Many of you may be familiar with hoarders because of the TV shows depicting the lives of people who hoard their belongings until it’s nearly impossible to live in their homes anymore. Even though the media has only recently brought it to light, hoarding is not a new phenomenon. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.” Hoarding has been going on for as long as people have been alive, but many of these people have been forgotten. Here are some of the most famous examples of hoarders from history.
The Collyer Brothers Literally Passed Away In Their Hoard of Stuff
Two of the most famous hoarders in history were brothers Homer and Langley Collyer. Both of them were very accomplished in life. They attended Columbia University, where Homer earned a degree in law and Langley studied engineering. Their father was a wealthy gynecologist, so the family had a lot of money. These brothers never married, and lived with their mother in the family’s Harlem brownstone until she passed. One of the first things they began collecting was newspapers, because Home went blind temporarily, and Langley wanted to let him catch up with the news. As time went on, Harlem became increasingly dangerous. This caused Homer and Langley to become isolated in their home. They would only go out food shopping at midnight, and pick up trash they found on the side of the road to add to their “treasures”.
Years later, the police received an anonymous tip that there were bodies in the Collyer house. When the police and fire department arrived, they found so much trash that the brothers had built tunnels to crawl around from room to room. They discovered the first brother, Homer, had succumbed to starvation and heart disease. The second brother, Langley, was found three weeks later buried in trash just 10 feet away from Homer’s body. He had met his end by asphyxiation. Police theorized that Langley was trying to crawl through a tunnel to bring food to Homer when the trash fell and crushed him. The estate was split up, and the house was torn down. Today, the site of their home has been turned into a small park.
Artist Andy Warhol Stored Thousands of Pieces of Junk in Cardboard Boxes
Andy Warhol is an artist who became famous in the 1960’s for his pop art and short films. Some of his most famous pieces were his images of Cambell soup cans and Marilyn Monroe. He began making “time capsules” of his life, but they were actually filled with random things. Andy Warhol sealed away a total of 300,000 items in 610 boxes over the course of 13 years. Some of the items included were magazines, photographs, letters, toys, watches, stamps, and even old Cambell soup cans that were now rotten from decades of decay. This sounds like a lot of random junk, but Andy Warhol actually curated these boxes to be considered a work of art. A British art historian named Tim Marlow said, “There is an element of surrealist about Warhol. These odd, disparate objects put together have a kind of curious poetry.”
When it was time to open the boxes, The Andy Warhol Museum sold tickets to fans of his work to witness the event. One person even paid $30,000 just to have the privilege of opening the last box. To a lot of people, this just seems like a lot of trash. Andy Warhol held onto this stuff for decades. Even though it was neatly packed away in boxes, doesn’t it still count as hoarding? But since he was a famous artist, it’s interpreted as “art”.
Thomas Jefferson Hoarded a Massive Book Collection That Still Exists Today
Not many people realize that former President Thomas Jefferson had a massive book collection. Calling him a “hoarder” might sound a little harsh, but it was truly massive. In 1770, Jefferson’s childhood home called Shadwell tragically burned to the ground. When he wrote about the fire, one of the first things he mentioned losing was his massive book collection. We’re not saying that the books were the cause of the fire, but it’s well known that having a lot of paper around your house is a fire hazard, because of how flammable it is.
Over the next ten years, he made up for the loss by collecting thousands of books for the library at Monticello. In 1814, the British burned the nation’s Capitol and the Library of Congress. Once that library burned, Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection was the largest in the country. After the fire, Jefferson kindly offered the library his collection to replace what was burned. They agreed, and purchased 6,487 books for $23,950 in 1815. Tragically, there was another fire on Christmas Eve of 1851, which destroyed two-thirds of the books Jefferson had donated. In recent years, generous grants have helped the Library of Congress to reassemble the antique books that were lost in the fire, so that the Jefferson collection could be complete once again.
Cousins of Jackie Kennedy, The Bouviers, Were the Inspiration For “Grey Gardens”
Mother-daughter hoarders “Little Edie” and “Big Edie” Bouvier were famous for more than just being hoarders. They were also the cousins of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The Edies both lived in the lavish Grey Gardens estate in East Hampton, New York. Big Edie was abandoned by her husband, and left without alimony. Little Edie tried and failed to become an actress, and moved back in with her mom. Both of these women were living in absolute squalor. In 1971, the Suffolk County Health Department entered the home and cited several code violations. They had a 5-foot pile of food cans stacked up in the dining room, and there was human waste in one of the bedrooms. Jackie Kennedy felt so guilty and embarrassed that she sent her cousins $32,000 to help them survive and fix up the house as much as they could.
