The Road to Recovery
The trash is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to all those dumpsters full of garbage, Sharyn and Marvin had accumulated 1,800 crates worth of toys, clothes, gifts, crafts, books and other belongings—enough to fill three semitrailers. A moment of truth finally comes for Sharyn when she sees all the things that had been crammed into her home displayed on rows of tables and bins in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse.
Ninety-five percent of all that stuff must go, and Peter gives the couple only 20 minutes to decide which clothes to keep. "The first step in organizing is to purge the stuff you don't need or wear or use," Peter says.
As Sharyn struggles to part with the mounds of clothing, Peter asks her why she buys so much in the first place. "I go crazy. If I get [a shirt] in red, I have to get it in the other colors, too. I get them all," she says. "I hate myself [when I get home] because I don't know where to put it."
Once Sharyn's 20 minutes are up, it takes eight hours for the team to take all the discarded items out of the house. When they're done, the lawn is covered with 21 bins of purses, 16 bins of shoes and two piles of clothing almost as tall as Sharyn.
Besides being nasty to look at, Peter says black mold can cause a variety of health problems. During the cleanup, he says he developed a fungicidal infection that spread from his leg to his scalp. And Sharyn had complained of a mysterious cough that Peter says lessened as the house became cleaner.
"It's not that unusual because the clutter just physically causes so many problems," Peter says. "Eighty-one percent of people who have hoarding problems have physical health problems related to the clutter, respiratory problems."
To combat the black mold that infiltrates every room of the house, a crew of mold experts came in to sanitize every surface. All the carpets and upholstered furniture were thrown away, and several walls were replaced.
Beneath the piles of baby clothes, crafts and papers, Peter and Sharyn discover three couches, a treadmill, an exercise bike, a pool table and three TV sets. In addition to the mildew and mold they encounter, Peter finds even more health hazards, including mice nests. "I found food from 1994," he says. "There is nothing in here that is worth your health. None of this is safe for you."
While Peter and Sharyn tackle the basement, Marvin confronts his own hoarding problem. "I've never thrown away a bank statement," he says. Marvin begins shredding 35 years worth of financial documents by hand, until Peter decides to have them all commercially shredded instead. "You're holding onto credit card statements that go back 35 years," Peter says. "You have a thing with paperwork that is exactly the same as Sharyn stuck with all the [belongings]."
Before walking their mother through the warehouse, Peter shows Sharyn's three children, Jodi, Steve and Rich, the sea of belongings. "This is unbelievable," Rich says.
When Peter takes Marvin and Sharyn in to see their rummage sale, Sharyn is stunned by the sheer number of things she sees piled on the tables. Then Peter reveals a second room with almost as many items as the first. "It's sick. It is so sick," Sharyn says. "I feel like a monster has been unleashed. But for the life of me, I cannot believe I even had that path to walk [in the house]."
Watch as Sharyn sees the warehouse for the first time.
Now Sharyn has a choice, Peter says—her stuff or her family. "There is either quantity or there is quality," he says.
"My family. I love you guys so much," Sharyn says. "I thank you for putting up with me. Nobody else on this earth would have put up with me."
Before the family left the warehouse, Peter gave Sharyn five minutes to take anything she wanted. Then, a major breakthrough occurred—Sharon took nothing. "This is my past, and you and this whole crew and my family are my future," she says.
As the family walked away from their past, Peter opened the doors to the largest rummage sale we've ever seen. In just four days, warehouse was completely cleared out and a total of $13,000 was raised!
Even though the clutter has been removed, Peter and his team feel the job is still unfinished. Sharyn and Marvin need a fresh start in order to establish their vision of a home filled with peace, family and harmony—and the team has something very special in mind!
For seven weeks, Sharyn and Marvin moved out of their home for the cleanup. When they finally return, the home is not only clutter-free, it's completely redecorated! Walking into the house, they discover a brand new living room. "It's gorgeous," Sharyn says.
Because black mold destroyed 75 percent of the furniture, Broyhill fully furnished the entire home. Lowe's ripped out the old moldy carpet and replaced it with shiny new hardwood floors.
While many of the decorative items are new, Sharyn's own dishes are arranged beautifully on the perfectly set table. "One thing that's really important is that the things you own, you have to honor and respect them," Peter says. "Your beautiful dishes—the beautiful things that you own, displayed with honor and respect."
The clutter in the old kitchen concealed crumbling cabinets and decaying countertops. So Lowe's redesigned the space using Shenandoah cabinets and Zodiac countertops. State-of-the-art stainless steel appliances from GE's Profile line replace the old, broken ones.
