Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

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3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  3,304 ratings  ·  806 reviews
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 exp...more
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published April 20th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
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306th out of 2,776 books — 4,729 voters
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Community Reviews

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karen
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 discarde...more
Stephanie
I have one dog and three cats, onec at more than my limit. Any cat above two is “crazy cat women” territory (in my own circumstances) I'm hoping the presence of the dog would offset this.

My mom thinks three cats = animal hoarder.

She didn’t have to worry, I’m neither an animal hoarder nor a stuff hoarder but I have to admit people who are fascinate me. If I am flipping the channels and I land on the show Hoarders that is where the flipping stops, then I run around the house gathering up crap to...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Mar 23, 2014 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Pretty much everyone
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Jim Dudgeon
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...more
Courtney
made me clean my room. i shall call this book "mom"
Shelby *wants some flying monkeys*
I read this book as a paranoid. I kept looking around my house and thinking...I might be a hoarder. I do have those books stuffed under the bed so the husband can't see them. (He knows). I do have that cabinet in the kitchen that crap falls out of when I open it.
This book takes a look at the why and how of people collecting things. Some of the stories just broke my heart, however it felt like the authors were just there to write a book. They didn't seem to take the caring part to heart. I felt...more
Jason
Jul 13, 2010 Jason rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jason by: Dolly
Whoa, too close to home baby! This book reveals secrets my family spent 2 generations disguising, and now, with grandkids in play, we may be foisting this problem onto the next genealogical branch.

Embarrassment?
Anguish.
Down-shot, slant-cast eyes--don’t, don’t look at me.
Shameface.
Uncomfortable stammer; no, make that painful acting.
Rituals. Save, save, save.
Followed by--always--rage: “DON’T...WANT TO...TALK.”
Disbelief, ignorance, disgrace, cruelty.
.................*help*
What is HAPPENING...more
mstan
The fourth star is for a few things:

- The engaging way in which the two authors present the cases they have encountered (which, frankly, would appeal to the voyeuristic in most) - young hoarders, animal hoarders, belligerent 'blind' hoarders vs. intelligent hoarders, hoarders with OCD...

- The authors' compassion for their subjects

- Their admission that it is indeed difficult to help hoarders (and there's no miracle therapy that would solve their issues)

I was highly uncomfortable reading some of...more
David Peters
Why I Read It:

I love the shows Clean Sweep, Hoarders, Life Laundry, etc.

Review:

The authors come from an academic background so there is a slight text book feel to the work, but it is all punctuated with example after example. And the truth they find at the bottom of the piles is it’s not about the stuff. I think the common misconception people have when they see examples of hoarding on TV is just to throw it away. Getting rid of the stuff will not be a miracle cure. In fact on example from the...more
Donna
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...more
Evan
It's appropriate that this will be my last review on Goodreads because I realize that one of my main motivations for writing and posting reviews here is one of the primary rationales used by hoarders to justify their habit: to have a physical, tangible record of a memory, to quell the fear of memories forgotten. Even when hoarders do manage to purge, they often keep some part of the purged thing: to make a photocopy of an album cover, for instance, to be able to hold onto something that was the...more
Lobstergirl
Jul 19, 2012 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Thom Dunn
This is a book that goes way beyond the voyeuristic TV shows to explain why people hoard. There are many reasons, and a variety of types of hoarders. Some hoarding is strongly related to OCD, other hoarding not so much. One woman in the book collected magazines; her house was filled with them and she had expanded into several storage units. At first she bought only one copy of each magazine, but then she began to be disturbed by the thought that a magazine might be a little damaged, might have f...more
Chris
Not the sensationalized view that the TV show Hoarders gives, this book is great! It breaks down the many different reasons why people hoard stuff, and the various reasons why people become so attached to stuff. This explains a lot about the psychology of Hoarding and the mental state of people who compulsively pile stuff up around them. What I really liked about the way this is written is that it is clinical, yet accessible, and it doesn't feel like it is all "crazy". There is one chapter about...more
Melanie Baker
Hoarding has become, weirdly, kinda fashionable, largely thanks to those TV shows. This book sheds a lot of light on the psychology of hoarders and some of the issues and histories that can bring it about.

It wasn't a big happy ending book -- it made clear that not all of the people in their case studies were "cured", and how common it is for a cleared out house to be completely filled back up again surprisingly quickly.

What I would have liked to have read more about would be how such people are...more
Judith
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 fr...more
Amanda L
Updated upon finishing--

Gearing up for a move out of state this month... I certainly need to dump a lot. Let's call it "borderline pathological" ;-]

A technical assessment of hoarding from a psychological-scientific perspective which, according to the authors, has been lacking until very recently. They advocate a set of hoarding-exclusive diagnostic criteria for the next edition of the DSM, as chronic hoarding is currently classified under OCD or addiction, since there is some overlap of symptoms...more
Amy
"Stuff" is organized with case studies serving as the basis for the broader categorization and analysis of various types of and motives for hoarding. It talks about hoarding based on personification of items, a strong sense of personal connection to items, a fear of loss of self if items are discarded, an aversion to waste, an inability to rate the importance of items, the mentality saving "just in case," and combination manifestations of hoarding. The subjects of the authors' research are exten...more
Linda
I worked for awhile in a non-profit guardianship agency in Washington state and we had many cases of hoarding. One fellow filled up his entire house, then one car, then the other but was sleeping on the back seat of the second. (He lost his false teeth in that mess!!!)

So I had to read this book. The author writes very well and uses people he has worked with to control or eliminate their hoarding. (Obviously, he disguises their real names.) It was fascinating to me to see how many hoarders can gi...more
Margot
I'd like to think that we all can recognize a little bit of ourselves in these case studies of hoarding, but maybe it's just me. Fortunately for my boyfriend, my "collecting" hasn't made our living space unlivable, and reading this book actually made me think a few times, "Hey, I'm not so bad." Watching hoarding intervention shows puts me into a flurry of cleaning and discarding activity, while this book made me recognize certain similarities in behavior, bringing some self-awareness. The insigh...more
Sara
As someone who grew up with a hoarder parent, this book was particularly interesting to read. The authors, a psychiatrist and a social worker, interviewed many hoarders, their long-suffering family and friends. They discuss some historical cases of hoarding, examine various styles and reasonings behind hoarding, such as collecting, foraging, and rescuing. Some of the interviewees are aware that they have a problem with their collections covering all the surfaces in their homes, while others prou...more
Diane
A fascinating and well-researched book about people who are compulsive hoarders. Several of the stories made me cringe they were so disturbing. My reaction was the same as when I watch those hoarding TV shows -- I had to stop for a few minutes to clean and declutter something.

During his research, Dr. Frost created his own Clutter Image Rating by photographing rooms in various stages of messiness and then asking clients to identify the level their home is at. What is interesting is how frequentl...more
Jim
This is a nicely executed book by a couple of experts in the field. In spite of the fact that there are no car chases or explosions within these pages, I found the book to be totally engrossing, much more interesting than some of the modern fiction I've been struggling through lately (fifty shades of what?).

There were passages in this book that caused me some discomfort: I found many indicators that could easily be applied to me: stacks of books I won't live long enough to read, impulsive (compu...more
Gaijinmama
While this book doesn't really offer much concrete advice about how to deal with hoarding problems, it is nevertheless a fascinating read. As a third-generation Clutterbug/Pack Rat/ Not Too Far from Being Buried in My Piles of Books and Papers, I found the case studies fascinating. Hoarding can manifest in many different ways and for many different reasons, and this book covers a wide spectrum in a very readable, even entertaining manner. I found myself having a hard time putting the book down,...more
Elliot Ratzman
This rocked my world. I saw some of myself—or one of my friends or ex-housemates—in each one of these chapters. I have accumulated thousands of books, but also hundreds of magazines, papers, articles and mementos. By reading about the pathological collectors—most famously the NYC hermits, the Collyer brothers, who died under piles of accumulated junk in their mansion—I now think about my own habits on a continuum. There are a range of chronic hoarders and shopping addicts who collect animals, ne...more
David
An enjoyable and well-read nine-hour audiobook available as a download from Audible.

Listening to (or reading) this book is to watching a TV show about hoarders is as volunteering at a hospital is to attending a circus freak show.

Listening to this book after reading various books about memory (specifically, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Can't Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research...more
Phoebe
This book is both fascinating and useful. I am not a hoarder like the people in this book (no "goat paths" for one thing) but I am definitely on the continuum, and many things in this book rang very true. It made me cringe and laugh at the same time, as though I were the subject of a Dean Martin roast.

This has been more useful to me than the few "clear your clutter" books I've, uh, hoarded over the years, because it hacks away at the root of the problem and shines a light on the odd little thou...more
Michael
On grabbing this at the library, I thought it was generally about people's relationships with their possessions, but it's actually about compulsive hoarders. The authors developed the work over the course of decades of research into hoarding, which had somehow gone understudied in psychology, even though we all know stories from our childhoods of "cat ladies" with dozens of unfixed felines, and old coots whose attics overflow with decades of accumulated crap. Generally, as they visit the homes o...more
Desiree
Really enjoyed this one. I have a tendency to hoard and have recently been forced to get rid of a lot of things as I moved into a much smaller place. That definitely made me take a look at all the things I had been saving,"just in case."

Lots of psychological theories here. One is that hoarders form attachments to objects rather than people. I can definitely identify with that one. People can let you down, leave, die, etc, but possessions are always there. Other people become attached to things...more
Mike (the Paladin)
This is a pretty good book I considered 3 stars as some may not find it all that interesting in part. But all in all this is a fascinating "condition" and the book lays it out well.

The book basically uses multiple case studies (people who have or do live on horded conditions) to look at hording's various presentations and to attempt to get to its causes. The latter is not always accomplished. However the discussions about what brings about this condition can be (even if they're not always) enli...more
Meredith
Apr 13, 2010 Meredith rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hoarders, family members of hoarders
Clutter. Compulsive shopping. Perfectionism. Avoidance. Unused Rubbermaid™ boxes. Andy Warhol.

Welcome to the world of hoarding.

"Stuff" is an ambitious undertaking. Psychologists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, who specialize in hoarding behavior, explore multiple facets of this puzzling psychological disorder. Drawing upon various case studies spanning decades of field work, Frost narrates this harrowing journey through piles of accumulated stuff. Hoarding is no obscure illness--according to Fros...more
Tara
I really liked this book. I thought the writer and researchers did a really good job describing the thought processes that different types of hoarders have. The intractability of the problem for people is dramatic and daunting. The most salient thing I got from the book was that there are very few problems that cannot be adequately and competently addressed with compassionate, reinforcing one-on-one attention. This spans all types of disciplines and the objects/people that are problematized.

Unfo...more
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Dr. Randy O. Frost is the Harold and Elsa Siipola Israel Professor of Psychology at Smith College and author of "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things" (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2010), a book about hoarding for the general public. He is an expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder and compulsive hoarding and has published more than 100 scientific articles on these topics. He other...more
More about Randy O. Frost...
Cognitive Approaches to Obsessions and Compulsions: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment The Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Therapist's Guide

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“You can't hook up a U-Haul to a hearse” 3 likes
“Despite the appearance of slovenliness or laziness created by the condition of the house, Langley was always busy and often complained of not having enough time to do the things he needed to do. One of those things, Langley told the police on several occasions, was clearing and organizing his home. He claimed to be saving things so that he and his brother could be self-sufficient.” 0 likes
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