A Time to Clean
The most surprising thing Kim and Aggie find about these extraordinarily messy people is that you might not even know it to look at them. "On the street they look well groomed," Aggie says. "Well dressed. And you go into their houses: chaos!"
When they arrived, Aggie and Kim found: bird poop on the banister from Carol's pet birds; dog urine and feces all over the bathroom and even in Carol's bed; maggots in an unclean cooking pot; rotting food in the refrigerator; plates and napkins strewn all over the house; and a bathroom "that would make a frat boy blush."
Carol says that no one besides the air-conditioner repairman has been in her house to see how repulsive it is. And, even then, she lied to him. "I told him it wasn't my house," Carol says. "No one had been in there for two years, and I had him come over and I said, 'I'm only here to let you in because I have a cleaning crew coming in.' I fibbed."
Then they brought in veterinarian Jeff Woberg for the scoop on dog poop. "Unfortunately, dogs love us so much that they will deal with anything we give them," Dr. Woberg says. "The problem is there is bacteria in the stool sitting around here. E. coli, for example, is spreadable to people."
For an unclean, crusty microwave, Aggie offers a trick. "Take a bowl of very hot water with some lemons in it," she says, "and turn on the microwave for about five minutes. Leave that in there and the steam will soften all the dried-on particles of food and the lemons will give a lovely, fresh smell."
While cleaning the carpet, Kim tells Carol, "One of your dogs has urinated here, because I can smell it." What's the secret to cleaning that? "Club soda. Good old club soda, my dear. And elbow grease."
"A lot of people are messy—I'm not the cleanest person in the world either," Dr. Tolin says. "But I think where it becomes a problem is when the person is not just messy, but impaired by their clutter. What we see with Carol, and what we see with a lot of people with hoarding problems, is that they can't use significant portions of their home for the purpose that it was intended to...We also find the person's quality of life is dramatically reduced. … And then, not inconsequentially, we find it's a big problem where the person is facing real and tangible risks as a result of their clutter, whether it's a fire hazard or the problems we saw [in Carol's house] with mold and bacteria. A lot of people with hoarding face the very real risk of losing their homes because of the clutter."
Learn more about compulsive hoarding, the signs of having the problem, and resource to get help from Dr. Tolin.