Feb 12 2009

Delta Burke and Andy Warhol were Plyushkins?

Once known for her confidence and charisma as Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women, Delta Burke made headlines last year after opening up about her battle with compulsive hoarding syndrome.

“At one time I had 27 storage units. I don’t have a big enough house,” she said during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “My mom had it, it’s my mother’s fault. She saved the diaper I came home from the hospital in.”

How does someone who was once voted “most likely to succeed” in high school become a compulsive hoarder? Well, as Burke mentioned, oftentimes the ailment is hereditary. Eighty-five percent of people who hoard can identify another family member who has the problem, according to the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA, San Diego. Other times, hoarding can be a result of neuropsychiatric disorders like eating disorders and is frequently linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Burke has a history of both disorders.

Adding to the list of celebrity hoarders, Andy Warhol collected over 400,000 objects in the last 15 years of his life, according to Matt Wrbican, an archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Among the many items Warhol accumulated were newspaper clippings, unpaid invoices, pornographic pulp novels, airline tickets, supermarket flyers, and postage stamps.

Wrbican spends his days sorting through the 610 cardboard boxes, known as “time capsules,” that Warhol left behind.

“It would be easy to label the stuff ‘junk,’ but they’re really archives,” said Wrbican during an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Wrbican added that when Warhol went on trips he would not only bring home typical souvenirs but also, the porcelain, cutlery and menus he used on Air France Concorde.

As for Warhol’s four-story townhouse on the Upper East Side, his kitchen and bedroom were the only rooms he could walk through. Anything that couldn’t fit in his home was transfered to a nearby storage unit.

Hoarders have also graced the pages of classic novels like Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. One of the characters, Plyushkin, collects and saves everything he comes across – including a cake that is several years old, which he consumes after asking his servants to scrape off the mold.

In Russia, the name “Plyushkin” has become synonymous with people who accumulate useless objects. Those people are said to have “Plyushkin syndrome” or “Plyushkin symptom.”


Jan 9 2009

Hoarding In The New Year

We’ve all returned from our winter break and are ready to get back to work on this important project. Coincidentally, hoarding is making the headlines. The Sun is reporting two hoarding deaths occurred in the same week across the pond in the United Kingdom.

The tabloid reports Gordon Stewart, 74, may have died of dehydration when he became disoriented and got lost in an elaborate maze of tunnels he had dug out of boxes and random debris he had hoarded for years. Like many hoarders, the story notes that officials believe Stewart had no living relatives. From the few pictures The Sun posted on its website it looks like Stewart was an extreme Level 5 hoarder. 

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

 

 

 

Two things stuck out for me from this story. First, Gordon Stewart is a man. From our research we’ve found this affliction is more common among Caucasian widowed or single women. Second, his neighbors alerted the police only when they hadn’t seen him come outside for a few days. It’s an interesting contrast to Catherine’s case because her neighbors have alerted health and county officials who have threatened to take her house away if she doesn’t clean up at least two rooms. I wonder why Gordon Stewart’s neighbors and local British authorities put up with the trash and debris outside his house while Catherine’s neighbors and county officials insist on her getting parts of her house cleaned ASAP? 

The second story reports that Joan Cunnane, 77, was buried alive “under 3ft of ornaments, clothes in suitcases and electrical goods, still in their untouched packaging”, she had hoarded for 16 years.

Joan was a borderline level four/five hoarder. She is more typical of hoarding cases because she was white and never married. 

 

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

 

 

Joan had the same problem that Catherine has with her car. The hoarding spread to her car with only room to seat the driver. The story also highlights the effect this disorder has on the physical safety of people living and interacting in a hoarding situation. Joan’s best friend, Roy Moran told The Sun about the danger he faced when he’d visit with her. 

“There were thousands of videos. When I walked in they fell down. It was a death-trap.” 

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press.

 


 



Dec 15 2008

De-Clutter Support Group Meeting

Today I attended a de-clutter support group meeting for elderly people at Dorot, where I met Karen Fuller, Director of Health & Nutrition Services, Linda Libow, a social worker, and Susan Kranberg, a professional organizer. Fuller and Libow manage the program, and Kranberg conducts the monthly meeting. Fuller allowed me to sit on the meeting as an observer and announced to a group of 1o attendees that I was there working on a project on clutter and hoarding.

The meeting was the last one Kranberg held for the year, and she urged attendees to throw away or give hoarded items like clothing, shoes, and books to charities, friends, and family for 2009. Their assignment for the next meeting is to report what items they have gotten rid of for the new year.

Disposal of papers was a major issue for all of the attendees. It seemed like everybody had a problem with throwing away hoarded copies of the The New Yorker and The New York  Times. There were a few things that struck me after the meeting. Two men and an African-American woman were in attendance. From our research, OCD-related clutter and hoarding are problems mostly found among single or widowed Caucasian women. Karen told me that Dorot’s de-clutter support group meeting is one of the few in the city that men actually attend.  I was also amazed at how social and frank some of the attendees were with regards to their condition.

When I arrived, I initially expected that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to speak to anybody besides Karen, Linda, or Susan Kranberg. And they made it clear to me that they didn’t want me to try and speak to attendees because of possible liability issues and my lack of experience dealing with people who have an OCD-related clutter and hoarding problem.

But three ladies approached me after the meeting and talked to me about their issues with hoarding and clutter. One lady named Susan (not Kranberg) had some especially interesting things to say:

  • “Procrastination is a big problem for people with this problem.”
  • “I wish I could find a psychiatrist or psychologist who would not tell me to throw my things away. I want to find one who can tell me how to live with my things.”
  • “I have many books on hoarding but I don’t have time to read them because I’m retired. And I don’t want to get rid of them.”

  • Dec 11 2008

    The Journey Begins

    This blog will chronicle the creation of hoardhouse.com a website that will look at “Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding. ”

    According to Karron Maidment, a scholar associated with The Obsessive Compulsion Foundation, ” Hoarding is defined as the acquisition of, and inability to discard worthless items even though they appear (to others) to have no value. Hoarding behaviors can occur in a variety of psychiatric disorders and in the normal population, but are most commonly found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).”

    Current media coverage of this issue tends to focus on the fantastic messes that come with this affliction. We would like to delve deeper and create a website that will examine the broader societal implications of this disorder and tell personal stories of hoarders, their families and people who work with them.