PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Imagine living in piles of clothes, bottles, bags and other debris, enough junk to seemingly smothering a man who lives amongst it.
“My vision of my life is, ‘I’m in a hole in the quicksand and I’m sinking in there,” said a self-described hoarder who spoke with Eyewitness News but asked to remain anonymous.
He’s been living like this for 20 years. He can’t even see the floor. But he’s attached to “things” in a way most people can’t understand.
“I’ll be buried alive in there. Literally buried alive in there”
One Doylestown woman does understand, she started hoarding more than 30 years ago.
“It’s shameful, what will people think of you,” said the Doylestown woman. “It’s a dirty little secret”
She says it started when her mother died.
“It was a major loss,” she said. “I just couldn’t get rid of anything and I just started needing things around me”
So she shopped compulsively to fill the void.
“I was even at such a point that I would buy things I didn’t need because I might need them someday”
On the outside, people had no idea. But her children knew she needed help.
“We can’t have friends over,” said the woman’s child.
“It’s an anxiety disorder there’s no doubt about it”
Psychotherapist Dr. Linda Welsch says hoarding stems from mental illness that can be triggered by a number of things including a tragic loss. And concerned family members must be patient when trying to help.
“Not to come in and clean out your house against your wishes but to work with you what are you willing to do how are you willing to do it,” said Welsch, Director of Agoraphobia and Anxiety Treatment Center in Bala Cynwyd.
It’s taken four years of therapy but the Doylestown woman has cleaned out several rooms. Everyday she has to remind herself no to fill them back up.
“I’m still working. I’m nowhere near normal,” she says, still battling her illness.
For one man, cleaning out the clutter took the help of a professional organizer.
“People can become so accustomed to living in a barricade or living in squalor that the change really rocks the equilibrium,” said a hired professional.
In both cases the process is difficult and maintaining order will be just as hard. But moving forward, their homes and their lives are a little happier.
Reported by Susan Barnett, CBS 3