Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things


Working with a patient he calls Debra, a compulsive hoarder, the psychologist Randy O. Frost tried a simple experiment. Frost proposed sending Debra a postcard, blank but for the name and address. Debra’s assignment was to throw it away.

Days later, Debra complained that she had not had enough time with the card. She described the stamp and the postmark. When she finally let go, she pictured the card’s position in the trash. Later, she confessed she had cheated by writing down everything about the card she could remember and then saving the notes.

In “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things,” Frost, a professor at Smith College, and Gail Steketee, a professor and dean of the school of social work at Boston University, invite us graciously into territory that might otherwise make us squirm. They have spent nearly 20 years working with hoarders, sometimes in settings where tunnels lead through trash and roaches roam freely. Frost and Steketee introduce collectors who acquire through shopping, Dumpster diving and stealing. The resulting assemblages encompass broken machines and living things (cats and dogs, mostly).

People justify hoarding as curating and recycling, deeming odd objects beautiful and useful. Sometimes they act as if history were at stake. Andy Warhol, “straddling the border between eccentricity and pathology,” the authors write, would periodically sweep everything — cash, artwork, apple cores — off his desk and into a cardboard box. He stored hundreds of these “time capsules.”..." More

Released: April 2010

By: Prof. Randy Frost Ph.D. (Author), Prof. Gail Steketee Ph.D. (Author)

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.

Pre-order via Amazon