The neighborhood hoarder
Part 1. Introduction:
So, you’re living in the long shadow of a hoarder’s house with never a bit of maintenance on the outside in twenty years. No paint. Gutters fallen off. Yard full of dead cars, old tires, an unplugged freezer with God-knows-what in it. Moss, bushes and small trees growing on the roof. This story is how our neighborhood cleaned up the outside of one such place.
Two points: Starting this project, I looked at some internet hoarder shows. They were no help at all for what we were trying to do. To me they’re the 21st century equivalent of freak shows masquerading as help.
The second point is, forcing others to adhere to some suburban standard not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about ‘blighted properties’ that drag down whole neighborhoods.
Recognize how a hoarder property impacts on you personally
Over years extraneous stuff fills the inside of a hoarders home floor to ceiling, until it blocks the windows and entryways, then begins spilling into the yard where it piles up until the yard is full. Then it’s the neighborhood’s problem. In addition to being an eyesore and lowering property values around it, the hoarder’s place affects neighbors on a number of levels:
*It’s sad and depressing to see the wreckage. Every day. For years.
*You feel bad for people living like that. Especially kids.
*Hoarders have to eat. They’ll commonly leave rotten food around inside and out, which draws bugs, rodents and, where we live, bears. You go out to walk the dog in fall when it starts getting dark early, it’s raining, the dog growls, and there’s a 400 pound bear at the neighbor’s snuffling around a cooler with putrid hot dogs in it. This can work in your favor. Our town voted years ago to make leaving garbage out illegal because Fish and Game and the cops didn’t want to shoot the bears. So, you can report the owner. A couple emails won’t resolve anything with the city but starts a document trail of the situation. And rodents? Even mentioning the possibility of rodents galvanizes women in the neighborhood who will email the city, or call in an air strike on the place. The reason being, if a house has rats, the neighborhood has rats.
*A lot of hoarder places have cats to keep down the rodents. Which means cat shit and bags of cat food which attract more rodents.
*The junk outside attracts thieves. They case the neighborhood while they’re poking around the hoarder’s yard.
*Hoarders letting their place go for years will have trees growing all around the house. If a fire gets going and there are combustibles—gas cans, gas tanks, grease, oil, tires, and so on—that are hard to put out, they’ll catch the trees on fire which puts all the houses around at risk.
*It becomes a landmark. When you’re telling someone where your house is they say, “Oh, is it near that place with all the junk in the yard? What’s up with that place?”
*It draws curious kids, especially boys. A dark house that looks abandoned and creepy. They want to poke around. When we were picking up around that yard we found animal leg-hold traps, WWII vintage ammunition, a gallon bag of battery acid, all sorts of things a ten-year-old doesn’t need to be messing with.
*It can get so bad that good people move out of the neighborhood because they’re sick of the mess and smells, and sick of complaining to the city with no results.
Some reasons places get like this:
1. Childhood poverty: In the case of our neighbor, the house was owned for fifty years by a man who grew up on a hardscrabble ranch during the depression. I’ll call him ‘Old Dave’. He came from resilient people in tough times. Had a great sense of humor and was a wonderful story teller. Back in the day it was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” That’s how his people got by. Another reason he saved everything was he was an old-school mechanic. When he moved to Alaska it was common that you couldn’t get a part delivered for weeks, so you scavenged parts from other cars and saved them for when they’d come in handy.
2. Inheriting the place: Old Dave, having lived into his nineties, went to meet his maker years ago. His son, Dave Jr., who grew up in that house, is friendly and personable when he wants to be but mostly keeps to himself. He always said he’d get rid of the junk when his dad passed on. But he didn’t.
3. Deadbeats: see the junk in the yard and throw their own junk there instead of hauling it to the dump. Especially stuff that’s expensive to get rid of.
4. Other hoarders: manipulate the owner to store their junk at the place and they leave it indefinitely. (more on this later).
5. Squatters: may come live on the property. (more on this later).
5. Mental health issues.
6. Property owners feel overwhelmed, embarrassed, unable to cope.
No matter the reason the place got like that, be clear in your mind that you are not there to fix that part of the problem. You’ll burn out long before the hoarder does if you try. Be aware the hoarder may be smarter than you. They’re almost certainly more resourceful. Some are so subtly manipulative that you don’t know you’re being used. You’re out to clean some stuff up. Be okay with that.
*To protect people’s privacy, all names have been changed.
to be continued: next up: The Players