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Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

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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 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's 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 illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us. Whether we're savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live.

For all of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

290 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Randy O. Frost

13 books65 followers
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 books include "Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Therapist Guide and Workbook" as well as "Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding" (both published by Oxford University Press in 2007).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,156 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
March 10, 2019
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 discarded...

see, that sounds like home!but maybe i'm not a hoarder, maybe i just have a small new york apartment. i won't know until my ship comes in and i move somewhere bigger... will i fill that space, too? will i be like that fat tolkien dragon lolling on my hoard of books and treasures??

but reading this book puts it into perspective, a little. i do not hoard garbage. i do not have roaches and mice. i do not collect supermarket circulars and newspapers from ten years ago. i am able to throw away junk mail. while there are frequent book avalanches at the home, my door can still be opened, and i am able to escape if (heaven forfend) there is a fire. "Hoarding is not defined by the number of possessions, but by how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects their owner." and i'm okay, i think. i read my books, i just buy more than i will ever live long enough to read, but i want to read them all -that's the plan, i just don't know how feasible it will be, mortality and all.

i highly recommend this book, even if you don't have the same fears i had. it is a strong cautionary tale, and while this is a psychological disorder, the hoarding, and being aware of the extent that it can actually take over a person's life isn't going to prevent it; you either have the tendency or you don't, you may see shades of yourself in some of the case studies, and it might give you a nice whiff of fear - enough to get you to go over to that mail table and sort it once and for all. and throw away that old fancy mustard you didn't even like - you are never going to suddenly develop a taste for it.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Courtney.
42 reviews
July 4, 2011
made me clean my room. i shall call this book "mom"
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,184 followers
February 23, 2013
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 get rid of. So when I came across the book “Stuff” I had to take a look. It had a lot of interesting “stuff” in it.

People who hoard have an over active nesting need. This is something we all have as instinct from the way back days, but with hoarders it’s on a higher level. When hoarders were children they would show signs of their future by collecting things. Odd things. All kids collect something at certain point of their lives, comic books, Barbie dolls, sea shells. For me it was rocks…….they were pretty. But future hoarders described in this book would pick up random things like sticks and leaves. When these things were discarded by whoever cared to discard them the future hoarders would cry and throw world class fits until the item was returned. One little girl, upon walking into a store, lost some mud off the bottom of her shoe, when an employee stopped and cleaned it up, she went into hysterics and was inconsolable. That was her mud!

Hoarders seem to me to be somewhat agoraphobic. They cocoon themselves with in their stuff and they like it. Being a bit of a claustrophobic, that would be a nightmare for me. Every bit of their belongings has meanings and memories attached to them, and for the hoarder discarding anything is like discarding an important memory itself.

A big problem for them and one of the biggest reasons they hoard it that they see possibilities in everything. They won’t throw things out because someday the may use that item, fix it, sell it, ect. So they hang on to it, and of course it is never used.

Random facts I found interesting.

• Cheap stuff (think Walmart) and marketing is making us a nation of hoarders.
• The average house size has increased 60% since 1970. Think McMansion.
• We have twice the number of shopping centers than schools.
• 40 years ago there was no such thing as a storage unit.
• Today there is 2.35 billion square feet of self storage in the U.S, and 90% of it is full.
If you abandon them, the folks from the show Storage Wars will descend.

There are two types of people, when it comes to their relationship with their stuff. One is the “having” sort…..the owner, the materialist. He thinks life will be better if he gets the stuff he dreams of. Then there is the “being” person, enjoys life more by having experiences, going out and living life instead of accumulating things.

I hope that I am the later.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews504 followers
March 23, 2014
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 to let go of (books anyone?) "We may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well." - perhaps inspire a clean-out and yard sale...
Well researched you’ll get all the statistics, but it’s readable too - the case studies offer that human touch. I like art so enjoyed learning how most hoarders have an artistic bend, an appreciation of the beauty of mundane objects - a bottle cap, a scrap of cloth. “Every object is rich with detail.” Talks about Andy Warhol, the most famous of them all ”his five-story house in New York was so crammed that he could live in only two of the rooms.” Now I GET his soup can paintings! Click spoiler if you want to know about his time capsules - fascinating.
Bottom-line it’s really interesting and well worth your time. Glad a mental disorder fraught with shame and secrecy is coming out of the closet.
Cons: Repetitive with a tendency to overstate the obvious. Not faulting the author, clearly a sympathetic advocate of hoarders and their families but it can be discouraging - most of the cases seemed incurable.
Meanderings - Opportunity Knocks… My spin, forget bargain hunting, the smart money’s in the Mini-Storage business. Your target market is huge, pretty well everyone has more stuff than they have room for, not just compulsive hoarders. Think of all those downsizing baby-boomers selling their homes and moving into condos… Spoiler is U.S. stats but suspect pretty universal.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,319 reviews1,614 followers
May 15, 2016
Some people hoard stuff. Some people hoard animals. I apparently hoard Currently Reading books on my Goodreads account.

OK, that's a bit facetious because I'm not really HOARDING them - I just can't consider them "finished" until I've reviewed them, so I just keep adding more and more until I have time to write the reviews to clear the list. *sigh* Does that make me some sort of OCD? Or just weird?

Just weird? OK then.

Moving on... In my house, we have some strange dynamics. I am not a neat freak. My house is cluttered and lived in, and there are days (*cough* WEEKS) when I can easily walk by, around, over a pile of clothes on the floor and not care. But I have no trouble getting rid of stuff - even unread books, as shocking as that might be - if I feel that I have no more interest or use for it.

Most of MY clutter takes the form of books and book paraphernalia and knitting and crafting stuff. I have books all over the house, and as of right now, we do have enough shelving to give all of them homes (and then some - thanks IKEA!) but there was a time when this wasn't the case, and I had stacks... everywhere. We were living in a too-small apartment, and my large book collection joined forces with my boyfriend's huge art and art supply collection... and the only thing that kept the floor from caving in below us was the anti-gravity sphere I set up in the hall.

