Hoarding: Buried Alive has been popular with viewers since it first appeared on the air in 2010. It documents the extremely poor living conditions of individuals who suffer from different types of hoarding. It’s definitely shocking to see the conditions some individuals live in, but it paints a fairly accurate picture of the disease (usually triggered by some extreme experiences) and the struggles endured by those who suffer from it. Often times the show highlights the effect the hoarding has not only on the homeowner but also family and friends. Family or friends may have a feeling their relatives' homes are filled with clutter, but rarely have a complete sense of the utter chaos until the venture inside in front of cameras. The realization is often devastating to those who learn the true extent of what their friend or family member is enduring.
The show takes us on a journey as hoarders decide to make a change for the better in their lives (usually encouraged by concerned friends or family members), even if that change does not come easily. We can only hope that we also get to see some eventual success and positive outlook going forward.
While viewers don’t get to see much beyond the general therapy offered during the show, some patients are referred to treatment facilities to get the help they desperately need to overcome the situations that triggered their behavior. From time to time, the show will visit former guests to check on their progress and to see how they’ve managed after receiving therapy and getting the help they need.
Because we as viewers are rooting for the guests to make a change in their life for the better, it’s fulfilling to see when they’re successful and are genuinely in a better place mentally as a result.
There are plenty of things about the show that are incredibly surprising, but here are 15 of the biggest shocks!
15 The Threat Of Disease Is Real
In 2012, during the fifth season of the show, one of the cleanup crew workers tasked with cleaning a house became sick and had to be hospitalized. Tests eventually showed that she’d contracted hantavirus which can be fatal to people. It’s passed on to people through rodent excrement (ex. urine) and can result in symptoms such as fever, respiratory illness or even heart problems.
As many viewers will note, many of the homes on the show are infested with animals (including mice, rats, and snakes living within messes). Due to the seriousness of the disease, the house had to be quarantined and items that were destined to be donated weren’t sent out as a precaution.
Everyone helping with the cleanup was tested for the disease and health officials eventually discovered that the initial patient had unknowingly infected over 200 people who were in the Houston, Texas area. Shocking to think someone was living with these rodents and put so many people at risk of contracting this deadly disease.
14 Dead Cats Have Been Stored In Freezers
During a particularly disturbing episode, viewers were introduced to a woman who couldn’t let go of her dead cats (they were all strays who she’d taken in over the years). She’d always intended to have them cremated after they passed, but resorted to storing them in her fridge and freezer when she was unable to afford the cost of cremation.
By her own estimation, she had at least 100 cats stored. In the episode, viewers saw just how attached to her dead cats she was. Sadly, she’d also stored dead cats sealed in bags within a closet. Cleaners stumbled across the grotesque find while trying to round up cats for removal from the property.
Aside from the storage situation, her son stated that the ammonia in the air was so strong that it caused blindness in one of the cats. Cleaners also found that the vast majority of her cats were extremely sick. There were only a handful that were deemed well enough to transfer to veterinary care. As a result, the owner was prevented from owning more cats in the future. To drive this point home, law enforcement threatened her with arrest if she tried to.
13 Marriages Have Ended
It may not come as a surprise, but marriages that used to be happy became strained and ended because of a hoarder’s inability to make changes. One or both partners may be dealing with a past trauma, but one of them deals with it by collecting items or refusing to throw away anything. This leads to chaos in the home with the non-hoarding spouse trying to find a way to cope. The house that they share falls into disrepair and no longer feels like a home.
The show depicts many couples who are surprisingly still together despite the mess and chaos in their home. Some couples eventually do divorce and if children are involved they often leave as well. There was an episode a few years ago where a wife was aware of her husband’s affair (it resulted from their hoarding issues) but allowed it to continue for three years. The husband actually allowed his mistress to tour the clutter-filled home he shared with his wife. Crazy to think that would happen, right? But it did.
12 There's No Shortage Of Casting Prospects
You may wonder just how the network manages to find people willing to bear all on TV and expose a secret that they’ve kept hidden from even their closest family members.
There’s actually an online submission process that allows those who are suffering from compulsive hoarding to submit a request. Family or friends who are concerned can also submit an application for the show to consider helping their friend or family member.
