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A&E | 2009 | 329 mins. | Not Rated

According to the popular A&E show´s introduction: “Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary” and affects more than 3 million Americans. For those not familiar with Hoarders, we aren’t talking about people who buy a few too many knick-knacks or forget to take out the garbage once in a while. At its worst, hoarding is as crippling any addiction; resulting in financial ruin, divorce, abandonment, illness, major fines, and in some cases, jail time.

HoardersFilmed in a similar format as A&E’s Intervention, Hoarders usually follows two different stories per episode. While the subjects appear in their unbelievably filthy homes, the show cuts to hoarding specialists and therapists who try to help them make sense of their lives. All the while, the camera pans through the house; garbage piled high to the ceiling, rotting food, newspapers piled high, and the occasional long dead cat isn’t a shock. All of this evokes a strange range of emotions from its viewers, morbid fascination, to compassion to utter revulsion.

According to MayoClinic.com, the causes of hoarding aren’t entirely known or understood, though it is often associated (rightly or wrongly), with obsessive compulsive disorder. I admit I watched the first couple of episodes when Hoarders started airing, but became exhausted by the process. After watching the entire first season on DVD, I’m left wondering whether the help offered is truly a path to recovery or a hindrance. The people profiled on Hoarders are usually in dire straits—by the time Hoarders and their crew of help has arrived, parents are about to lose their children, or have their homes condemned.

While this seems constructive, because the crews do clean up the homes, they rarely do much to investigate why someone may be hoarding. One episode that comes to mind, involves Jake, a 21-year-old garbage hoarder. Jake fears that getting rid of his dog’s shed fur will result in her death. On the face of it, this would seem like a hoarding problem (which it is), but you don’t have to look very far to find what might be other contributing factors.

With Jake, there are certainly hints of a predisposition or environmental influences. His alcoholic father also has hoarding issues; his collection of empty beer bottles, crammed under pieces of furniture and stuffed in nearly every draw and closet in the house is a sight to behold. It’s easy to imagine that Jake has long felt abandoned by a father who has spent many years inside a bottle. The thought of losing his dog is simply too much to bear, and all of the junk he keeps makes up for the lack of love he feels from his dad. Unfortunately, little of this is explored, and the home is simply cleaned out.

What Hoarders does do, is illustrate the psychological effects of the disease. We see the feelings of despair, shame. And hopelessness caused by living in such squalor and filth. When help comes, we bear witness to the crippling anxiety that takes over when sufferers are forced to get rid of things. The show also examines the strange relationship between hoarders and those that live with them. Family members are often disgusted by the mess, but also seem to adapt to it.

The heroes portrayed here are definitely the experts and therapists, who protected by face masks and gloves during the removal process, talk their clients down from each panic attack as every piece of garbage is removed. As helpful as all of this may be, I could help but wonder what happened to the hoarders once the cameras went away. Each of these people likely has an underlying issue that caused them to start hoarding, and without identifying that first, is it really possible for some to stop hoarding? I don’t know.

The Complete Season One consists of seven episodes, four on Disc One, and three on Disc Two.

Each episode is presented in 1.78:1. The interlaced transfers are adequate, but nothing special.

The DVDs are presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. No subtitles are provided.

The second of the two discs in the Season One set includes 21 total minutes of Additional Footage, a few minutes for each of the episodes.

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