When I moved, I donated about 11 boxes of books to the goodwill, and still my boyfriend lugged boxes and boxes and boxes of books from the old place to the new one. He got a murderous gleam in his eye if I mentioned the word "book" around him for about 3 months afterward. Poor guy.

The boyfriend is actually the one who likes things to be neat and organized and clean... but ironically he is also an artist and most of the shit cluttering up our house is his. HIS clutter in the house is what makes me realize that I am not a hoarder. Eleven boxes of donation books (read, unread, whatever) caused me not a twinge of anxiety... but when he had to go through and clean out, organize, pack and determine what to keep and what to trash of HIS stuff, it was a PROCESS. He had half-finished art projects from who-knows-when that were unearthed from a pile in his art room, and when I would try to throw it away, he would get a bit upset and argue that it's still useful.

Not "hoarder" upset, but "artist" upset. I think that's a very fine line, and yet it might be an important distinction to make. I can see how it would be very easy to cross the line from an artist who uses discarded stuff and trash and unconventional materials for art supplies, to someone who likes the idea of doing that... but never actually getting to the making part, and just collects and collects and collects because it's become a compulsion.

We eventually got through the move, and we both ended up downsizing huge portions of the crap we had accumulated while living in our old place. We were also moving to a place that was about twice the size of our old one, so our downsized stuff ended up feeling like it was only a quarter of the amount.

And I loved it. And that made me realize that I am something of a minimalist. I liked the openness of our place without tons of crap everywhere. I could easily live with a couch, a bed and a bookshelf. (OK many bookshelves. Who's counting? Oh. Society. Right.) Of course, we've now been here for several years, and the stuff is accumulating again. Maybe we just need to move every 2 years to keep it manageable. No. Nope. Nevermind. I'll just live in the clutter.

Anywho... This book was fascinating. I have seen the A&E show "Hoarders" and I always feel so sad for the people who have had this compulsion take over their lives - but it wasn't until this book that I really thought about what causes the hoarding tendency. From the outside, I think to many it seems like laziness. People just stop caring to clean up, and then embarrassment and guilt and anxiety and hopelessness take over and make it seem like an impossible task to change, so they just don't, and dig in for the long haul. But it's not really that simple. I think that those things that I mentioned are a big part of it, but they aren't the CAUSE. Hoarding isn't just a cleanliness thing, it's a mental illness related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

This made me feel both a bit better and a bit worse when it came to hoarding though. Better, because it's not just an escalation from clutter and mess to wading through mounds of stuff... but also worse because mental illness is stigmatized and so hard to work through. But I loved the way that this book presented their info on hoarding, and told the stories of those that they included in the book. It was handled with understanding, compassion, and kindness, and there wasn't an ounce of judgement or nastiness to be found.

This book presented many aspects of hoarding that I would never have thought about. Attaching significant meaning to junk, or to the hoarder, making them placeholders for memory; not wanting to waste anything; wanting the security of food or items for lean times; or just walling oneself off with piles of stuff. There are many, many internalized reasons for collecting. The show would often play up the dramatic - a man who collects stuff with the intention to resell it, but never does, and who is spending thousands of dollars to store items he won't part with and is constantly battling with his family over the hoard... or a woman who refuses to empty the ashtray her husband used the day he died decades ago because that's all she has left of him, for example - but it doesn't truly go into the rationale behind these actions. It's just scratching the surface. Perhaps by getting rid of the ashtray, the woman feels like she's throwing away her love of him. Trashing his memory, or all the years they spent together. Perhaps she felt like getting rid of the last thing she had of his was negating their entire life together... and that's something that is much deeper than just a simple "sentimental value".

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that I found this book to be very well-researched and informative. The section on marketing and societal expectations of ownership was worth the read on its own. It shows that we as a society tend more toward acquiring more and more stuff than we do toward building and maintaining relationships with people. We're spreading out as a society... and filling the gaps with junk. *sigh*

This really is a fascinating read, even if you are not a hoarder, and even if you don't know one. It's an interesting and compassionate look at a very misunderstood compulsion.
Profile Image for Jason.
114 reviews578 followers
July 13, 2010
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.

Down-shot, slant-cast eyes--don’t, don’t look at me.
Uncomfortable stammer; no, make that painful acting.
Rituals. Save, save, save.
Followed by--always--rage: “DON’T...WANT TO...TALK.”
Disbelief, ignorance, disgrace, cruelty.
What is HAPPENING to this family?

Hoarding, a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), has finally arrived. Books are being published, research is being focused, 2 separate TV series are currently being aired, and the public has latched on to this compulsion as the newest, morbidly interesting human problem discussed around the water cooler at work. It seems like our cultural dialogue moves from one mental disorder to another, each exposed by emerging research. A disorder is canonized by medical journals, people are diagnosed in greater numbers, medicine is passed by the FDA, and then during all this, the disorder enters the lexicon, passes the veil of stigma, and becomes an almost hip thing to talk about. Hoarding, yes. It’s always been here, but safe to say, I think it has arrived. In other words, you probably know someone who has it. And now you’re comfortable to call it by name. This has happened in the past with depression in the 70’s, ADD and OCD in the 80’s, ADHD and autism in the 90’s, PTSD in the 00s, and now hoarding. Each was privately suffered in guilt, and at some point the secret became evanescent, and finally people are being, if not helped, then at least identified and diagnosed.

But let me tell you. Despite the graphic pictures of the homes, basements, or garages of people who suffer from hoarding, just because you don’t, it doesn’t make this a very real, painful, and pathological condition. And like other mental disorders, it affects more than one person. Usually it involves the painful, time-consuming cover-up of most members of the family in collusion. It becomes more than one person’s disorder. And, because unlike other disorders that are contained within the cranium, this disorder spills out into the home--physically--and encroaches and soon buries everyone else.

