By Charley Sutton @CharlSutton
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Adam Gray
Producer: Charley Sutton, Ruby Coote
Editor: Sonia Estal
Michael Saunders is a hardworking, well-presented and clean-shaven man, but his two houses tell a different story.
Michael bought his first home 40 years ago. After living there for 20 years, the house two doors down became available and he bought the property for his elderly mother.
Sadly, shortly after moving in she passed away.
The front door and windows to one of his West Midlands semi-detached homes is blocked by seven foot high piles of furniture, bin bags and boxes.
Both properties have gardens that could be mistaken for jungles, with shrubbery and overgrown trees that cover the outside of the house, making it impossible to walk through.
Michael’s hoarding has got so out of control, that the local council had to call in professional help in the form of hoarding specialists, Tee and Caz, from the N Gervais Extreme Cleaning team.
Michael told Barcroft TV: "I work in a luxury hotel.
I play the piano at night for the guests. I cook the breakfasts and I am the duty manager of a 69 bedroomed hotel.
“And the last few years I have been helping people who have been less fortunate than myself.
"I am also Governor of a care home not far from where I live, in which I do the bingo for ladies and gentlemen there and also play the piano for them on a voluntary basis.
"I lead a very, very busy life.
"I then went into hospital with cancer. I was in hospital for six months.
I had the loss of salary for six months and then I was asked not to lift anything for about 11 weeks.
“And obviously things got in to a dilapidated state.”
When Tee and Caz arrived at Michael’s properties, they were shocked at the level of hoarding that had accumulated.
Tee, 42, explained: "Mr. Saunders’ hoarding is on a level five, which is really extreme - it’s the highest level. For the fact that he is hoarding in both his homes, in his cars, in his garden and he is hoarding in the car he is actually driving.
"He has had foxes living inside his home. They have been gaining access through an underground cellar hole.
"There is a lovely conservatory, which he’s not able to use because it’s absolutely full with his bits and bobs.
Old curtains, an old suitcase, TV, empty paint buckets, lampshades, old newspapers and a printer - things that he actually doesn’t need to use.
"There's a lot of broken crockery and carrier bags that have disintegrated, so you can see how long they have been here. It’s such a shame because he really needs to use this property.
He spends most of his time in his car and it’s really, really not good.
"He doesn’t actually have a kitchen here. that’s not even a sink.”
After a few days of tackling the back garden, the team uncovered even more of Michael’s possessions - including the kitchen sink.
Tee said: “It just looks like everything that supposed to be in the kitchen cupboard i.e. plates, casserole dishes, saucers, are all in the garden.
“This is the problem that we’re facing.
We don’t know things are there until we actually start to cut and uncover. And how ironic - there’s one in the garden but not in the house.”
The extreme cleaning team are often called in after local councils issue an order for a property to be cleaned and cleared - otherwise the tenants could lose their home.
Tee and Caz were called in to help Micheal as his gardens were so wild they were imposing on his neighbours' properties.
Tee said: "Mr. Saunders doesn't admit to having a problem. He says all his possessions are for something, some reason or they have got value.
But not all of his stuff has value and not all of his stuff he needs.
"During the clean-up he has been happy, chirpy, cheerful. But he is in denial."
Caz added: “With compulsive hoarders, you have to build the trust and take it a day at a time with them.
It’s a very slow process.
“It's sensitive and we don’t want to push him away.”
Michael is so sensitive about his homes that he has not allowed Tee and Caz to enter either of his houses.
Tee said: "Mr. Saunders hasn’t allowed us in to his property.
One of his houses, you can’t actually get in to it and the other property, when we asked he said he couldn’t find the key.
“We will deal with these gardens first and he is obviously happy so far with what we have done.
So, we will deal with his gardens first. Then we will deal with his cars.
"And then we will gain access to his home hopefully."
Caz said: “When he is ready to have that help, he will let us know."
Both women have backgrounds as carers and are trained in mental health care, which means they understand the mindset of a hoarder.
Their approach is significantly different to a lot of cleaning and house clearance services as they appreciate individuals with the disorder who find it incredibly difficult to part with their possessions - no matter how useless or dirty they are.
Tee explained: “We are not like 'Kim and Aggy'. Nothing like them!
"We don't say rude comments or pass remarks to make people laugh or be rude enough to them about their homes.
"We try and understand the reason they got themselves into that situation in the first place.
We help when we can by referring them to group meetings for hoarders.
"We don't just clean and forget about them. We try our best to transform their lives.”
Therefore, the duo have been able to deal with Michael with patience.
It’s estimated that there are three million hoarders in the UK and Tee and Caz don’t believe enough is being done to help people suffering with the condition.
Caz said: “There is no funding for compulsive hoarding, even though it’s an addiction just like drugs and alcohol - it’s a dependancy, a safety net.
“We want local authorities and the government to start listening and paying attention to people with compulsive hoarding disorder.
"At the moment, they don’t treat these people with care, they just want their house cleared without any consideration of their possessions and that’s it. But that’s incredibly difficult and stressful for someone with this issue.”
N Gervais offer an aftercare package, where they regularly visit their clients after the clean-up has been done.
Caz said: “Where Mr. Saunders is concerned, and the majority of our clients, we offer an after care service.
We will still maintain contact with Mr. Saunders, coming once in month, have a look to see what’s happening.
"So he has that support. We are not going to just clean and leave him.
We will be back once a month to check up on him.”
After a week of tackling Michael’s unruly gardens, the team had a breakthrough - he admitted he had a problem.
Michael said: "I have always wanted to do things myself.
I am not a lazy so-and-so. I had to bow down needing help and sometimes that is hard to ask for when you have always given help.
I am only just learning that you don't need to be ashamed to ask for help.
Although that upsets me.
"My problem was always too proud to ask for help.
"I became what you call a hoarder and I am grateful for this company who are going to help me.”
An elated Tee and Caz said: “After hearing him, we realised that all this time, he’s known he is a hoarder, so he is no longer in denial.
He is openly admitting it now and that’s what really shocked us, we’re proud of him.
“Now we know that, we can move forward with him, so it makes the job easier, so I’m looking forward to that.
We’ve got a long way to go to but, in the near future I can see the change."
In total, the garden clean-ups alone took a team of five, two weeks to complete.
Michael said: "I am absolutely delighted this company has come to help me.
Without them, I know, I would have been in some dire trouble eventually.
"I’ll be highly delighted to see them in the future to show them the progress that I have made.