CRANBERRY TWP — While township resident Kristin DiBacco was excited to appear on a popular television show, she was more thrilled to help the Beaver Falls resident featured on the program with her severe mental illness.
DiBacco, who owns and operates her home-based organizing business, The Serene Space, appeared on the Jan. 3 episode of the A&E show “Hoarders.”
She was one of a handful of professional organizers who worked with “Barbara,” who has an extreme hoarding disorder. Barbara’s house was so crammed with items and garbage, as well as rat waste and carcasses, that her doctor threatened to put her in a nursing home instead of allowing her to return to her house.
Barbara’s sleeping situation was a narrow strip of a twin-size mattress with junk encroaching on both sides.
DiBacco has completed hoarder training and learned hoarding is categorized by levels 1 through 5. As a contractor, DiBacco had worked with one level 4 hoarder before, but not with anyone whose disorder is as extensive as Barbara’s.
“I have never worked with a level 5 like Barbara,” she said.
Barbara’s hoarding was so intense that “Hoarders” star and clutter expert Matt Paxton and the organizers agreed that they would only have time to go through a portion of Barbara’s things, clean the house as much as possible, and box up and label the rest.
Normally, Paxton is able to help hoarders overcome their fear of letting go of their things, and the rooms are nearly back to normal in the short time the production crew spends at each home.
“Barbara has one of the top five most densely hoarded homes (Paxton) ever worked in,” DiBacco said.
But DiBacco does not judge those who develop the disorder, and says others shouldn’t judge them either.
“It is a serious mental disorder that is usually brought on by some kind of traumatic life event,” DiBacco said. “For Barbara, she’s had several things happen in the course of her lifetime.”
The elderly woman, who is the mother of 10, recently suffered the death of her husband. Several decades ago, her 5-year-old son burned the family’s home to the ground by playing with matches. The family lost everything.
The latter tragedy caused Barbara to begin collecting items to replace those she lost in the fire, and the hoarding cycle began.
The “Hoarders” team filled several Dumpsters at Barbara’s home, but ended up making a path from the front of the house to the back instead of returning it to normal.
“It became more about just taking care of Barbara and making things safe for her to live in her home,” DiBacco said. “You can do a lot of damage if you go in there and just throw everything away.”
She said since the episode was shot three months ago, Barbara has slowly continued to work on her home and get rid of items. The show also connected her with an aftercare therapist to help with her hoarding disorder.
”Her family was very supportive, and loves her very much,” DiBacco said. “We all hope and pray she continues to seek treatment and get help and support.”
DiBacco said in working with her clients, items are categorized and stored over a period of several days or longer. On “Hoarders,” the crew has only several hours to organize and clean up a home.
“The entire experience was emotionally and physically exhausting,” DiBacco said of her stint on the show.
She said she felt as though she was in Barbara’s shoes during the shoot because so much time was spent at her house.
“You can imagine how she feels, seeing that every day,” DiBacco said.
She was invited to appear on the show by Paxton, whom she had become acquainted with at a number of events related to the organizing business. Paxton contacted DiBacco when he knew a show was planned for nearby Beaver Falls.
DiBacco said many people and their families suffer in silence with hoarding disorders, and she hopes the show she participated in causes someone to seek help.
“I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat, just knowing you’re helping somebody,” DiBacco said. “That’s what it’s all about.”