Britain's Biggest Hoarders: Lifting the stigma for mum

Tuesday 8 May 2012, 10:52

Jasmine Harman Jasmine Harman Presenter

After the amazing response to My Hoarder Mum & Me, the filming of which was mostly brought about through desperation, we have now filmed a follow up - Britain's Biggest Hoarders.

Before the first documentary my mum's house had become so full of clutter that she couldn't get through the front door without a struggle.

Vasoulla Savvidou and Jasmine Harman at Vasoulla's home

Jasmine Harman with her mum Vasoulla Savvidou at Vasoulla's home

She was sleeping on a scrap of floor in the hall as each of her five bedrooms were inaccessible.

Yet she was not still unable to face letting any of her possessions go, nor could she seem to resist the temptation to accumulate more and more stuff.

I think mum wanted to show other hoarders and their families that they were not lost causes and I wanted to continue the work we'd started, both in the house and raising awareness.

For years we all thought mum was just messy, lazy and reckless with money.

When my youngest brother (then aged 11) was removed from her home when his school insisted that it was not a suitable environment for a child, instead of motivating her to 'tidy up' things got even worse.

Although she desperately wanted him back she was paralysed and received little support from social services or the NHS.

Mum was just supposed to get on with clearing out the house on her own!

In my opinion this would be the same as telling an anorexic to just start eating, or an alcoholic to just stop drinking. It's not as easy as that.

I have to say it has been a huge relief for me not to have to hide this 'shameful' secret anymore.

Even the few people I had told about my mum's house didn't really get it and would make comments which clearly demonstrated their lack of understanding such as "I know what you mean, I'm a complete hoarder too! I've got a whole box full of magazines that I can't throw away!"

Hold on a sec, my mum will show you how to be a proper hoarder!

I really hope that through this documentary I have helped my mum and Alan and Richard, who as you'll see in the programme also struggle with too much stuff.

Alan and Marion Burgess outside their home with Jasmine

Alan and Marion Burgess outside their home with Jasmine

When I first arrived at Alan's house I saw the 5 ft high sea of clutter that filled the front garden and I could see the front door, but was left wondering how on earth I'd reach it.

Then I spotted a tiny gap which was the narrow pathway to the house.

Inside books, videos, ornaments, clothes, boxes and other items were stacked floor to ceiling, meaning the only place his wife Marion had to sit down and eat her dinner was on the toilet.

They sleep on half of a double bed as the other half (and the rest of the room) is covered with Alan's belongings and they are forced to visit friends in order to shower as their bathroom is bursting at the seams.

Alan and Richard each have different views of their hoarding.

Whilst Alan feels everything is useful and will only let perished items go, Richard sees that much of what he holds onto is rubbish but still struggles to part with anything.

He has the need to check everything which is frequently the case with hoarders.

One thing they had in common with my mum is that a crisis brought about the need to tackle the hoarding.

For Richard it was his health. When we filmed with him he had just come out of hospital suffering with chest and circulation problems, probably not helped by the fact his house was full of dust, spores and was freezing cold!

Jasmine Harman and Richard Pout at Richard's home

Jasmine and Richard Pout at Richard's home

Alan's house is an eyesore and I understand that neighbours' rights must be considered. But I'd like to see local authorities offering help or support for people with his problem.

Instead the course of action Alan's council took was to threaten to prosecute him for the second time.

I feel there are other ways of going about it.

I hope the programme has gone some way to removing the stigma attached to hoarding.

Yes it's messy. Yes it's smelly and unpleasant. But people who make rude comments are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves.

After all you wouldn't laugh at someone who had any other type of illness!

I hope now many hoarders will find the courage to come forward and ask for help and I have set up a website which offers online support and resources.

Hopefully the medical profession will soon give full recognition to Hoarding Disorder and I feel proud of my mum for having been one of the first people in the country to stand up and tell all about the challenges she faces every day.

I think she has been incredibly brave and we've become closer than ever as a result of the documentary.

Crucially I now understand some of the reasons behind her hoarding and we even can have a laugh about it!

Jasmine Harman is the presenter of Britain's Biggest Hoarders.

Britain's Biggest Hoarders is on Tuesday, 8 May at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Brilliant, congratulations to all involved

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Having watched this programme and a number of others recently, I found this one the most insightful. I come from a family of hoarders and understand how this affects people. I have found it's not necessarily about possessions it's about control and objects are easy to control when you may not have that in other elements of your life. The irony of this is that in a very short while, the things you keep end up controlling you. I urge anyone who recognises these traits in their friends and family members to seek help at the earliest stages and not to wait until the resistance of the hoarder becomes painful for hoarder and those around them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    My nans house is quite like the ones viewed in tonight's program. They have a 5 bedroom detached house full to the brim, a half acre garden full to the brim and cars and caravans again full up with clutter. Jasmine, if you need new material for another episode i would happily help you!!

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    Comment number 4.