This story circulated the newspapers in the 1970’s, but The Edies became world-famous after the documentary called Grey Gardens premiered in 1975. Despite everything she had been through, Little Edie still played it up for the cameras by singing and dancing. It became a huge cult classic, especially among people who loved musical theater. Years later, in 2009, a movie also called Grey Gardens premiered, starring Drew Barrymore. In the movie version, we see the backstory of these women’s lives before they became hoarders. A series of traumatic experiences were to blame for them becoming reclusive. After her mother passed away, Little Edie sold the house and moved around. She even had the opportunity to be a paid performer in New York City, and made friends with her new fanbase.
Ida Mayfield Wood Hid Her Riches and Lived in Hoarding Squalor
Two sisters, Ida Wood and Mary Mayfield lived together in the Herald Square Hotel for 24 years. On May 5, 1931, 93-year old Ida left her hotel room to ask for help, because her sister was sick. When hotel employees and the rescue team entered the room, they found “yellowed newspapers, cracker boxes, balls of used string, stacks of old wrapping paper and several large trunks.” The sisters never allowed maids to enter their room, and they had breakfast delivered to them daily through room service. Aside from the trash that had accumulated in the room, it was clear to everyone that Ida had not bathed in a very long time. These sisters weren’t your average hoarders. They also accumulated cash, jewels, bonds, and fine silks. For whatever reason, they were hoarding their riches and living in squalor as reclusive widows.
During the financial crisis of 1907, Ida went to her bank and withdrew $1 million in cash, carrying it out in her purse. She reportedly told an employee that she was “tired of everything”, and checked herself into the hotel. Every time Ida gave a tip to the bellhop, she claimed that she would soon run out of money. Clearly, she had a fear of revealing her wealth to the public. Unfortunately for Ida, she was declared incompetent after she revealed herself to the world. The hotel forced her to leave the room. It was later revealed that Ida Mayfield’s real name was Ellen Walsh. She was the daughter of a poor Irish immigrant, and she changed her name in order to attract a wealthy husband.
Artist Bettina Grossman Had So Much Artwork, She Had No Room to Sleep
An artist named Bettina Grossman lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City from the 1960’s until her passing in 2021. She produced a massive amount of art, and kept most of it in her hotel room. There was so much artwork in her home that she had to sleep on a lawn chair in the middle of the hallway. In order to make space, Grossman hung a lot of her pieces up in the hallway of the hotel. However, in 2011, the hotel demanded that she take all of the paintings down, due to a renovation. In the last 30 years of her life, Bettina Grossman became a recluse, and rarely left her hotel room. Rent skyrocketed to a minimum of $4,000 a month in modern times, but Grossman was able to afford to continue living there because of New York City’s state rent regulations.
A Dutch filmmaker named Corinne van der Borch created a documentary called Girl With the Black Balloon about Bettina Grossman. There is also a second documentary about her called Bettina. Both of the movies show everyone how she used the hotel room as her home, studio, and storage space. During both films, the camera crew tried to help Bettina organize her work on shelves so that she would have more space. But that was quickly used up again once she made more work. In 2006, the Chelsea Hotel attempted to evict her, because of the state of her apartment. But they failed to do so in court, and she was allowed to stay there until her passing.
In the United Kingdom, the BBC’s equivalent of Hoarders was a TV series called Life of Grime. Edmund Trebus became famous when he appeared on the show in 1999. Trebus lived in his 5-bedroom house where every single room was filled with junk. Many of the rooms were filled with his collection of vacuum cleaners and cameras. He was living in the house alone without running water or electricity. His hoarding was discovered after neighbors complained, because the home was attracting rats, and everything smelled like rotting trash. Trebus was using his backyard as a toilet, because his indoor plumbing no longer worked.
When the Health Department arrived to help clear out his home, Edmund Trebus was furious, telling everyone to get off his property. He was a Polish war veteran, and survived living in the concentration camps during World War II. Finally, they cleaned his house. It took 30 days, and they filled up five large trucks and 11 skips with trash. But two years later, Edmund Trebus had done it again. His house was filled with trash all over again, and he appeared on a second episode of the show. When he passed away in 2002, The Guardian wrote up a lengthy obituary about him, which tells his entire life story.