So, my close-ish relative. Over the years, this person’s extended family has shunted the hoarding to certain places and funneled it into certain categories, but it’s taken reserves of manpower and spirit to live with it daily. You can’t control it; you can only contain it, as might a dike to water. Don’t leave this person alone. It will pour into spaces that are actually livable. A wasted life? No. A whole different perspective about the material world? Absolutely. Their brain comprehends material possession in an entirely different way than you or me. It’s not a need to buy new things or expensive things (it’s not hyper-consumerism). That would imply a rational--though misplaced--conscious decision-making process. Instead, hoarding is an absurd, faultless, uncontrollable desire to have something in disproportion to how it will ultimately be used. Sadly, we know the desire will never be satisfied. This is not living in debt; this is living in what almost always becomes squalor.

There are some neat statistics in the book about Hoarders, and you’d be shocked to discover what percentage of Americans have this penchant to hoard. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things does a good job tracing and hypothesizing these urges back to their atavistic roots by looking at other species that hoard. There’s evidence of genetic encoding for storing (hoarding), and a biological reason to engorge yourself with different tools, foods, and necessities in times of scarcity. Perhaps the brain evolved to gather, originally hardwired to hoard, but retooled and replaced by more expressive and useful chromosomal base pairs, yet in a percentage of people the vestigial urge is unlocked and overpowers the restraints built into the helix over millions of years.

Hoarding makes for such good shock value on TV, luridly observing how people have converted their homes into animal trails between the towering mounds of junk; how possessions in the bedroom or attic become layered over the years like deposits of alluvial sediment; how people no longer sleep in their beds, but in some jiggered nest in the house, slowly shrinking; how entire rooms are eventually stoppered by items of ostensible necessity--like used paper cups, junk mail, unfitted clothing, odd lumber, things found along the road, broken stuff, (what’s this--a freaking rat--are you kidding me?), piles and piles and stacks of the shit. Boy, that sure looks better on camera than PTSD or autism. It’s an unfortunate illness, hoarding, because you can see it, you don’t have to visualize it. You can invade someone’s space and see the hoarding in fascinating aggregate, a continuum from clean and ordered to grossly unsanitary. The cameras will expose it, and the hoarders are always astonished and embarrassed that it got this bad, not unlike the disbelief when you see medical pictures of a South American woman with a 200 pound goiter going about business as if this is the way of life.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things is a book that subdivides hoarding into more specific characteristics. There are broad categories to this illness, but like the human brain, there are as many different ways and reasons to hoard as there are hoarders, sprinkled, as I know they are, all among your suburbs and exurbs and inner cities and foreign countries even though you don’t know it. There are people who hoard junk, who hoard clothes, who hoard cats, food, and information. There are people who hoard anything that can be reused, fixed, or converted. There are people who hoard memories, for love, to be noticed. There are people who hoard feelings, and dog fur, and your trash bags. The book uses a delicate hand but does not shy from revealing the illness with brute force. My relative, you guessed it, fits in between several of the categories. That’s probably how it works with most hoarders. Taking pieces and parts from the chapters, I construct traits that explain what is going on with my relative.

The book provides some good--but not extensive--psychological causes for the general categories of hoarding. It also lists things and attitudes by which to deal with hoarders. This is a good preliminary book of an illness we’re going to hear much about in the coming years. It’s a vicious, entropic disease no less intractable than alcoholism, drug abuse, or depression. Hoarders suffer painfully--physically and emotionally. They don’t want to hoard, but they can’t help it, and they’re surrounded by it. The book also provides some testimonial from actual hoarders that the author has followed for years. What I would like to have seen, although it would probably only be conjecture at this point, is an analysis on whether people today, with the richest source of goods available ever and myriad ways to get them, are yet experiencing new and additional manifestations of an illness that has been around for--really--ever. Is it like obesity, which increases when the culture has more leisure time and less labor to perform? Is there a link between availability of ‘stuff’ and its resultant hoarding? Or does the sickness exist in some relatively stable and predictable percentage in the genetic pool?

I highly recommend this book if you know someone with hoarding tendencies--you can finally discover what they’ve wanted to tell you, but lacked the courage to do so. Otherwise, it’s a good read if you can’t get enough of hoarding on TV. 3.5 stars.

New words: folie à deux,
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,563 reviews5,868 followers
April 3, 2014
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 bad for so many of these people. They are smart people! Some have OCD (which I do to some point) some have had horrible lives and in the case of one poor woman she can't stand up to her brother..even when he endangers her with his filth.
The TV show "Hoarders" has enlightened our nation to this problem. It's vast.
Profile Image for mstan.
625 reviews10 followers
January 22, 2012
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 the book, because I do still have some school papers and my teaching school material (I have already been in teaching for nearly a decade... and have almost never looked at those materials)... not to mention a ton of old manga from when I was a teenager, which are surely silverfish-ridden by now, and which I have not opened in more than a decade. I think my problem is procrastination/laziness when it comes to cleaning, though, not so much hoarding (though I feel really awful about the idea of throwing out school papers... perhaps this just goes to show how my identity has been constructed around this concept of academic success???). Some of the people mentioned in this book are truly pitiful because they realise they have a problem - a problem that has damaged many of their relationships with their loved ones - but cannot bear to take apart the cocoon of stuff they've constructed to protect themselves from loss. Many of them have become public health hazards because of the number of cockroaches and mice their stuff has generated, and because their stuff may actually increase the likelihood of fire, or even trigger the collapse of the building.

