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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

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  • Posted May 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Comprehensive and Compassionate View of a Serious Illness

    Hoarding, an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, is one of the last taboo mental illnesses. The suffers and their families generally hide the problem from friends, co-workers, neighbors and even other loved ones because of the shame associated with the problem. In Stuff by professors Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, the authors explore the causes, manifestations, and therapeutic treatment of the condition.

    Hoarding is defined "not by the number of possessions, but how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects their owners. When hoarding causes distress or impairs one's ability to perform basic functions, it has crossed the lines into pathology." Certain traits are associated with hoarding: perfectionism, indecision, and strong attachment issues to "things." Interestingly, many hoarders are creative and intelligent individuals who are able to see the potential for items that most would discard as trash. Unfortunately, however, this "gift" leads hoarders to be unable to part with newspapers, magazines, old clothing, plastic containers, slips of paper and much, much more.

    Treatment for hoarding is vastly more complicated than simply a forced cleaning of hoarders' homes. As the authors explain:

    One of the worst experiences for someone with a hoarding problem occurs when another person or crew clear out the home . . . . [B]ecause of the hoarder's difficulties with organization, the piles often contain much more than trash. . . . [U]nder the decades-old newspaper may be the title to the person's car or the diamond ring she lost years before. These scenarios almost always leave the hoarder feeling as if his or her valued possessions have been taken away, which may be the case. Beyond this, most hoarders have a sense of where things are amid the clutter. When someone moves or discards even a portion of it, this sense of "order" is destroyed. We know of several cases in which hoarders have committed suicide following a forced cleanout.

    So what does work? Based on the case studies in Stuff it appears that hands-on therapy where the therapist guides the hoarder through the thought processes to discarding their possessions is the best method. However, this is no easy feat. According to Drs. Frost and Steketee, a combination of "[c]ontrolling one's thinking may take a lifetime of effort for people with serious hoarding problems.

    I highly recommend Stuff for both suffers and their family/friends (as well as for those who are simply curious about the condition)! While it may not "cure" the problem is does compassionately and thoroughly explain a profound mental illness.

    Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 20, 2010), 304 pages.
    Review based on a borrowed library book.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2010

    What's behind the "Stuff".

    As someone who has lived with a hoarder this book provides answers and insight into the "why is this person living like this?". If you know or love someone who has these tendencies, read this book!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2010

    An Eye Opener

    "Stuff," it turns out, is the stuff of nightmares. Compulsive hoarding is a serious problem for a small, but significant number of people. Frost provides a valuable introduction to what the social sciences community has found out about hoarders, primarily in recent years, though it is an old condition. The author uses case studies to illuminate different types and levels of hoarding behavior (e.g., animal hoarding, hoarding by children). It was an eye opener to learn how conventional approaches to confront or even force hoarders to give up their possessions are useless, even if the hoarder admits to his/her problem. Long-term therapy with a professional familiar with hoarding treatment appears to be the main option that has had limited success. This is an important, eye-opening work that avoids academic jargon. Highly recommended for hoarders, those who care about them and those who are just curious about unusual social behavior.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Eye Opener

    As my son says there is a reason for everything. This book was definitely an eye opener. I am strong believer that in order to know why you are doing something, you have find the point that something or somebody failed you. For anybody who feels a need to hold on to anything from material things to momentos this is a good start.

    For any anyone who likes to hold on to their anger, I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score." I thought that the book was just about forgiveness, I soon learned, it was about so much more. Having read it, I feel like a better person. Maybe because this book spoke to me and not down to me. I have read a lot of books that was written like I didn't know anything. What the author of "When God Stopped Keeping Score" does is talk to you like a friend. I needed that.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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