If you've flipped past A&E recently, chances are you stumbled across "Hoarders." The channel's highest-rated show focuses on individuals and families afflicted by a disorder that renders them unable to part with any material possessions, including things most of us consider trash. The result is houses literally packed to the rafters with detritus. Often, the show's subjects have reached a crisis point (threat of condemnation, severe illness, children being removed). The producers endeavor to help in exchange for permission to film the process.
Brian Scudmore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, says his company became the show's official hauler after wowing Screaming Flea Productions during shooting of an early episode. With franchises in the 100 largest metropolitan areas in North America, the firm is always near a shoot.
The work requires a light touch, though the amount of emotionally fraught material may be daunting. "We're careful in front of them not to refer to it as 'junk,' because it's meaningful stuff to them that they don't want to let go of," says Scudmore. "We really work closely with the homeowners to hold their hand, walk them through the service. We work with the professional organizers, and sometimes they have therapists as well, who are really the ones emotionally working with the hoarders to help them let go of their items.
"Often, it's not just too much stuff; it really is stuff that's unsanitary, unhealthy — things that really need to go."
Trey Bennett, a 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise partner in Mobile, Ala., can attest to that. His franchise has appeared on two episodes: one filmed in Semmes, Ala., a suburb of Mobile (4,200 cubic yards of material removed in two days), and another in Gretna, La., just outside of New Orleans (two tons of trash removed from a 1,200-square-foot home). The bathroom of the latter show presented him with a nasty surprise.
"There was soiled underwear," says Bennett. "There was human excrement. It was biowaste. And we're not Stericycle. We don't carry HAZMAT suits on our trucks. So I walked away from it. I walked outside and I found my guy Billy and I said, 'Turn around and walk out to the street. Let's take five and talk about what I just came across.'"
A producer immediately fitted Bennett with a mic to allow him to fully express his displeasure. "She was frothing at that," he says. "She was like, 'Oh my God. This is going to be awesome. Let's put this on camera!'"
Though you'd think 1-800-GOT-JUNK? employees regularly encounter hoarders, Bennett says it is rare, noting that most people who call him WANT to get rid of their junk, whereas hoarders want anything but. Nevertheless, both Scudmore and Bennett say it is rewarding making a difference as part of "Hoarders."
"It isn't just a difference on TV," says Scudmore. "This is real-life stuff, where we'll see people emotionally say, 'Wow, you know what? I do feel a lot better. I have let go.'"
- Watch full episodes of "Hoarders" on A&E's Web site.
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