Friday, May 7, 2010


Publisher's Summary. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. This sounds fascinating! I used to deliver Meals on Wheels and I think one woman on my route must have been a hoarder. She had so much stuff piled all around her house, it was like walking through a tunnel to get from her front door to her kitchen.

  2. I may just read this book. Hoarding can ruin entire families. I know because it ruined mine. My mother is a hoarder and it has destroyed every relationship she had. Sad, Sad situation. I am in the process of writing about it on my blog but haven't posted it yet. It is such an emotional topic that it is taking me a long time to get the words out.

  3. It really is such a sad condition. I can't even imagine living like that.

  4. I missed this post previously Kim, and wanted to see what you thought of this one. Glad u liked it. I will be posting my review of this one soon. I liked it as well.