Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stuff:Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things - Randy Frost & Gail Steketee

Thanks to some strange reality shows on television these days, most people have heard of the concept of hoarders - individuals who seem simply to collect stuff - newspapers, magazines, junk - until it completely fills their lives, making them prisoners in their own homes. This book attempts to understand what compels people to become hoarders - and what meaning they attribute to objects that the rest of us might merely view as junk. The authors are mental health professionals with backgrounds in obsessive compulsive disorder- and they began their research with the assumption that hoarding was a form of OCD. Their research, however, leads them in a different direction - looking more to trauma and dysfunctional personal relationships as the cause for these seemingly strange attachments. The authors tell the story of hoarding through the examples of specific individuals, and I thought they did a marvelous job of truly humanizing this bizarre behavior. I think this book could easily have become freak-show voyeurism, but I found it really painful to see what these individuals were going through in terms of their anxiety and inability to part with these objects. I also found interesting the different types of hoarding - from the newspapers and junk we expect, to people who are collecting decaying garbage populated with rats and cockroaches, to people who hoard animals, to children with hoarding compulsions (these, to me, were the strangest of all). I really appreciated that throughout the book, the authors emphasized practical approaches for dealing with hoarders - involving them in the decisions to get rid of things, even when that process may take years and years, for example. And, at the end of the book, there is a really helpful section with resources, support groups, and other help for people who want to get help for themselves or their loved ones. Hoarding is a fascinating mental illness, and one that clearly requires more studying and understanding. This book is an easy read for someone not at all familiar with the topic, but sophisticated enough to bring real compassion and (hopefully) change
for the people suffering from this illness.

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