Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trash or treasure? Hoarders pain their neighbours

When his garage was filled with bargains bought at garage sales and charity shops Sydney householder Joe Vieira shifted his car onto the street and used his carport for storing what to him was treasure and to others was trash. Hoarding didn't wreck his marriage - alcoholism got in first - but his wife was certainly glad to leave a home that grew to resemble a junk yard.

Australian psychologist David Foxley has studied compulsive accumulation and knows the tell-tale signs.

"The point where it starts to become a worry is when the house can no longer be used as a home - it starts to become a storage facility," the Newcastle University researcher said. "When this has been building up for years or even decades, it's not an easy thing to treat."

Vieira's house went with his divorce settlement and the new owners got rid of the polo sticks, car doors, woodworking tools, empty bottles and all the thousands of other almost worthless items he had kept for decades.

"A normal collector might specialize in one or two areas and will want to display their collections, whereas a hoarder will save a wide variety of things," Foxley said.

Sydney's most famous hoarders of rubbish are the Bobolas family in upmarket Bondi.

Late last year the local council sent in four men with a bulldozer, a digger and a dump truck to take away their rubbish.

Sally Betts, the mayor of Waverley Council, said the 3-day operation had cost taxpayers 30,000 Australian dollars (27,000 US dollars).

It was the 14th Waverley-funded clean-up and, with attendant court cases, brought the cost of dealing with the Bobolas' obsession to 350,000 Australian dollars.

Family members have been in and out of court for 26 years to defend their right to turn a Bondi residence into a rubbish dump with attached accommodation.

"A lot of residents are sympathetic to us," one Bobolas sister said of her mother Mary's addiction to junk. "It's a stress-related psychological problem for her and it's no different to an alcoholic who drinks."

Those sympathetic are unlikely to be fellow residents of Bondi's Boonara Avenue..." Link