Attitudes, perceptions among challenges of hoarding

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Upon leaving court several years ago, a former Coon Rapids resident said she felt she hadn’t done anything wrong in keeping more than 100 cats in her mobile home in St. Anthony.

A former Coon Rapids couple got into legal difficulties in St. Anthony a number of years ago by hoarding more than 100 cats in their mobile home. According to media reports, the mobile home, later hauled away, had be to ventilated before the cats could be taken out. (Photos by the St. Anthony Police Department)

A former Coon Rapids couple got into legal difficulties in St. Anthony a number of years ago by hoarding more than 100 cats in their mobile home. According to media reports, the mobile home, later hauled away, had be to ventilated before the cats could be taken out. (Photos by the St. Anthony Police Department)

“I wasn’t hurting anybody,” Cheryl Saladis told a television reporter. “They were my life,” she said of the cats, all later euthanized.

The incident isn’t unique. Millions of Americans obsessively collect things. They hoard.

Repercussions go beyond the bulging boxes and uneasy stacks to affect family members, neighbors and city officials. Sometimes hoarders themselves become victims of their own compulsions, such as in a house fire, if they are unable to flee their own burning home.

Throw out the stereotypes, said Janet Yeats, therapist, co-founder of the Hoarding Project and chairwoman of the Minnesota Hoarding Task Force.

Janet Yeats, co-founder of the Hoarding Project and chairwoman of the Minnesota Hoarding Task Force. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Janet Yeats, co-founder of the Hoarding Project and chairwoman of the Minnesota Hoarding Task Force. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“People who hoard don’t have a look,” she said.

They are not necessarily dirty, disheveled and mumbling.

“We’ve got to get away from the stereotype that it’s low-income only, people losing their grip,” Yeats said.

Psychologist Renae Reinardy, who formerly practiced in Minnetonka and has appeared on television as a hoarding expert, warns against stereotypes.

Hoarders tend to be pleasant, she said. Some shudder at the idea of being labeled a hoarder.

“Couldn’t we call it a housekeeping disorder?’” Reinardy recalled one hoarder pleading.

Oddly, hoarders can be perfectionists, Reinardy said.

They’ll amass 30,000 books in searching for the ideal system of book classification, she explained.

Hoarding can run in families.

“It’s like an archeological dig,” Reinardy said of going through a home of generational hoarders, where the panty hose the mother hung over the shower curtain decades ago still dangle.

In terms of sheer bulk, hoarders can store away incredible amounts.

Nate Berg, founder and president of Scene Clean, of Brooklyn Park, a company that provides specialized cleanup services, measures hoarder cleanups in terms of cubic yards.

Scene Clean pulled 70 cubic yards of items out of a home of a hoarder in Edina.

“That would have been our record house,” Berg said, adding that because the house was going to be demolished, they left some things in.

Berg cites 90 cubic yards as the most hoarder material removed at one job by the company.

Hoarders’ homes are not necessarily eyesores, at least from the outside, Berg explained. But Scene Clean staff may find hazardous materials, such as chemical spills, that have staff donning protective gear.

“There’s no borders,” he said of where hoarder homes are found.

The company gets three to four calls a day about hoarder homes, Berg said.

Some hoarders keep trash, Berg said. His staff find lots of clothing from garage sales, Berg noted in an email.

Male hoarders gravitate towards magazines, electronics, tools. Women often hoard decorations, plates, craft supples, cups, Berg said.

There are also valuables. In one home, that of a playwright, besides manuscripts, Scene Clean staff found a Golden Gopher football helmet from 1942 bearing the signature of Bruce Smith, the Gopher’s sole Heisman trophy winner. Pristine sports magazines of the era were also discovered.

All these items can have meaning to a hoarder.

Yeats spoke of a woman, who hadn’t finished college, hoarding newspapers and magazines as proof of her intelligence.

“Sometimes you can connect loss to what people hoard,” she said.

As times change, so does hoarding. It’s gone digital. Reinardy views obsessive downloading as a form of hoarding.

Keith Streff, senior humane investigator, in his office at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Keith Streff, senior humane investigator, in his office at the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Experts draw distinctions between hoarding inanimate objects and hoarding animals. The Golden Valley-based Animal Humane Society’s senior investigator, Keith Streff, sees a different dynamic.

“There’s a certain innate attachment only an animal can bring,” Streff said.

There’s an interplay — for the hoarder, perhaps a godlike sense of control, Streff theorized — achievable only by hoarding animals. It’s powerful.

“In my professional experience, the recidivism rate is 100 percent,” Streff said of animal hoarders. 

Yeats portrayed animal hoarding as often beginning with good intentions that go wrong.

The psychology of hoarding is complex.

“It comes in different flavors,” Reinardy said.

According to a Mayo Clinic publication, about 75 percent of hoarding occurs in conjunction with other mental issues, such as depression. But not always. Genetic factors might be involved, Yeats said, and organic problems, such as dementia, can play a role.

Yeats views unresolved trauma or loss as a thread running through many hoarding cases.

Hoarding can manifest itself in childhood, as in the messy third-grader whose parents “manage the hoard,” Yeats explained. Generally, it becomes more visible as people gets older.

“It does take time to accumulate things,” Yeats said.

Some warning signs of hoarding include withdrawal and not letting people come into the home. It might be seen in an overeagerness to grab discarded items from family or friends.

Risks to hoarders includes falls, poor health relating to the inability to cook, social isolation, family conflicts, fights with local officials, difficulty in keeping a job, financial problems, having the power cut off and ordered cleaning or condemnation of the home, Mayo Clinic noted.

Therapy can work, Yeats said.

“Does it take a long time? Yes it can,” Yeats said. “We must approach this with compassion, rather than anger and frustration.”

Stanley Saladis, talking to the television reporter outside the court house, said his wife Cheryl Saladis would be getting help.

According to media reports, the couple hoarded 72 cats in 2002 in their Coon Rapids home, which led to legal difficulties.

Their mobile home in St. Anthony was removed.

“The only ones that were suffering was me and my husband,” Cheryl Saladis said to the camera outside the courthouse.

To find more information on hoarding, visit:

The Hoarding Project.

International OCD Foundation.

Children of Hoarders.

 

Tim Budig can be reached at tim.budig@ecm-inc.com.

(Editor’s note: To read more about Streff’s comments on animal hoarding, see this story’s sidebar.)

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