What is it about this show? I should be working on my thesis right now. Instead, I'm laying here watching Hoarders: Buried Alive, the best thing going these days on TLC. It sucks me in; I can't look away, even though the same patterns repeat in each episode: a person experiences the loss of a loved one, forms attachments to the objects around them, merges identity with things and the memories tied up in them while fearing further loss, and freaks out on cleaning day before seeming rehabilitated to some degree in the end.
Sometimes the whole family is complicit. Sometimes a child with health problems precipitates the change. In the most compelling shows, one spouse threatens to leave the other unless the situation improves. The husband says, quite literally, "I've had it up to here!" The wife cries, screams, and clings.
As far as I can tell, there are three types of hoarders. 1, Those who amass collections of stuff and run out of the space and energy to organize their possessions. They keep a relatively clean environment, but their families suffer from claustrophobia and stuff crashing down on their heads. This type can sell their hoard, as they have always claimed, and make a pretty penny. The other night, a woman made $7,000--and that was only a fraction of her empire. 2, Those who collect stuff of practical or aesthetic worth simultaneous to not throwing out their trash. They may have things of value, but the rats and roaches inevitably move in and on cleaning day the hoarder doesn't comprehend they're stuff isn't worth squat anymore. 3, Those who have very few items of any practical or aesthetic value and treat their homes like a landfill. Leaks, holes, and electrical issues start to show from disrepair, and bugs and rodents move in.
Tonight, we have the third kind. Early in the show, the son plays trumpet on his three-foot-high, cardboard throne. Feces-laden refuse surrounds him, along with mundane items like a foldout chair, a hockey mask, a lamp or two hovering sideways and haphazard in the mass. His friend comes by and, wearing yellow gloves, rummages through the layers of junk that is the kitchen floor. He finds, among other putrefaction, a whole pork loin. The parents point to a young son they lost to pneumonia as a factor in their hoarding. Later, the Hoarder's psychologist (one of a few regular specialists on the show) uncovers a divide in the marriage caused by the husband wanting the swinger lifestyle and the wife being completely turned off by his polyamory. They've tried this lifestyle in the past, and the other woman is still in the husband's life.
The other woman comes to help the cleanup process. She's a large woman. The narrator (inadvertantly, I think) says "Despite the elephant in the room..." Because the family parts with their hoard this night easier than expected, the director highlights tensions involved in this love triangle. After the hoarding specialist confronts the third leg about her insinuation in this marriage, the woman storms away, slamming her coffee into the second dumpster full of rubbish hauled from the house.
The show concludes with a sweet ending. The house is no longer condemned, the son can come out of his tent in the woods and move back in, and the family, minus the elephant, plus the pork loan-excavating friend, have spaghetti dinner at the kitchen table for the first time since 1994. Another family saved. Another hoard erased. Another untangled extension cord of feelings and emotions. Till the next episode, I think it's time I clean out my closet and take a donation down to the Goodwill.