Saturday, February 19, 2011

Extreme Home Makeover: The Non-TV Edition

Have you ever watched the show, "Hoarders" on TLC? It's fascinating to see the way hoarders live and to learn why they keep what they keep. And after the professionals leave, it's interesting to see how some hoarders can dramatically turn their lives around. But what if a hoarder dies before he/she can get the help they need?

That's exactly what happened here in Calgary. There was a story on the news about a family who needed help getting a fresh start after the father died suddenly in a car accident. The man had been a compulsive hoarder, bringing things into the house and backyard while his wife was at work. A neighbor decided to organize volunteers to help clean the house out and solicit donations from various stores so that the house could then be renovated and redecorated. I can't completely explain why, but I wrote down the contact info and signed up to be a volunteer.

I received back an e-mail from the woman in charge, telling me to wear sturdy boots and to be prepared to work at 9am, Saturday morning.

Driving through the neighborhood that morning, looking for the correct street, I was surprised to see that it was fairly nice and quite ordinary. I'm not sure what I was expecting- maybe a house in the middle of nowhere? I don't know. I found the street, the house number and a parking spot and asked myself one more time what the heck I was doing.

A very large dumpster filled the driveway. Cars lined the street in front of the house. As I approached, a woman stepped out from the front yard to greet me. I was invited inside to 'register.'

The house was small and not as cluttered as I expected it to be. But then I remembered the news story that said a large dumpster had already been filled and taken away. I signed in as more volunteers crowded into the tiny living room. Almost immediately, the men hauled all the furniture from that room out to the dumpster. I didn't realize EVERYTHING was going.

I heard someone say we could head out to the backyard, so I made my way through the kitchen (also full of people), passing this door:

Rita is the owner of the house and had been introduced to all of us at some point. She was standing nearby so I asked her what the sign meant. She told me the basement was off-limits to us. Everything she wanted to keep was down there. Apparently, all the rooms on the main and upper floors were being completely emptied. I noticed they were starting to pull up all of the carpet in the room I had just left.

I bundled up and continued out to the yard. Here was evidence that a hoarder once lived in this house:

Mostly old car parts. We were told we could move only the junk from a certain area to the dumpster. The rest would have to wait until Spring when all the snow and ice was gone.

I felt sad for the man who had died. No one seemed to be grieving for him. I heard no condolences being offered. No one said they were glad he was gone, don't get me wrong. But seeing what he left behind made me sad. He seemed so exposed.

Soon an announcement was made that it was time for a break. Coffee donated by Starbucks and pastries donated by Safeway had arrived. We'd been working for only an hour but the entire living and dining rooms were stripped down to the bare floors and the pile in the yard we were told to move was gone. We were making great progress.

While we stood against the walls of the now-empty living room, enjoying our snack, the woman who organized the event told us it was time for a drawing for door prizes. This was unexpected and completely unnecessary. "I got such a great response to my request for donations that we've got a prize for every one of you," she told us.

Restaurant vouchers, tickets to hockey games, baskets of candles, and many, many other prizes were given out. I won a Calgary Flames sweatshirt (Calgary's hockey team). It was fun! Then it was time to tackle the upstairs.

Somewhere in the midst of all the activity, a cameraman from the local TV station arrived. I pointed him towards the woman in charge but he told me he was just going to take some random shots. He set about to do just that while I headed in the opposite direction. ha.

Later, one of the news anchors showed up. He conducted interviews with the principal players while we all looked on and tried to stay quiet. At one point, after I sent a text to my husband, I looked up and saw that I was in the shot. No, I don't find that exciting! I'm mortified. Still, I'll be watching the news later to see if I make my TV debut.

(The Boston Pizza sign is up because they provided lunch!)

I was able to leave around noon. They didn't get the turnout they were hoping for (200 people). Still, the 30 of us all worked quickly and steadily- at one point passing items down the line, person to person, from the second floor all the way out to the dumpster- and met the goals for the day by the end of the morning.

The whole experience was a little surreal, tramping around a stranger's house and throwing away everything in it. But everyone was very nice and certainly appreciative. We even had a few laughs. During lunch, the woman in charge hurriedly passed out napkins, thrusting one into the hands of the bewildered man next to me. I told him, "she gave you that cuz you look messy." Thank goodness he laughed!

I'm hoping the media will do a follow up after the house has been made over so I can see how it turned out. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying my new sweatshirt!


tishlp said...

So it was a positive experience, if a bit strange. Would you do it again? By the way, I admire you. That took guts.

caryl said...

So nice of you to say that. But the women organizing this home makeover have done an AMAZING job!

wendy said...

Impressive Caryl !! I give you loads of credit for doing this.
I know what you mean about it being sad... My husband collected tons of music -most of which he downloaded.
I could just throw most of it away -but sadly ,he spent so much of his time doing it,I feel that it would be a betrayal not to share what was so meaningful for him.
So now we sit ,with our entire dining room table,our kitchen island as well as other areas of my house etc... with piles of stacked CD's...
At the end -it's all just stuff...

Margaret said...

I'm really glad you went to help this women get her life in order. Can't imagine dealing with that on top of the loss of your husband. This whole things brings back such vivid memories of Katrina houses. There are still houses that need to be gutted. (Demolished really, after sitting there for so long.)

Anonymous said...

Nicely done Caryl - you must feel great to have helped out this lady. She was probably quite miserable with all that stuff cluttering up her home. Now she'll be able to join it and, that can't be anything but good.

Jan (your Canadian neighbour from the East coast)

melina said...

