Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book review: Stuff

Title: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things
Authors: Randy Frost and Gail Steketee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0151014231
ASIN (for Kindle version): B003JAO0QI

Stuff treats compulsive hoarding and hoarders with integrity, giving them earnest, honest intellectual attention in an effort to understand how they see the world and feel about themselves. The authors spend time listening to hoarders, investigating their problems, seeing how they interpret the world, following their case studies--and, finally, treating them. The authors want to help people stop compulsive hoarding because it makes them (and those around them) miserable--but through it all, they continue to approach their patients with respect and compassion, not scorn. They even at some times propose that hoarders have a special and almost artistic vision of the world, that hoarders relate to color, for example, or combinations/arrangements of things in a different (and perhaps more artistic) way than the rest of us.

Clearly, hoarding is a topic of fascination for the authors, but this is a sustained intellectual fascination with the goal of helping the hoarders to be happier. The hoarders are offered the tools to free themselves of the clutter that may be harming their lives--if they want it. It's pointed out several time that forced cleanups and treatment tend not to work with hoarders. Anyway, I loved the approach and tone of this book's authors.

Stuff is a good antidote to our culture's (and my own) obsession with reality TV about hoarding and messiness. Like I said, it treats hoarders as individuals who matter in themselves. It is geared toward increasing their happiness and ability to function in the world. In reading this book, I got to think a lot about my own relationship to things and objects, and it has been very illuminating. Most of all, I think I realized that if one makes hoarders (or other reality show TV subjects) into objects, whether of scorn, fascination, or humor, instead of trying to see the complexity of their lives, then we are denying them the full range of respect we owe them as humans. Which, perhaps, they have already given up by choosing to be on reality tv. Who knows. It is still sometimes very hard not to get sucked in.

From the amazon page on Frost's book--links to photos that demonstrate levels of hoarding (from What kills me about these is the language used for level of severity. We have small, mild, serious, severe, severe with impairment (really, very severe!!), and extreme (superhorribly awful severe!). For most people, once a certain level of severe is reached, they all look the same, more or less, but I get why the authors and researchers have wanted to classify/quantify this stuff. However, I hope extreme hoarding will never qualify as a sport in a future X Games.

Only a small amount of clutter
A mild hoarding problem
A very serious hoarding problem
A severe hoarding problem with substantial impairment
A very severe hoarding problem with substantial impairment
Extreme hoarding

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