Eunos hoarder's hubby: We've not spoken in 20 years
Wife's 20-year hoarding habit irritates neighbours, leaves husband at a loss
Every night, he sleeps on a sofa surrounded by mountains of newspapers, bags of leftover food and piles of plastic bottles.
Cockroaches dart all over the floor at his feet and other insects fly around his face.
Mr Lim Chin Ting, 74, has to live like this because his wife, Madam Soh Siew Jing, 66, is a hoarder.
For the past 20 years, she has been compulsively bringing all kinds of junk back to their three-room flat at Block 19, Eunos Crescent.
Mr Lim, a drinks assistant at a coffee shop nearby, told The New Paper yesterday in Mandarin: "I don't like it like this, but I can't do anything to stop her. Of course, I don't like living like this, who would?"
Her refusal to stop hoarding has caused their relationship to deteriorate so badly that they can hardly bear the sight of each other and have not conversed for 20 years.
Their flat was the focus of a video that showed hundreds of cockroaches swarming out to the common corridor after National Environment Agency (NEA) officers, on an anti-dengue fever drive, sprayed insecticide in the flat on Monday afternoon.
The video was posted by the couple's neighbour, Madam Nur'Ashikin Zainol.
It went viral on Facebook, with more than 5,000 shares and 250,000 views by yesterday evening.
Mr Lim is aware of his neighbours' unhappiness over his wife's hoarding and the pest problem that comes with it.
"I know they complain. It's very dirty, but I can't do anything about it. She won't let me," he said.
"She scolds me when I try to stop her or when I try to throw things away. Even if I could throw one bag out, she comes back with two."
Madam Soh brings home anything, including newspapers, old textbooks, empty plastic bottles and even leftover food. She sleeps in a room almost completely filled with her junk.
Another room is so packed with stuff that Mr Lim could not open its door when TNP was at the flat yesterday.
In the living room, a narrow aisle snakes through piles of more stuff.
As a result, the flat is infested with cockroaches and other insects that fly around the piles of her collection.
The couple's relationship has been strained for many years.
Neighbours told TNP that when Mr Lim is at home, Madam Soh leaves to sit at the void deck.
Mr Lim said: "I haven't had a proper conversation with her in 20 years. Talking to her means getting scolded, so I don't bother her and she doesn't bother me."
Their relationship was not always like this, he said.
"More than 20 years ago, we didn't have much to argue about so we could at least talk to each other."
TNP found Madam Soh sitting on a bench at the void deck on the other side of the block. She had two plastic bags of leftover food and drinks with her. Flies and dirt were evident on her body.
She said in Mandarin: "I only collect things that I believe are of use. These aren't rubbish. They still have value. I can sell the newspapers to the karung guni man and make money."
She recalled her husband throwing out some plastic bags, one of which contained her money and mobile phones.
"My plastic bags are like the handbags other people carry around, except I don't have enough money to buy a nice one," said Madam Soh, who has always been a housewife.
"I keep my wallet and my keys inside, so it's not rubbish and it's still valuable. How would you like it if someone threw your handbag away?"
The couple have three adult children who live on their own.
Mr Lim said their daughter had paid for Madam Soh to see a doctor about her hoarding and get medication for her, but he is unclear whether she takes it or still sees the doctor. Madam Soh declined to comment on this.
A joint statement issued by HDB, Marine Parade Town Council (MPTC) and NEA yesterday evening said NEA officers had inspected the couple's unit as there is an ongoing dengue cluster in the neighbourhood.
"Space spraying of insecticide was conducted to kill adult mosquitoes. The insecticide was also effective against the large population of cockroaches that was present in the flat," it added.
MPTC workers later cleaned up the common corridor.
The statement said MPTC and HDB would work with the couple to ensure the flat is properly maintained.
Related report: Watch: Video of roaches in corridor of Eunos flat goes viral
Hoarders need help
Madam Soh's act of hoarding is not a bad habit, but a mental disorder, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist from Gleneagles Hospital.
