Queen of clean
THE feelings of morbid fascination, disgust, frustration and impatience many viewers feel when watching American documentary series Hoarders are familiar to professional organiser Dorothy Breininger.
She’s experienced them all, both personally and professionally.
As one of the professionals who does interventions on the series, which depicts the struggles of people who stand to lose their homes, their families, and sometimes even their lives due to compulsive hoarding, Breininger has seen and smelled it all.
But as she cajoles hoarders through parting with what they call possessions, and most of us call filth, she finds compassion and understanding where most of us want to yell ‘‘ just stop being lazy and clean it up’’.
‘‘ I know that won’t work,’’ Breininger says, before revealing her own battle.
‘‘ I know that because I used to weigh 200 pounds [ 91kg] and I have taken off 75 pounds [ 34kg] and I know for sure if someone said to me ‘ oh, you’re fat’ and walked off, it wouldn’t have worked.
‘‘ I have to show compassion. I needed it at one time, I can do it for others.’’
Breininger admits her job takes a strong stomach, but maintains hoarding – very much a first- world problem – is an illness.
‘‘ The common reaction from people is ‘ just light a match to it’, or ‘ let’s back up a dump truck and get rid of it all’,’’ she says.
‘‘ These people cannot because they have had some sort of trauma in their life that had them become so overly attached to stuff that they cannot get rid of it.’’
Breininger says America is a ‘‘ powerhouse’’ for hoarding, ‘‘ followed by the UK, somewhat Germany and also in Australia’’.
‘‘ We hoard things that are beyond our need to survive,’’ she says.
Breininger’s journey from professional organiser to television show began 10 years ago, when a council in Los Angeles asked her to help a 76- year- old man with 5000 bicycles inside his house.
‘‘ They said if I couldn’t help him he was going to jail,’’ she says. ‘‘ I did help him. I kept him out.’’ The story wound up on the US Today show and a TV entity was born.
When Hoarders approached her to be part of the show, she leapt at the chance to help others.
Unlike other interventionists on the show, Breininger isn’t a psychologist.
‘‘ I just grew up with a mother who made me organised as a child,’’ she laughs ruefully. Her own house isn’t as neat as a pin. ‘‘ Every week my bedroom becomes its own little disaster zone,’’ she says.
‘‘ I think everybody needs a place to let things drop – as long as you’re picking up after yourself.’’
She acknowledges that the job requires endless patience.
‘‘ Absolutely sometimes I want to tear my hair out,’’ she says.
‘‘ Each hoarder has a story behind every little item they have, and they have millions of items – and they want to tell me about each one of them.’’
This season of Hoarders features Breininger working with people who have no choice but to get rid of their stuff. They face jail, losing their houses or their children if they do not change their ways. Hoarders, BIO ( Foxtel), Thursday 8.30pm