One quibble: I wish the authors had organised (irony?) some of the information a little better. Sometimes the focus of each chapter wasn't particularly clear, as previous observations are reiterated a few times, and different case studies are juxtaposed against each other across various chapters. Other than that, I thought this was an illuminating look into what is becoming a pervasive but much-misunderstood problem. Reading it has certainly made me much more uncomfortable about how hoarders' distress at having their houses cleaned out is so widely publicised (making the hoarders almost into targets of ridicule) in the show 'Hoarders'.
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,445 reviews105 followers
October 22, 2019
The authors of this fascinating study of compulsive hoarding are psychologists who have spent several years studying why people hoard. And we all know or know of someone whose house is a nightmare of piles of garbage bags, boxes, stacks of papers/magazines reaching to the ceiling and little trails among the clutter which are barely large enough for one to pass through. Unfortunately, a television show was created (not by these authors) which shows houses being cleaned out and the occupants suffering the trauma of being separated from their "stuff". No attempt is really made to understand the reason for the hoarding and seems to indicate that once the house is cleared, it will stay that way. Not true.

The hoarding impulse goes much deeper and this book does a good job of examining the personalities and lives of five separate people the authors have treated, many of whom have hoarded since childhood. It is a psychological aberration that seldom has a true "cure" and as long as the hoarder's home does not become a danger to the occupants, the psychologists do not traumatize them by cleaning out their houses. Instead they look for the reason for this behavior and how the collecting mania may be somewhat tempered.

This is an insiders look at what appears to be an ever increasing problem and why it is important to those who hoard. Recommended.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,603 reviews1,672 followers
August 12, 2016
This book was completely fascinating.

I know I say this a lot, but I really should have reviewed this book right after reading, because details don't always stick around long enough for me to remember to write about them. This book in particular was chock full of so many interesting details I know it would be impossible for me to convey most of them even if I'd written this review ten seconds after finishing. And it's been a month and a half.

Randy O. Frost was a professor at Smith college when an undergraduate's project on hoarding, which was believed to be a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder at the time, prompted him to pioneer the research field into hoarding as its own separate thing, with different causes and symptoms (and treatments). He and his co-author Gail Steketee (who he explains in the intro mostly helped him with research and compiling data, while he did the writing) are still the leading researchers in the field.

This book is part explanation of the causes of hoarding, its linkage to OCD, and parsing out of why hoarders do what they do, psychologically and biologically; and it is also part case history. One of the reasons the book is so interesting is that he uses specific cases histories for patients with varying types of hoarding to illustrate the points he is making. He weaves the story of their hoarding in with explanations of their behavior, and of hoarding itself. It is never jargony, but still maintains scientific credibility. In my opinion, it's a book that scholars and pleasure readers alike will find worthwhile.

There was just so much I didn't know about hoarding before I read this, like the previously mentioned connections with OCD (as of the writing of this book in 2010, there were theories about why so many people with OCD are also hoarders, but not all hoarders have OCD, and not all people with OCD are hoarders), and connections with ADHD as well. Even the story the book opens with, of the most famous hoarding case in New York history, is one I hadn't heard before. And it's all grounded in human stories. You really feel for each person he profiles, as he details just exactly how their hoarding has affected their lives.

My only "complaint" here would be that since this is a growing research field, new and exciting discoveries are presumably being made about hoarding as we speak, and the book was published waaaaay back in 2010, it's probably already out of date. I hope they do an updated version sometime in the future, and that some of the lingering questions brought up in this book have some answers.

Note: Do not read or listen to the chapter on garbage hoarders if you are eating now, plan to eat soon, or have recently eaten. It is stomach churning stuff.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,699 reviews1,227 followers
July 20, 2012
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 fingerprints on it (her own or someone else's), that the "O" on the cover of Oprah magazine might not be positioned perfectly. This would cause her to buy a new copy with the "O" properly aligned. Soon she was buying two copies of each magazine, one to read and one to preserve (but keeping both). At the store, she would pick up a stack of three copies of a magazine in order not to touch the middle copy, which she would buy. Eventually she persuaded the store personnel to let her ring up her magazine purchases herself, so that no store employee would touch them.

Another woman, Irene, had distinct categories of what in her house was "clean" and "dirty," but the authors noted that everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. Irene was a perfect exemplar of the person who hoards because they see possibility and potential in every single item they come across, and the thought of losing that possibility by throwing the item away is debilitating. She had one piece of paper with the phone number of a young girl who she thought her daughter might be interested in meeting. Her daughter wasn't interested, but Irene had held onto the phone number because "Julia might change her mind." Irene held on to the instructions for a toy that her son owned; when her son threw them away because he already knew how to use the toy, Irene seemed utterly bewildered. She did spend several hours a day attempting to sort through her things, but because every object had a meaning, and Irene had an intention for it, it was incredibly difficult to throw it out, and it went back onto the pile (this is called "churning"). Items got shuffled within the piles as Irene examined them, but they almost never got discarded.

"Most hoarders are capable of discarding things if they can convince themselves that the object will not be wasted, that it will go to a good home...or that the opportunity it presented is no longer available," write the authors. "But the amount of time and effort involved in attaining this certainty makes it impossible to keep up with the volume of stuff entering the home."

The psychological trait linking all these hoarders is their sentimental or emotional attachment to objects. Many see their personal history inscribed in their possessions, so their home is like an enormous biography in which every item, no matter how insignificant, has its own story. If this is how you see your things, then throwing them away feels like a kind of death. Some hoarders anthropomorphize things, so that they would imagine even a yogurt container suffering as it lay in the garbage. When I first learned about hoarding it seemed as though hoarders merely had a clutter problem which had gotten way out of control; they were overwhelmed, and what they needed was someone to come in and help them get rid of the clutter. This is actually the opposite of what true hoarding is, and it's why hoarders become so defensive and resistant when people offer decluttering help. The clutter is protective and comforting; hoarding often begins after a personal trauma, whether a parent dying, a rape, or a divorce. Hoarders often had one very emotionally distant or unloving parent, and the clutter can be an emotional solution to lack of affection. When a municipality or public health department comes in to clear a severe hoarder's residence, the hoarder very often lapses into a deep depression, and some even commit suicide after the cleaning. If they survive it, they begin hoarding again immediately, because merely clearing stuff out doesn't address the underlying psychological issues.

