ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Arturo Gavilanes repeated the same understated words as he shuffled through the home in Barelas that he had not seen in five months.
“This is nice. I like it.”
It was nice – far better, cleaner, clearer than it had been in October when the 80-year-old Albuquerque man had taken a fall and his decades-old secret habit of hoarding was uncovered, layer by fetid layer.
You remember. His story of collecting so much flotsam that it had, quite literally, pushed him out of his small, two-bedroom adobe home was told in this column Feb. 19 (“An angel helps a hoarder”).
Many of you were moved by his predicament; many more of you were moved to help the angel (and her husband) who bulldozed the bedlam and gave Gavilanes back not just his house but his dignity.
And so there he was on Wednesday morning, admiring his new old place on Pacific SW that Lupe Lopez-Haynes and her crew had cleared and cleaned, painted and tiled and prepped for four months. At times, it was hard to tell who was more excited – Gavilanes, Lopez-Haynes and husband Bruce Haynes or Denise Ottaviano, a Journal reader who had been inspired to help with the refurbishment, supplying everything from a microwave to bread and tortillas.
“I’ve never seen this place like this,” Gavilanes beamed.
He liked the new linoleum floors, which replaced the stained and mouse-chewed carpeting covered with piles of boxes, cans, clothes and clutter nearly to the ceiling.
He liked the tiles in the entryway and across the kitchen backsplash, all donated by another Journal reader.
He liked the bed and the kitchen chairs, all donated by another Journal reader.
He liked the pots and pans and plates, all donated by another Journal reader.
He liked the brown couch and matching love seat. He liked the new appliances, the new shower complete with handicap rails, the sunny enclosed porch.
But the newly painted white walls, which had once been blackened and crumbling from a fire years before – well, he much preferred blue.
To which Lopez-Haynes said: No way.
“Arturo, you have no idea how many coats of primer and paint we had to put on these walls to make them sparkle,” she said.
So he liked the newly painted white walls, too.
It had been a labor of love – and more than $25,000 – for Lopez-Haynes, who had befriended Gavilanes in 2003 when she lived in Barelas. Last October, she had noticed that Gavilanes was missing from his daily stops at either Juanita’s or the Red Ball Cafe, both on nearby Fourth Street. No one had seen him around his Barelas neighborhood. No one had looked.
But Lopez-Haynes did. She discovered that he had fallen and crawled out of his house hours or possibly days later and was taken to the hospital. Because of the condition of his house and because no next of kin could be located, after leaving the hospital he was taken to a nursing home, where he remained until this week.
“I had no idea how bad his house was,” Lopez-Haynes said. “But I was determined to bring him home.”
She hired a small crew to help gut and repair the home, which has been in Gavilanes’ family since 1956. It took six 30-yard roll-off trash containers to carry off all the things Gavilanes had hoarded, much of it scavenged from alleys and trash cans in his neighborhood.
Most everything had to go because of the mouse infestation, the cockroaches, the bedbugs, the rotted food. So much debris had been collected in the home that Gavilanes could no longer enter either bedroom or locate a couch or a table. He had slept on a clearing in front of the bathroom.
Now, though, Gavilanes has plenty of room.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Neither can Lopez-Haynes. Through the experience, the retired sheriff’s deputy has learned about hoarding disorder, defined by the American Psychiatric Association as the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.
“I’ve also learned there are a lot of people out there who need help dealing with loved ones who have this,” she said. “I realize I can help.”
Lopez-Haynes is starting her own small agency to help other hoarders clean up. She calls it Heart and Soul, because she has put her heart and soul into helping folks like Gavilanes.
He knows that.
“She did such a good job,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “I never thought things could look so good.”
The job isn’t over. There are draperies to buy. A television, washer and dryer, a chest of drawers and clothes to put inside. There’s also the need to remind Gavilanes to keep his home free of clutter. Hoarders don’t typically quit cold turkey.
Before taking him home, the Hayneses treated Gavilanes to breakfast at Juanita’s. Outside the small restaurant, he spied a discarded salt shaker.
“No, you don’t,” Lopez-Haynes chided. “You don’t need to collect those things anymore.”
“You’re right,” he said. “I have everything I need.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.