Imagine you are a hoarder. Your home is stuffed with decades of rubbish and you are desperate to not only find out why you suffer from such a compulsion but also you urgently need help to clear it.
Along come two TV channels – the BBC and Channel 4 – both of whom are making TV shows on extreme hoarding, which has recently been officially recognised as a mental illness called Hoarding Disorder.
If you are lucky you will have ended up with Channel 4 appearing on THE HOARDER NEXT DOOR. Ultimately your hoarding problem would have been dealt with in a sensitive way. You will have had counselling with a wonderful charismatic and understanding psychotherapist called Stelios Kiosses. He would have explained that excessive hoarding is often due to some sort of loss in your life, such as the untimely death of a loved one, and helped you confront that loss. The narration was matter of fact. You might have met someone else also taking part in the show and that would have made you realise you are not alone.
Following that two charming, practical and non-judgemental professional declutterers would be sent to your home. They would be accompanied by numerous extra large skips. Together they would help you clear your massive hoard and viewers would see you at the end of the programme visibly happier, entertaining friends and family in a fresh and clear home. Thus you would have taken part in a programme that not only raised awareness of this issue, but was totally inspirational and had a clear message – if you are like this, not only is there nothing to be ashamed about but you can get better. Totally absorbing, unmissable viewing The Hoarder Next Door was a programme that regularly moves the viewer to tears.
On the other hand… you could have drawn the short straw and found yourself on the BBC version – BBC1’s BRITAIN’S BIGGEST HOARDERS. In this case you will find yourself taking part in a programme claiming to raise awareness of the same subject – but one that to this viewer felt intrusive, sad and overwelmingly depressing.
Hosted and narrated by Jasmine Harman (of A Place in the Sun fame) it too follows roughly the same format as its Channel 4 ‘twin’. So in the first episode we were introduced to two hoarders with homes filled to the brim. But that is where the similarity ended.
To start with one elderly hoarder in particular was reluctant to allow Jasmine into her homes. This meant one uncomfortable viewing moment where Jasmine squeezed in past the front door despite the home owner telling her not to do so. It was akin to a keen documentary maker desperate to get the cameras in at all costs and although the woman did eventually willingly let them in, it was a scene that should have been cut out.
Then ‘help and counselling’ was mostly down to Jasmine telling these people as her own mother was a hoarder – more about this later – she knew how they felt. Okay, so some sort of psychologist was introduced to one family but while she might have done much behind the scenes, there was little real input from her, from a viewer’s point of view, to explain the phenomenon. And inexplicably, she didn’t visit the other hoarder at all.
Then, perhaps due to the BBC’s tight budgets, there wasn’t a skip in sight. Instead when the hoarders did decide to have a go at clearing their homes, they seemed to be left pretty much to their own devices. One was helped by her psychologist and the other by a man – although I have no idea who he was. Suffice to say, as neither were professional declutterers and with a distinct lack of skips, this meant both massive overwhelming hoards were painfully reduced one bag at a time. And in fact one woman’s hoard wasn’t truly reduced at all. She refused to throw anything away so it was simply moved from her home to a tent in the garden (poor neighbours…note to producer: it might have been an idea to see what they thought…)
However unfortunately the most excruciating and cringe-making parts of this programme came from presenter Jasmine herself. As widely publicised in various newspapers yet again, Jasmine’s own mother suffered from this hoarding disorder and she herself grew up in such a home. Indeed a couple of years ago Jasmine did an admirable personal documentary.
But that personal documentary has been done and I feel this was time to concentrate on the plight of others. Yet, Jasmine – who fits better into her role as bright suntanned presenter of holiday programmes – continually referred to her own plight and compared it to their’s. She was even shown crying as having seen these hoards, it brought her own memories flooding back – something that was uncomfortable to watch.
All this did was to remind me as a real-life journalist not to say to people ‘I know how you feel.’ Actually as everyone is different, you don’t know and people come to you for help, not for you to break down with them. Would it be helpful if your doctor cried when he spoke to you about your illness and referred to his own family? No, it wouldn’t – and it just felt as if at every turn, Jasmine was trying to get the subject back to her.
There was no uplift to this depressing programme at the end either. Jasmine claimed great progress had been made with both families but the overwhelming hoards still left at these people’s homes told a different story.
Crucially, unlike Channel 4’s programme where the viewer can clearly see how families taking part have benefited, it was hard to see how any of the families had been truly helped. Hopefully, they have been. But for me, all they did was expose themselves to millions of viewers – and what for exactly?