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October 6, 2015

Professional Organizer Dorothy Breininger Talks 'Hoarders' Season 3 And Shares Clutter Control Tips

by Christine Champagne, posted Sep 2nd 2010 2:30PM
Image from the season 3 premiere of 'Hoarders' on A&EI can't say I enjoy watching 'Hoarders.' In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult shows on television to sit through. Still, like so many of you, I am addicted to the A&E series, which kicks off a third season of extreme clutter control with two new back-to-back episodes on Mon., Sept. 6 at 9PM ET.

"Season 3 is by far the most emotional season," said Dorothy Breininger, a professional organizer and consulting producer on the show who dares to enter the homes of hoarders all across America. "Before we were dealing with people who had stuff. Now we're dealing with people who have no other choice but to get rid of their stuff -- if they don't, they'll lose their homes and their families. This is it for them."

Recently, Breininger, who is also president and founder of the Delphi Center for Organization, spoke to TV Squad about the show and offered tips on how to let go of the stuff that is drowning not just hoarders but all of us living in a society in which we just can't get enough.

I was just telling a friend from Italy how excited I was to talk to you because I am fascinated by 'Hoarders,' and she couldn't wrap her head around the concept of hoarding. She had never heard of anyone doing such a thing. Is hoarding an American phenomenon?

It happens worldwide, but it's not as prevalent in other countries. The U.K. has a fair amount of hoarding. In Germany, people actually hoard a certain kind of light bulb that has gone out of existence, and if you go to Asia, some countries are hoarding rice. Other countries are hoarding money. They hoard things that help them survive. But in America we hoard things that are beyond being needed for survival.

I know you are a professional organizer, but how do you work with hoarders without losing your cool? Do you ever go off camera and pull your hair out when people just won't part with their junk?

You can be sure that when I'm done with a show I often have to take two days off, and one day is for crying. It is so sad, Christine. I wonder, are these people going to get their kids back? Or if they're alone, I worry because there is no one to watch over them. It's painful. But I can definitely keep my cool when I am with them because they are so desperate in the moment.

Are you ever concerned about your health? You have walked into some really awful conditions, homes full of rotting food, dead animals and human excrement.

Our health is at stake this season more than ever before. One of the shows I did this season is on a woman by the name of Tammy, and she breeds rats, and she sells them to people who own snakes. She has stage 4 cancer, and her daughters live far away, and she has two kids in their teens who were pulled out of the house because of the rat infestation. What a story.

We go in there, and the whole house is full of rat feces, and that presents not only a health hazard for us but for this woman who has stage 4 cancer. We all had to wear face masks and not just surgical masks but heavy duty face masks and hazmat suits, and we had to spray each area we were working on to moisten the rat droppings so that the dust from it wouldn't get into our lungs.

I feel sick just listening to you describe the situation. There have been a few episodes this summer in which we've seen you and other organizers and therapists from the show return to scene of a hoard to see whether a hoarder was able to keep their home clear, and not all of them do, of course. Do you get frustrated when you see someone hoarding again after you spent all that time and effort helping them dig out from under it?

I get frustrated for sure. There is the one thought, which would be everyone's first thought: Why are you doing this again? But then there is the second thought, which is my trained thought, and it is: I'm here to teach. In Betty's case ['Hoarders' recently revisited Betty from Marysville, Ohio], I knew she would go back to hoarding because she refused the aftercare we offered.

The best part about 'Hoarders' is that we provide ongoing aftercare once the show is done. These people are not just left hanging. Every one of them gets either a local organizer or a local therapist or both, and it gets paid for by the show. I can tell you, the people who use the aftercare, they're going to make progress. It may be slow, but they're going to continue on the path. Those who refuse, which is what Betty did, will not make it, and she did not.

Is being a hoarder akin to being an alcoholic or a drug addict in that you can't force someone to stop hoarding but rather they have to make the decision to stop the behavior on their own and seek help?

That's exactly where it's at. There is actually a 12-step program called Clutterers Anonymous, which is based on Alcoholics Anonymous, and you have a sponsor, and you do the things you'd typically do in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

I would think people would be hesitant to appear on 'Hoarders' and have their hoarding exposed, but do you get a lot of people applying to be on the show?

We don't even have to go looking for people much anymore. They're filling out applications online, and we get 2,000 to 3,000 a month.

I am often repulsed by what I see, yet I'm drawn in to every episode, and I can't tell you how much time I spend discussing the show with my friends who watch it. Why are we so obsessed with a show that is so hard to watch?

I want to validate you: It's not just you. It's PhDs who study this subject and celebrities. Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, all of these folks talk about 'Hoarders' on their shows, and Kathy Griffin has done an amazing riff on 'Hoarders.' It's hysterical. She really picks on us, the organizers.

I feel like I need aftercare to deal with all of the emotions the show brings up for me. I veer from anger to sympathy to outrage to hopefulness to despair all in the span of an hour-long episode.

It's so hard to understand hoarding. When America is watching the show, the audience is saying, 'Why don't you just tell them to light a match to it? Why don't you just back up a truck and load it up? Just get rid of it!' It's such a new disease that people have no idea what it is. I also think a lot of people watch to feel better about themselves. They can actually say, 'Well, I'm not that bad.' Or they'll say, 'I'm not that bad, but holy cow, I'm going to go clean my closet right now!' There's a motivation to suddenly do something.