William Randolph Hearst’s Real-Life Hoard Inspired Citizen Kane
Multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst was a famous businessman and newspaper publisher. Just like your average hoarder, he collected random items like “door knockers, warming pans, tile stoves, musical instruments, pipes, and lanterns.” He also had a more expensive and high-class collection of fine art. His collection was so massive, he owned 25% of the global art market all on his own. Yes, fine art is a smart financial investment. But Hearst truly went to the extreme. He even bought an entire Spanish monastery, and had it shipped back to the United States. But many of the pieces were lost on the journey.
William Randolph Hearst inspired the movie Citizen Kane. In the movie, we see a massive collection of art and random objects held in a warehouse. This is where he kept his precious “Rosebud” sled that we see at the end of the movie. By 1937, he had spent so much of his money that his massive business empire was on the brink of bankruptcy. He was forced to sell many of his paintings. Today, the pieces that were left in his collection are still on display in Hearst’s former home. There are also 170 pieces on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II Had a Castle Full of Curiosities
So far on this list, we see that even people who grew up in a wealthy home or succeed in business could still be capable of becoming hoarders. It only makes sense, then, that a political leader would also be bitten by the collecting bug. In the 1500’s, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II hoarded a massive collection of “arms and armor, coins, books and manuscripts, portraits, and masterpieces of fine craftsmanship.” He also collected taxidermy animals, tusks, bones, and other scientific pieces. His uncle, Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria, was also an avid collector. These two men competed with one another as to who could have the larger collection of curiosities.
At one point, Rudolf’s collecting reached a point of mania during a time in his life when he felt very depressed and bored. He bought so many things that he ran out of money. Over time, he became more and more reclusive, and rarely left his private apartment in the castle. At a certain point, he ceased to function at his job as the Holy Roman Emperor. Like most hoarders, he was clearly suffering from some sort of mental illness. However, he wasn’t holding onto trash like most hoarders out there. Many of the pieces he collected were stunning works of art, and many of the pieces are still on display at The Met to this day.
Most people recognize the name Archduke Franz Ferdinand because his assassination was the catalyst to begin World War I. But before he died, he was known for being a hunter who felled nearly 275,000 animals throughout his life. He kept meticulous records of every animal he slaughtered. His record was 2,140 animals in one day. According to those who knew him, Ferdinand “radiated an aura of strangeness and cast a shadow of violence and recklessness.” Of course, it wasn’t enough for him to just shoot birds or deer. He collected exotic animals from hunting trips around the world. His Uncle, Franz Joseph, the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, called it “mass murder.”
Some people might wonder what an avid hunter is doing on a list of hoarders. While many of his “prizes” were used to eat meat, he also collected taxidermy pieces of these animals in his home. After his world tour in 1893, he brought back an entire ship filled with the animal bodies he hunted like tigers, koalas, kangaroos, and so much more. There were so many pointy antlers hanging on his walls that he reportedly needed a servant to help him walk down the hallway so that he wouldn’t get “impaled by antlers”. Some of his trophies were really grotesque, like the foot of an elephant that was turned into an ashtray.
Fashion Designer Karl Lagerfeld Had a Massive Book Collection
Karl Lagerfeld was a fashion designer who was famous for working with Fendi, Chanel, and of course, his own collection. Just like Thomas Jefferson, Lagerfeld collected books. But his collection would have put the President to shame, because he amassed approximately 300,000 volumes. In the past, he collected other things. But he was once quoted saying, “Today I only collect books, there is no room left for something else. If you go to my house; I’ll have you walk around the books.” Like most hoarders on this list, he was living in a fire hazard. He kept his books stacked horizontally, rather than vertically, because he could fit more books on the shelves that way. The collection is entirely hardcover books, because Karl had a wasteful habit of ripping the pages out of paperback books when he was done reading them.
According to newspaper reports, “Karl Lagerfeld is going underground — to find creative storage space for his sprawling 230,000 volume book collection. “It’s a big problem, no?” asks the passionate bibliophile, ever the master of understatement. His solution: a storage facility at his house in Biarritz — underneath the tennis court. The 20,000-square-foot, climate-controlled subterranean complex will also include a photo studio, but the centerpiece of the project is a 10,000-square-foot, 20-foot high space where he plans to erect a library. What’s next, the return of the sexy librarian at Chanel?” Lagerfeld passed away in 2019, but there is no record online as to what happened with his book collection. However, he had established his own bookstore in Paris back in 1999, so there is a chance that the books were sold there.
