Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Thingsby Published 20 Apr 2010
|Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.pdf|
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.
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things Reviews
The hoarding shows cruise along on shock value, and geez, if you've seen one house filled to the brim with newspapers, unused storage bins, cat turds, and raccoon corpses, you've seen them all. Wasn't it Tolstoy who noticed that clean houses are all the same, but the messy ones...
This book is much more interesting than the TV shows. Sure, all the classics are here, the Collier brothers, the people who keep their pee in jars (don't look to closely at those Oh Henry bars...) but without the smack smack smack of jump cut b-roll, this book can really get into what situations (isolation) and individual characteristics can lead a mild mannered matchbook collector down the goat path to death by newspaper; so heavy and smothery once they're piled over 10 feet.
Am I a cleaning lady away from death by book? I am lucky enough to have one of the great ones. She knows how to keep me in line without making my house feel strange to me. There is not an empty shoebox or old piece of useless crap that doesn't leave this house within 2 weeks of official POS-dom. She has a lovely understanding of my relationship to my stuff including the pile of books in the corner of my bedroom that will soon go onto a bookshelf. (revolution!) AND my back porch is empty. EMPTY! Just thrown into a small trailer and taken to the dump, except for one old roller skate. When I pick it up, I can feel the vibration of steel wheels on asphalt shaking my 9 year old knees as I tear-assed down Avondale hill on summer afternoons.
She is a gem, and while reading this book, I thought a lot about Cynthia and wondered if some of these people entering their houses through the strait gate (stuff piled against the front door) might not have gone so far if they had that extra voice of reason in the mix. But that extra voice costs money.
We all let ourselves go a bit at a certain age. A certain amount of this letting go is liberating, but for some it's a quick slide into the oubliette of non-youth to lie in the ash heap with the other discarded toys.
Anyway, this book really gets beyond the usual shock images and is well worth reading to get to know these people above and beyond their designation as 'hoarders'. They also get into what it's like for the children of hoarders, and the authors tie in societal changes in our relationship to possessions through the rapidly metastasizing presence of storage places.
oh, dear. this book was uncomfortable to read. i think i may be a hoarder, a little. not terribly badly, not yet. but the fine line between "collector" and "hoarder" is on the thin side. this is from the inside cover, and why i felt i needed to read the book:
With vivid portraits that show us the particular traits of the hoarder - piles on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, homes that have to be navigated by narrow "goat trails", stacks of paper that are "churned" but never discarded...
see, that sounds like home!but maybe i'm not a hoarder, maybe i just have a small new york apartment. i won't know until my ship comes in and i move somewhere bigger... will i fill that space, too? will i be like that fat tolkien dragon lolling on my hoard of books and treasures??
but reading this book puts it into perspective, a little. i do not hoard garbage. i do not have roaches and mice. i do not collect supermarket circulars and newspapers from ten years ago. i am able to throw away junk mail. while there are frequent book avalanches at the home, my door can still be opened, and i am able to escape if (heaven forfend) there is a fire. "Hoarding is not defined by the number of possessions, but by how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects their owner." and i'm okay, i think. i read my books, i just buy more than i will ever live long enough to read, but i want to read them all -that's the plan, i just don't know how feasible it will be, mortality and all.
i highly recommend this book, even if you don't have the same fears i had. it is a strong cautionary tale, and while this is a psychological disorder, the hoarding, and being aware of the extent that it can actually take over a person's life isn't going to prevent it; you either have the tendency or you don't, you may see shades of yourself in some of the case studies, and it might give you a nice whiff of fear - enough to get you to go over to that mail table and sort it once and for all. and throw away that old fancy mustard you didn't even like - you are never going to suddenly develop a taste for it.
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Okay, I am officially crazy. I can't get enough of stories about hoarders. Am I becoming a hoarder myself? Hoarding stories about hoarders? I watch the A&E show, and this is the 2nd book I have read in the past 6 months about hoarding.
But I did learn a lot from this particular book. Like a lot of people, when I see those houses of hoarders, I think, just go in and take all the trash out with a dump truck and stop trying to persuade the hoarder to part with his possessions. What I learned from this book is that if you do that, the hoarder refills his house to the same or worse degree within 6 months. One city that used to do the "supercleans" stopped after 3 hoarders in a row committed suicide within a month of the clean-up. I also learned that this problem really costs the city/local governments a lot of money, both to go through the legal process required to take action and then to do the clean-ups themselves.
I think we are all attached to our possessions and there's always a psychological issue when it comes to deciding what to collect, buy, give away, keep, sell. And I saw bits of myself and people I knew in these profiles. We just have to make sure our possessions don't possess us. Like I said, it's fascinating to me, but i understand it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.
i liked this book because it doesn't make value judgments about hoarders. it doesn't flinch from providing the gory details of these people's houses but it explains WHY they do these things. it unpacks the true force behind these actions (mainly a mix of OCD & trauma) and DOES NOT JUDGE THEM. so interesting and good.
most people wouldn't say i'm a hoarder (although i am messy) but i do have hoarder-ish qualities (also OCD-ish qualities & trauma), and two things in this book were recognizable in a helpful way. one was stating that hoarders often do try to clean, but instead of cleaning, they just "churn," which involves looking at everything, deciding that they don't know what to do with it, getting overwhelmed and basically moving a pile from one room to the other. i do that! people often think i "never clean" but in fact, i do clean, i just do it very badly and i know it but am not sure how to change. the second thing is that hoarders become hoarders because they feel a certain sense of obligation to items that others don't. like, they are sensitive to the "feelings" and "needs" of inanimate objects and want to keep them with them. why do some of us do this and some of us not? i don't know! so fascinating!
You’ve seen them, odds are there’s one on your street – that house with the curtains always closed, junk spilling out into the yard. Maybe like me you’re morbidly curious, wondering why on earth anyone would live like that and you’d love just one peek inside. This opens that door, you’ll wander through the goat paths of the compulsive hoarder, and explains all the complicated reasons behind it. Guaranteed it’ll have you questioning all the STUFF you worked so hard to buy and can’t bring yourself to let go of (books anyone?) "We may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well." - perhaps inspire a clean-out and yard sale...
Well researched you’ll get all the statistics, but it’s readable too - the case studies offer that human touch. I like art so enjoyed learning how most hoarders have an artistic bend, an appreciation of the beauty of mundane objects - a bottle cap, a scrap of cloth. “Every object is rich with detail.” Talks about Andy Warhol, the most famous of them all ”his five-story house in New York was so crammed that he could live in only two of the rooms.” Now I GET his soup can paintings! Click spoiler if you want to know about his time capsules - fascinating. [spoilers removed]
Bottom-line it’s really interesting and well worth your time. Glad a mental disorder fraught with shame and secrecy is coming out of the closet.
Cons: Repetitive with a tendency to overstate the obvious. Not faulting the author, clearly a sympathetic advocate of hoarders and their families but it can be discouraging - most of the cases seemed incurable.
Meanderings - Opportunity Knocks… My spin, forget bargain hunting, the smart money’s in the Mini-Storage business. Your target market is huge, pretty well everyone has more stuff than they have room for, not just compulsive hoarders. Think of all those downsizing baby-boomers selling their homes and moving into condos… Spoiler is U.S. stats but suspect pretty universal. [spoilers removed]