By Courtny Gerrish
When does collecting become a compulsion? Hoarding is a disease, not a habit. And it can destroy homes and ruin lives.
From the outside, hoarders look like anyone else you'd pass on the street. Inside, however, they are hurting.
Their homes are disasters.
"Geri" is a hoarder. The Milwaukee County woman agreed to talk to us, in the hope of helping others.
"It just started to heap up," she explained simply.
But when we went into Geri's house, it was unimaginable.
The floor was covered with bags of stuffed animals, books, paperwork, pots, pans and garbage.
The sink hadn't been used in years.
The stairs were so heaped with debris that it was difficult to go up them.
The basement was also stuffed with garbage.
We asked Geri what happened. How did her home get this bad?
"It's like nature abhors a vacuum, and hoarders abhor a vacuum even more," she admitted.
Geri, a recently retired professional, lives a lonely life. She has no family in town, no close friends, and no pets.
She told us much of the stuff she collected was supposed to be recycled. She also said she's a great bargain shopper who does a lot of shopping.
"Being a hoarder means you don't like to turn loose of anything," she explained. "Things take on an emotional resonance."
Eventually, neighbors noticed. And one horrible evening, paramedics removed Geri from her home and the house was deemed unlivable..." More