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Apropos of Nothing


Case studies of when collecting becomes hoarding.

Book Cover Probably everyone knows someone whose predilection for collecting has gone off the rails and might be viewed as a pathological condition. (Consider the two daffy uncles in Diane Keaton’s 1995 film Unstrung Heroes.) Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, social scientists and scholars, have taken their decade-long research into what they characterize as a compulsion and have written Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Composed of case studies (much like Oliver Sacks’s approach to neurological anomalies) of peculiar hoardings and unfortunate consequences, Stuff also identifies what the authors term are this disorder’s causes and failed treatments, and offers some insight into possible relief. Frost and Steketee estimate some six million Americans are so afflicted, and yet for all the science they don’t offer much more than, “answers the question of what happens when our stuff starts to own us.” Which I suppose has its benefits.

By the way, some time ago I noted William Davies King’s splendid book, Collections of Nothing, which was funny and perceptive, and took a much lighter approach to the seemingly human affinity for collecting. He noted amongst his possessions (before a move made divestiture urgent):
Fifty-three Cheez-It boxes, empty
Thirty-four old dictionaries
Three dozen rusted skeleton keys, found as a cluster in the woods
A mound of used airmail envelopes, most culled from mailroom trash
A pipe tobacco tin chock full of smooth pebbles
My neighbor’s library card from the 1960’s, before he became a felon
Family snapshots of people unknown to me
Plastic cauliflower bags (many), all mimicking the sphericity of a cauliflower head
Business cards of business card printers, though I had no business card
Cigar ribbons though I did not smoke
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