Often, TV shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive will feature filthy homes crammed to the rafters with detritus, including feces and garbage. But for some hoarders, there's not a lot of filth; just a lot of stuff — an intense collection that has gotten out of hand.
In the April issue of GQ, writer Jon Ronson visits with 3 people who have issues with hoarding, a disorder the American Psychiatric Association recognizes as when people "excessively save items that others may view as worthless and have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces."
Ronson meets Kevin, a New Yorker who has been in the news quite a bit and was featured on the TV show Hoarders. Although McCrary says he is a collector, not a hoarder, his issues have gotten him evicted.
Ronson also spends time with "Suzanne" — her name has been changed — who is a fairly organized hoarder; this is her kitchen:
Suzanne's tchotchkes are piled so high it's like a tchotchke mountain range in here. They cover every surface, every inch. There are some rooms you can't get into at all. In others she's made an effort to clear a path—a perilous path through a dense forest of whimsy.
"I hope you didn't smell anything when you came in," Suzanne says. "I've seen these shows where people have garbage."
Suzanne's house doesn't smell. She doesn't live in squalor. "Squalor is a completely different animal," says Sara Bereika, a home-clearance expert who used to work on Hoarders.
Of course, Suzanne still has a serious problem:
For non-squalor hoarders like Suzanne, relinquishing even a piece of Tupperware can be a negotiation. This is because for her, hoarding isn't about despair. Quite the opposite. It's about hope.
But Randy is the most fascinating of the bunch. He owns an amusement arcade in the seaside town of Wildwood, NJ. He says he was incessantly bullied as a kid: "In junior high, a kid sitting behind me in class set my hair on fıre with a cigarette lighter."
Randy's parents, "kind of overcompensating" for his nine months of getting bullied every year, gave Randy enough money to spend all summer where he was happiest—inside the arcades.
Bonding with the arcades turned into an obsession; Randy now has thousands of vintage pinball machines and arcade games; he calls them his "old friends." But Randy also has a place called "Randyland," a 21,000 square-foot space full of mannequins that look like Randy.
It is gigantic—a vast and crammed shrine to Randy and the things that make him happy. There are arcade games as far as the eye can see—Space Invaders and Asteroids and pinball machines. Discomfortingly, there are also hundreds of mannequins, all lined up in rows, each an eerily perfect reproduction of Randy. They have Randy's grin, Randy's haircut. The only way you can tell them apart is that each wears a different costume. And each costume is from a different part of Disney World, where Randy once worked as an arcade mechanic: "Here's Animal Kingdom Randy, Indiana Jones Randy, A Bug's Life Randy, Guest Relations Randy. This is Merchandising Randy from Main Street…"
It's hard not to gawk at the photo of Randy's Randyland with eyes agog. It's so unique, so visually arresting, so much like an old-timey horror movie or Scooby-Doo episode set in a fun house. Creepy-cool, just like the sideshow attractions Randy grew up around. But Randy, who relates to Willy Wonka, is fully aware that Randyland is a manifestation of a mental disorder:
Randy says it annoys him when people refer to him as a collector. Collectors aren't consumed by their obsession the way he is. "I have no life! I have no wife! I have no kids! It causes personal pain!"
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Photographs by Mary Mattingly for GQ.