I had a closet packed full of tapes and DVDs of TV pilots. I saved every pilot I got from the networks from the last 15 years or so -- even the pilots for horrible shows like 'Meego.' That was the short-lived series that had Bronson Pinchot playing an alien. Why would I save that? Anyway, just a few years ago, I finally made the decision to get rid of all of these tapes and DVDs, and it took me a few months, but I did it. Why do you think I couldn't part with these pilots for so long? It's not like I ever went back and watched them after the initial viewings.

Each of us has a little something that we hold on to that ties into our identity. Look, if I was a chef once, I'm not going to be so interested in getting rid of all of my Bon Appetit magazines. But you moved on, or something shifted in your career that allowed you to say, 'Okay, I'm moving on. I can release those pilots.'

I think you're on to something with that! Can you explain the difference between hoarding and collecting?

Collecting is when you collect something, and you take care of it. You store it in a way that it is going to be a collectible, or you showcase it so others can see it, or you can see it. You keep it in a condition so it is re-sellable. That's a collector. There is a standard around collecting vs. hoarding where you collect the very same stuff, but you don't take care of it. You can't find it. It becomes broken, or you buy it broken.

One more question: Have you ever considered doing an episode of 'Hoarders' focusing on office hoarders? We have all worked with someone whose office is a disaster area, and because of your show I now realize that some of these people aren't just sloppy, they might be hoarders.

This season, I was in Salt Lake City and worked with a teacher, and we went in to her classroom with her. She has lost multiple jobs as a teacher because she's a hoarder at school as well as at home. So while there hasn't been an episode that has focused specifically on the office, I'd be willing to do it. Many of these hoarders who do it at work hide it pretty well, and they also take a lot of what comes into the office home with them.


You don't have to be a hoarder to benefit from a consultation with a professional organizer. Breininger shares tips on how to get rid of the clutter in our homes.

Take A Picture
"People feel obligated to keep things that have been given to them," Breininger said. For example, that piano you inherited from your grandmother? Do you ever play it? You can hold on to the memories associated with the item without keeping it. "If it's taking up space, and you really don't use it, take a picture of you and your family around the piano and frame it," Breininger suggests. Then hang up the photo and let go of the piano, the antique vase, the rusty wagon, whatever it is that you are hanging on to because someone left it to you or gave it to you as a gift.

Give It Away
Sometimes we're more comfortable parting with our stuff when we know it's going to benefit someone else. For example, Breininger related, she had two gentlemen from the Salvation Army on hand during an episode of 'Hoarders' to explain to the hoarder how everything donated would be refurbished and sold, with the money raised helping people in need. "That way, every time the hoarder put something on the truck, this person could visualize someone getting help because of it," Breininger explained. So drop off items at the charity of your choice, or give them a call: In some cases, they will pick up larger pieces like couches and televisions.

Envision The Future
It makes it easier to rid a house -- or even just a room -- of clutter if you set a goal for how the space will be used once the cleanup is complete. "If you had a house cleared of your hoard, how would you like to use your house?" Breininger asked the hoarders she works with. Many of them say they'd like to have their family come over for visits, so the organizer will use that goal to motivate them to get rid of the things they are reluctant to part with. "I'll ask, 'Look, is having this vacuum cleaner and all of the parts that go with it as important or more important than seeing yourself having Thanksgiving in four months?' It takes them time to think about it, but they generally pick family," Breininger said.

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My niece was perusing my DVR saves and said," You're hoarding "Hoarders!"
I relate to the anxiety factor and how difficult but necessary it is to face ones fears in order to change. I respect those who do. They are inspiring. We see that if we avoid that process, we will progressively deteriorate. With that said, Hoarders are individuals. Some illicit great sympathy and it is great to see them receive help. BUT OTHERS,are impossible, incredibly selfish slobs that have put their children through torture and deserve a big kick in the rear out into the street. Last night was a good example. There was the gentleman with his dolls and Asian collection who responded to the treatment and showed appreciation and courage. Then there was the piggish resentful family who accepted no responsibility for the disgusting situation that resulted from pure neglect of basic maintenance. They revered that slob of a mother who sits in a garbage pile with her big attitude.

The rerun before the new episode featured a Hawaiian family. The kid gloves used on that awful mother with her smug smile really had me wishing I could tell her what I think of her. We see her beautiful little daughter sleeping on a mountain: a garbage dump. We see the little girl crying. The husband crying. And then we watch this tyrant of a mother with her silly detached smile minimize the situation at every turn. These unsympathetic hoarders seem to have a few things in common: They marry men who are very fearful of them. They are incredibly unattractive and very overweight. They have a bizarre, detached and inappropriate affect. They seem to have unlimited funds to shop though they do not work. They are self will run riot and basically think they are just terrific as seen in their arrogant unapologetic demeanor.

No. Not all hoarders are the same. Many need to be in an institution. Other's just need a help to change.

September 07 2010 at 1:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I haven't watched Hoarders (don't have cable), but it sounds like something I'd enjoy watching. Or not "enjoy", per se, but something that I would watch. I tend to hold onto stuff, just in case I might need it someday, but I think I'm getting better at just getting rid of stuff.

One thing, though, shelves and more shelves are not really a solution. It just encourages you to keep more and more stuff, because you have someplace to put it! I actually got rid of some bookcases and shelves because I figured I didn't need them (plus, they just collected dust and were a pain to clean).

September 03 2010 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I feel as if hoarding is an addiction. But for a lot of people it could stem from a deep loss and anything related to their happiness lies with these items. Or it's a short fix; like a drug.

Truthfully, after watching this show, I went into my closet and pulled out things I no longer wear and am donating them.

I feel this program can help everyone in one way or another and to let hoarders know they're not alone as
seen in this show.

September 03 2010 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Try some shelves:


More Shelves

September 02 2010 at 3:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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