Saturday, September 25, 2010

Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Author: Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Format: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 304 pages 
Subject: the pathology of hoarding
Genre: non-fiction, case studies
Source: public library

From the Publisher:
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.

What I thought: 
This is an extremely easy to read book about a very complex subject.  The authors are definitely the experts in their field, and by presenting us with actual case studies to support their theories and findings we are able to understand the many manifestations of this problem.  I got this book to help me understand a hoarder who is a close acquaintance.  Although I feel no closer to helping solve the problem, I at least have a full range of resources identified to help in my decision about what to do (or not do.)

In addition to the case studies, we are given a vast bibliography of other information and a list of questions to ask to help sort out the problem.  It's good basic study of the pathology of hoarding and the psychology of why it happens. Well researched, it does not talk down to reader, but avoids excessive scientific speak. A great introduction to a very complex problem.


  1. I'm sure this isn't a new problem but it's good that it's getting a lot of attention now. It's a fascinating kind of mental disease, I think, but I fear the many television programs about it are done for laughs and groans rather than understanding or real help.

  2. I thought this one was interesting. I can't understand hoarding, but I still find it fascinating.

  3. I think that's what was so fascinating about the really helped me understand the people that are afflicted.

  4. funny, my niece and I were just talking about the Hoarding TV show last night..
    I also find it interesting that my SIL, who used to be a visiting nurse and go to a lot of patients homes, says it is way more common than one might think.
    sounds like an interesting book on the subject.

  5. I'm a super organized person and a "purger" (I love to get rid of useless stuff), so hoarding fascinates me. I read this book not too long ago and found it enlightening. I have a whole new understanding of hoarders and no longer yell at the tv during the Hoarders TV show to just "clean the place up". I get it now.

  6. Pam...I agree that reading this book is a valuable resource for all of us who have no idea of how pervasive this mental illness is. I certainly have a whole new perspective about the problem.


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