Film Director Stanley Kubrick Hoarded His Memories in Cardboard Boxes
Just like Andy Warhol, director Stanley Kubrick liked to collect things in boxes. He put away photographs from the film sets of his movies like Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket. But he also had hand-written notes and newspaper clippings included as well. When Stanley Kubrick passed away, his wife asked a documentary filmmaker named Jon Ronson to go through the boxes and film the process of uncovering his collection. When Ronson came to visit the Kubrick home, he was shocked to find that over half of the entire house was filled with cardboard boxes. His family had never cataloged the entire collection, but estimated that it was well over 1,000 boxes. He also collected books on an extreme level. For example, he had an entire room filled with books by Napoleon.
Unlike most hoarders, Kubrick at least kept his collections organized. They were all neatly stacked on shelving and labeled on the outside. He even went to the trouble of paying a box-making company to produce the perfect sized box for him to continue his collection. When Jon Ronson was done, he premiered his documentary titled Stanley Kubrick’s Boxesin 2008. Kubrick left instructions to burn a lot of what he left, after it had been filmed. One of the more fascinating bits left behind in this collection is the research from a movie he was working on called Wartime Lies, which was about the Holocaust. However, it was so upsetting to research, that Kubrick never actually made the film. The rest of the boxes were donated to the University of the Arts in London.
If you’re a fan of Johnny Depp, you may have noticed that he wears a lot of hats. But what most people never get to see is the fact that his hat collection is so huge, they took up two entire rooms in his house. Sure, we’ve seen some massive celebrity closet tours before. But to have two entire rooms full of hats is on another level. Vulture chronicled just a few of the hats Johnny Depp wore out in public since the 1980’s. But hats are just one of the many things that Johnny Depp collects.
On top of collecting hats, Johnny Depp is known for wasting his riches on random purchases that nearly sent him into bankruptcy. He has a huge collection of 200 pieces of artwork, guitars, 45 luxury cars, and movie memorabilia. One of the most surprising things he collects is limited edition Barbie dolls. Despite the fact that he has multiple residencies, Johnny keeps his collections in 12 rented storage facilities. So his main living space looks relatively clean and liveable, unlike most hoarders. In fact, he has been called “the world’s most organized hoarder”. The positive thing is that if he ever truly goes bankrupt one day, he has all of these valuable art investments ready to sell in case he needs to bring in more cash.
John Q. Benham Has the Largest Book Collection in the World
Earlier on this list, we already mentioned two huge book collections from Thomas Jefferson and Karl Lagerfeld. Those will pale in comparison to John Q. Benham’s massive collection of 1.5 million books. According to Guinness World Records, “As (the books) have filled up his house, most of them must be kept in his six-car garage, two-storey building and piled under tarpaulin outdoors.”Some people might label nearly all of the Guinness World Record holders as “hoarders” when you really think about it. But there are massive collections of all sorts. The one major difference between your typical Guinness World Record-breaking collection and John Benham’s is the fact that most people keep their collection safe in a room in their house.
According to Rare Book Hub, there is another man out there who also claims to have 1.5 million books named Anke Gowda. However, he has never counted or officially verified the exact number of books he has kept on his property. Fifty years ago, he made a promise to himself to collect at least 1,000 books per month. Since he was originally from India, Anke Gowda collects books that were written in 20 different Indian languages. He also collects stamps, coins and paper money, movie posters and newspapers on the side. At first, Gowda filled his entire house with his book collection, and only left a small corner to sleep on the floor and cook. Eventually, he received help to build a 24,000 square foot structure to put in his library, and volunteers helped him take care of the collection.
Alexander Kennedy Miller Hoarded Millions of Dollars Worth of Cars and Gold
If you watch shows like American Pickers, you already know that a common thing for male hoarders to collect is old cars. Doesn’t matter if they’re piles of rust or fully working vehicles. Alexander Kennedy Miller was the son of a wealthy stockbroker from Montclair, New Jersey. He studied mechanical engineering, and began collecting vehicles and license plates from the time he was a teenager. As he grew older, he got his pilot’s license and even began collecting airplanes and a helicopter. Even though Miller was spending thousands of dollars on his massive collections, he and his wife lived as recluses. They wore clothes that were described as “rags”, and almost never left the house except to go to church.
Alexander Kennedy Miller passed away when he was 87 years old. After his passing, Christie’s auctioned off the collection that was left on his 81-acre property. He kept his car collection hidden inside barns and sheds. Unfortunately, many of the vehicles were invaded by raccoons and other animals. Even though many of these cars were in rough condition, they still estimated that they would bring in around $1.5 million from selling his collection. On top of that, investigators of the estate found over $1 million worth of gold and silver that had been stashed away under the floorboards of one of the buildings on the property. However, it turns out that he never paid income taxes his entire life. So naturally, the IRS sued the estate for all it was worth.