There are shoe closets, and then there are shoe rooms. Monte, a retired teacher in her fifties, had scattered $20,000 worth of footwear throughout six rooms in her home. Some were organized by color, but most lay in mountainous piles of clutter in her 4,000 square foot home outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Over a period of 10 years, she'd spent over $500,000 on clothing, accessories and home furnishings, all of which lay strewn across her kitchen, entryway and bedrooms, tags intact.
"Some people eat themselves to death, I was shopping myself to death," Monte, who refrained from sharing her last name, told Yahoo! Shine in a phone interview Wednesday.
A self-described "high-end" hoarder, Monte makes for an unlikely subject on Sunday's upcoming episode of TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive. She doesn't have food rotting in the fridge, overgrown weeds or a vermin problem, in fact the furniture buried under piles of clothing in her home are "in perfect shape."
They're the bones of a life she had before her divorce in 2002. "It was very painful," Monte admits. At the time, she was working two jobs as gym coach and science teacher, while raising her young son in the home she'd built during her marriage.
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Stopping by local resale shops after work, on the hunt for a good bargain, became a guilty pleasure and a seemingly harmless outlet for relief.
"I'm a big bargain shopper, so it was more about getting a good deal than really needing anything," she says. "It was like a high."
After a few years, her sprees mushroomed into a full-blown compulsion. On an average trip she'd come home with 10 bags of clothing- all were bargains, but none were necessities.
"One of my favorite finds was a Carlos Falchi purse at a local discount chain for $39.99 even though it was about a $700 purse," says Monte.
She never wore it though. Same went for the curtains, bed-sheets and pillows she bought to redecorate her bedroom post-divorce. "I had thousands of dollars on comforters, but the bed was so covered in clothes I could not actually put them anywhere."
When Hoarding's producers shot her episode, she hadn't slept in her bedroom in 10 years.
Close to 6 percent of the U.S. population, 80 percent of them women, suffer from compulsive buying disorder (CBD), according to a report published in the journal World Psychiatry. What classifies it as more than just a bunch of poor purchasing decisions? A "buying behavior that leads to distress or impairment."
Monte sorts through piles of purchases with her son Chase. (Hoarding: Buried Alive/TLC)
For Monte, the impairment was both financial and personal. She'd filed for bankruptcy two years ago and had been estranged from her 20-year-old son Chase after he moved out last year.
"My mother has always seemed to choose items over me," Chase says in an interview on the upcoming episode. "Growing up with a hoarder is probably the worst thing possible because it can affect you emotionally; it can break you down."
As Chase grew up, he kept his mom's addiction a secret, keeping friends away from his clothing-strewn home. Monte did the same. "Only a handful of friends had ever been in my house," says the elegantly groomed blonde, a Meredith Baxter lookalike. "When I walked out of the house I looked like a million bucks, nobody would assume I was living in utter chaos."
Despite the disarray, she kept a mental inventory of everything she bought, running from room to room to pull together an outfit for the day. She knew she had developed a serious problem, but it was also a crutch, protecting her from getting too close to someone again after her painful divorce.
"I dated a guy for four years and he never came into my house. I went to his place or he'd pick me up and I'd just meet him outside and say 'my house is a mess!'"
After four years, she finally let him in, and as expected, it went badly. "He was very overwhelmed by what he saw. He tried to help clean it up, but I realized sometimes the people you're closest too aren't the best at helping you sort through your mess. It's just too painful."
After five failed attempts to conquer her addiction, from clean-sweeps to counseling, Monte's best friend sent her story to TLC's producers.
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"They brought in a hoarding specialist, which was something I didn't have access to in my area," she says. Having someone who understood the specific nature of her problem, who could help guide her through actual shopping trips to get to the root of her impulsive decisions, offered a breakthrough for Monte. "Every time I saw something I wanted I was asked whether I needed it and if I had anywhere to put it." The answer was always no.
With the help of a clean-up crew and her son Chase, she filled two giant dumpsters with purchases (1/3 of it went to charity) and dug out the home buried under her illness.
If the excavation process was painful for Monte, it was harder for her son. "When he first came to help clean up he was frustrated because he didn't feel like I was getting rid of enough stuff. I had to explain it took 10 years to get like this and it's not going to go away over night."
"This type of shopping addiction tends to affect people who are unsure of themselves… or who have difficulty valuing themselves and their own opinion," says April Lane Benson, psychologist and author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Over-shop and How to Stop. According to Benson, who hasn't worked with Monte, treatment starts with addressing their real needs. "Learning what they really need and finding a way to get that helps," she says. "It's often more love and affection, more self-esteem, a sense of belonging. "
For now, Monte is keeping her shopping addiction under control with her own small support network. "My longtime friends and the home organizer from the show come over once a month for what we call a 'girls night in, girls night out.' They come to my house to check that everything is being maintained and then we go out to celebrate."
Her next hurdle comes when the show airs and the doors to her once fiercely-guarded mansion mess are swung wide open. It will reveal a side of Monte most people in her community would never have guessed existed. As of Wednesday, when our interview took place, she even hadn't told her mother about her problem, much less, the show. "I'm still figuring out how to tell her before it airs Sunday," she says. "There's an embarrassment about letting your dirty laundry out, and shedding a bad part of your life in front of the world. For me, it really is a shedding, but it is possible to move forward."
Watch an exclusive clip from the episode airing Sunday on TLC.