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New Guide for Those Who Cannot Discard


Bill, 40, has a yard littered with old, rusting cars and junked appliances. He haunts flea markets and junkyards looking for bargains, then brings items home, where they sit, unattended. His house is so cluttered, floor to ceiling, with such useless items that most doorways are blocked and he has to squeeze sideways to enter his house. The smell of rotting food pervades his residence and insects constantly buzz around inside.

Pam, 53, shares a home with her 35 cats, and has had as many as 75 cats at one time. The smell of ammonia hangs in the air, and cat waste is seen smeared about the interior walls and floors. A self-proclaimed animal lover, Pam began collecting cats from an animal shelter to save them from being euthanized.

Bill and Pam are two real-life examples of compulsive hoarders documented in a new book, Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, co-authored by Smith’s Randy O. Frost, the Harold Edward and Elsa Siipola Israel Professor of Psychology. Frost wrote the book with David E. Tolin, founding director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., and Gail Steketee, a professor at the Boston University School of Social Work.

“I started studying hoarding in the early 1990s,” says Frost, who, along with Tolin and Steketee formed the New England Hoarding Consortium, which is devoted to the study and treatment compulsive hoarding. “At that time it was an unrecognized problem on which there was little or no research, and people suffered in secret and in silence. This book is a culmination of the work done since then.”

Buried in Treasures, as its subtitle suggests, is a practical handbook to assist those who suffer from the disorder known as compulsive hoarding in managing and overcoming the condition, which can become debilitating and threatening to physical health.

“While most of us find it relatively easy to manage our possessions, a large number of people, approximately 1 percent of the population, find it extremely difficult,” explains the book’s cover notes. “Compulsive hoarding is a behavioral problem consisting of excessive clutter, difficulty discarding items, and excessive buying or other acquiring. If you or a loved on has a compulsive hoarding problem, this book can help.”

Buried in Treasures is arranged in a step-by-step sequence of chapters that explain and offer advice on “Sorting/Discarding: Getting Ready,” “Help With Reducing Acquiring” and “Maintaining Your Success.”

Helpful as the book may be for those afflicted with hoarding problems, its authors emphasize that it is not a panacea, only a guide.

“This book will not solve your hoarding problems,” they write in the introduction. “This book is a guide that will provide you with the necessary information to understand the problem of compulsive hoarding and will give you the tools to help beat the problem. The rest is up to you. This book is a road map, and you are the driver.”

Of course, those who hoard and habitually acquire items they don’t need are on a continuum of behavioral affliction. Yet, for anyone who finds herself with a surplus of useless items occupying usable space for no justifiable reason, regardless of the extent of the malady, Buried in Treasures is written broadly enough to provide helpful pointers.

3/23/07   By Eric Sean Weld
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