A&E’s Hoarders is one of a few television series that are so addictive yet so painful to watch. Since the show’s 2009 debut, Hoarders has brought viewers into the horrendous houses of people whose obsessions with stuff has overtaken their homes and their lives. Hoarders is definitely not a show for the squeamish; The New York Times Magazine described Hoarders as "routinely repulsive, harrowing and unnerving." With a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode warning that "compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder," this left Hoarders walking a very fine line between providing the physical and psychological help the hoarders so desperately need while simultaneously showcasing them for the purposes of TV entertainment.
Speaking with The New York Times Magazine, Hoarders producer Robert Sharenow addressed the surprising popularity of the show. "There’s something kind of Joycean about watching a hoarder," he explained. "You’re getting this incredibly deep picture of their entire existence in a way, through the objects and through the stuff they accumulate."
Hoarders has been part of the television landscape for more than a decade, but how much do viewers really know about this disturbing TV hit? Prepare to dig deep and uncover the untold truth of A&E’s Hoarders.
Hoarders was a surprise hit for A&E
A&E programming executives hoped they’d have a hit on their hands with Hoarders, but it’s unlikely they expected the show to become as big as it became right out of the gate. The 2009 premiere was viewed by an audience of 2.5 million, which an A&E press release declared to be "the most-watched series premiere" in the network’s history in both the 18-49 and 25-54 demographics.
When the series returned for a second season, ratings were even bigger. According to A&E (via TheWrap), the Season 2 premiere attracted 3.2 million viewers. That episode, in fact, was the highest-rated season premiere of any A&E premiere in a key demo — and, for good measure, "the most watched telecast of any show on the network" that year. When compared to the first season’s numbers, ratings in the demo had risen by a whopping 46 percent.
As subsequent seasons aired, ratings never again hit those heights, but they remained solid. As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, the premiere of the fifth season in 2012 drew 2.4 million total viewers, a respectable number for a basic cable series — watched by nearly as many who viewed the series premiere three years earlier.
Hoarders was canceled in 2013
The sixth season of Hoarders debuted in August 2012, with A&E’s press release promising "the most dramatic stories." What fans didn’t realize was that Season 6 would be Hoarders‘ last — for a while, at least.
In September 2013, Today reported that an A&E spokesperson confirmed the show had been canceled. The cancellation likely came as no shock to the people who worked on the show, particularly Hoarders organizing expert Matt Paxton. In February of 2013, right as the sixth season was concluding, he took to Facebook to tell his followers that "we have not been picked up for a 7th season." Imploring fans of the show to contact A&E with hopes that fan support could result in a new season, Paxton wrote, "So this could very well be the LAST episode of HOARDERS — EVER!"
No reprieve came, but a press release revealed that, even though the show was over, Paxton would be continuing his work helping hoarders by partnering with residential and commercial cleaning company ServiceMaster Restore. This would allow him to "expand the reach of specialized hoarding and estate cleaning services" to a national level. As part of the deal, Paxton also became a media spokesperson for the company.
Hoarders returned years after cancellation
Fans thought they’d seen the last of Hoarders when A&E declined to pick up the show for a seventh season back in 2013. Hoarders, however, wasn’t dead — it was just gathering strength for a new incarnation on a whole new network.
In early 2015, the Lifetime network (which, like A&E, is under the A&E Networks corporate umbrella) announced it was picking up the show for a seventh season, under the new name Hoarders: Family Secrets. This new iteration of Hoarders tweaked the format, which would now throw live segments into the mix. In fact, Channel Guide reported the season would kick off with an hour-long special focusing on two cases. One of these was a "relapsed hoarder" who was looking at a jail sentence if his home didn’t pass a city inspection, while the other focused on a Massachusetts family confronting a hoarding problem. The latter segment concluded with a live intervention by the hoarder’s loved ones.
According to a review in The Washington Post, the live intervention was something of a bust, coming across as a gimmicky "ploy for ratings" that "added nothing but the possibility of drama to grab an audience."
Hoarders was canceled again… and later resurrected again
A total of nine episodes of Hoarders: Family Secrets aired on Lifetime, a network probably better known for programs like Dance Moms and original Lifetime movies than Hoarders. The new format did not provide the kind of ratings that had been anticipated, and the show was canceled once more. Yet Hoarders rose from the ashes of cancellation yet again, and the show was quietly resurrected in 2016 — this time back on its original network, A&E, home to shows like Duck Dynasty and Flipping Vegas.
The eighth season kicked off by profiling a woman who was a bundle of contradictions. On one hand, she was a severe germaphobe; on the other, she lived in absolute squalor, her junk-filled home teeming with mice that she considered to be her pals. For this new revival season, the live elements of the Family Secrets edition had been ditched, with the show returning to the original format that made Hoarders successful in the first place. A&E ran Hoarders for one more season, concluding in early 2017 before once again pulling the plug.
