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I Never Said It Was A Good Lifestyle | Main | Another Kind of Collector
March 22, 2006

"Hoarding Disorder" Woman's Home Filled With Slimy, Moldy Old Food She Could Not Bear To Throw Out

I've got a very mild case of hoarding disorder. I'll pull a bent screw out of a piece of furniture and, instead of immediately tossing it into the trash, I'll put it into a drawer, figuring, hey, you never know when you'll need an old, chewed up, bent useless screw.

I have shit I never liked when I first bought it but I just keep it around to collect dust. I've got ruined CD-R's -- they were written on to blank, but can't be rewritten on again, so they're absolutely useless -- but I keep them. Because, I don't know, maybe one Chrismas I'll run some string through their middles and use them as a nice shiny garland for the tree.

But I don't have it this bad:

Jill VanGiesen opened the door to her refrigerator, revealing a blackened cavity.

Everything was coated with a thick film of dark slime - upright containers, tipped over containers - food from years ago.

"This is probably the worst," she said as the stench belched out, filled the kitchen and wafted into the hall.

"Even an inability to throw out bad food," she said, confessing that to throw something away is to waste it.


As she talked, two men carried bag after bag from her house. The men, workers for 1-800-Got-Junk?, were helping VanGiesen comply with a Lansing District Court order to clear out and scrub her house on Blair Street, off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Workers don't think she'll meet the deadline. There was an estimated 20 tons of trash in the place.

VanGiesen accepts she is in trouble and says it's her avid collecting that has done it. What does she collect? Seemingly everything: plastic soda pop bottles, glass bottles, plastic grocery bags, plastic trash bags, foam cups, foam packing peanuts, pieces of paper, tin cans, chairs, a flattened pinata, a damaged broom, a snow shovel and a Lansing State Journal paper box.

See, I kind of get that. Foam packing peanuts are fun. Paper is always useful, even scraps. A flattened pinata? Well, you must have nieces and nephews you don't particularly like, right?


The disorder VanGiesen suspects she suffers from is considered by experts to be as debilitating as depression or schizophrenia. Experts estimate one in about 284 people has Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome. That would be more than 400 people in Lansing alone. Nationwide, there could be as many as 1.4 million.

"It's only 1.4 million?" asked Jim McCue, Lansing's interim code compliance manager.

At least six times a year, McCue's office is called in to help with what appears to be hoarding.

"I had one gentleman who had VHS tapes stacked up everywhere," McCue said.

The apartment was reduced to a series of paths.

VanGiesen is McCue's latest case, except she filled more than an apartment. She packed a two-story home. And there's more.

"At times I've had four storage units," she said.

That's one 5-foot-by-10-foot unit, two 10-by-10 units and one 10-by-30. In addition, she has an apartment in Meridian Township, which is where she has been living for about three years. The house on Blair Street, which she can't live in due to a plumbing problem, is just another storage unit.

As of Saturday morning, Got Junk had removed only five tons of junk, and VanGiesen was climbing the trash truck trying to rescue things to keep.

I wish I knew where they were taking these treasures I could get me greedy mitts on that damaged broom. I can always use another damaged broom or stinky, matted mop.

Thanks to Craig.

digg this
posted by Ace at 01:05 AM

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