The excessive collection of items that seem to have limited or no value, such as newspapers or trash, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding creates such cramped living conditions that entire rooms may be filled to capacity, and homes may be left with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping hundreds of dogs, cats or other animals in their homes, as filth and waste pile up and the animals become sick.
Hoarding, also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome, is thought to be connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder. But many aspects of hoarding remain a mystery, and researchers continue to learn about this recently recognized problem.
This, I’ve learned recently, is the deal with a neighbor.
I’ll call her “Esther.” She’s probably in her mid-50s and owns a modest three-bedroom house that sits on a rather large parcel of land (about one acre). From the outside, her house looks like a dump, and, yes, its appearances causes consternation among neighbors. You know, the front yard is full of overgrown weeds and miscellaneous flowering plants she put in a half-hearted attempt at landscaping.
With regard to the deer, Esther leaves the side gate to her back yard open, so the deer wander onto our street and into other people’s yards. They ate the buds of some tomatoes that I, in one of my half-hearted attempts at gardening, planted. The destruction of my tomatoes made me briefly contemplate joining the National Rifle Association and arming myself with the kind of weaponry that would pick off those tick-ridden Bambis—one by one.
As for the raccoons, I guess they got into the basement of one of Esther’s next-door neighbor’s. I’ll call that neighbor “Paula.” Paula had to hire an exterminator or some other professional to get it out.
Paula is my source for various bits of news related to Esther’s hoarding disorder. Paula used to work as a nurse, which makes her rather practical, compassionate and knowledgeable about dealing with different individuals and their mental idiosyncrasies. So, Paula says, Esther lives in cramped living quarters, similar to those who meet the Mayo Clinic definition for hoarding. Entire rooms in Esther’s home are filled to capacity with junk. She must move through one part of a room to the other, or from one part of her house to the other, through narrow pathways of clutter.
And that deer-breeding back yard? It’s a fire hazard, and, according to Paula, the fire department had to come out, inspect it, and declare it so. Apparently, the back yard was a tangle of brush and weeds. Some clumps stood as high and as wide as a garage door. This was incendiary bone-dry, California drought-parched brush and weeds. The smallest spark from fireplace, barbecue or cigarette ash could set it off. And some of this tangle backed up to adjacent neighbor’s property lines, including Paula’s.
Saddest of all, Esther had a trio of cats she proclaims to love but who were apparently neglected—at least according to Paula, who would slip them food. One of those cats was once a friendy, fluffy white cat, whose name is something like “Bobby.” When my now 10-year-old son was little, and before we got a cat of our own, we would sometimes encounter Bobby rolling around happily on our driveway. He was a sweet cat. My son, then 4, would love crouching down to pet Bobby, who wasn’t afraid of strangers and was not the kind of cat who would suddenly lash out at anyone, including a small child who could be clumsy in how he stroked an animal.
Several months ago, I happened to be home late one weekday afternoon and saw a county animal services truck roll up to Esther’s home. Esther was not yet home, and the officer left a note posted on her front door screen. And then, she pulled up, home from work. She actually drives a newer model Volkswagon that always looks shiny, clean and nicely maintained. The animal services officer approached her, and she admitted him into her probably cluttered living room.
Paula says a neighbor complained about the sad, neglected condition of her cats, including Bobby. I’ve seen Bobby a few times over the past couple months. He’s not the same fearless, friendly cat that my son used to pet. I see him crouching on Esther’s driveway, near the garage door, looking sad and weak. And I can see, even from across the street, that his ears always look scabbed. Paula says Bobby got one of his ears half chewed off in a fight—presumably with one of the raccoons that Esther lets breed in her yard.
I mentioned that Esther works. Yes, she does. She’s a manager for a government agency, in a department that actually requires lots of organization and attention to meticulous detail. I guess she’s one way in her professional life, and another way in her personal life.
I don’t speak to her much, except hellos across the street, as either she or I are coming or going. She’s always nice enough, but I guess she’s not a well person. In fact, she might be pretty disturbed. Hoarding is, according to the Mayo Clinic and other experts, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But, also according to the experts, there is not a whole lot others can do until the hoarder acknowledges she’s ill and seeks treatment.