Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost

Title: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Stuff

Author: Randy Frost; Gail Steketee

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt April 2010

Sypnosis: What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper that’s ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a woman like Irene, whose hoarding cost her her marriage? Or Ralph, whose imagined uses for castoff items like leaky old buckets almost lost him his house?  Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago; they expected to find a few sufferers but ended up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of others. Now they explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies in the vein of Oliver Sacks. With vivid portraits that show us the traits by which you can identify a hoarder’s piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, houses that can be navigated only by following small paths called goat trails, vast piles of paper that the hoarders “churn” but never discard, even collections of animals and garbage; Frost and Steketee illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.
For all of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

Status: Read on January 15, 2011

My Thoughts:

If you take a look around the home office I sit in right now, it’s all too easy for me to sympathise with the compulsive hoarders Frost and his colleagues interview in this book. I have 5 huge bags of clothes my children have outgrown that have been waiting a year for a garage sale, not to mention 4 boxes of books, two ‘dead’ computers, archive boxes that reach the ceiling packed with old tax records, children’s artworks and my university notebooks. The wall to wall bookshelf sags in the middle where it is packed with books three layers deep and dust collecting ornaments that fall when my son bounces on his bed next door. Hmmm I am happy to blame it on the fact that six people live in this small house and there simply isn’t enough room for everything I want to keep but I also recognise that perhpas its just a teeny bit out of control. Just as well I have no money to spend buying new things or I think I really could be in big trouble.
I found Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things absolutely fascinating. I’ve read articles here and there on hoarders – mostly the extreme situations that make the news or popular television programs and I was interested to learn more about the psychological motivations. It’s not so much the stuff that the hoarder is attached to but the meaning they apply to it – whether that is a memory, an emotion or the recognition of its intrinsic value due to to colour or shape.
The stories of these very bright and likeable people, crippled by their hoarding, are sad. They are often isolated and frustrated by their condition. I was particularly surprised to find out how ineffective forced cleanouts are though it makes sense. Compulsive hoarding, whether it is art, rubbish, pets or books is a symptom of psychological distress and the author hints that its basis may well be biological. The condition is also most likely to be more prevelant than thought, though at varying degrees. Stuff can be a little dry at times but that is to be expected given the material and its author have a scientific background.
Stuff is a very accessible combination of anecdotal stories and scientific study that offers an intriguing look at the issues of compulsive hoarding. I enjoyed reading the book and am seriously considering a real clean out sometime soon.

@ Goodreads

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kelly
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 19:26:30

    Wow, I think I am abit of a hoarder myself, as well. I have difficulty parting with things and I attach sentimental value even to books, papers etc.

    I should read the book! 😛

    Btw, You won an Award

    Like

    Reply

  2. TheBookGirl
    Jan 20, 2011 @ 10:44:47

    Sounds interesting…I’ve seen some of the Hoarders shows, and it so sad when it gets to that level.

    Like

    Reply

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