An Update on Carol
Despite her put-together appearance, Carol's home was completely out of control. Even Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie, expert cleaners and hosts of the television show How Clean Is Your House? , were floored by what they saw. In Carol's home they 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."
With elbow grease and a team of professional cleaners, Carol's home was brought back to a level of cleanliness.
To get to the root of the mess, we enlisted Dr. David Tolin, founder of the Anxiety Disorder Center at Hartford Hospital's Institute of Living and an expert on compulsive hoarding. "A lot of people with compulsive hoarding describe their thinking as being every bit as cluttered as their homes are," Dr. Tolin says. "It feels like chaos and a mess in [their minds]."
At first glance, it appears that Carol was able to keep her house relatively clean. In fact, the living room and dining room appear remarkably unchanged since the cleaning crews left.
Carol's kitchen, which had taken our crew more than eight hours to clean, looked okay on the surface. But when Dr. Tolin started investigating, he found signs of unsanitary conditions: dead bugs floating on dishes stacked in the sink and the refrigerator full of moldy food. In fact, a pizza box on the counter left by The Oprah Winfrey Show camera crew the last time they were here—months ago—had attracted bugs.
And who could forget Carol's bathroom in which the shower was full of dog feces? Dr. Tolin found that the dogs had reclaimed the bathroom for their own use.
Dr. Tolin asked Carol for an in-depth interview. He started with questions about her hoarding problem.
Carol: I don't know where to start. I don't know what to do and I don't know how it got this way. I swear it's like I went to sleep and I woke up and it was like that.
Dr. Tolin: Do you ever have times when it's hard for you to throw things away?
Carol: I don't believe in throwing things away or wasting things.
Dr. Tolin: What do you think would happen if you just got rid of some of those [things]?
Carol: I will grieve for a day or so and kick myself around for another day or so.
"With all of the terrible things that have happened to you, you've developed this sense of guilt and shame and feeling like you ought to be punished," Dr. Tolin says. "I'd like you to start to recognize that you are a good person, not a bad person. You're not responsible for all of the bad things that have happened."
"This is a case of perfectionism taken to an extreme," Dr. Tolin says. "Imagine perfectionism taken to the point where the person becomes paralyzed. If you listen to what Carol's saying, she says, 'I don't know where to start. It's overwhelming.' If you imagine picking up something in your hands and feeling, 'This is so important that it would be terrible, terrible, terrible if I made even the slightest mistake about this.' A lot of people find it easier just to put it down and walk away."
Dr. Tolin counsels a new thinking about hoarding. "We need to change our thinking about that and realize this is a mental health issue," he says.
More from Dr. Tolin: