Reporting Mary Robb Jackson
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.