I briefly panicked when my friend Kathy told me to read Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. Had she gone hunting for a Tic Tac in my purse and found a wad of old receipts, half a dozen ChapSticks, and five bucks in nickels and pennies instead? Was this a not-so-subtle hint to clean my desk?
To my great relief, no. Stuff is non-fiction, but it is not a self-help book. It’s a very compelling, very readable set of case studies that provides a psychological profile of this baffling disorder. You may recognize yourself or someone you know in some of these portraits. Rest assured, though, that the point of the book is not to make fun of people with hoarding problems or to make light of the disorder.
The authors, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, tackle a lot of difficult questions. How do we get so attached to stuff? Why can’t some of us let go and clean up? And what’s the difference between a collector and a hoarder?
No other book has ever inspired me to clean out closets and let go of the old junk I’ve had squirreled away in boxes. (But my purse is still a wreck, by the way.) There is no guarantee you’ll want to take on a cleaning spree after reading this book, like I did. But you’ll likely want to keep reading up on this fascinating topic. If so, here are a few more titles, fiction and non-fiction, to explore:
Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
This novel is based on the world’s most famous hoarders, Homer and Langley Collyer. The pair lived as recluses in a once grand New York City mansion. When their deaths were discovered in 1947, officials found mazes of newspapers, booby traps, live cats, a Model T Ford, and a total of 130 tons of trash in their house. Doctorow’s imaginative reconstruction of the brothers’ lives and disorder makes for a riveting piece of historical fiction.
When her mother is diagnosed with colon cancer, Jessie must return home to confront her mother’s pathological hoarding and clean out her house. This true story is a powerful mother-daughter drama that offers an honest and unflinching account of how hoarding can damage family relationships.
Dirty Little Secrets by Cynthia Jaynes Omololu
Lucy’s spent years hiding her mother’s hoarding from everyone, even her closest friends. When Lucy’s mom dies suddenly at home, Lucy even hesitates to call 911. Doing so will reveal the secret, shameful world she’s been struggling against for years. Lucy’s story is filled with fascinating and disturbing details. You won’t be able to put this book down.