"It's a psychiatric disorder which falls under the obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum. Patients often have the urge to keep unwanted things because they have the erroneous view that they will be important," he said.
"They can suffer from anxiety if such items are thrown away."
He said there are two types of hoarders: those who know that hoarding is a problem but cannot help themselves, and those who believe there is nothing wrong with hoarding. In both cases, Dr Lim suggests family members seek help for the hoarder.
He said: "It is difficult for family members to eradicate the condition on their own so they may need to seek professional help."
The second category is more severe and family members might not be able to get the hoarder to cooperate, he added.
In Madam Soh's case, Dr Lim believes other family members, besides her husband, should intervene as the couple have a tense relationship. The other family members might be able to reason with her.
Dr Lim said family members should approach the hoarder with caution.
They should be aware that hoarders are suffering from a condition and cannot help themselves, so "instead of scolding them, family members should try to be more understanding".
- Ling Yuanrong
Roaches were 'popping out like popcorn'
"When we first moved in, my late father asked, 'Did something die in the flat?' We soon realised it came from next door." - Madam Nur'Ashkin Zainol (above, with her husband, Fazlan Sahat) - PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
Living next door to a hoarder, the family of five have had to deal with cockroaches and other pests invade their home.
Madam Nur'Ashkin Zainol, 33, said her 14-year-old son and toddler daughter have phobias of the creepy-crawlies who visit them while they are asleep.
The cake decorator told The New Paper yesterday: "Just as my son was about to sleep a few nights ago, he suddenly yelled: 'Got cockroach in my ear!' My mother got up to check the mattress and everything to find the cockroach.
"My daughter is only two years old and she knows how to say cockroach. She knows how to say cockroach, fly and ants."
Her husband, Mr Fazlan Sahat, who is also aged 33 and does building maintenance, said: "I sleep beside the window so I get cockroaches dropping on my face in the middle of the night. It happens about once a week."
The couple said the cockroaches crawl into their flat between the window panes even when they are shut. They have had the problem since moving into their flat at Block 19, Eunos Crescent, in 1999.
HUNDREDS OF COCKROACHES
On Monday, National Environment Agency (NEA) officers went to their neighbour's flat to check for mosquitoes as part of an anti-dengue fever drive.
When they sprayed the unit with insecticide, hundreds of cockroaches fled to the common corridor. Madam Ashikin filmed the incident and posted the video on Facebook, where it went viral.
"The cockroaches were popping out of their window like popcorn. We finished three canisters of Baygon in one day," she said.
Normally they use three canisters a week.
"It's not cheap to buy them every week, Baygon should sponsor us," Madam Ashikin said.
The family also has to deal with the stench from their neighbour's flat, even covering their noses when they walk past the unit to get to the lift.
"When we first moved in, my late father asked, 'Did something die in the flat?' We soon realised it came from next door," she said.
"For the last 16 years, we've kept quiet and tried to be good neighbours. We didn't want any confrontation, we just really want (our neighbours) to get help if they need it."
When TNP spoke to other residents on the same floor, they were not as badly affected as Madam Ashikin's family.
Mr Peter Lee, 71, who lives two units away, said: "I've seen dead cockroaches in the corridor outside my flat. Usually I just pour water to clear them. I'm farther away so I don't make much of a fuss."
Another neighbour, Madam Judian Muhammed Kassim, 65, said: "Some cockroaches come into my home but it rarely happens, except when (NEA) came to spray the flat that day."
What if you lived next to this flat?
Residents can protect their own homes from pests such as cockroaches despite their neighbour's dirty habits, said an expert.
Mr James Wong, the general manager of James Pest Managers, told The New Paper: "Pest control is very simple. No matter how bad the external environment is, you can always avoid cockroaches or other pests from breeding inside your home."
After watching the video, the pest manager, who has 20 years' experience, considers the cockroach problem at the Lims' flat as "heavy infestation".
His advice to the neighbours: Keep their homes clean to prevent pests from breeding.
They can also pest-proof their homes by installing door brushes and sealing up gaps to prevent cross-infestation, he said.