four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Stuff.epsDr. Randy Frost, an expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder and compulsive hoarding, is a professor of psychology at Smith College; Dr. Gail Steketee is a professor in the school of social work at Boston University.

The Topic: You saw it on A&E's Hoarders and TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive. Now the authors, who have treated sufferers for more than a decade, offer a series of case stories that explore a few of the more than 6 million hoarders in the United States--the men and women who collect everything from garbage to pianos to pets, much to the detriment of their homes, their relationships, and themselves. Irene remains trapped by "a sea of boxes, bags, ski poles, tools, everything imaginable all in a jumble, chest-high"; Daniel transforms his family's New York condominium into a firetrap populated by thousands of cockroaches. The authors argue that hoarding may be a neurological disorder--as well as "a special form of creativity and an appreciation for the aesthetics of everyday things." They also show the compelling pull of the material possessions which, in the end, somehow come to possess us.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages. $27. ISBN: 9780151014231

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The book succeeds beyond mere voyeurism, because Stuff invites readers to reevaluate their desire for things." Ethan Gilsdorf

Salon.com 4 of 5 Stars
"Hoarding has experienced a bit of a pop cultural moment in recent years, mostly thanks to A&E's Hoarders and TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, but 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." Thomas Rogers

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The hoarders here exhibit extreme ambivalence about their possessions as well as their condition: One of the twins [who hoards fine art] describes it as having your life ‘in shards.' ... To some extent, the authors seem to share that ambivalence; they make crucial distinctions between clutter and squalor, disorganization and filth." Carolyn See

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If Frost and Steketee have difficulty constructing a coherent new vision of compulsive hoarding, it is because they are too observant and too dedicated to the relief of suffering to make a complex phenomenon simple. They are collectors in their own right, stocking a cabinet of curiosities with intimate stories and evocative theories." Peter D. Kramer

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The question is why [people hoard], and Stuff, which describes its subject in authoritative detail, has no definitive answer. In the cases presented by the authors there is a common thread of childhood deprivation and adult compensation, but the problem of hoarding reveals itself in infinite ways." Philip Terzian

Critical Summary

"The individual accounts of hoarders in Stuff are a parade of stifled lives, failed marriages, estranged families, personal agony," notes the Wall Street Journal. It's almost the stuff of fiction: indeed, E. L. Doctorow recently fictionalized the lives of mid 20th-century hoarders in his novel Homer and Langley ( 3 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2009). If Frost and Steketee don't completely answer the question of why hoarders hoard, they identify some psychological commonalities, such as clinical depression (though the causality evokes the classic chicken-and-egg question). Nonetheless, they compassionately lay bare the lives of those affected by the illness, and their stories offer fascinating, observant, and well-researched insight into "how we form and justify our own attachments to objects"--for better or, in this case, for worse (New York Times Book Review).