WOW Caryl, you captured everything that happened and more! I AM SO GRATEFUL TO YOU FOR MENTIONING BOSTON PIZZA MEMORIAL DRIVE'S JASON CHASE and taking the photo of his banner because he really made our event the success it was. There were many hungry people and we had to ensure they got the proper food intake to continue working.

It's amazing you didn't tell any of us you were going to write this INCREDIBLY DETAILED BLOG with PHOTOS! Great job because I had no record of the home re: photos nor did anyone else and your Blog is a great souvenir for us and proves "ask and you shall receive" really does work! THANKS GOD.

PS I read about Wendy's story in your Blog and want her to know when she's ready to purge just give me a call or email. Our Kijiji Ad under Community Other is still active and I continue to update everyone on the progress being made. As well, Nancy Jones and I wanted to thank everyone personally.

I feel quite certain many of the volunteers that came out for Project Erin Woods would join me in an effort to help Wendy. All she needs to do is ask!

Once her purge takes place I'm sure we can do other things for her too because we care and have community resources who also care.

PS Please give me a week to catch up on my school work and then I'm free with the "Hoard Help Team" (I just made that up! he he)

Melina Leduc
Calgary Advocte
"For those in need"

caryl said...

Melina, I doubt Wendy's house is that bad. Also- she lives in NY! But thanks so much for the offer. That was very kind.

caryl said...

Oh and I was going to ask first if it was OK to write about the purge but everything happened really fast. I didn't take pics of the mess inside because it felt like an invasion of privacy. The backyard had already been photographed by the news crew.

melina said...

Hello again Caryl!

You have permission to use any photographs you took from the Erin Woods Project Phase 1.

In fact, I am grateful that you captured our project as I didn't have to time consider taking photos to keep for our records as organizers of the event.

Thanks for your quick response re: Wendy in NY.

Our Kijiji Ad continues to be updated if anyone on your blog is interested in reading about Rita's story. Please see Kijiji, Community, Other.

Thanks Caryl!

Melina Leduc
Calgary Advocate
"For those in need"

caryl said...

Here's the kijiji link:

Wendy said...

Thanks so much for offering to help!!
Caryl's right - I do live in NY and I have sorted his CD's and in the process of giving away the music to others.
Luckily - it was a small room (his cave) and although it's way too much for any one person to collect - he wasn't quite at the "hoarder stage- however would have been eventually if he had lived longer...

Kudos to a fine group of volunteers who are so willing to offer their time and efforts to making a real difference in people's lives!!! Good job Caryl !! Wendy

melina said...

Hey Caryl!

Just wanted you and your followers to know things are going well in Phase 2 of Erin Woods Project (Hoarder).

Rita's kitchen and dining room is now painted and tiles adorn her floor!

Her main floor is totally painted and today Wayne Glass of Horizontal Coatings and his crew will spray the ceilings free of charge!

Her living room is going to get hard wood flooring in a day or two!

I am waiting to hear back from a dentist to see if he will provide her with 18 extractions = OUCH! so she can then have her donated dentures fitted!

Then, next week when things calm down I'm bringing her to Eye Designs to see Dr. Wayne Klettke for her eye exam and to also pick her free frames donated by him!

Then, when Kevin from Angles DT comes back from vacation he will make over Rita totally and cut both kids hair for free!

I'll keep you all posted!

PS We might not recognize Rita in a few weeks lol!

Melina Leduc

caryl said...

Wow, Melina!

melina said...

Guess what Caryl!?!!!

I just registered CAFTIN (Calgary Advocates For Those In Need) as a Charity in Calgary!

My motto? "For every person we help, there's one less in need"


Melina Leduc

hehehehehehe hohohohohhho lolololol

Now we need a great core of volunteers I can call the CAFTIN TEAM!

I think we have a good foundation of kind people who showed up for Project Erin Woods Phase 1 as "I CAN'T DO IT WITHOUT THEM"


Anonymous said...

Great job everyone and great Blog, Caryl. I am very proud of you, dear daughter. Your work, your keen eye for detail and your gift for writing add a special dimension to this project. It will be interesting to see the finished product!

melina said...

You are right parent of Caryl! She is incredibly gifted and a kind and generous soul indeed!

I will provide photos of the residence shortly. Right now the Ad is gone but Kijiji will be putting it back up on Monday.

Phase 2 is now completed.

Phase 3 is happening now (furniture being donated and set up).

The personal care will start shortly re: make-over for Rita, teeth, eye glasses, etc.

Melina Leduc

Anonymous said...

Melina - I am Caryl's Mom. You have done and are doing such an impressive job organizing the volunteer efforts. It's wonderful that you are able to add the personal touches (teeth, hair, etc.) that are so important to a woman's self-esteem. Perhaaps the next time I am in Calgary (I live on Long Island there will be some poject that Caryl and I can join in together. God bless you and all the volunteers.

Lois Meyer, Caryl's Mom

melina said...

Awwww... thanks for your sweet offer. Yes, CAFTIN will take you up on it if you are around for one of our projects.

You are correct, these physical changes for Rita ARE extremely important and add a great finishing touch.

Bye for now!

Melina Leduc

melina said...

Hi Caryl!

We are at it again...

With 2 ads on Kijiji, Community, Other I am trying to get responses from weary single parents and seniors to help them for free.

I know it's strange to advertise 'free' help but it's true!

I am also recruiting volunteers if you can pass the word on for anyone to contact Please put 'volunteer' in the subject line. I will contact you immediately.

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Steve Holt said...

That is so cool! My friend told me that there is something like that happening soon. I will have to go there and see what I can help with. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Steve |