I-Team: Hoarding in WMass

GREENFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – You may think of reality TV when you hear about hoarders, but 22News discovered it’s a reality for a number of people in western Massachusetts.

“I realized, I was living in chaos and I didn’t know what to do about it,” said Joanne Garland in Greenfield.

Garland is struggling to overcome her obsession to save everything, from the wire on Chinese food containers to piles of papers she hasn’t looked at in years.

“I would tend to save things that had potential usefulness. These are boxes of file folders from the clearance racks at staples, because they might come in handy someday.”

However, that “string saver mentality” only left her with no space to live in her own home. The hallways are literally closing in on her. “That’s when I realized I had a big problem;” Garland is a hoarder, but she’s far from alone in her struggles.

Experts say 1 in 20 people hoard and the 22News I-Team discovered many live in Western Massachusetts.

Springfield Building Inspector David Cotter told the I-Team he’s been in dozens of hoarding homes in the last few years, and he knows there are more out there we don’t know about yet.

Cotter says it’s important people recognize the illness and get help because it puts everyone at risk if there’s a fire. “Our first responders have to assume that these hoarders are in the inside. The first thing that goes after a fire starts is the electricity, so if a fire starts, if it’s at night, you’ll never find these people inside there.”

Lee Shuer also struggled with hoarding until his wife gave him an ultimatum. “She said you really need to make a choice between your things and our marriage.”

Shuer saved his marriage by overcoming his obsession and now works to help others do the same, he’s working with Garland, who’s slowly learning to “de-clutter.” “I learned there is a method that really works, yes, no and maybe boxes.”

Garland showed us a desk that’s now clear and a bed that can be slept in. To an outsider it may not look like much, but to Garland it’s a huge accomplishment and she’s motivated to keep going.

“All i do is set weekly goals, sometimes it’s one square foot at a time. My goal is to keep things flowing out, keep things flowing out,” said Garland.

If you think your home is closing in on you too, there is help available here in western Massachusetts.

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