    Wasn't going to watch this program but I'm glad I did and I really wish all the people shown success. My brother was a hoarder and he eventually died through self neglect and the appalling conditions he lived in. He was only 50. Equally hard for the families of hoarder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Thank you for an enlightening, enjoyable and very watchable program. I would like to wish your mum, alan and marion, and richard luck and all the help they need to tackle their hoarding. I look forward to seeing your sequel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I was so impressed by this programme. It is rare to see such genuine empathy for people with real and devastating problems. Jasmine's presentation was heartfelt as her concern for her mum's condition was so apparent. I think she was incredibly brave to lay out such personal issues for the nation to see. I hope that these comments can be passed on to her. I thought she did an incredible job on the programme and I wish her personally very genuine good wishes for her and her mum's future and the future of the other people in the programme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Excellent programme - one of the most sensitive & insightful treatments of this difficult topic. Less voyeuristic than other TV representations of compulsive hoarding. As an environmental health officer with 20 years experience of dealing with similar cases it struck a real chord with me. Nice balance between dealing with the frustrating behaviours of suffers with insight into the cognitive process underlying Diogenes Syndrome. I'd like to make contact with other professionals who have successfully used Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques to help compulsive hoarders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Jasmine, I did not see your original documentary,and I must be honest I only came about tonight's programme by chance - but so glad I did. You say how brave your mum is - but I think you should also recognise just how brave you yourself have been in speaking out about something that must've been incredibly difficult for you to grow up and live with. So nice to see that you have a good relationship with your mum, and that you are not ashamed of the difficulties that your she faces. Thank you for a very interesting and moving programme, x

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I find this programme so interesting. It's easy to mock the hoarders but clearly they are suffering deeply at the thought of clearing their homes of their desperately 'needed' possessions.

    Jasmine is wonderfully personable and seeing her with her mum and interacting with the other hoarders in a non-judgemental way is very heart warming. I wish them all well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Thank you so much for making this programme. Jasmin must be so proud of her Mum. Her comment about finally having a home has struck a chord with me. My 2 children have never stayed at their Grandma's house because she and my eldest brother who still lives with her....are hoarders. It has got so bad that there is only one chair available to sit in downstairs. My eldest child is 12....but the problem goes back much further than that. I have never really been able to happily take partners to my "home" to see where I grew up as it's been so bad for such a long time. I think the problem is compounded by having 2 hoarders living together. Thank yOu for making me realise that I'm not alone....or that my family are freaks and that there is help to be had.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Hi Jasmine.
    Your programme was really interesting and really struck a chord. We have a house clearance business down here on the south coast, and work for local estate agents and solicitors. Although most of the properties we clear pale in comparison to your extreme examples, one that we did eighteen months or so, compared very much to Alan Burgess's house. This was on the behest of the family and it turned out that the deceased relative had been a local Liberal Democrat Councillor, who had for years run on the green and recycling ticket ! Several tons of newspaper and glass bottles from the loft and attics (a lovely flammable combination), several tons of metal from the garden (including several cars) dozens of bags of clothing etc etc later, a house that had not really be seen properly for twenty years, came back into view. A very worthwhile and satisfying job, but it begged the question as to how the chap had not received more help whilst he was there. Glad to see that your mom's problem, seems to be improving. Vance Whittall

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Most of the hoarding cases I have dealt with involve individuals who seem to be reacting adversely to an emotionally traumatic personal loss e.g. bereavement or relationship breakdown. Anyone else share this view?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I would like to help aswell..

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I am a daughter of a hoarder and suffered all my life because of my mothers reluctance to acknowledge her actions and the house that was always suffocating us all . It is only due to her have alzheimers over that last 10-12 years that with the help of social workers supporting me that slowly we cleared the house so she could be cared for at home . As the rooms were cleared and upset as it was done , she forgot and life became much happier , although all my life I have taken the blame for it all , after a house fire last year ( thank fully mother was at day care ) , the house was gutted , all her items were packed and went into store , over 400+ boxes , these were returned in Oct , and this thurs 201 boxes go to auction . Mum is now in full time care and in the best place she can be, she has no memories of her time at her marital home , but to be honest it is like that life has been erased now , sadly not for me . I have had to understand and put to bed her actions , and her hoarding goes back to childhood being ill as a teenager and coming back from resting to find that her mum and older sister has given her books and toys away . It was an issue when i was born late 60's ( 2nd child ) and then having a third child late 70's which she was ill and couldnt cope ......writing this makes me angry as i have never had a proper family and wish this could have been sorted many years ago ....seeing these programmes is overwhelming how they all move things around from one place to the next pile ! I am hoping I can bury this stage soon as I hope to rent her house out to now pay for her care ...what is sad is that she has only a few bits around her in her new room at the care home , but she is clean and happy sad that is how we may eventually all end up .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I have just watched this programme and found it very sad that these people struggle so hard to let go of things that, to most people, is rubbish. I think it's lovely that there are people out there that are dedicated to helping such individuals and it is clear to me that we should not scoff at their unfortunate dilemma but have compassion for them. I wish them all a happy, healthy and clutter free mind, soul and house!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Jasmine you are truly amazing with your patience and empathy for your mum and all the others that you have helped. It is obvious they would not have been able to do it without people like you. Well done for educating the world a bit more on this subject maybe more people will feel able to get help for themselves or their familes. Well done x

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I didn't see your previous programme on this subject, but this was so touching and really moved me. It has really made me think. It's frightenend me as I think I could have those hoarding traits....all those old birthday cards have to go, and that's just the start!
    Thank you Jasmine

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Great! Informative, compassionate and so very well presented.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The interesting thing about tonight's programme and the current Channel 4 series is that the hoarders featured all have a deep trauma lurking in their psyche. Whilst it is good to know that change is possible, the contributors are taking an amazing 1st step by letting strangers/ camera crews into their home.

    There is no way my late mother would have let anyone other than me into her home to see the mess, let alone spoken to a psychologist or counsellor to work through her issues , and certainly not a tv crew.

    These programmes are comforting because I now know my mother wasn't the only one out there, however there is still very little support for people like her, and for families who have tried everything. Unlike the people featured tonight, I doubt my mother would have changed.


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