Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producers: David Alrich, Stephen Rice
Knock on Richard Wallace's front door and you'll be shocked - even horrified by what's waiting for you on the other side.
His home is so crammed full of rubbish that you have to crawl just to get from room to room.
You see Richard is a hoarder - it's a bizarre obsession that's shared by millions around the world.
But what's truly remarkable about Richard is how he faces his demons with a quiet dignity and a firm belief that life will be better one day.
RICHARD: Mind your head on the top there, that’s it. And then sort of slide down – easier said than done.
LIZ HAYES: This is a home visit that is not for the faint-hearted.
RICHARD: You’ll remember today for the rest of your life. Just do it slowly, don’t try and make sudden moves.
LIZ HAYES: I hit my head on the ceiling - it’s alright. It’s a rare opportunity to peak inside the home and the mind of a hoarder beyond compare.
RICHARD: Are you sitting comfortably? And we’ll begin.
LIZ HAYES: At 62, Richard Wallace has crammed junk into every nook and cranny - a collection of the old and the unuseable. Light bulbs - you hang onto light bulbs?
RICHARD: I know, I don’t know why I don’t throw those away, because you can’t repair them, can’t reprocess them, so -
LIZ HAYES: Is that what’s part of your thinking when you’re hanging onto stuff, well maybe one day we can use it again?
RICHARD: Yes, yes. I’m absolutely stuck now.
LIZ HAYES: From the spare bedroom, to the living room, Richard has packed to the rafters the sort of rubbish that most of us throw away - especially newspapers and packaging.
RICHARD: I’ve never regarded myself as a hoarder. I have always regarded myself as basically a collector who simply has run out of space. But when you start clambering over things, and then you need step ladders to clamber over the pile, then, you know, it’s pretty obvious that it’s got out of control.
LIZ HAYES: Have you ever thought to yourself it is madness?
RICHARD: Yes I have thought it was, but despite concluding that it is madness, you nonetheless carry on as you were, which is even madder than the concept itself really. But there you go.
LIZ HAYES: Richard has long been an enthusiastic collector, but the death of his mother six years ago saw things really get out of control. Richard denies any of this is actually a problem. His compulsion for newspapers, he says, is really a grand plan to catalogue what may soon become a relic.
RICHARD: If the whole lot were to go, 50 years from now people would say well newspaper - what’s a newspaper? I’ve never seen one, there’s none surviving, you know, and it would be a rather odd situation.
LIZ HAYES: I’m not wanting to be rude, but aren’t you making an excuse?
RICHARD: In part, possibly, yes. Yes, how perceptive of you. Careful of the obstacles there.
LIZ HAYES: For all this mess, all the mayhem, Richard and his home offer an intriguing study into the human condition - what both mind and body can tolerate, even normalise. Where do you sleep?
RICHARD: Well, I sort of - in this – well, it’s a commode actually. It’s a chair that’s there, so I catnap in that.
LIZ HAYES: You sleep sitting up?
RICHARD: Well, you sort of slide down.
LIZ HAYES: It is a disturbing sight.
LIZ HAYES: Richard, that almost makes me cry.
RICHARD: Well, I expect it does, yeah.
LIZ HAYES: You’ve been living like that for so long.
RICHARD: Yeah, well, gradually getting worse and worse and worse, that’s right, yeah.
LIZ HAYES: Perhaps Richard’s fixation for newspapers was inevitable. When he’s not hoarding them, Richard’s out delivering them, among the well-kept lanes of Westcott. He has lived in this quaint village all his life - and always in the family home. His mother kept it neat as a pin, and well-to-do Richard grew into a dapper young man with a passion for classic cars. But that was in the 70s, before his parents died and his life fell into disarray. And that young man standing in front of his jaguar - could you have envisaged that this where you would be?
RICHARD: No, nowhere near. No, I never thought it would be as bad as this.
LIZ HAYES: Richard Wallace is one of 3 million hoarders believed to be living in the UK, and millions more around the world. They’re people communities tend to find difficult to tolerate, often because their habit impacts on others. But resolving hoarding issues is not easy. When Richard’s mess spilled out of the house, then out of his five garages and into the garden, the polite people of Westcott decided they’d had enough - especially when the annual Tidy Town competition came around. The council took Richard to court to force him to clean up his act, and lost, much to the horror of many locals.
NEIGHBOUR: Certainly I’ve walked past, and I believe I’ve seen one or two things with long tails run through, and I believe that was a concern, but it was a health issue.
NEIGHBOUR: Frankly, there are times I walk past here and I think I wonder if a match would have any effect – but it would probably need a bit of gasoline as well.
LIZ HAYES: But then, the locals had a light-bulb moment. Here in Westcott the community decided on a simple solution. They built a fence to block the view. Up went the great wall of Richard, and in the process, so began a surprising relationship between this hoarder extraordinaire and the local gardener, Andy Honey, who was brought in to build the fence.
ANDY: How do you get in and out in the winter?
RICHARD: With difficulty.
