Compulsive behaviour and all that stuff
Dorothy Breininger. Picture: Foxtel.

She's not quite as tidy as Martha Stewart, but professional organiser Dorothy Breininger can definitely find just about anything in her own home. The same can't be said for the people she works with on the television show Hoarders.

The Emmy-nominated program is both compulsive viewing and mirrors the horror of not being able to look away from a multi-car pile-up. It's as fascinating as it is painful as people grapple with parting with the piles and piles of rubbish and stuff - from books to mouldy food in broken fridges - which they have compulsively collected.

This is where the team from Hoarders steps in. They supply expert help, whether it's a psychologist or a team of cleaners, to remove the junk.

"For a person who has too much clutter, if they have someone over for dinner, they can throw what's on the table in a box or in the guest room," Dorothy Breininger explains. "A hoarder can't find a box, can't put anything away and, if they could, they wouldn't know where they put it."

Breininger is the show's professional organiser who works with a team to help hoarders disengage from their stuff in order to clean up. The trauma they suffer is palpable as their possessions are removed from their homes and their psyche.

"I always feel a great sense of despair," says the Californian, who was recently in Australia for the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers conference. "There have been times when I have left a Hoarders show and I cried all the way home.

"Sometimes I feel like there's no way they are going to get through it or accept the help we give them, which includes on-going therapy."

One of Breininger's secret weapons is simple - hugs. She says many hoarders are so hooked into their home hoards that they have become distant from the people who love them the most and certainly don't get a lot of physical contact.

"Their stuff gets all their emotion, not the people around them," she says. "They're not used to getting a hug. The first time it takes them aback but later they're asking where their hug is if I don't do it. That makes me happy.

"A lot of hoarders come from massive trauma that has happened earlier in life. They have suffered illness, been robbed at gunpoint, lost their job or something else dire has happened. It's often more than one thing, so it's no wonder they are the way they are."

It would be easy if the hoarders were sent away for the weekend and had their homes emptied in their absence but Breininger says that would defeat the purpose. Part of each hoarder's therapy is to willingly release their stuff into the skip bins on the lawn, to a scrap metal yard or charity group.

"These people will open up a box they haven't opened for 20 years and say 'I've been looking for that' when they haven't known it has been there. Some of their stuff is about nostalgia and memories and the stories behind them but this stuff is lost in the hoard and not taken care of."

A Dark and Broken Heart is published by Orion ($29.95)

The West Australian

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