Having Too Much Stuff Helping Hoarders Get Cleaned Up

In March 1947, a group of nearly 600 onlookers gathered on the sidewalk in front of the home of bachelor brothers Homer and Langley Collyer on Fifth Avenue and 128th Street in Manhattan. Residents of the neighborhood had speculated and gossiped for years about the two eccentric shut-ins and their crumbling brownstone, which was rumored to be crammed floor-to-ceiling with treasures and curiosities collected by the Collyers over the decades.

It was not until an anonymous tip was phoned in to the NYPD claiming that there was a dead body in the Collyer house that the mystery surrounding the brothers finally unraveled.

Initially, officers responding to the tip were unable to get into the building because the foyer was entirely blocked by a solid wall of junk, including mountains of yellowed newspapers, broken furniture, boxes, and tangled debris. A patrolman eventually broke in through a second-floor window, and after crawling for over two hours through a dark, cramped, foul-smelling maze of thousands upon thousands of objects of all descriptions, he found Homer Collyer's body. There was no sign of Langley.

While search parties looked all over the city for Langley Collyer, workers began clearing the brothers' house of decades' worth of accumulated possessions, trash, and waste. On April 8, 1947 —nearly two weeks after the discovery of Homer Collyer—the badly decomposed body of Langley Collyer was discovered, mere feet away from where his older brother had been found. He had apparently been crushed beneath a landslide of stacked luggage and newspapers.

Signs and Symptoms

Today, we would say that the Collyer brothers were not merely reclusive and slovenly, but were in fact compulsive hoarders, afflicted with a particular strain of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and in need of therapy and professional cleaning and organization assistance to get their home and lives in order. And they certainly wouldn't be alone. According to a February 2013 “Scientific American” article, there are an estimated five to 14 million Americans suffering from compulsive hoarding.

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