Trapped in the bedroom of a house filled with enormous piles of junk and ‘unspeakable things’
PUBLISHED: 19:00 24 September 2018
The true story of a hoarder, and how one social enterprise saved her life
‘Lucy’ probably does not fit the stereotype of a typical ‘hoarder.’
She had a job working from home in financial services, and was in fact “extremely clean and tidy” when she left all her friends and family behind to move to Suffolk.
But by the time that the 55 year-old divorcee was admitted to hospital this summer, Lucy had been living for six months isolated and trapped in the bedroom of a house that was filled with enormous piles of junk, rubbish and “unspeakable things.”
“I was doing complicated financial reports at my computer for work, but I was just surrounded by all this mess,” she says.
Lucy got herself to the point where she could no longer leave home. She was unable to look after either herself, or her two pet cats and puppy who lived with her.
One day, her life reached a crisis point when she became physically ill. Lucy called 111 and was admitted to hospital with septicemia.
From there, she heard there about Lofty Heights, a social enterprise that helps people living in cluttered homes to clear their possessions and make a fresh start. Three weeks later, Lucy came out of hospital and went into hotel accommodation for another three weeks, and during that time, Lofty Heights set about making her house a home again.
“I want people to know about this service, because it saved my life,” says Lucy. “They are not just cleaners, they are really making a difference to people’s lives.”
How it all began
When she first moved to Suffolk, Lucy says her house was “like a show-home.” “Nobody was allowed to move an ornament - I was obsessed with cleaning,” she said.
After being made redundant, Lucy stopped seeing people she knew from her previous job. “I was shutting myself away and not creating a social life,” she explains. “I was working long hours from home in my new role. I got myself into a situation where I had no life outside of my house, and just didn’t ever leave.”
Lucy bought herself a puppy shortly before becoming “very ill”, which she now realises was a mistake. “I went for months without walking her, and I didn’t clean up after her. It got to the stage where I couldn’t break the circle - I didn’t know where to start.
“I don’t know when I turned into a dirty hoarder. I just shut my eyes and pretended I wasn’t there.”
Lucy got into the habit of not eating properly. She was living in the third bedroom of her house and rarely leaving it, because she couldn’t get up and down her stairs with all the clutter. “You know that American ‘Hoarders’ programme? I was like the worst case scenario,” she says. “I just stopped looking after myself. I was buying new clothes every week, and then throwing them away when they got dirty because I wouldn’t wash anything. I was hoarding black bags of rubbish everywhere.”
Before Christmas, Lucy decided to do the house up with a new kitchen and bathroom - but admits that she went about it the wrong way. “I bought the furnishings before work had even started. I had all these boxes from John Lewis - lamps, ornaments, new towels - you name it, I bought it.”
Lucy says she thinks she became “seriously ill” just before Christmas, and gave her puppy away to the Blue Cross when she knew she would be spending time in hospital. Lucy was referred through Lofty Heights’ new ‘homeward bound’ service, designed to help people who might be blocking a hospital bed, to make their homes more habitable for them to return to.
Upon being called upon to help, Olive Quinton, the chief executive and founder of Lofty Heights, went to see the house first, took photos and came to talk to Lucy in hospital to come up with a programme of work. “I needed that time in respite before coming home,” says Lucy.
It took two men from Lofty Heights six days to de-clutter Lucy’s house, and she was able to move back there last Tuesday. “They treated me with utmost respect - they even saved earrings they found on the floor, just in case I still wanted them,” she said.
“The employees from Lofty Heights come from a background where getting employment can be difficult. And they are doing a fantastic job.”
She describes the moment she set eyes upon her house after it had been cleaned as being “like when you move to a new house.”
“I’m just as excited - Its a fresh start for me. It’s completely life-changing - I now think about where I live as being my home.”
There is still work for Lucy to do clearing her cupboards, and Lucy is now busy going through her possessions and deciding what to keep. “But its more like normal cleaning,” she said. “Its like a different person was living here, not me. I was living in a bubble. There must be other people out there like I was.”
Most of the boxes of the things Lucy bought are still waiting to be opened. “I am going to be having Christmas here for the next two months!” she says.
The social enterprise helping people out of clutter
Ms Quinton of Lofty Heights admits she isn’t fond of the term ‘hoarder.’ “We work with people whose home has got in a muddle, perhaps because of ill health, and who can’t keep on top of the house work,” she explained.
When the team from Lofty Heights get a call-out, they try to recycle as much as they can, and are now working with ‘Repair, Reuse, Recycle,’ a Colchester-based organisation which repairs white goods and sells them on cheaply to people on low incomes.
“Anything else gets put in a skip,” explains Ms Quinton. “We come across everything from people with very clean, organised collections of stuff which has some value, to people living in squalor. Often, those with cluttered homes have unresolved issues - perhaps they never dealt with a loss or bereavement. Sometimes they lived in poverty as a child.
“They tell us they feel overwhelmed. Others feel under threat of eviction, and are then forced to do something about it, and some are estranged from their families. Their homes are in such a mess that the grandchildren haven’t visited for years, and they want to sort it out so they will be able to see again.”
She explains that the problem is often linked to poverty and debt. “You get people buying ten tins of one item, or buying stuff off the shopping channels on TV, or from charity shops.”
Ms Quinton says that seeing Lucy’s reaction when she saw her home after it had been cleaned up made her realise what an impact her organisation can have. “I was close to tears when she was expressing her gratitude, it was very moving.”