Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 20, 2010
304 pages

From Goodreads:

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? Or Jerry and Alvin, wealthy twin bachelors who filled up matching luxury apartments with countless pieces of fine art, not even leaving themselves room to sleep? 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—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 explain the causes and outline the often ineffective treatments for the disorder.They also illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we’re savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, none of us is free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live. For the six million sufferers, their relatives and friends, and all the rest of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

After reading Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu I wanted to read more on this strange but interesting disorder. Of most interest to me was the relationship of compulsive shopping and compulsive hoarding. Many sufferers of hoarding have gone deep into debt by buying "stuff" that literally fills their homes the point of the home becoming uninhabitable. In Dirty Little Secrets, Lucy's mom buys an expensive mixer she isn't even able to use because her kitchen is packed with garbage. This is true for most hoarders. The books has chapters on animal hoarding, hoarding in children, and children of hoarders. OCD is also a common affliction omong hoarders. In one case study, Amy refuses to touch any doorknobs for fear of contamination. Another study, a boy refuses to use his birthday gifts because they are too special and by using them he will diminish their importance of his special day. After awhile the information became a little redundant and I found myself skipping parts to get to the end. If you know of someone who suffers from this disorder there is a great website with information and resources, Children of Compulsive Hoarders.


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