Perhaps most insightful was the authors' focus on hoarders' problems with decision-making and information processing. Many hoarders crave information; they want to know everything. They want to read every newspaper and magazine article, but because time constraints make this impossible, the unread publications stack up. Every bit of information seems equally important to them; a five-year old ad for tires is as significant as a newspaper clipping on drug use, or their homeowners insurance policy. Irene had kept a cap to a pen because she thought it could be used as a piece in a board game. Only after the authors discussed with her whether this was "a reasonable and important purpose" for it was she able to throw it away. She was also unable to decide what to do with a piece of junk mail from a mortgage company until a similar conversation had happened. Hoarders' problems making decisions and processing information, the way hoarding tends to run in families, and studies of brain scans all suggest that hoarding most likely has a brain disorder component.

Not all of the case studies in the book were equally interesting; animal hoarders, for example, bore me. There were some chapters where the writing style changed, probably because there are two authors. What I liked was the way the authors were respectful and utterly nonjudgmental, treating their subjects with objectivity, compassion, and understanding.
Profile Image for Donna.
Author 1 book41 followers
November 17, 2012
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 smack smack of jump cut b-roll, this book can really get into what situations (isolation) and individual characteristics can lead a mild mannered matchbook collector down the goat path to death by newspaper; so heavy and smothery once they're piled over 10 feet.
Am I a cleaning lady away from death by book? I am lucky enough to have one of the great ones. She knows how to keep me in line without making my house feel strange to me. There is not an empty shoebox or old piece of useless crap that doesn't leave this house within 2 weeks of official POS-dom. She has a lovely understanding of my relationship to my stuff including the pile of books in the corner of my bedroom that will soon go onto a bookshelf. (revolution!) AND my back porch is empty. EMPTY! Just thrown into a small trailer and taken to the dump, except for one old roller skate. When I pick it up, I can feel the vibration of steel wheels on asphalt shaking my 9 year old knees as I tear-assed down Avondale hill on summer afternoons.
She is a gem, and while reading this book, I thought a lot about Cynthia and wondered if some of these people entering their houses through the strait gate (stuff piled against the front door) might not have gone so far if they had that extra voice of reason in the mix. But that extra voice costs money.
We all let ourselves go a bit at a certain age. A certain amount of this letting go is liberating, but for some it's a quick slide into the oubliette of non-youth to lie in the ash heap with the other discarded toys.
Anyway, this book really gets beyond the usual shock images and is well worth reading to get to know these people above and beyond their designation as 'hoarders'. They also get into what it's like for the children of hoarders, and the authors tie in societal changes in our relationship to possessions through the rapidly metastasizing presence of storage places.
Worth reading.
Profile Image for Leslie.
1,124 reviews226 followers
May 3, 2021
No one has set foot in my uncle’s apartment in well over a decade. Perhaps closer to two decades. When I was little and we would visit, it was cluttered but not so bad. I don’t know when things crossed over that line. But I know the last time my dad was allowed to visit, it was packed. He described how there were small trails to get to certain places. A path to the bathroom. A line to the couch. A walkway to a barely functional bathroom. Goat trails I now know these are called. I can only imagine how things look now. My uncle will not let any of us visit him and he will not leave his apartment to come see us.

This was the main reason I wanted to read this book. But it’s a subject that has long interested me. I’ve got friends who have family members like my uncle. I’ve read a few memoirs about it and some fiction. And I used to watch the show Hoarders all the time, before I was fully aware of my uncle’s situation. I will still watch one from time to time but they started to make me too sad.

It’s really a devastating and debilitating illness and this book emphasizes that. I don’t know if I was reading it to try to understand it better or if I was reading it to try and find a way to help my uncle. Both I guess. It did give me lots of information so I do think I am more clear on it. As for helping him, it didn’t offer much on that front.

The book is dry in places. However, there are enough case studies mixed in to keep it from feeling too clinical. It starts by talking about the famous Collyer brothers which is a sad story. If you are interested in them, there’s a good historical fiction book by E.L. Doctorow called, “Homer and Langley.”

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about hoarding. It was kind of bleak but insightful.
Profile Image for David Peters.
373 reviews8 followers
December 31, 2010
Why I Read It:

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


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 book the city did just that with a court order. By that night the gentleman involved began searching the streets for more junk to put in his apartment; even filling it again within weeks.

What it comes down to is the relationship the person has with the objects, or the inappropriate meaning they attached to at. Everything becomes either valuable or possibly valuable and hence cannot be removed. For example, I might decide my grandkids will one day want to make forts out of old oatmeal containers. Now it doesn’t matter that I do not currently have grandkids, I might one day and they might want to make forts. I then proceed to save them and actively seek ones that others have thrown away. I also manufacture cherished future memories of love between possible grandkids, the fort building and myself. If I throw them away, or do not collect them, I am throwing away love. Now imagine that times every object that comes into your life, and I mean every object. It is crippling.

My favorite short example from the book is when the author was working with a patient and found a torn scrap of paper in her piles. On it was a handwritten telephone number, clearly several years old.
Dr: Can we throw this away?
Patient: No, it has a number on it.
D: What is the number for?
P: I don’t know, but if I wrote it down it must be important.
D: Can we call it to see who it is?
P: Not right now, but I will later.
D: When later?
P: Just later

Anyways, this is an endlessly fascinating book which will make you think. After talking about it with everyone I know (and you will want to as well), I came to a conclusion.

I f your reaction to it is “OMG I have too much crap in my house (life) and I need to get rid of stuff immediately,” then you are not a hoarder. You are just messy like the rest of us.

If your reaction is “at least I am not that bad so I am okay,” then you probably got a problem. Seek help :-)
Profile Image for Evan.
1,072 reviews730 followers
January 27, 2019
(*2019 note: False alarm; this was not my last review here. Realize this is an old review and proceed with that context).

