Saturday, August 28, 2010

book review - Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Overall, the book contains stories about the experiences that the writers had with hoarders.  From observations, to attempts at treatment.  And there is A LOT of great information that will enlighten and educate about hoarding, and those who hoard.


On the inside cover/jacket of the book:

"Think about the one thing you own that you would grab first in a fire.  Now imagine feeling that strongly about every single possession...

"...piles on on sofas and beds that make the furniture useless, homes that have to be navigated by narrow 'goat trails', stacks of paper..."

I know a person like this...and have known them for decades...


What is the definition of a hoarder?  Throughout the book some reasonable parameters are given for consideration...

On page 100:
"The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders...lists hoarding as one of eight symptoms of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) defines hoarding as 'the inability to discard worn-out of worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value'."

On page 50:
"...The difference between people who hoard and those who don't is in the valume and variety of things they view as 'useful'.  For example, one elderly hoarder saved the labels from cands and jars of food to use as stationary."

On page 58:
"..Hoarding is not defined by the number of possessions, but by  how the acquisition and management of those possessions affects their owner.  When hoarding causes distress or impairs one's ability to perform basic functions, it has crossed the line into pathology...

"...people with hoarding problems fill the space they are living in regardless of the size or number of storage units they have.  We have seen clients who own four or five houses.  When they fill one house, the move on to another and fill it in short order...The more space they have available, the more space they fill..."

And, some guidelines on how to differentiate between hoarders and "collectors"...

Page 239:
"..Perhaps the best way to make the distinction between hoarding and normal collecting is to determine whether the behavior creates a problem for the family..."

And on page 267, it is said that true hoarding fouls "living spaces".

Which is what I've considered to be a reasonable parameter of whether a hoarder needs to make changes:  for me, it's not the amount of items that they keep, and I don't always care about neatness...but dirt and filth accumulation that is unhealthy is unacceptable.


I have never seriously considered how people (can) become hoarders.  But it appears that other situations that can cause people to have other issues and problems, can contribute to this as well.

Page 34:
"...In several recent studies, people with hoarding problems recalled disconnected relationships with their parents, particularly their fathers."

Page 197:
"...Our recent research indicates that an abscence of warmth, acceptance, and suport characterizes the early family life of many hoarders, perhaps leading them to form strong emotional atachments to possessions."

And on page 88:
"...One study showeed that hoarders who experienced traumatic events had more severe hoarding problems than those who were not exosed to trauma..."

Throughout their lives, some hoarders have developed better relationships with things than with people:  things may not have disappointed them as much as people...things don't yell, lie, change their moods, and hurt their feelings.

In the book it is exposed that those with tendencies to hoarding animals may be using the relationships with animals to substitute for, or replace, potential and/or former relationships with people.

Returning to the consideration of abuse, on page 87:
"...When describing their reactions to someone else discarding one of their belongings, a number of our clients have said, 'It feels like I've been raped'.  It is possible that in some people, hoarding mght develop as a response to severe trauma..."

Page 55:
"...Most burglary victims feel that they have been violated, and many women liken it to being raped."

Some characteristics of hoarders include:  perfectionism, indecision, and powerful beliefs about...and attachment to...objects.

Research has found that those as a child who prefer symmetry (of which I am guilty), and have arranging compulsions, can be similar to to those with hoarding problems.  A desire for symmetry and arranging, and hoarding, all have to do with physical objects...

Those who have attention deficit problems, and attention deficity hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), can also be possible candidates to become hoarders.

The mind of hoarders also tends to be more "busy"...

Page 211:
"...We have noticed an inordinate number of hoarders who describe themselves as artists.  This might be because hoarders are more intelligent or creative than the rest of us, their worlds filled with an appreciation of the physical world that most of us lack.  This part of hoarding is a kind of giftedness, a special talent for seeing beauty, utility, and meaning in things.

"But along with this gift comes a overabundance of information paired with an inability to organize it...Maybe hoarding is creativity run amok."

And, on the negative side, so to speak:  "...Depression is a common affliction amoung hoarders..." (page 38)

Page 231:
"...people with this problem are less likely to marry, and when they do, they are more likely to get divorced...

"...many hoarders live without spouses:  no one wants to live with all that stuff..."

Some hoarders may not have suffered consequences that will cause them to address the issue, and cease hoarding.  That includes being abandoned by family members and spouses.

Children of hoarders suffer as much, if not more, than the hoarders.  They try to hide the issue from others:  friends, family members, etcetera.  And when they have shared the secret, those to whom it has been exposed to have developed a negative view of the child.  As well as the child's family, and the child's life in general.

"...Children who lived in a hoarded home before the age of ten were more embarrassed and less happy, had fewer friends...and had more strained relations...strained relationships...more hostile..." (page 227)

I was surprised to learn that there are support groups for the children of called Children of Hoarders (

The book mentions some of the groups for hoarders, which are:
Messies Anonymous
Clutterless Recovery Groups
Clutterers Anonymous
and Overcoming Hoarding Together (

The good news is that...
"Even if hoarding is inherited or driven by problems in the wiring of the brain, people with hoarding problems do seem to be able to learn to control them..." (page 214)

But, sometimes hoarders need to be forced to dispose of items.  And in other situations, the items need to be removed by others.  However, major changes can cause enough personal distress to an individual that...they die:
"...In 2007, the nantucket, Massachusetts, Health Department abandoned forced cleanouts when three consecutive hoarders died shortly after being returned to their cleaned-out homes..." (page 147)

There are reports from some hoarders that consuming marijuana has dimished their tendancies.  (Those that are bigoted against marijuana won't want to hear that, nor accept it, because it's another positive benefit that it can provide...)

There are issues in societies that may have contributed to hoarding.

Page 262:
" American culture of materialism and overconsumption and defined 'afluenza' as a contagious social affliction in which possessions take over our lives, and drain us of the very thngswe seek by acquiring them.

"...we may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well...Possessions orginally sold on the promise that they would make life easier and increase leisure tie have done just the opposite..."

Page 264:
"...materialism...Fromm...Possessions play a central role in the lives of materialists.  They are a means to self-enhancement, identity, and social standing, and the driving force in daily activities.  Materialists expect make them happy.  Ironically, possessions seem to do the opposite...materialistic people are less satisfied with their lives and less happy than people without such an orientation toward 'having'..."

When my third ex-wife and I were moving out of our apartment, she offered to allow me to store some of my belongings in a storage facility that she had rented.  I have never felt the need to pay for storage.  Most of my life, if I could not have something with me...or care for it...I have not tried to obtain, and keep, it.  I've never been able to afford to invest in a house, furniture, a new vehicle, or jewelry so I have been spared the burden of owning too many things.  And that experience has also contributed to my accepted philosophy of only trying to keep that which I need to survive.  I've become accustomed to being a fan of public transportation and bicycles.  Most of my life has been very spartanisque...

I recommend this book for those that know hoarders.  And, this book should be given to hoarders...

Stuff:  Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things


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