The authors are refreshingly uncertain about what the causes of hoarding might be…[their] approach here is anthropological rather than sociological. They have evidently compiled studies with many participants, but the studies don't figure in this book. Instead, they rely upon a series of in-depth profiles of women and men, each of whom they treat with remarkable compassion and respect…[an] utterly engrossing book.
The Washington Post
If Frost and Steketee have difficulty constructing a coherent new vision of compulsive hoarding, it is because they are too observant and too dedicated to the relief of suffering to make a complex phenomenon simple. They are collectors in their own right, stocking a cabinet of curiosities with intimate stories and evocative theories. To those who need to understand hoarders, perhaps in their own family, Stuff offers perspective. For general readers, it is likely to provide useful stimulus for examining how we form and justify our own attachments to objects.
The New York Times
Amassing stuff is normal in our materialistic culture, but for millions it reaches unhealthy levels, according to the authors of this eye-opening study of the causes of hoarding, its meaning for the hoarder, and its impact on their families. Frost, a professor of psychology at Smith College, and Steketee, dean of the social work school at Brown, gather much anecdotal material from conversations with extreme hoarders and find that for such people, “intense emotional meaning is attached to so many of their possessions… even trash.” For some, this meaning inheres in animals: one interviewee has 200 cats. The effects of hoarding on the hoarder’s spouse, parents, and children can be severe, the authors find. Frost and Steketee write with real sympathy and appreciation for hoarders, and their research indicates “an absence of warmth, acceptance, and support” during many hoarders’ early years. They even speculate that a hoarder’s “attention to the details of objects” may indicate “a special form of creativity and appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things.” This succinct, illuminating book will prove helpful to hoarders, their families, and mental health professionals who work with them. (Apr. 20)
We're not talking the "stuff" of stuffed closets here, but homes so completely packed that their owners can't cook in their kitchens because every surface—including the stove and sink—is covered, can't sleep in their beds for the same reason, and can't have visitors and often lose spouses and children because of the appalling living conditions. Psychologist Frost and social worker Steketee have been working with such troubled souls for a number of years and here introduce readers to some of their clients: Irene, an outgoing and successful real estate agent who hoards because each piece of junk seems beautiful and full of promise; Debra, for whom each piece of junk mail was a piece of herself; and Pamela, who hoarded cats. While mostly intended to enlighten the general public about this problem, the book contains advice for those who wish to help a loved one who is a hoarder. VERDICT An excellent starting point for family, friends, and neighbors of hoarders, but the vivid writing will attract readers who enjoy fiction or memoirs about extreme behavior (e.g., Flora Rheta Schneider's Sybil and Hannah Green's I Never Promised You a Rose Gardener).—Mary Ann Hughes, Shelton, WA
Pioneering researchers offer a superb overview of a complex disorder that interferes with the lives of more than six-million Americans. Frost (Psychology/Smith Coll.) and Steketee (Social Work/Boston Univ.), co-authors, with David Tolin, of Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding (2007), were the first social scientists to conduct systematic studies of hoarding when they began collaborating 15 years ago. In this jargon-free book, they offer their best understanding of this remarkably common behavior that now has its own reality-TV show, Hoarders , on A&E. Writing with authority and compassion, the authors tell the stories of diverse men and women who acquire and accumulate possessions to the point where their apartments or homes are dangerously cluttered with mounds of newspapers, clothing and other objects. Often intelligent but indecisive and tormented by their situations, hoarders form intense emotional attachments to their belongings, which offer pleasure, comfort and safety. "Without these things," says one, "I am nothing." The authors detail the lives of many sufferers: a librarian who is well organized on the job, but whose home is littered with belongings stacked on floors and furniture; a man living amid filthy objects scavenged on Manhattan streets, who remains utterly blind to his clutter; a nurse who gives neighborhood tours of easy-to-spot hoarder homes; and a filmmaker who cares for hundreds of hoarded cats. The subjects discuss the painful effects of growing up in a hoarder household; the differences between normal collecting and hoarding; and the issues involved in forced cleanups mandated by local officials for health and safety reasons,some of which have led to hoarder suicides. Hoarding may be inherited or driven by problems in the wiring of the brain, the authors write. There is a growing consensus that this secret affliction-now considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder-should be deemed a separate disorder in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While noting their own limited success treating clients, Frost and Steketee stress that overcoming this disorder requires a heroic, perhaps lifetime effort. An absorbing, gripping, important report.