Pioneering researchers offer a superb overview of a complex disorder that interferes with the lives of more than six-million Americans.
Frost (Psychology/Smith Coll.) and Steketee (Social Work/Boston Univ.), co-authors, with David Tolin, of Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding (2007), were the first social scientists to conduct systematic studies of hoarding when they began collaborating 15 years ago. In this jargon-free book, they offer their best understanding of this remarkably common behavior that now has its own reality-TV show, Hoarders , on A&E. 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. Often intelligent but indecisive and tormented by their situations, hoarders form intense emotional attachments to their belongings, which offer pleasure, comfort and safety. “Without these things,” says one, “I am nothing.” The authors detail the lives of many sufferers: a librarian who is well organized on the job, but whose home is littered with belongings stacked on floors and furniture; a man living amid filthy objects scavenged on Manhattan streets, who remains utterly blind to his clutter; a nurse who gives neighborhood tours of easy-to-spot hoarder homes; and a filmmaker who cares for hundreds of hoarded cats. The subjects discuss the painful effects of growing up in a hoarder household; the differences between normal collecting and hoarding; and the issues involved in forced cleanups mandated by local officials for health and safety reasons, some of which have led to hoarder suicides. Hoarding may be inherited or driven by problems in the wiring of the brain, the authors write. There is a growing consensus that this secret affliction—now considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder—should be deemed a separate disorder in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While noting their own limited success treating clients, Frost and Steketee stress that overcoming this disorder requires a heroic, perhaps lifetime effort.
An absorbing, gripping, important report.