*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 essence of the thing.

The researchers in this book astutely pick up on earlier work in which pioneering psychologists realized that objects continue to serve us much as they did in primitive times: as surrogates of sorts, as fetish idols, as receptacles of magic: magic and memory that rub off and stay, things that outlive their possessor, things that can be passed to family, friends, associates and keep memories alive. The authors cite the example from a class in which a student admitted to buying and owning a shirt once reputed to have been worn by Jerry Seinfeld. The shirt itself was just that: a shirt. Its association with Seinfeld lent it meaning; some kind of magic that somehow might rub off. Its meaning and significance are completely mental, emotional.

The point is, that I write reviews to have a detailed or semi-detailed record of a book that would otherwise become lost in time as details of it become quickly obliterated in the mists of memory. When I go back and read my own reviews, forgotten details and feelings of my reactions to the books are brought flooding back. In the process, I've logged hundreds of reviews and in a sense could said to be a "hoarder" of same. The upshot now is that I don't need to be spending my time on this anymore. Goodreads has become a censored Disneyfied corporate arm of Amazon, and its contents are now free fodder for marketers that earn me nothing. I refuse to contribute free material toward the enrichment of a taking class that pisses on the rest of us, so this is the end of the line.

As for the book: Frost and Steketee are legit professors of psychology and social work, respectively, and this book is a primary popular work delving into a phenomenon that is only now beginning to be sorted out and studied. The authors try to bring together the known research and compare it to their own studies, while presenting often heartbreaking case studies of people mired in their odd love-hate obsessions. The researcher-authors struggle mightily to reconcile many of the conflicts and overlapping aspects of the various psychological symptoms observed in hoarders, and they do very well in enlightening. This is a very good attempt and a fine place to start reading if you want to get your bearings in the complicated jungle of hoarding.

It's been fun. Enjoy the museum. Write if you want; I'll continue to check my email and comments here and will be perfectly fine using Amazon's platforms in which to freely socialize. I won't give them a thing more; I'll be the taker for once. Otherwise, my life goes elsewhere.

Evan (aka, Kevin)
Profile Image for Amanda L.
133 reviews40 followers
June 11, 2014
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 and underlying causes. However, the authors' thorough evaluation of pathological hoarders proves that they often don't have the same motivations or afflictions as those with OCD/ addiction, so it appears to be a one-way association and ultimately a miscategorization of hoarding in that the current characterization lacks specificity. Let's be honest, with the rising incidence of hoarding of late, it very well does deserve its own set of assessment criteria so people can get the appropriate help they need. I also believe devoting a DSM diagnosis will raise awareness of the illness in both the professional world and among those unwittingly plagued by the behavior.

The authors examine a great number (perhaps too great) of case studies while maintaining the anonymity of those they've interviewed and engaged in treatment. The case studies are fairly extensive and detailed, beginning with the infamous Harlem Collyer brothers who died buried in their STUFF (floor-to-two-feet-from-the-ceiling stacks of YEARS of compressed/ decaying newspapers, 5 defunct grand pianos, rusty tin cans, etc., in their family mansion at the turn of the century. Turns out they were collecting trash with the belief that it was enabling them to be self-sufficient. Certainly a unique delusion in its own right.

Despite the anonymity of everyone aside from the Collyer bros, I felt like a lot of it enabled self-indulging a guilty pleasure of violating the pathological's right to privacy. Then I eventually felt like the case studies became redundant and there was less focus on their motivations, which I find more interesting and useful, and more focus on their symptoms and the details of how their hoarding manifests and the obvious hurdles it presents to carrying on a social life or establishing intimacy. Yawn. That much is self-evident.

Reading this certainly amassed the fruits of my own purging! Cathartic, indeed. I think this could prove to be inspiring for those of us who have a tendency to hold on to things by attaching unworthy deep sentiment to material objects or making space for things that have been out of use for years under the guise that "someday" they could be brought back into regular rotation. It is as good a time as any to gain control over our fleeting impulses and attachment to all that STUFF at the back of the closet [[occupying valuable and limited space]] that we haven't used/ worn in years. Admittedly, much of that is often simply out of laziness or even apathy.

Once we see the immense quantity of things that have gone into disuse over time, we may gain valuable lessons going forward that will reduce our own consumerism. Donating/ discarding all those items one by one will be a reminder to forego the buying and will invariably prove to be a strategy for future $$$ savings. Win-win. ERRR--- win-win-win.

Sadly this book will almost certainly be the last checkout from my current Alexandria, VA library, which I will miss dearly. Onward to Portland's amazing library! Maine, here we come!
Profile Image for Chris.
832 reviews24 followers
February 6, 2011
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 people who keep trash and there is definitely plenty of health and safety hazards involved in the squalor. Some of these people know they have a problem, some are in complete denial. It is very interesting to learn about different aspects and reasons for this behavior. I have hoarders in my family and understand it. I fight it in my own life. Reading this made me want to clean house, but it also make me think about the perfectionist, archivist, and preservationist in me. About the quest for knowledge and interests in many things and the idea of not wanting to waste anything and to be prepared - "just in case". I could also understand the impact and influence of OCD and many other common threads that cause one to not want to miss out on any possibilities. Yeah. This stuff runs deep. It is fascinating.
Profile Image for Ocean.
Author 4 books50 followers
March 14, 2015
i liked this book because it doesn't make value judgments about hoarders. it doesn't flinch from providing the gory details of these people's houses but it explains WHY they do these things. it unpacks the true force behind these actions (mainly a mix of OCD & trauma) and DOES NOT JUDGE THEM. so interesting and good.
most people wouldn't say i'm a hoarder (although i am messy) but i do have hoarder-ish qualities (also OCD-ish qualities & trauma), and two things in this book were recognizable in a helpful way. one was stating that hoarders often do try to clean, but instead of cleaning, they just "churn," which involves looking at everything, deciding that they don't know what to do with it, getting overwhelmed and basically moving a pile from one room to the other. i do that! people often think i "never clean" but in fact, i do clean, i just do it very badly and i know it but am not sure how to change. the second thing is that hoarders become hoarders because they feel a certain sense of obligation to items that others don't. like, they are sensitive to the "feelings" and "needs" of inanimate objects and want to keep them with them. why do some of us do this and some of us not? i don't know! so fascinating!
Profile Image for David.
645 reviews235 followers
August 25, 2012
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), I had the following thought:

Exceptional minds are capable of great feats of memory through the use of a “memory palace”, an imaginary building, constructed solely in the mind. By stuffing this mental building with bizarre mental images, the exceptional mind can recall long texts or the order of a pack of playing cards they have seen only once, skills that are useful, if only to win a contest.

A certain category of hoarders, described in this book, construct their memory palace in the real world. Their only problem is loving life too much. They want to remember everything, every conversation, every person they met, every contact they had, no matter how fleeting, because they wish to relive the happiness the original gave them. They hoard ticket stubs, old newspapers, matchbooks, etc. etc., because every one is connected with a happy, or at least interesting, memory.

Exceptional minds can make a well-ordered and useful mental house. The chaotic physical house of the hoarder actually resembles the chaotic interior life of the average person. (When I write “average person”, of course I can only be certain of what my own interior life is like, but I make the leap of faith that I am not actually a deluded brain in a jar, or in any other way exceptional.) We pile our memories everywhere, willy-nilly, valuables stuffed in with the meaningless, like the lady in this book who discovered an envelope full of money squirrelled away in the folds of the years-old newspaper that she just had made the agonizing decision to throw away.

What I'm saying is: Hoards are just extroverted memory palaces. At the time I thought it, it seemed profound.

If your default setting, like mine, is to have insufficient sympathy for the suffering of others, to believe that what ails most people can be solved by a good slap upside the head, then it's useful to listen to this book. You can hear an expert tell you that the situation is more complex than you think, and that sympathy and empathy is not only ethically correct, but often more effective practical approach to dealing with behaviors which, upon first examination, may appear inexplicable or inexcusable.
Profile Image for Margot.
419 reviews26 followers
August 25, 2010
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 insights of the authors, who have been at the forefront of compulsive hoarding research for about fifteen years, are just the beginning for this still largely unknown affliction. A PBS show and related book called Affluenza are mentioned, and I plan to read/watch those next.

I will say this as a caution: a couple of the case studies would have been hard for me to read while eating.

Some excerpts:
"The chronic savers we studied were highly perfectionistic and indecisive, having trouble processing information quickly enough to feel comfortable making decisions. They acquired things wherever they went, and every day they carried lots of things with them--"just in case" items they couldn't be without." (10)
"In the past decade, we've learned that hoarding seems to be such a marginal affliction in part because it's carried on largely in secret: we think of it as an "underground" psychopathology, occurring most often behind closed doors. Hoarders tend to be ashamed of their disorder and unwelcoming to those who would interfere with their activities." (11)
"One thing she avoided by not cleaning her apartment was a peculiar intrusive though. Sheepishly, she told me about it one day. 'I have a very childlike view of God. I believe he is all-benevolent and would never let me die in this kind of mess.' Whenever she began to clean, the thought occurred to her that now God would allow her to die, and the idea terrified her." (164)
"People who hoard often speak in overly elaborate ways, including far too many details and losing the main themes. It seems as though they are unable to filter out irrelevant details. Each detail seems as important as the next." (203)
"More tragic for this woman was the fact that after the animal control officers raided her home and removed most of her cats, her New Hampshire town held a town meeting (a tradition in New England) to discuss the threat she posed to public health. This socially anxious woman sat in the front row while her fellow citizens admonished her for her behavior. This public humiliation drove her deeper into isolation." (233)
"As one of our clients put it, 'Without these things, I am nothing.' This quote is similar to Fromm's comment on 'having': 'If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I?'"(266)
Profile Image for Linda.
620 reviews26 followers
January 24, 2011
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 give the story behind every item they have - "this was when I was downtown and met my girlfriend for lunch and she gave me this phone number of a guy I might like, but I never called," "I love going antique hunting and I found this broken telephone with such unique colors; I might be able to fix it, but I've been so busy with other things, I just put it aside."

Some of the hoarders he was able to help. Most hoarders have supreme anxiety about letting go, but when he has them throw something minor (to him - like a paper with a phone number on it with no name or other identification), he asks them immediately on a scale of 1 to 100 how they feel about throwing the item out; 10 minutes later he asks them again. Then before he leaves, he asks them again and usually a week later. Most are astounded to find that their anxiety levels are very low on the scale when he leaves. This starts the process for some of them as they realize that they really won't miss something they thought they would.

It was also fascinating to see how some of them reacted when they asked friends over to help them clean up and the friends thought they really meant it. One woman screamed and told her friend to go home when the friend picked up a gum wrapper to throw away.

If you've ever wondered about this behavior, please read this book!
Profile Image for Judith.
1,488 reviews71 followers
May 31, 2010
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 from this book is that if you do that, the hoarder refills his house to the same or worse degree within 6 months. One city that used to do the "supercleans" stopped after 3 hoarders in a row committed suicide within a month of the clean-up. I also learned that this problem really costs the city/local governments a lot of money, both to go through the legal process required to take action and then to do the clean-ups themselves.

I think we are all attached to our possessions and there's always a psychological issue when it comes to deciding what to collect, buy, give away, keep, sell. And I saw bits of myself and people I knew in these profiles. We just have to make sure our possessions don't possess us. Like I said, it's fascinating to me, but i understand it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,164 reviews
May 6, 2012
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 proudly show their collections to the authors. In the first chapter, hoarding is acknowledged to be “composed of a number of discrete factors, some well hidden and expected. But the most obvious factor was the simple problem of accumulation.” They discuss findings from their own interactions — that a sense of emotional attachment drives many hoarders.