ANDY: I started doing a few days with him and he sort of basically said, "do you want to have a look inside?" So I said yeah, and I was absolutely - well, oh, shocked is an understatement. Words can't really say. If you suffer claustrophobia you couldn't have gone in. It was bizarre.
LIZ HAYES: It was the first time anyone had been inside Richard's house of horrors.
ANDY: People in Africa, in slums, probably had a better quality of life than his inside. And the danger, it was just -
LIZ HAYES: Nothing more dangerous than Richard's cooking arrangement. The local fire brigade decided to assess the danger -
ANDY: Now, if you want to follow me, you follow my action, you'll probably be surprised at what I do next, OK? This is the kitchen doorframe.
FIREFIGHTER: I knew you were going to say that. Alright, so I'll come through?
LIZ HAYES: - And simply couldn't believe what they found. Richard finally conceded that something must be done.
ANDY: Why is this not rubbish. They're all stuck together.
RICHARD: It might be to you, but the whole point of the exercise is to retain things like that.
LIZ HAYES: So the town that all but shunned Richard, now under the leadership of Andy the gardener, began a colossal clean up.
ANDY: That's rubbish though, isn't it? You're happy with that one to go, aren't you?
RICHARD: No. Because it's got bits and pieces on it. Of spares.
ANDY: There's nothing there worth keeping. Spares for what?
LIZ HAYES: For Richard, parting with even the smallest item was a painful process -
RICHARD: What a bloody pickle I'm in. You can't believe, you just can't believe this.
LIZ HAYES: - That almost proved too much.
RICHARD: My mother would be absolutely horrified, but anyway I got to press on.
LIZ HAYES: There's no doubt this is a battle. Victories are hard won and hard to hold onto. Richard's obsession means that for every little thing he's cleared out, he only tries to replace the next day.
RICHARD: Gosh, now you're not going to tell me that that's necessarily - it looks in good newish condition, doesn't it? That's an industrial one, surely? It's not a household one.
ANDY: No, it's not an industrial, it's a normal household one. I can't believe I'm standing here by a skip, right. You're not allowed skips, they're banned. You're swerving round to avoid them, you said at one point - you don't need them.
RICHARD: I'm sort of always tempted to look in them.
LIZ HAYES: What sort of role do you play in Richard's life?
ANDY: I don't know - ask the man
RICHARD: Pain in the arse, really.
ANDY: Laugh yeah, see, at least I understand your humour now.
LIZ HAYES: Such is the ongoing nature of this tug-of-war that when we arrived, more than a year after the clean up began, and despite 30 tonnes of rubbish being thrown out, there's still a long way to go. But for Richard, it is significant progress.
RICHARD: This was all chock-a-block not so long ago.
LIZ HAYES: So you've - this is quite an achievement, really.
RICHARD: Well, yes, that's right, because it took such a long time, you had to - from one end of the bungalow to the front door it used to take 20 minutes or half an hour to get from one end to the other.
LIZ HAYES: 20 to 25 minutes.
RICHARD: Yeah, all for the sake of keeping things.
LIZ HAYES: Shall we go through?
RICHARD: Shall I go first? OK.
LIZ HAYES: Richard can now get to his bathroom and even parts of his kitchen.
RICHARD: Parts of it you may be able to recognise as a kitchen.
LIZ HAYES: There's a table - there's a table under there.
RICHARD: Yeah, a round table, pine wood, yep, which was specially made, which was in use, normal use.
LIZ HAYES: Don't you want to sit at the table?
RICHARD: I would love to, yeah .
ANDY: Shall I just set that outside to be sorted?
LIZ HAYES: Determined not to surrender hard-won ground, Andy must keep moving on to the next challenge. Today it's Richard's sleeping arrangements.
RICHARD: So what are we trying to achieve here at the moment?
ANDY: Your bed.
ANDY: Trying to get space of your bed again. Yeah, yeah?
LIZ HAYES: Today, it's Richard's sleeping arrangements.
RICHARD: It'll be a very laborious task to do.
ANDY: Well, it's got to be done though.
LIZ HAYES: For the first time in almost a decade, Richard puts his boots up on his own bed.
ANDY: So, that's got to be more comfortable than that.
RICHARD: Surely, absolutely. No question about it.
LIZ HAYES: I can't believe it! How good does that feel?
RICHARD: It does feel good, yeah. Oh, yes, there's no question of that, it's luxurious.
LIZ HAYES: I'm so proud of you. I am. From stickers on fruit, milk bottle tops and packaging, it's likely this battle will never be truly won. While there is some progress, Richard will keep living in two worlds - the one in which he believes he will sort out this mess, and the real one, where the mess never leaves.
RICHARD: I'm a bit weak, and I can't - If I can see any sort of a potential in something I can't throw it away. It's just a waste.
LIZ HAYES: Will you ever be cured of hoarding?
RICHARD: Cured, um, probably not completely, but I want to try and get back to being a conventional individual, really, but –
LIZ HAYES: Normal?
RICHARD: "Normal" in quotes, yeah.