Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday's Woman: Help for the Hoarder Next Door

{This is the first article in my new series, Wednesday’s Woman.  Each week I will feature a story of an inspiring woman.  If you know someone who should be featured, please let me know!} 

Corrie Ortner
  Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength.

~Maya Angelou

When I came up with the idea for Wednesday’s Woman, the first person I thought of was my friend Corrie Ortner.  I met Corrie on a Dave Matthew’s Band message board about seven years ago.  We connected instantly online, met up for a few DMB shows, and visited each other a few times before I left California in 2006.  We haven’t seen each other since a brief Spring Break meeting in Las Vegas in 2007 because she is in Oregon and I am in Ohio.  But we keep a close watch over each other on Facebook.
December 27, 2011, Corrie posted her first update about her elderly neighbor, who I will call Sandra (name changed for anonymity).  What started out as an update about a quick trip to Sandra's home to help her find her lost phone, has turned into a series of updates about an elderly woman who is a domestic violence survivor, scholar, aromatherapist, world traveler, and hoarder.  Corrie and her 10 year old daughter are cleaning out Sandra's home.  Corrie doesn’t have to do this.  Sandra didn’t ask for help.  

Facebook Update, December 27, 2011:

OK, friends. I need help. I just went over to my neighbor's to help her find her phone. . .She’s elderly and lives on SSI. Her place is in horrid condition. It looks like an episode of hoarders but all garbage-mostly paper stacked higher than the bed with a few paths going through. It's a small place-probably 450-500 sq feet-like a studio apt. . . She lives there with her dog-it doesn't look like she's washed her bedding or clothes in months. She also has bad pain (hip and knee) problems as well as depression issues. I want to find a way to get her help-or get a group of people together to go in and help her clean up. It seems like she wants to get it cleaned up... Ideas, suggestions anyone? 
Corrie received supportive comments on her December 27th update and promises from locals to help. Friends from far away promised to send donations to put towards cleaning supplies.

Facebook Update, January 6, 2012:
Operation clean up the neighbor's house commences this weekend! DHS got involved and will check in again in a week and a half. I'd like to get it cleaned up and give her the chance to keep it that way through the next visit. Any help is greatly appreciated-we'll probably work Saturday and Sunday and into Monday and Tuesday if necessary. This won't be an easy task and will involve long sleeves, grubby clothes, gloves, and a dust mask if you're sensitive to dust, dander, etc. If you can't help with cleaning, any donation of cleaning products, boxes, garbage bags, etc would be appreciated. LMK if you can help out!

She's a very nice lady-this is a great opportunity to help someone in our community in need.


Subsequent updates included the fact that she and her 10 year-old daughter had begun the clean-up and it was worse than what they imagined.

But there is progress being made.

And Corrie will continue until the job is done.

Corrie in her respirator


I contacted Corrie via Facebook last week asking her if it would be OK to feature her story here.  Following are excerpts from her replies:

Sure! Any awareness of the ordeals seniors go through in our society is very welcome! More updates later-I'm off to clean again right now. I'll take some progress pictures!


Wanted to send a quick update with more info than I share on my posts. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of support. Sandra told me today that she really can't believe that all of these people who don't even know her are so generous. I told her that she had earned it.
My sister sent me $75 to help with supplies and my respirator. Someone I haven't seen in over 25 years has offered to pay to have her carpet cleaned or replaced. Another friend (in Oklahoma) is sending some money, underwear, socks, and toiletries. My aunt is sending a check on Monday to help with everything. I'm so touched-I can't even begin to explain how amazing all of this is. I wish I had more help from the local community, but I don't know a lot of people here so it's tough to get out there and find people to help.

I spent over an hour on the phone on Friday being referred from agency to agency, being given numbers to call for this, getting promises to call back, reaching agencies that are there to help seniors only to have to listen to a quickly spoken message with a lot of press 1 now, etc. After this, I'm not surprised that there are so many seniors in this country who don't receive help. Many are afraid that they'll be carted off to a home (the last resort), but I can't imagine how anyone with any type of cognitive or hearing impairment (many seniors) can navigate this system when I had a difficult time .

. . . Friday I found a water damaged purse in the closet where her water heater had flooded. It was a really cool hand tooled "hippie" purse-among the mushed molded papers, I found a menu from a pizza place in Queens, a flyer from a flea market at Picadilly Circus in London, two crystals, baggage claim tags from JFK, and a notebook. In the notebook, there was an entry from 1990 that went something like this: "Here I am in Sisters. I am safe and I am OK. I will be positive and do everything I can to save money until I can afford to move continue on with my life." Yet she's still here. She has two PhDs. Went to Stanford. Grew up in Pasadena and New York. Has lived in Atlanta, England (where she was an aromatherapist), NY, CA, and retired to Bend to train dogs. She left an abusive relationship to move to Sisters and left everything behind in the process. In sorting through her stuff, I've found half of her dishes are Waterford.

The details about her life are just what she's told me-I don't know if it's exaggerated or not, but by that age, I think that we all should be able to live out the rest of our life believing whatever we need to believe to keep us going. I keep finding more and more tidbits that confirm her facts. It's really amazing.


Being unemployed, Corrie faces many challenges in helping Sandra.  She doesn’t have the resources  that would make helping Sandra a little easier.  What Corrie does have is a genuine compassion for those who have suffered and struggle to live.  She puts her feelings of compassion into action.  This is something so many of us fail to do.  We spread the word, we send money, we write.  How many of us respond to someone in need with action?  We know of at least one. Her name is Corrie Ortner.

Corrie Ortner is Wednesday’s Woman.

To follow Corrie’s updates on the clean-up at Sandra's send her a friend request at Facebook.

Found the Marbles


  1. I am so lucky to have met Kim and have shared so much life with her!

    The more I dive into this, the more I realize that my neighbor will need more long term care, but will most likely be able to stay in her home.

    More details come out everyday. She studied abroad in England during college which is where she also studied aromatherapy.

    I found out that she's actually been in Central Oregon since the 60s-but was displaced from her home when the sheriff showed up at the door and was evicted because her husband hadn't paid property taxes (I think there was other stuff happening here as well). She took what she could grab and her five dogs and left. That was approximately 20-25 years ago and she's been in Sisters ever since.

    I spoke with our landlord last night and told him that there was some work that would need to be done in her place. He said he has no intention of ever evicting her. She's been there for almost 10 years and he's known her since he lived in the mobile home next door while he was building the place I now live in.

    Sadly, our landlord was in a bad motorcycle accident in the fall and can't really walk and get around to fix stuff right now (his right foot and ankle were crushed). We have a way to go before we're ready to have anything repaired, though. In addition to the challenges we've faced, one of our biggest helpers in the clean up, my next door neighbor, just found out that her Siberian Husky Joaquin probably has cancer and has devoted a lot of the last few days to him.

    I'll get through this, though! I will have enough dust and nastiness up by the end of the day tomorrow for Kayley to come in and help more. She's been excluded since I discovered that the face masks didn't block out all of the dust. She's excited to come in and clean up all of the items on the shelves (crystals, candle holders, photos, etc).

    Thank you again, Kim. You're the best friend a girl could ever ask for!

    1. Thank you Corrie for being a true inspiration. Also, the impact this will have on your daughter, Kayley, will be great. She will grow up to be a compassionate person who understands that words are never enough. It's through action that we make the most significant change.

  2. yay kudos my girls

  3. So funny, my profile doesn't say I'm following your blog, but I do have your RSS feed at the top of my iGoogle page ;)


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