Maggie's Funny Farm

Margaret Sheehan nearly died after filling her home with odds and ends. Then came the invasion.

Sheehan's tendency to dive into projects with little self-regard is an unlikely alibi, given that plenty of investment bankers work 100-hour weeks and keep clean apartments. But her friends and neighbors confirm that she is willing to bend over backward for anyone.

"She was so busy taking care of everybody else that she didn't take care of herself," says Li Douglas, a retired nurse who once cared for Sheehan's mother.

"She would do anything for anyone," comments neighbor James Draper.

Overzealous volunteers broke into Margaret 
Sheehan's home and threw out more than 200 trash 
bags bulging with her belongings
Joshua Prezant
Overzealous volunteers broke into Margaret Sheehan's home and threw out more than 200 trash bags bulging with her belongings

And Jeff and Bob Haupert, brothers who live with their families in Sheehan's neighborhood, say she was always there to help anyone. But the Hauperts and Draper agree that she has a problem -- obsessive-compulsive disorder, perhaps.

Her collecting ended around 8 a.m. Saturday, October 28, after her release from the hospital, when volunteers forced open her front door. Sheehan says she felt "humiliated and invaded" as the strangers marveled at her "treasures." The team began hastily filling trash bags (for garbage) and boxes (for things to save) with the house's contents. "You can't tell me some of my precious things aren't in those bags," she repeatedly insisted as the cleanup proceeded.

"I'm trying to stay calm, but I could just stand in the middle of the yard and scream," she fretted. "They're going to throw all that stuff out, and I'm sure there's stuff in there I need."

Although she insisted she was grateful to the volunteers, the creases in her face and uncharacteristic sourness in her demeanor indicated the woman was tormented by resentment. As she walked by her front door around 11 a.m., a fire-rescue worker yelled triumphantly, "We got table!" -- meaning the volunteers had dug to the bottom of a pile of clutter.

Sheehan gritted her teeth and muttered, "Glad you're having fun." Then she caught herself: "I shouldn't be nasty."

After an hour or two, those 200 trash bags were piled in her yard. The volunteers moved outside and began tossing them into a Hollywood garbage truck parked on her lawn. Although breaking and shattering noises came from the truck as it crunched the bags, workers again and again told Sheehan they were throwing out only newspapers.

Reporters badgered her with questions, which she answered curtly. "They do what they know will sell newspapers or get people to look at their channels," she muttered after one of the journalists walked away. Then her face softened, and she sighed and said, "I know they are just trying to do their jobs."

Near the end of the ordeal, Sheehan tossed a rotten broom into the garbage truck's grinding maw. Madge, the fire marshal, rushed over yelling, "I want to get a picture of Margaret throwing something away!" Visibly irritated, Sheehan walked away from the truck and tried to open a bag full of her things. But Madge quickly scolded her, pulled it away, and tossed it into the truck.

Inside the house, a WSVN-TV (Channel 7) reporter in black pants and a lime blazer stood in a cleared-out corner and rehearsed her broadcast: "And the mound had grown... No. And the mound of garbage had grown... No. And by the afternoon, the mound had grown..." Some of the volunteers stared at her, but she smiled politely and told them not to let her distract them.

By 2 p.m. the kitchen, dining room, and living room were relatively clear. Two bedrooms and a hallway, however, were still so full of clutter that the only indications of the two additional rooms were the tops of the doorways rising above the debris. In the living room a filthy, mottled, light green carpet was covered with paper clips, ticket stubs, a book of Irish limericks, a book about how handwriting indicates personality traits, a green clock, flashlights, a sizable collection of dog figurines, and little Catholic prayer pamphlets. A bulletin board had messages from 1993 tacked on it.

By 3 p.m. most of the volunteers had left, and the garbage truck was easing down Grant Street. "It's not the end of the world," Sheehan sighed. "But it's the end of part of my world for sure."

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