"Throughout the house everywhere, you need to constantly think of the vision you have for that room and stick to the limits," Peter says. "If you do that, you can maintain this home."
Now Marvin and Sharyn can enjoy the sanctuary of their master bedroom, complete with the sleep area and a seating area by the fire. "The function of this room is the room that drives your relationship," Peter says.
"You agreed that the focus moving forward are the things of value rather than the things that have cost you so much," Peter says. "You choose either the stuff or your life. And that's a choice you have to make every day."
Now, the basement is a beautiful gathering place. Peter brought in a few functional pieces from Broyhill to help Sharyn define strict limits for her favorite hobbies. There are two armoires designated for gifts, along with a wrapping station. "This is all the paper you need. When you finish one roll, you can add one roll," Peter says.
A crafting area is set up in the middle of the room. Below are rolling carts that hold supplies. "If you pull one of these out to use it, it's returned. And in each area at the end of using things, it goes back to its home," Peter says.
The family's old sofas also create a relaxing area where the children can play.
So how do Sharyn and Marvin see themselves using the basement? "Very wisely and very carefully, and I will take care of everything. I will put everything back," she says.
"This is a house to be proud of," Marvin says.
Now, a Gladiator System from Lowe's helps keep Marvin's workstation in order. There's a special tool zone and steel cabinets for cleaning supplies. Lowe's also installed gear wall panels to keep tools accessible but out of the way.
There is also a special slip-resistant floor. "And now with winter coming, you can park your car in the garage," Peter says.
"Oh, my God," Sharyn says. "I could live out here."
Rich's old room is first. "This is for my guests only. I am not allowed to put any of my belongings in any of these drawers," Sharyn says. "I can't wait to see who the first guest is going to be."
The room also serves as a place of honor for Marvin's mother's hutch, a piece that is meaningful to the entire family. "She would feel proud of seeing it where it is. I feel proud seeing it where it is," Sharyn says.
The hutch makes Marvin feel like his mother is with them. "I know my mother's here with us in spirit. This brings her so much closer to us," he says.
Peter says this is the perfect example of treating your possessions with respect. "If something has a value to it, then treat it in that way. And what happens is many people get caught holding onto memory stuff or I-might-need-it-one-day stuff," Peter says. "And if you don't create the life you want, if you don't create the home you want, who will? And that's what this comes down to. [Oprah] keeps saying, live your best life. But it's also about, create your best life. I think that's what we've seen here. And that's the lesson for everyone. Stuff has a promise. But go for life. Don't go for the stuff."
Now, Sharyn says she looks at possessions differently. "You're supposed to own your stuff. Your stuff should not own you. And obviously you can tell my stuff owned me," Sharyn says. "It was overwhelming. There were many times I wanted to start cleaning things and doing things and I would go out and buy the bins and buy the racks and everything. But when you don't even have a space to start in to do that, it's impossible."
Looking back at all the things she had, Sharyn makes a promise to herself and her family. "I was a sick person and there was a monster inside of me that had been unleashed and I will never, ever do this again," she says.
Peter says to start small. "Just the two trash bags a day. If you just walk around the house for 10 minutes a day. Fill one bag with trash. One bag with stuff going to [charity]. At the end of a week, a couple will have 14 bags of trash and 14 bags of stuff for [charity]."
Most importantly, Peter says you have to stop shopping and respect the limits of your space. "Look at the stuff you have and ask, does this help me live the life I want? Your best life? And if it does, keep it. If it doesn't, you have to let it go," Peter says.
Peter says people can learn two important lessons from Sharyn's story. The first? Look to a support group. "Sharyn got to a point through a loving family of seeing the need for change," he says. The second is to seek professional organizing help. "Look around. There are organizers around the country who can come in and help. The National Association of Professional Organizers. Check them online. They have people in every city across the country."
Peter says Sharyn is a great inspiration to others. "I think there's a massive change here, and I said that to you during the break. Just physically, emotionally, just in talking to Sharyn, there's a massive change," he says. "It's an ongoing process, and I think Sharyn's committed to that. And that's why I have great confidence that change has happened here and permanent change."
Dr. Tolin says you don't need a team of professionals to clean out and refinish your home to make progress. "It would be nice, but people can make these changes on their own. It takes a little more time, it takes a lot of effort. But they can do it step-by-step," Dr. Tolin says.
Six months later, is Sharyn's house clean? Peter pays a visit
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