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Editorial Reviews

If upon first listen, Stuff sounds like a textbook for a collegiate course on Hoarding 101, well, that’s because Frost is a university professor and researcher. But don’t skip over this book — it’s the most fascinating college course you never took. Frost and his co-author Gail Steketee delve into the world of hoarding and the psychology behind the affliction by discussing case studies like Irene, a woman who has driven away her husband because she can’t let go of her stuff. It appears that Irene collects things at random — stacks of old newspapers and magazines, scraps of paper with telephone numbers, expired coupons, instructions to children’s board games. On deeper inspection, there are a number of reasons why Irene collects, like her possessions represent a connection to the outside world, or the act of collecting is a relief to her undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder. While there’s no one motivation behind hoarding, Frost and Steketee posit a number of theories — and debunk some of the more common ones (like the idea that hoarders were deprived of material things as children).

Frost’s genuine and friendly tone is confident and assured — not surprisingly it’s much like that of a college professor. You can almost picture him working the slide projector as he speaks, and must fight off the urge to take notes. He’s a natural storyteller, and draws you into his scientific world without you realizing it. You just know you want to hear more.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is listeners will undoubtedly see a part of themselves in each hoarder — we all collect things to an extent: sentimental photographs, old coins, bank statements. It’s not just voyeurism, it’s learning when the line of collecting blurs into hoarding. Frost has the answers, and plenty of questions. If you like A&E’s television show Hoarders, you’ll love Stuff. —Colleen Oakley

Publisher's Summary

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?

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 illuminate the pull that possessions exert on all of us.

Whether we're savers, collectors, or compulsive cleaners, very few of us are in fact free of the impulses that drive hoarders to the extremes in which they live. For all of us with complicated relationships to our things, Stuff answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.

©2010 Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This succinct, illuminating book will prove helpful to hoarders, their families, and mental health professionals who work with them." (Publishers Weekly)

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  • Overall

Utterly fascinating

OK, I admit I was a big reluctant to start this book but couldn't stop listening once I started. The authors go through case studies of many adults and some children with various problems with hoarding and accumulation. The authors discuss the individual struggles, family struggles and public health issues with hoarding. They talk about how they got into the area of treating this disorder which had previously not been discussed much. They do talk primarily about how the disease arises from psychological factors, as opposed to neurotransmitters (for example), but do talk some about the biology and genetic factors around hoarding. This is not a "how-to" book with chapter by chapter approach to the illness but they also give advice on how they treat people with these issues and how to approach the issue on a community basis. They also give families and individuals advice on where to go for help. The main thing that fascinated me was how they could so eloquently describe the struggles that these people have with discarding their things which I never could have understood from watching a show like "Hoarders", for example. If you are at all interested in this topic, don't hesitate to get this book

68 of 69 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Barbara
  • TOPANGA, CA, United States
  • 08-24-11

I am a hoarder

I am a 74 year old hoarder, have watched the TV show and read a lot of books about hoarding, but THIS book is the first book that has really explored what is going on inside the heads of hoarders. It is not a "fix it" or a "quick solution" book, but rather it is an in depth study of how we are wired differently from other people. I highly recommend this book above all others for hoarders and anyone who wants to understand them. I am optimistic that understanding how my brain works will help me make my house more functional so that I can enjoy the pleasures that I had hoped I would have in it when I bought it.

88 of 90 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Virge
  • Sturgeon Bay, WI, United States
  • 11-07-10

A compelling, worthwhile read

Frost offers a comprehensive, insightful view into the world of hoarders...the varieties of hoarding, the theories on why they hoard (nature vs. nurture), the torment they often face, and how we might best help them face and manage this extremely difficult mental illness. As a professional in architecture who occasionally works with hoarders, I found this book to be valuable in helping me understand what my clients face.. Frost's narration of his own work is engaging and enjoyable to listen to....more narrative than academic.

25 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Best book for decluttering a house

This book was a terrific help in my attempt to declutter my house. Helps you see those 'collections' in a totally different light.

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Elizabeth
  • Bellevue, WA, United States
  • 04-11-13

You'll enjoy and want to clean your closets out

I enjoyed this analysis of hoarders, potential causes and possible solutions. The author brings significant experience in working with and researching hoardes, and he displayed a compassion, but not acceptance, of their plight.

During my reading of this book I definitely wanted to throw away everything I have and clean everything insight.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Starlet
  • San Carlos, CA, United States
  • 10-10-10

One of the better reads on this subject

This was one of the best books I've read about people who can't get rid of things easily. Even though this is about hoarders, which I am not, I was able to glean a lot of insight from the psychological portraits in the case studies.

It provided possible explanations about why I have difficulty in getting rid of the most mundane things and offers information as to why others are real hoarders. Also, I found interesting the scientist authors' portrayal of hoarders being perfectionists gone awry, lack of focus, creativity to a fault, seeing 'objects' differently than others might. There is nothing positive about hanging on to too much stuff if it becomes a noose around your neck... for me, it's a work in progress!

