Who knew stuff was so important? My God, read this book and you will never look at your own stuff the same way again. It's really very chilling to see how life can become so complicated by something so seemingly innocuous. Frost and Steketee do an excellent job of peeling away the layers of pathology and leaving the core problems exposed. A riveting read! Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The verb and#147;declutterand#8221; has not yet made it into theand#160;Oxford English Dictionary
, but its ever-increasing usage suggests that itand#8217;s only a matter of time. Articles containing tips and tricks on how to get organized cover magazine pages and pop up in TV programs and commercials, while clutter professionals and specialists referred to as and#147;clutterologistsand#8221; are just a phone call away. Everywhere the sentiment is the same: clutter is bad.
Inand#160;The Hoarders, Scott Herring provides an in-depth examination of how modern hoarders came into being, from their onset in the late 1930s to the present day. He finds that both the idea of organization and the role of the clutterologist are deeply ingrained in our culture, and that there is a fine line between clutter and deviance in America. Herring introduces us to Jill, whose countertops are piled high with decaying food and whose cabinets are overrun with purchases, while the fly strips hanging from her ceiling are arguably more fly than strip. When Jill spots a decomposing pumpkin about to be jettisoned, she stops, seeing in the rotting, squalid vegetable a special treasure. and#147;Iand#8217;ve never seen one quite like this before,and#8221; she says, and looks to see if any seeds remain. It is from moments like these that Herring builds his questions: What counts as an acceptable material lifeand#151;and who decides? Is hoarding some sort of inherent deviation of the mind, or a recent historical phenomenon grounded in changing material cultures? Herring opts for the latter, explaining that hoarders attract attention not because they are mentally ill but because they challenge normal modes of material relations. Piled high with detailed and, at times, disturbing descriptions of uncleanliness,and#160;The Hoardersand#160;delivers a sweeping and fascinating history of hoarding that will cause us all to reconsider how we view these accumulators of clutter.
"Pioneering researchers offer a superb overview of a complex disorder that interferes with the lives of more than six-million Americans....Writing with authority and compassion, the authors tell the stories of diverse men and women who acquire and accumulate possessions to the point where their apartments or homes are dangerously cluttered with mounds of newspapers, clothing and other objects....An absorbing, gripping, important report." Kirkus (starred)
"Like those classics of psychological study, A. R. Luria's The Mind of the Mnemonist and Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Stuff is authoritative, haunting, and mysterious. It is also intensely, not to say compulsively readable." Tracy Kidder
"A fascinating book — Stuff is the stuff of nightmares, of people living in a world subsumed by their obsession to collect and hoard things. You will surely recognize, to one degree or another, a part of yourself in these portraits." Jonathan Harr, author of The Lost Painting and A Civil Action
"Eye-opening...Frost and Steketee write with real sympathy and appreciation for hoarders....This succinct, illuminating book will prove helpful to hoarders, their families, and mental health professionals who work with them." Publishers Weekly
"An excellent starting point for family, friends, and neighbors of hoarders, but the vivid writing will attract readers who enjoy fiction or memoirs about extreme behavior." Library Journal, starred review
"Very intriguing....Most readers will recognize some aspects of themselves in the people the authors discuss. We may not be hoarders exactly, but the authors make us take a closer look at our own lives, wondering (for example) about that very fine line that divides a collector from a hoarder. Fascinating stuff." Booklist
"[The authors] invite us graciously into territory that might otherwise make us squirm....To those who need to understand hoarders, perhaps in their own family, Stuff offers perspective. For general readers, it is likely to provide useful stimulus for examining how we form and justify our own attachments to objects." New York Times Book Review
"Stuff is worth reading not only because of the authors' authority on the subject, but also because of its elegant prose, and its nuanced and well-researched take on the subject." Salon.com
"[The authors'] examples are rich in storytelling and dialogue, and they admirably balance a fascination with the psychological profiles of their subject with a deep sympathy for their plights....The book is a valuable study of a poorly understood condition." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Amazing....Utterly engrossing." Washington Post
"Gripping....A highly readable account of this perplexing impulse....The book succeeds beyond mere voyeurism, because Stuff invites readers to reevaluate their desire for things." Boston Globe
We've seen them in a Dateline
story or an Oprah
feature: homes that have become improbable repositories of — literally — tons of stuff. The camera crews zoom in on rooms crammed floor-to-ceiling with stacks of newspapers and magazines. We watch, fascinated, as professional organizers attack the untidy rooms, or the host expresses horror at a filthy kitchen, but never ask the larger question: How did it come to this?
Stuff is the first book to explore compulsive hoarding, a disorder that affects as many as six million people. Using the latest research, much of which they pioneered in their decade of study, along with vivid case histories of a range of hoarders (animal collectors, compulsive shoppers, elderly packrats, scavengers), Frost and Steketee describe the various causes of hoarding — psychological and biological — and the traits by which you can identify a hoarder. In a portrait that disproves many of our assumptions about the often-hidden disease (for example, most hoarders aren't reacting to childhood poverty or deprivation), they also examine the forces behind a hoarder's behavior and the ways in which they affect all of us, whether it's the passion of a collector, the rigor of someone whose desk is always clean, the sentimentality of the person who saves ticket stubs.
For the 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.
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper thats 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.
With vivid portraits that show the traits by which a hoarder can be identified, Frost and Steketee explore the compulsion through a series of compelling case studies, and illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us.
Two acclaimed psychologists take us inside the fascinating lives of compulsive hoarders
A thoughtfully researched and fascinating appraisal of what happens when our stuff starts to own us
What possesses someone to save every scrap of paper thats ever come into his home? What compulsions drive a person to sacrifice her marriage or career for an accumulation of seemingly useless things? Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were the first to study hoarding when they began their work a decade ago. They didn't expect that they would end up treating hundreds of patients and fielding thousands of calls from the families of hoarders. Their vivid case studies (reminiscent of Oliver Sacks) in Stuff show how 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—and illuminate the pull that possessions exert over all of us. Whether were savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to extremes.
Itand#145;s not unlikely that you grew up in a neighborhood where there was a and#147;haunted house,and#8221; a place in advanced disrepair inhabited by an eccentric you rarely ever saw.and#160; Scott Herring relates his own childhood fascination with just such a spooky and#147;mansion,and#8221; owned by a pack rat no one ever saw.and#160; The grounds were covered with litter, neighbors fantasized about the squalor inside.and#160; Herring later came to realize that he aimed his childhood terror at someone many today would consider a compulsive hoarder.and#160; He (and other kids) had turned this pack rat into a one-man freak show. We now know that hoarding can hurt, that hoarders can be anxious, grief-stricken, depressed, and that their emotional difficulties and piles of stuff can lead to stress on loved ones and neighbors.and#160; But Herring wants to explore what other things there may be for us to know about hoarders.and#160; How did our cultural understanding of hoarders and their hardship (knowledge you had about them as a child, or your understanding of them as an adult) come to be?and#160;and#160; Itand#8217;s hard to understand hoarders without appreciating the larger cultural systems that aid their identification, but the real interest starts with the world of hoarders, how they make sense of their worlds.and#160; Given the popular attention hoarders receive on cable tv and the tabloid press, itand#8217;s time to reassess our knowledge of pack rats, extreme accumulators, and clutter addicts.and#160;and#160;and#160; Herringand#8217;s task, then, is to tell us stories about hoarders, and he does it brilliantly and very fetchingly in a series of case studies.and#160; The Collyer Brothers is the first case, about two hoarders living in a Harlem townhouse with a 100 tons of stuff; Andy Warhol is another, equally fascinating case, with his addiction to collecting everything from perfume bottles to deco tschotskes to porn to furniture to toys to mummified feet to various unmentionables, an accumulation that canand#8217;t be dubbed either pathological or normal; a third case isand#160; Sandra Felton, the evangelical campaigner against clutter (a nearly religious focus on hygiene allows for the coinage of and#147;clutterologyand#8221;);and#160; the last case is the Beales, of Grey Gardens fame (subject of a spectacular film about theand#160; place in the Hamptons owned by a mother-daughter pair, cousins to Jackie Kennedy), which Herring turns into a brilliant study of deviant old age, enacted in the figure of the and#147;senile recluse.and#8221;and#160; In the end, Herringand#8217;s stories force us to rethink conventional understandings of hoarding as illness.and#160; There is no other serious book on hoarding.and#160; This one gives us a nonpathological perspective of hoarding as and#147;material devianceand#8221; in addition to weaving some riveting tales of eccentric individuals.
About the Author
Scott Herring is associate professor in the Department of English at Indiana University. He is the author of Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism and Queering the Underworld: Slumming, Literature, and the Undoing of Lesbian and Gay History, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
1and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Collyer Curiosa
2 and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Pathological Collectibles
4 and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160; Old Rubbish
Note on Method