things they intend to give as gifts and fill up their closets, never giving these gifts to family or friends.”
It’s a very complicated illness, she said, and often stems from the hoarder wanting to fill “an empty hole in their lives.”
And the disorder is often a secret.
“Hoarders tend to be secretive,” she said. “It’s something they don’t want anyone to know. I’ve seen it many times. Close friends will say, ‘How did I not know?’ These friends say, ‘I’d always just honk and she’d come out to the car and she never invited me in, making up some excuse why.’”
Bull has seen a San Francisco home valued at $3.5 million completely filled and “splitting at the seams.” She’s seen a husband and wife who both were hoarders with a large property outside Philadelphia. She filled the house with things and he filled the outside of the house with scrap mental, pieces of wood and anything else that would weather being outside.
She’s experienced a house that was so filled that a fire started in the basement but was snuffed out because the house was so full. Another hoarder had multiple properties worth lots of money, but all were overload with stuff.
“That was a case where he was living in his van and eating out of a dumpster behind a church because he didn’t have any money, yet his properties were quite valuable.”
While some may think that the show is intruding into personal lives, Bull said it is valuable in that it helps the individual hoarders and it “shines a light” on the disorder.
“By doing this, we are able to show what hoarding is and help people recognize it and know that there are resources out there to help them.”
Throughout the process, the individual hoarders are always the focus.
“We know they are people, people with a disorder who need help,” she said. “Everyone on our staff and crew treat them with respect.”
Bull came to live on Bainbridge Island about seven years ago when she was working on a health documentary at the University of Washington. At the time she was living in Los Angeles.
“My husband came with me and on the weekend we took a trip to Bainbridge Island and we said, ‘That’s it. We have to live here.’”
She was able to connect with Screaming Flea Productions, of Seattle, which films the episodes of “Hoarders.” And her husband, a Realtor, commutes to Los Angeles during the week.
In order to be considered for an episode, the person with the hoarding disorder must be willing to be filmed, must be motivated to change, must have friends or family who form a support system, and must live in a large house or have multiple properties.
To find out more, call Bull at 206-406-5943, email her at chris@screamingflea productions.com, or go to www.Hoarderstv.com.