There’s no shortage of those looking for help. Hoarding: Buried Alive generally chooses to air stories about hoarders who are on the verge of losing something, either their home (through eviction or it being condemned) or a relationship (typically with a spouse or partner). They feel that being so close to losing something gives them the opportunity to help make real change in a hoarder’s life and might be what’s needed to spur change.
Some hoarders who’ve appeared on the show have stated how happy they’ve been to have help dealing with the mess. They were ready to make a change, but were unsure of how to start.
11 The Mess Is Real
Speaking of submissions, the show reportedly receives thousands of submissions from hoarders or family members looking for help. Of course, every situation’s different, but it’s alarming to think that so many people could be suffering from extreme hoarding.
While the show has its limits and won’t show or focus on aspects that aren’t appropriate for TV (which is surprising considering some of the things they’ve already shown – like what seemed like the world’s dirtiest bathroom in one episode), it still strives to be as real as possible and show the clutter and mess as it exists.
The therapists that are used to help guests are also real and certified. Many of the ones who help are seasoned professionals. But this doesn’t prevent them from being repulsed by the living conditions, and many professionals find it hard to spend much time in homes due to the overpowering smell of rot, mold, and excrement. In extreme cases, the cleanup crew has to wear hazmat suits with breathing equipment to avoid inhaling dangerous fumes for extended periods of time.
10 Hoarding Is A Diagnosed Disorder
In the past, hoarding tendencies were classified as part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When you think about it, this is completely the opposite of what most people associate with OCD. When you think OCD, you may think of people who like things neat and tidy (in addition to all of the other symptoms experienced as part of this disorder). However, the link to OCD has changed in recent years, and symptoms have been linked to Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which is why forced cleanup is difficult. Basically, not all hoarders have OCD, but the symptoms of hoarding have to be resolved before real change can take place.
Hoarding is now considered its own disorder and reality TV shows such as this one highlight the damage the disorder causes. The new classification also highlights the opportunity hoarders have to move past the issues that triggered their disorder and also strives to help improve their living situations and family relationships.
9 Hoarding: Buried Alive Replaced Hoarders
You may not have noticed since the shows are so similar, but Hoarders was cancelled in 2013 after six seasons on the air. Hoarding: Buried Alive is actually a completely different show and has seven seasons under its belt since it was introduced in 2010.
Hoarders aired on A&E and when it first hit air waves it was one of the most watched reality TV shows on the network. The premier episode boasted 2.5 million viewers! Hoarding: Buried Alive puts more emphasis on the healing process related to overcoming hoarding tendencies. They’ve been instrumental in helping hoarders get into rehabilitation programs that work to identify the causes of their disorder and provide methods of overcoming them.
There have even been “Where Are They Now” episodes that explored whether or not past guests have been successful at keeping clutter at bay. There’s a usually a mixed rate of success, as some former hoarders are relieved to let go of their extra “baggage”, while others have made little progress compared to the last time they were on the show.
8 The Drama’s Real…Mostly
Some critics of the show suggest that having cameras record the healing and cleaning process may alter the genuineness of the process. Their thinking is guests may exaggerate their feelings to garner more sympathy or downplay certain situations to avoid any negative repercussions after the show airs for the world to see.
As depressing as it may sound, this is reality TV and its purpose is meant to entertain viewers. Uncomfortable to admit, right? If cameras weren’t involved, the process might be a little different in that guests who are highly combative (the show has had its fair share of hoarders who won’t comply with any suggestions) may not have been as bad if their lives weren’t destined to be distributed to the masses. Scenes may be also manipulated during editing to boost ratings.
7 The Show Pays For Cleanup
The reality of cleaning up homes across the country is that it’s expensive for folks. Many of the hoarders who appear on the show may want to make a change, but the cost of doing so is far too expensive. The situation is so far gone that attempting to handle the cleanup on their own would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to take on.
Every financial situation is different, but it’s fair to say that this cost is likely out of reach for many guests. The show partners with 1-800-Got-Junk to remove waste materials as well as a cleanup consultant to help with the guided process. Because not having access to these services may be a deterrent to making necessary changes, the show feels that providing these services acts as an incentive to make real changes to their lives and living situations.
