Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review: Stuff by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee

I will admit I find hoarding fascinating. I watch both the TV shows about it, and I read Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow last year. Part of the reason I find this so fascinating is that I am quite the opposite. I always have a shopping bag where I put items to go to Goodwill, I try to get rid of pretty much all books when I am done reading them, and I have been known to say that I actually don't mind moving so much as it helps keep clutter to a minimum and encourages me to edit my belongings periodically. Obviously, the people featured in this book are not of the same mindset. (I do though like to think I am not pathological about my putting away and cleaning up like my father who has been known to pick up people's drinks and toss the drink and put the glass in the dishwasher - even when the glass had brand-new ice cubes in them.)

This book is written for a layperson, however it is definitely written by psychologists with the goal of treatment and understanding for the afflicted. At times it does have a clinical feel, and the chapters that focused on treatment were not as interesting to me as the chapters that are purely case studies, but while it is written for a general audience, that is not its sole purpose, so it's understandable that those less accessible and interesting bits are interspersed. A big reason why I like Stuff and didn't like My Stroke of Reason was expectations - I did expect this book to have the treatment information, so it didn't bother me much when that interrupted the parts that I greatly enjoyed. Thank you, accurate flap copy! The stories are simply told without a lot of jargon. They really do make the affliction of hoarding understandable. While it had never occurred to me before, the link between hoarding and indecisiveness and perfectionism now totally makes sense to me. I have read (in Predictably Irrational) about how when people are given more choices, their purchases are reduced as it's harder to make decisions, and so hoarding is what happens when that scenario snowballs. Way too many options can be paralyzing and I'm sure everyone has experienced that feeling; luckily I can't imagine living in that state of anxiety and confusion every minute of every day.

I am known for being decisive and organized so perhaps I am so intrigued by this issue because it is so very foreign to me (My shirts and shoes are organized according to color; my dresses and skirts and sweaters according to the last date I wore them. My books are shelved according to size and binding, and then color). I absolutely do believe hoarding is inheritable, as I vividly remember helping my father and sister box up and organize my grandmother's apartment when she moved into the nursing home, and she had every receipt for every oil change filed, by date, in her cabinets, and kind of opposite to experiences a lot of people I know had, it was very easy to sort and distribute her items. We inherited cleanliness and organization, so why can't people inherit the opposite?

Like anorexia or bulimia, hoarding can be much more difficult to overcome because unlike alcoholism, where you can just never drink again, hoarders have to deal with stuff all of every day. I did try to see the signs of hoarding in my neighborhood on my last walk around, as described by Irene, but I think the HOAs in the area are strong and I didn't see any. While I am sympathetic, I am also eternally grateful I don't have to deal with this myself with my family, as I am horrified. But like a car wreck, I can't look away.


christa @ mental foodie said...

This sounds like a fascinating book! Will add to TBR. While I am no where near as organized and declutter as you are, I think I'm just lazy instead of being a hoarder :)

Kristen said...

Thanks for not calling me out as a book hoarder in your discussion above. ;-)