Yet that was still not the end. In 2019, an A&E press release (via TVInsider) declared plans for a tenth season, comprised of two-hour episodes that promised "an even deeper look at what goes into dealing with a hoarding crisis of epic magnitude."
The worst Hoarders house that organizer Matt Paxton ever saw
Some of the things viewers witnessed on Hoarders were the stuff of nightmares. Yet for the show’s professional home organizer Matt Paxton, there was one house that stuck in his mind as the all-time worst thing he’d ever witnessed in all his years on the show. That particular home, he told Cleveland.com, belonged to a "sweet lady" whose refrigerator had been stuffed with the stacked-up corpses of her deceased cats, stored right alongside her condiments, making for one of the most disturbing collections on Hoarders. "You want bad?" said Paxton. "That’s bad."
As Paxton explained, hoarding hadn’t been officially categorized as a mental disorder until after Hoarders had already been on the air. "We like to think that [the show] helped bring awareness," he said.
"I’d been in it for two years before I knew how common it was," Paxton added in an interview with Channel Guide. "People laugh, but I didn’t realize how big hoarding was until the day after my very first episode of Hoarders. That’s when I realized — ‘Oh, this is national! This is everywhere… and it’s a secret.’"
This Hoarders couple received neighbor complaints for years
When the tenth season of Hoarders debuted in 2019, the first episode featured couple Andy and Becky of Marysville, Wash. According to A&E’s episode description, the pair declared "their constitutional right to live however they choose" — even if that meant packing their home and yard with tons of hoarded junk.
The couple’s story was certainly not a new one for their neighbors, who’d been impacted by their hoarding for years. In fact, a 2014 report from KOMO News detailed their neighbors’ ongoing battles to get the county to force the couple to clean up the place. "Would you want to live here?" griped one neighbor. While the county had been taking action and sending letters, by 2019 the situation had deteriorated to the point that the couple was facing jail time if they didn’t address the mess (via Distractify).
The episode had a seemingly happy ending, with the couple forced to confront their hoarding addiction while neighbors pitched in to help with the cleanup. After their experience on Hoarders, the episode revealed (via Reality Blurred), an additional 60 tons of stuff was removed. The couple presumably managed to avoid jail and remained in their home.
How a former Hoarders home became a gorgeous showplace
Arguably one of the biggest Hoarders success stories involves a historic mansion in Greensboro, N.C. that was featured in the show’s ninth season. In the episode, an interior designer named Sandra had filled every square inch of the place with her hoarded stuff, losing the home to foreclosure in the process. When the house was purchased by new owners, Sandra refused to leave and insisted her stuff stay as well.
With the help of the Hoarders team, the new owners were able to relocate Sandra to a new home and begin the monumental process of cleaning out the house, which, as reported by News & Record, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After years of neglect and hoarding, the home required extensive renovations. In January 2019, the owners revealed their plans: to rent out the mansion for short-term stays in order to raise money to complete the ongoing work. "To the average person, the house looks done," co-owner Michael Fuko-Rizzo told News & Record. "But it needs various amounts of additional work and ongoing maintenance. This just allows us a little more time to continue investing in the property and letting people enjoy it at the same time."
The Hoarders casting form asks a lot of questions
Hoarders is produced for A&E by TLG Motion Pictures, and anyone interested in having a friend or family member’s hoarding problem featured on the show can apply through the company’s website. There, a comprehensive form can be filled out, and there are a lot of questions to answer. "Does the hoarder have a compulsive urge to acquire?" asks one question, while another queries whether the hoarder has an "emotional attachment" to the hoarded stuff.
The form requests that photos of the home be provided, while posing some practical questions as well, such as whether furniture is able to be used for its intended purpose or if the kitchen can actually function to prepare food. "How difficult would it be for emergency personnel to move equipment through the home?" asks another pointed question.
As Hoarders’ Matt Paxton told Channel Guide, in addition to casting via the website, he’s had people reach out to him directly about appearing on the show. This, he explained, marked a big difference from Hoarders‘ early days. "When we started this show way back when, we couldn’t even get six people to do the first three episodes!" he exclaimed.
The inspiring story that brought organizer Dorothy Breininger to Hoarders
Faithful viewers of Hoarders will recognize Dorothy Breininger, one of the home organizers featured on the show. Breininger came to producers’ attention after she spent a year of her life and thousands of dollars of her own money to help an elderly Los Angeles man clean out his hoard-filled house. Without her help, the Los Angeles Times reported, he would have been facing a jail sentence, his home so crowded with clutter that he slept on a broken recliner he dragged onto his front porch. Thanks to Breininger’s help, he was able to avoid jail, and, throughout the process, she demonstrated compassion and sensitivity to his obsessive attachment to his junk.
As Breininger told Reality Blurred, producers read about her inspiring story in the Times and reached out to her, ultimately hiring her to "train the producers on what hoarding is like."