6 Accidents Have Happened
In an episode where twin sisters shared the compulsion to collect things, their home got to a state where the floors were not only covered with trash but also caked with animal excrement. The integrity of the structure was so badly compromised that when a bio-hazard team entered the home to inspect the property, an investigator fell through the floor. Not surprisingly, the home was ultimately deemed uninhabitable which forced the sisters to relocate to another home.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t the first time they’d experienced this situation. In a previous home the trash and clutter slowly accumulated to the point where that house was also rendered uninhabitable. Authorities in their hometown eventually had to tear down the entire house. It doesn’t seem as though the lesson was learned and if their habits don't change, their compulsions will likely take over any new home they settle into.
5 Some Hoarders Own More Than One House
There have been multiple episodes highlighting hoarders who have filled more than one home with clutter and trash. In the finale episode back in 2012, viewers were introduced to a hoarder who had five homes (yes, you read that right) filled with things he’d collected over the years. If you think about it, in addition to hoarding items, he was hoarding the homes to keep everything in. When combined, his houses were worth millions, which means he also must have spent millions acquiring them.
It’s surprising to think that given the ability to own (or in some cases rent) more than one home, money isn’t put towards something more productive like hiring help to overcome the disorder or a company to help with cleanup. This also highlights just how badly this compulsion can get if not kept in check. Rather than reigning in the compulsion to store and collect objects, they’ve chosen to keep expanding and making more room to accommodate items they should let go of. Talk about carrying around a lot of baggage!
Hoarding: Buried Alive typically takes care of cleanup of one house, as cleaning up more would take more time than they have available.
4 Neglected Pets Are Given New Homes
In a 2013 episode where a home had exposed electrical wiring, dog feces, dangerous mold and other hazards, viewers were introduced to a family that included two young kids. The home obviously wasn’t a safe environment for the kids so their mother was at risk of losing custody of them. It was a very unfortunate situation for the kids.
In addition to the children, there was a family dog with almost no fur left to speak of. There wasn’t much focus placed on him during the episode, but after it aired viewers were outraged by the conditions the dog was forced to live in. Side note: this is interesting considering young children were also forced to lived there. Where was the outrage for the children?
Fortunately for the children, their mother was able to make a change and clean up. The dog was removed from the home by police and taken to the local SPCA. While there, a vet tech bonded with the pooch and later adopted him. Good news all around.
3 The Threat Of Jail Time Is Real
In many episodes, homeowners talk about the push from city officials to cleanup or face eviction, fines or even jail time. That last one is a very real possibility. In an episode a few years ago, a man and his adult son where asked repeatedly by city officials to cleanup their home (both inside and out). There had reportedly been multiple complaints from their neighbors over the years.
Despite the help offered by the show, the pair was resistant to help and the father was ultimately sent to jail for six months. His jail time was extended because his home remained non-compliant with city ordinance. His son was working on the cleanup (they weren’t hoarders per se but chose to hold onto scrap that they intended to sell at a later date) but progress was slow. Just a note to those out there who don’t believe this can happen, it’s absolutely possible.
2 Hoarding Doesn’t Mean Dirt And Junk
There have been hoarders featured who can be considered upscale versions in that they live in expensive homes and collect expensive items. Their hoarding is usually a well kept secret because they’re able to maintain an outward appearance that exudes class and confidence.
One featured guest had a shopping obsession that had filled her home (which was almost 4,000 square feet) with high-end items from her multiple shopping sprees. Her main addiction was shoes (what woman doesn’t love shoes?), she counted almost 140 pairs in just one room. Her compulsion to shop was triggered by a difficult divorce a few years earlier. She estimates she’s spent over $20,000 on shoes alone.
When she finally received help from the show, most of her shoe collection and other items were donated to charity. She was willing to let go because she finally understood that possessions don’t give you happiness.
1 Children Of Hoarders Suffer The Most
Children who grow up with parents who hoard are powerless to change their situation. Despite living in environments that can be unsafe and unsanitary, there aren’t many options for them (there are options that would involve them living away from their home). As a result, they’re forced to grow up in chaos and accept their circumstances.
Some of these children grow up with similar hoarding tendencies based on their parents’ behavior, this makes sense because this is all they’ve ever known. Others grow up to be very particular about maintaining clean living space and are the complete opposite of their parents. Both aspects have been highlighted on the show.
You may have seen more than one episode where an adult child has refused to bring their children to their parents’ home because of the clutter and potential risk or injury and sickness, which you now know, is a very valid fear!