I’m in the middle of reading Stuff: Compulsive Hoarders and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Randy Frost is a professor of psychology at Smith College. Gail Steketee is a professor and dean of the School of Social Work at Boston University. Both have treated many hoarders, and they draw on their work in this compelling read.

It never ceases to amaze me how often senior move managers encounter hoarding-type issues with their clients. For the longest time, I believed hoarding was truly unusual behavior, but Randy and Gail dispel that notion. Estimates vary, but they say the disorder likely affects roughly one out of every 30 Americans. Who knew? Not so unusual after all. Here’s the part I find most interesting: One of the key motivations in hoarder personalities is the desire to maintain information. The authors believe hoarding is related to a sense of wanting to acquire and preserve opportunities. As an information enthusiast myself, I get it. Don’t we all want to preserve our options, and keep tabs on our opportunities? Some of the authors’ conclusions really crystallized hoarding for me in a new and thought-provoking way. Opportunities aren’t tangible, and they can’t be neatly stored or packed away. Most importantly, unlike Waterford crystal and first-edition books, opportunities don’t hold their value. Carpe Diem.

2 thoughts

  1. Mail is a particular problem for many hoarders. I once had a client who was a retired physican. He donated to over 1000 charities and as a result, received mail from every one if them —mounds of mail. At first, I saw the mail simply as paper to be dealt with. Then I started to see what mail symbolizes. Think about it; what is the first thing you do when you get home? You check your mail. Mail makes us feel important. Perhaps the mail compensated for a loss of prestige since his retirement, or helped him hold on to a sense of importance and value. Changing my mindset helped me understand how this client’s compulsive donating, and the resulting mail, filled a void in his life, and this in turn enabled me to talk about the mail with him in a different manner. Being more effective meant that I had to change my mindset, not change the client.

  2. The book “Stuffed” is very good at putting things in perspective of what goes on in the hoarders mind.

    I have noticed an increase in single women between the ages of 50-80 that live a lone that have hoarding issues. These women tend to collect, save and shop to fill the void of loss. The loss could be of a loved one, a carrier, empty nest, or the inability to physically maintain their own surroundings. Depression is the main reason for the hoarding situation. In most of these situations I have had success working through the hoarding by redirecting the clients shopping, saving or storing into another area which they are helping someone else, either with the stuff or by helping other people in similar situations. This gives the client a new purpose and fills the void of collecting or saving.

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