Have you ever watched the show, "Hoarders" on TLC? It's fascinating to see the way hoarders live and to learn why they keep what they keep. And after the professionals leave, it's interesting to see how some hoarders can dramatically turn their lives around. But what if a hoarder dies before he/she can get the help they need?
That's exactly what happened here in Calgary. There was a story on the news about a family who needed help getting a fresh start after the father died suddenly in a car accident. The man had been a compulsive hoarder, bringing things into the house and backyard while his wife was at work. A neighbor decided to organize volunteers to help clean the house out and solicit donations from various stores so that the house could then be renovated and redecorated. I can't completely explain why, but I wrote down the contact info and signed up to be a volunteer.
I received back an e-mail from the woman in charge, telling me to wear sturdy boots and to be prepared to work at 9am, Saturday morning.
Driving through the neighborhood that morning, looking for the correct street, I was surprised to see that it was fairly nice and quite ordinary. I'm not sure what I was expecting- maybe a house in the middle of nowhere? I don't know. I found the street, the house number and a parking spot and asked myself one more time what the heck I was doing.
A very large dumpster filled the driveway. Cars lined the street in front of the house. As I approached, a woman stepped out from the front yard to greet me. I was invited inside to 'register.'
The house was small and not as cluttered as I expected it to be. But then I remembered the news story that said a large dumpster had already been filled and taken away. I signed in as more volunteers crowded into the tiny living room. Almost immediately, the men hauled all the furniture from that room out to the dumpster. I didn't realize EVERYTHING was going.
I heard someone say we could head out to the backyard, so I made my way through the kitchen (also full of people), passing this door:
Rita is the owner of the house and had been introduced to all of us at some point. She was standing nearby so I asked her what the sign meant. She told me the basement was off-limits to us. Everything she wanted to keep was down there. Apparently, all the rooms on the main and upper floors were being completely emptied. I noticed they were starting to pull up all of the carpet in the room I had just left.
I bundled up and continued out to the yard. Here was evidence that a hoarder once lived in this house:
Mostly old car parts. We were told we could move only the junk from a certain area to the dumpster. The rest would have to wait until Spring when all the snow and ice was gone.
I felt sad for the man who had died. No one seemed to be grieving for him. I heard no condolences being offered. No one said they were glad he was gone, don't get me wrong. But seeing what he left behind made me sad. He seemed so exposed.
Soon an announcement was made that it was time for a break. Coffee donated by Starbucks and pastries donated by Safeway had arrived. We'd been working for only an hour but the entire living and dining rooms were stripped down to the bare floors and the pile in the yard we were told to move was gone. We were making great progress.
While we stood against the walls of the now-empty living room, enjoying our snack, the woman who organized the event told us it was time for a drawing for door prizes. This was unexpected and completely unnecessary. "I got such a great response to my request for donations that we've got a prize for every one of you," she told us.
Restaurant vouchers, tickets to hockey games, baskets of candles, and many, many other prizes were given out. I won a Calgary Flames sweatshirt (Calgary's hockey team). It was fun! Then it was time to tackle the upstairs.
Somewhere in the midst of all the activity, a cameraman from the local TV station arrived. I pointed him towards the woman in charge but he told me he was just going to take some random shots. He set about to do just that while I headed in the opposite direction. ha.
Later, one of the news anchors showed up. He conducted interviews with the principal players while we all looked on and tried to stay quiet. At one point, after I sent a text to my husband, I looked up and saw that I was in the shot. No, I don't find that exciting! I'm mortified. Still, I'll be watching the news later to see if I make my TV debut.
(The Boston Pizza sign is up because they provided lunch!)
I was able to leave around noon. They didn't get the turnout they were hoping for (200 people). Still, the 30 of us all worked quickly and steadily- at one point passing items down the line, person to person, from the second floor all the way out to the dumpster- and met the goals for the day by the end of the morning.
The whole experience was a little surreal, tramping around a stranger's house and throwing away everything in it. But everyone was very nice and certainly appreciative. We even had a few laughs. During lunch, the woman in charge hurriedly passed out napkins, thrusting one into the hands of the bewildered man next to me. I told him, "she gave you that cuz you look messy." Thank goodness he laughed!
I'm hoping the media will do a follow up after the house has been made over so I can see how it turned out. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying my new sweatshirt!