Hoarding’s Darkest Side

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Most people have some clutter around the house, but at what point does it become a hazard?

We’ve all had times where we can’t see the kitchen table because of clutter, but we clean it off and throw away what isn’t necessary.

For some, they can’t throw anything away and become hoarders.

On March 9, a cold rain only added to the depressing scene inside 113 Elmont Street in Crafton Heights. It was a fire fueled by waist-high trash.

It’s likely that 77-year-old John Rabusseau’s obsession with storing stuff away cost him his life. The body of the retired salesman was found just behind a front door blocked by junk.

For 20 years, no one was invited to Stan Engelman’s Morningside home – including family.

Patti Engelman, Stan’s wife of more than 25 years, became unable to part with anything.

“And my wife was a sucker for all these ads. They come from Macy’s and [JC Penney’s] and the other thing she just loved was the Dollar Store,” Stan Engelman said.

Beginning in the 1980s Patti’s shopping and hoarding spiraled out of control and so did their lives.

“People argue about the kids, they argue about money.  We argued about junk, about stuff,” Stan Engelman said.

Room upon room was buried under stuff. Most of it was still in wrappers with price tags attached.

“And I know, people would say, ‘Leave her, move out, get away from it.’ Maybe for some people that was an option. It wasn’t an option for me,” Stan Engelman said.

When Patti died in November of a heart attack, Stan’s daughter, Carla, came to her step-mother’s funeral from Missouri. She was stunned by what she found and told her father there were television shows about the way he was living.

“People get stuck in life and our job as professional organizers is to help people get unstuck,” Professional Organizer Vickie Dellaquila said.

Dellaquila has been working with Stan to get his home back under control since December.

“Stan’s home was on a Level V, meaning it was on a level where it could be very dangerous for a person to live here,” Dellaquila said.

With a team of two organizers, a hauler, and a cleaner they’ve removed more than 750 bags of trash and donations.

The before and after photos show just how much stuff they had to tackle. Stan even re-discovered a room.

“The sun room. I have no idea when she filled that up,” Stan said.

The door to the sun room had disappeared behind piles of clothes.

“I forgot it was there. I couldn’t get to it,” Stan said.

“Hoarders’ brains are different and that may be related to their difficulty in prioritizing.,” Dr. Michael Franzen said.

At Allegheny General Hospital, Dr. Franzen said researchers have just begun to investigate the mostly uncharted territory of hoarding, which affects an estimated two-to-three-percent of the population.

“Hoarding is taking and collecting things that you don’t need to the extent that it interferes with your functioning,” Dr. Franzen said.

Hoarding can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, or economic status. It’s considered part of anxiety disorders, or a variant of obsessive compulsive disorder.

The Mayo Clinic offers this list of risk factors for hoarding:

  • Age – It usually starts in early adolescence, around age 12.
  • Family History – You are more likely to hoard if a family member is a compulsive hoarder.
  • Stressful Life Events – Hoarding can be triggered by a stressful event like the death of a loved one, divorce, or eviction.
  • Social Isolation – Loners are more likely to hoard.
  • Perfectionism – Hoarders are often perfectionists. Decisions cause them stress, so they avoid making decisions and keep everything.

There is hope because it is treatable through medical and psychological means.

Stan can now navigate his stairs with ease, but he only wishes he’d figured it out sooner.

“If you love someone, and you know what the problem is, you can help them. I’m sorry that I didn’t know more about it,” Stan said.


More Local News
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OCD Foundation Of Western Pennsylvania
Institute For Challenging Disorganization
Children of Hoarders
Organization Rules


One Comment

  1. Thomas J Duttine says:

    He surely shouldn’t have left his wife and home….He should have thrown her out!

  2. N/A says:

    Maybe they both had a problem but neither willing to admit it. Neither I or my husband would allow this to ever happen. I can see this happening to a single person but not a couple. Someone need to take charge.

  3. renee johnson says:

    My sister needs help i need to help her but it’s been years my parents deseased i don’t know how to help her, i tred and my family tried i just don;t know how to , plus she’s still living in my parents house and i really need someone to help her because she so special to me and she can’t move she had back surgury and premature in birth when she was born , my husband tries and my ohter sisters, and brother and laws . but now it getting worse and i need someone to help my sister , she ‘s special and i love her but she gets angry when i or my sister tryes she going to retireer as school nurse but i don;t want it in the news ori can’t do it my self //////////// i saw your news and it sounded just like my sister please help (724) 935-5617 thank you I don’t have job and for dumpster and i would love to see my parents house again i pray that she ok i know what it can do to your health so please help me rj

  4. Michael says:

    I know several people like that, including my parents. They all deny that they have a problem. They all claim that someday, they will “need” all of those possessions that they are hoarding. I haven’t been in my parent’s house in years, but the garage is crammed with stuff, the attic is crammed, the whole basement, three or more sheds in the back yead, etd. etc.

  5. Mark says:

    Slow news day for KDKA??!! They appear desperate anymore. Big teaser all day yesterday by Ken Rice leading up to this waste of a story. The sad state of our media today….nothing stories that require little thought or effort.

    1. Mary Robb Jackson says:


      Sorry that you saw our story as a “waste.” You should know that a great deal of thought and care went into it presenting it. These are difficult subjects because of the feelings involved. Why don’t you suggest some ideas for stories that you think might be of interest? I would welcome it.

    2. S.J. Wharton says:

      Dear Mark, I am so sorry that you think this is a “nothing” story. I have an ideas though…there must be SOMETHING in your life that is an “issue” because you wouldn’t be this rude and thoughtless. Why don’t you suggest something that is important to you and ask them to make a story of it, and we can all turn around and write about what a waste YOUR life is.

  6. stop the nonsense! says:

    Mark, it’s really sad that cynical people such as yourself just have to chime in on articles like this with such rude comments. It is quite apparent that the article was helpful to some. There are two people above that obviously found this article helpful as I’m sure there are more who fear posting on here for hearing rude comments back from people with attitudes like yours who would prefer to judge while they themselves continue to be miserable for whatever reason. I’m not a hoarder and I don’t understand how the people who are get themselves into such situations. But I do know it is very real and I certainly do not judge people for it. Try climbing down from your pedestal and realize the news isn’t about pleasing you all the time.

  7. More common than you know says:

    As someone who is predisposed to hoarding (it runs in my family), I have to be very conscious of how I live my life. I am somewhat of a pack rat, though I try to keep it manageable and I do throw things away. I actually watch the hoarding shows to get tips (as I cannot afford a professional organizer) and to remind myself that I do not want to let it get that bad. Thank you, KDKA for getting the word out and trying to remove the stigma from hoarding. It is truly a disease and if you don’t keep with it every day, it’s amazing how fast you can slip right back into it.

Comments are closed.

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