39 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
  • Story

Getting Beyond the Uck Factor

If you could sum up Stuff in three words, what would they be?

Revealing. Intriguing. Research-based.

What did you like best about this story?

The television show Hoarders and its contemporaries have revealed just how common the affliction of hoarding is, and how it exists in places and people that you might not suspect (as well as in people who seem just as you might think a hoarder might be). As the child of a hoarder who was not as extreme as the ones often televised, I find these shows of interest, because I can identify with many of the challenges faced by the families of the hoarders. That said, I think that the shows often go for the cheap shot, the thing that will make audiences go "Ewwww!" and recoil, rather than any nuanced version of the situation. The holier-than-thou, let's-throw-it-all-away attitude of some of the "hoarding specialists" (not the mental health professionals) on the shows often tread on my patience, even as I recognize that the hoarders themselves frequently are some of the most irrational people one might ever encounter. Television may just be too sensationalistic in its coverage of this topic.

"Stuff," on the other hand, is a better treatment. Firstly, because it is based on actual research by individuals who took the time to do systematic interviews with different types of hoarders. The researchers themselves had no idea how widespread the hoarding situation was when they first began addressing it, prodded by a student's interest (cheers to student initiative!) and uncovered a great deal of interesting subject matter. The case studies provide depth and texture to the individuals who suffer from this affliction, while illustrating broader characteristics that the researchers have found that many hoarders share.

Secondly, the case studies are described without that pitched, sensationalistic tone that is so common in the shows. To be fair, the things that are occasionally described can still be gruesome and downright disturbing, but the narrator describes them matter-of-factly, because the point is to understand what is going on, not to oogle at the train wreck.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Extreme might be too strong a word. However, I found myself nodding in some cases at the similarity of the rationales offered by hoarders in the book to those I heard often in my own childhood, uttered by my parent. Other times, my experience differed widely from what was described, but it offered that comfort that sometimes comes when we find out that we are not alone in something odd/shameful/bewildering that we have experienced. For others who have loved ones who are hoarders, I would recommend the book for that reason as well as for the bits of insight into the characteristics that the researchers have found that hoarders share. It is not a book of cures, and while it does provide some insights into certain therapies that have had successes, the researchers are careful to note that this is a very difficult affliction to treat as it often goes to the core of people's emotional selves.

Any additional comments?

If you have a hoarder in your life or are someone who encounters them (working at a health department or human services organization), I recommend this book as a way to try to develop some insight about the not just the individual case(s) you might be dealing with, but to the breadth of the problem in our society today. Keep an open mind. It is important to understand that hoarders are not just lazy or silly or dirty or any of the other myriad "easy" explanations that people sometimes assume... there is more to it than that and while passing judgment is easy... it is hardly productive or fitting a society as advanced as ours.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Recommended with caveats

I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in psychology-themed discussions. I found the academic style and presentation reassuring that the information was as reliable and vetted as well as possible at the time of writing. In contrast to some other reviewers, I did not personally find the academic nature of the discussion to be boring or dry. Some of the descriptions of hoarders is gave me an almost voyeuristic thrill and made my messy desk seem completely normal in contrast. I am not sure this was the intent of the author, but I would suspect that other non-hoarders might well have this response. The final segment of the book contained a discussion of modern American culture, and I found this part of the book to be preachy, irrelevant to the overall content, and speculative in a non-academic way. Other than that one weakness, I can recommend this book as an interesting read. The narration is fine but not spectacular. If you are not interested in the content, the narration will not carry this book for you.

46 of 50 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Orson
  • Greensboro, NC, United States
  • 09-29-10

Real science, leading to self-examination

No, I don't live in a house where goat-paths thread among stacks of newspapers, magazines, and assorted junk. But even as I listened to Caron's excellent reading of this well-written book, I couldn't help but notice how many of the traits of the sufferers of extreme cases of hoarding I had, or could recognize in friends and family members - though never so out-of-control. The authors never overclaim - they are genuine scientists who remain cautious and skeptical of their own tentative conclusions. The result is a book that is both fascinating and reliable. It's a happy coincidence when first rate science is done by first rate writers.

37 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 11-24-13

Compulsive Reading

Here's the takeaway: this is a shocking and fascinating book. The authors are therapists who specialize in hoarding behavior and helping individuals overcome their compulsions. And what compulsions they are!The subjects in this book have collected so much stuff they don't know the size of their rooms, they forget whole rooms exist, they have to crawl to certain destinations, they put their health and marriages at risk, and they cannot stop.

You'll watch as the authors employ a series of creative treatments to try and mitigate the compulsions. Some succeed and some fail. What is most incredible is the chapter about childhood hoarding, proving the behavior can be inherited or learned. This is a short but amazing read, highly recommended.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful