As Seen on TV

If you are reading this, it is because I’ve got the air date, and by extension, the go ahead to talk about what I did July 23rd – 25th.

I had the pleasure of participating in a shoot for Hoarders on A&E.

I’m not quite sure how the show will be edited; we shot for 3 days, and the show is only an hour long, but the experience was very educational. While the “ideal” is to try and achieve a totally clean house/space/environment, this was a good example of taking an honest assessment of the situation, the client, and the environment, and taking the harm reduction route.

Here’s where things get tricky: you can only do as much work and effect as much change as the client is willing to allow. I grimace inside when someone asks what I can do for them. I can do all kinds of strange and wonderful things, the real question is what are they willing to let happen. In this particular instance, these particular clients refused to allow anything. When that happens, your hands are tied.

Even after they relented and allowed the crew into the house, they were flat out unwilling to let anything go. There was a great deal of moving things around, but not much in the way of moving things out. We were able to clear pathways to doors in a couple of instances, as well as clear the stairway of obstructions. We boxed up items so they were less prone to sliding down on top of passers by. We were able to clean out the front room entirely and create a space for the clients to sit. In clearing out the room, we were able to see structural damage and deferred maintenance  that was buried beneath years of accumulated junk. Despite having a glorious gingerbread paint job on the exterior, the interior was crumbling. Plaster was peeling, lighting was inadequate, lathe boards showed through, everything was covered in a silvery layer of dust. We found that the wiring was not only old, but being taxed to the point that a socket blew at some time in the past and scorched the wall, the extension cord plugged into it, and a few of the items pressed against and around it. Light switches sizzled and hummed.

Bringing up the notion of letting items go was not the path to take, they were pretty hostile, and spoiling for a fight. In their minds, we were trying to separate them from their treasures. But it was harder to find fault in the stance that having a clear stairway would make them safer in case emergency responders had to pay a visit. We won’t try to take your board game collection, but can we arrange it so it doesn’t topple on anybody’s head as they pass? We will leave your newspapers alone, but how about we move them away from the scorched outlet? Taking the path of harm reduction is a practice in compromise. We were more concerned with safety than appearances, and could only do what we were allowed.

The other thing to keep in mind is despite the sideshow vibe, these are real people, in a real situation. Because of their situation, they lash out at any and every person around, up to and including us. We do need to remember that these are still people, and approach them with a surplus of humor and compassion. It’s not about us. Don’t take the attacks personally.

I have no idea what the show will be, what it will look like, what sort of image it will present. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll watch it with friends or by myself. If you’re curious, it’s Monday, December 10th, 9PM Eastern and Pacific.

Keep an eye out for me on a trampoline, attempting to inject some levity into a tough situation.