Queen of clean

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television - DEB­BIE SCHIPP

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

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