Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Defending the Art of Hoarding

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the October 5, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.
From the Library October 5, 2012: In Defense of Hoarding read and written by Charlotte Canelli

Several months ago we moved to Norwood and in the process I came across a lone, small bag that contained a book. It was something that I had meant to go into a donation bin years ago but it never got there. Sadly and forlornly, the book sat in a corner of my basement for several years in a home I owned before I remarried. We sold that house and the book then founds its way, undiscovered, to our garage in Norfolk and remained there until a few months ago. It never made it to a donation bin, of course, but got stuck in my “stuff.”

My “stuff” can be described, of course, as those things I really have no use for but that I can’t seem to part with. “Stuff” accumulates in stacks, piles and corners, forgotten for years.

British craftsman and designer William Morris proclaimed that one should “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Usefulness and beauty, of course, are in the eye of the beholder.

And so, back to the book. When I discovered it this past summer, it held newfound importance. It was an autographed copy written by Dr. Theodore Sizer and I had won it in an auction in 1996. Ted Sizer, once the Dean of the Harvard School of Education, was a leader of educational reform in the United States before his death in 2009. My eldest daughter was now a doctoral student at Harvard and the book is an important pedagogical work in her field. When I found it in the move it was if I had come upon a long-lost friend. I immediately packed it off to my daughter who was delighted with the gift. I marveled at my luck that the book survived in my possession.

And there, in a nutshell, is my defense of hoarding.

Of course, I am writing this tongue-in-cheek. There is no reason to collect or save useless things. However, you do see my point. The old adage, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasures” comes to mind.

Hoarding, however, can be serious business and the subject has been examined everywhere. The media, including serial and reality television, are full of stories that have piqued interest among viewers and voyeurs. Hoarding in its simplest form can really be defined as accumulation in times of great scarcity. Today, hoarding is usually defined as obsessive-compulsive behavior which leads to an over accumulation of stuff.

Several years ago, two New England researchers wrote a very interesting book that became a 2010 Must Read of the Massachusetts Book Award’s list of top-twelve non-fiction reads. I was one of the judges for that award and I was simply fascinated by the book and the topic. I was so intrigued, in fact, that I championed the book in our discussions to include it among the top twelve.

Randy Frost and Gail Sketetee are Massachusetts researchers who began to study hoarding well over a decade ago. This was several years before hoarding became a household word. Frost and Sketetee actually thought that they would find few hoarders to study but they ended up working with hundreds of people caught up in the cycle of hoarding and many more who were relatives who suffered along with them. Hoarders are people who pile their possessions on furniture, in corners, on counters and in every nook and cranny of their garages, attics and basements. Families are those who are humiliated, frustrated, embarrassed and ineffectual at solving the problem. Frost and Sketetee finished their book, “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things,” in 2010.

Dr. Robin Zasio wrote “The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life” (2011) and explains that all of us have favorite things that we hold on to for years. We tuck them away long after they were useful, attached to our memories. Emotional attachment to too many things, especially those that are weighing us down and muddling our lives, isn’t healthy and Dr. Zasio explains when it interferes with our lives that it is a problem but that it can be helped through organization and decluttering.

“Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding and Compulsive Acquiring” (2009) by Michael Tompkins is for those frustrated family members and friends who need to convince and motivate a hoarder to live a more safe and healthy life. There are extreme changes that have to be made in a hoarder’s life in order to do that but there are ways change can be accomplished slowly and gently.

Jessie Sholl wrote “Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean about Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding” (2011) after coming back home to help her mother during cancer treatment. Sholl then realized that her mother had always been a compulsive hoarder and her memoir explores the pathological reasons behind it as she reflects on her life as a child in the home. She also begins the decluttering process for her in order to salvage her relationship with her mother.

Hobbyists? Collectors? Impulsive clutterers? All of these can be a form of hoarding when it gets out of control. There are other materials on hoarding including DVDs such as seasons one and two of the reality show, “Hoarders” (2010) by the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) Network. Whether the subject fascinates you, or if you truly need help with this complex problem, you will find reading and viewing in the Minuteman Library Network catalog. If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.