The thing that fascinated me the most about this book was that I found myself drawn along into some of the hoarders’ reasoning before realizing that was probably the same path they traveled. I have been guilty of stockpiling, of keeping pieces of something that might be useful later, of storing away scraps of newspapers and magazines; yet this book takes a deeper look at the abnormal extension of these seemingly harmless behaviors, as well as looking at some of the medical research which has been trying to explain why this happens.
Profile Image for Melanie Baker.
240 reviews17 followers
June 17, 2011
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 treated. It went through it a bit, like going to malls and not buying stuff, but clearly these people have much deeper, often family-related issues, and it would have been good to learn more about how the underlying causes are addressed.

The book also didn't really focus much on the worst-case scenarios. It had a bit on spouses leaving, eviction, etc., but as we've seen on TV, the hoards themselves can destroy a house, and people can end up bankrupt with no money to see them through their retirement years, with friends/family who just give up and leave, etc.
Profile Image for Kerfe.
879 reviews36 followers
July 11, 2012
We all have too much stuff. Frost and Steketee cover extreme examples of hoarding, but it's hard not to identify with the problem of over-accumulation.

The thought processes of the hoarders are not all that different from some of my own reasonings about my aquisitions and why I need to have and keep particular items. Especially the stuff I use (might use/plan to use/occasionally use/have used in the past) for the work I do. Do I still need it? Did I ever need it? Could I substitute something else if I didn't have it? Would it really be missed? Do I really need that many alternatives?

The questions raised by extreme accumulation apply to more modest collections as well.

As does the insight that too many alternatives are often paralyzing rather than inspiring or even useful.

Frost's stories are interesting in and of themselves, but I think we all can benefit from his observations of lives that have become too cluttered and the questions all of us might ask ourselves about what we really need.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,633 followers
August 7, 2012
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 frequently hoarders develop "clutter blindness" and are able to ignore the mess until they look at it through another person's perspective.

I think this book would be helpful both to the hoarders themselves and to people who are struggling to help a loved one who hoards.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
March 8, 2019
I wish there was more psychology and explanation and fewer stories. The stories are interesting, but the psychology of what drives people to hoard is much more interesting
Profile Image for LibraryCin.
2,229 reviews46 followers
July 26, 2020
The authors are psychologists who were the first to really study hoarding behaviour. This tells of some of the psychology of hoarding and presents many case studies of people they worked with. Hoarding is usually associated with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), but the authors feel that it should be its own category.

People who hoard show different symptoms of different mental health disorders, including OCD, perfectionism, anxiety, and more I’m forgetting. People have different reasons they present for not wanting to get rid of their things, including not wanting to be wasteful, growing attached to their belongings, and more. Their families are affected. The case studies in this book include children of hoarders and how they are affected, as well as children who are, themselves, hoarders. One chapter also looks at animal hoarding.

I can see myself, just a tiny bit in some of the traits the authors present in their case studies, but I don’t go anywhere near the extremes of people who really are hoarders. I found this so interesting.
Profile Image for Tracy.
625 reviews21 followers
September 8, 2021
This was fascinating. I really liked the authors use of case studies, putting a human face to the problem of hoarding.
Profile Image for Lynn.
840 reviews122 followers
July 9, 2021
This is a fascinating book by a therapist/researcher who studies the psychological aspects of hoarding. For a myriad of reasons, hoarders cannot stop bringing stuff into their homes and can’t part with any of it. The homes can become literally filled to the ceilings with junk: old newspapers, magazines, junk mail, toys, clothing, curios, broken appliances, furniture etc. They are often unable to bathe, cook or in any way function in their homes. Often the utilities and water have been turned off. There can be feet of debris on the floors, narrow passageways through the hoard and at worst rotting food, rodents and dead animals. The hoarders literally cannot see a problem with their surroundings. They become “clutter blind.” Some are able to function outside their homes with co-workers and friends unaware of how they are living. Often times it’s the local municipality that forces a clean out of the house because of the hazardous condition. Without intensive treatment, the hoarders will just fill the house up again.

The book concentrates on a few cases, which typify different hoarders. Their stories are tragic, heartbreaking and oftentimes a bit funny. There are a lot of OMG moments in this book. At times you just can’t believe what you just read. I can tell you, after being in a hoarder’s home, you will never forget the experience. Years ago, as a caseworker for Child Protective Services, I had to investigate hoarders’ homes. In one home, I had to walk through narrow passageways on several inches of debris to check out the house. I almost lost a shoe in the debris. Furniture was piled on top of furniture, a couch on top of a couch in the living room. In another home, the family hoarded dogs. There was dog feces and urine everywhere. Another family hoarded cats. The stench was overpowering. In an ultimate irony, one home I had to investigate was a municipal housing inspector’s home.

I am fascinated by the TV show “Hoarders”. I am probably an “anti-hoarder”. After watching this show, I tend to go through closets and storage areas in my house and donate stuff. I have spent the past year at home during this pandemic cleaning out and reorganizing my house. But enough about me. 😂🤪

This book gives a lot of psychological insight into what causes hoarding and how difficult it is to treat. These people seem to be suffering in ways that we, and they, don’t understand. The real tragedy is that in their own minds, they are not suffering from any problems. They just want to be left alone with their stuff, no matter how physically or financially dangerous it is for them. Many of them have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their stuff, filling more than one home and renting storage units for their stuff. They think everything is valuable, or salvageable, or they just hate to see anything thrown away, even a used candy wrapper. They assign human emotions to their stuff and think the stuff will be “hurt” if they throw it out. You finish this book having a great deal of compassion for these hoarders and the people who try to help them.

As stated before, this book is completely fascinating and a definite recommend.
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