Friday, August 18, 2017

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

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

I picked up Stuff, by by Gail Steketee and Randy O. Frost, after reading an article about hoarding. The book explores the lives of several people who hoard--some who manage to recover, others who never accept help.

The book explains that hoarding may involve a disorder of processing information. People who hoard might look at a pile of papers, get overwhelmed by information, and become unable to throw anything away. 

I was surprised to learn that many hoarders are extremely intelligent. Some have hoarded their entire lives; for others, a traumatic event brings on their hoarding. I don't recall learning about hoarding in any of my psychiatry classes, but it can be treated with therapy.

This book was published in 2010, but still feels relevant. I'd recommend it to anyone who works in public health or psychiatry, or who knows someone who hoards. 

Alternately, if you need motivation to clean, reading this book will do the trick. After I read it, I donated two bags of clothes and cleaned our entire house in an afternoon. 

Some notes I took when reading the book:


- identified by excessive acquiring of items and inability to get rid of them

- often makes homes uninhabitable and can affect relationships

- people may hoard may not allow people inside to repair their homes or provide services

- adversely affects quality of life

Who are hoarders?

- extremely intelligent, often have college degrees

- may have difficulty processing information, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) 

- often have family members who hoard

- often do not realize the scope of the problem

Signs of hoarding

- exits blocked

- narrow pathways among clutter

- bathrooms or beds unusable

- a large number of pets that are ill or living in unsanitary conditions

- insects such as cockroaches

Why people hoard

- may have experienced a traumatic event

- many begin to hoard after the death of a spouse, parent or caregiver

- a family member may have helped them clean, but after they died, the home spiraled out of control

How to help

- similar to addiction, people must understand there is a problem and accept help

- may be best to focus on quality of life, ex: make exits accessible, remove flammable objects from near stoves, make necessary repairs

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