During her interview, Breininger jokingly compared the different types of hoarders that she and fellow organizer Matt Paxton work with on the show. "I tend to get children and older people," she quipped, while Paxton "gets all the ones with poop."
Much of the work on Hoarders takes place off camera
Given the tons of stuff that must be cleared out of a hoarder’s home, it shouldn’t be surprising that not all of that cleanup can be documented within the time constraints of a one-hour episode of television. In an interview with Reality Blurred, Hoarders organizer Dorothy Breininger revealed that the process typically begins with her making a phone call to the hoarders in order to feel them out and determine how receptive they are to making a change in their lives. If all goes well, she’ll next do a walk-through of their homes to determine the extent of the cleanup she’s looking at.
After asking the hoarder "what they want the most" out of the experience with Hoarders, Breininger said that she then dives into the nuts and bolts of the cleanup, getting into all the various details and logistics involved. For example, is an auctioneer required? What about tow trucks, or maybe a crew outfitted in hazmat suits? These are just some of the factors to be considered when creating her plan. "I react and organize according to the crisis at hand," Breininger explained.
One Hoarders house was so nasty the city wanted it torn down
A 2016 episode of Hoarders focused on Milwaukee, Wis. couple Roger and Ilona Stank, who "hoarded themselves out of their home" and were "facing the loss of their property if they cannot get it up to code."
By May 2019, Milwaukee’s WISN 12 News reported that not only had the hoarding sadly not abated since they appeared on the show, but it had escalated to the point that the city wanted to tear the whole place down. With reports of dozens of stray animals — and even some wild ones — living inside the house, the city declared the home to be uninhabitable and issued an order to demolish the house. "I think they might have to because there’s no way you can clean it out and straighten it back out again," said a neighbor.
According to a subsequent report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in December 2019, the home had been officially condemned, with an order issued to raze the structure. "I’m so hurt that I don’t know what to say," heartbroken hoarder Ilona Stank told the newspaper. "They can stop right now. They don’t have to bulldoze the house."
Hoarders host Cory Chalmers revealed the two biggest reasons people hoard
As one of the organizers seen on Hoarders, Cory Chalmers has helped dozens of people clean their cluttered abodes for the show. In an interview with Iowa’s KIMT 3 News, Chalmers detailed some of the unexpected things he’s discovered during his extensive work helping hoarders clean up their homes and straighten out their lives. "Before I got into this, I never thought I would find hundreds of animals," he revealed. "We’ve found tens of thousands of dollars, we’ve even found dead bodies in these hoards. We find everything."
Chalmers said that, when working with a hoarder, it’s important to understand the dangers of hoarding — ranging from fire hazards to health risks. Equally as important, he explained, is to recognize the underlying causes for the behavior so that can also be effectively addressed. "The biggest two reasons people hoard are depression and post-trauma," he said. "The goal here is to educate people on what to look for in their hoarding clients so we can reverse that."
This person claimed Hoarders never finished what it started
Verna Carter was the subject of a 2012 episode of Hoarders, described in the episode synopsis as a "hot-headed ex-cop, ex-drug trafficker, and ex-prison inmate who has cleverly evaded laws against hoarding by arguing that her hoard was her artistic expression." When she was admitted to the hospital to treat a health ailment, Carter was told that she wouldn’t be released unless her house was completely cleaned out of all the stuff she’d hoarded over the years.
Agreeing to let Hoarders help, Carter was apparently dissatisfied by what took place. One of her neighbors wrote about the experience for Patch, and quoted Carter complaining that the Hoarders cleanup was never finished because "they just ran out of trucks."
Two months after filming ended, the neighbor noted, cleanup crews were reportedly still hauling stuff out of Carter’s house, with plenty more work yet to be done. Carter admitted that her particular situation may have actually been beyond the scope of Hoarders. "Truthfully, they did not realize how much stuff there was at my house," she shared. "I feel that if they had gone in beforehand and seen how it was, they would have said ‘no.’"
Why this Hoarders star was investigated by police after appearing on the show
A 2016 episode of Hoarders featured a woman named Peggy whose packed-to-the-rafters home in Pekin, Ill. contained numerous dead animal carcasses. In the episode, a city code enforcement officer was seen poking around in the place, horrified when he discovered the skeletal remains of dogs and birds within the massive mess. All told, the official discovered about two dozen animal carcasses during the episode.
The day after the episode aired, reported the Peoria Journal Star, police launched an investigation. There was apparently a serious disconnect between that city official and the department he worked for. Despite the official’s knowledge of what was taking place within the home — and that fact that he actually appeared in the episode, which taped four months earlier — a spokesperson for Tazewell County Animal Control claimed the department had no knowledge of what had been found in the house until the episode aired, claiming to be "unaware of the alleged abuse of animals."
A spokesperson for the Pekin Police Department likewise claimed they had "no knowledge of deceased animals or the mistreatment of animals" until seeing the episode.