'Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding' by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee
Buried in Treasures outlines a scientifically-based and effective program for helping compulsive hoarders dig their way out of the clutter and chaos of their homes.
How Did This Happen?

Before we start to tackle the hoarding problem, let's discuss what we know about how hoarding develops. Doing so will accomplish two important things. First, it will help you understand hoarding for what it is—a problem of emotional, mental, behavioral, and social well-being. Second, it will give some important clues to how to beat the problem. Knowledge is power—the more you know, the better equipped you will be to work toward improving things.

Let's start by defining hoarding as a mental health problem. We realize that these words might be hard for some people to swallow. For some, the words conjure up very unpleasant (maybe even scary) images of serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Some people with compulsive hoarding do have these kinds of problems, but most don't and won't. We don't mean in any way to imply that having a mental health problem means that you are "crazy," "damaged," or a "hopeless case." Quite the contrary: many people with compulsive hoarding are smart, witty, and delightful, even though we are well aware that they are suffering. What we do mean is that people with compulsive hoarding are not fully in control of their behavior. They didn't sign up for this. They are hooked into a pattern of behavior that even they cannot fully understand or manage. If you are a person with compulsive hoarding, perhaps someone has told you that your hoarding is due to laziness, personality flaws, or stubbornness. By defining hoarding as a mental health problem, we hope it is clear that we don't agree with these opinions.
There's another important issue that comes up with this definition. In many cases, family members, friends, or outside agencies have tried to help by clearing out things from the person's home. Sometimes this is done with the person's permission and sometimes not. We think that these kinds of interventions miss the point. When we focus all of our efforts on the person's house—for example, if we send the person on vacation and then clean out the house while he or she is away, we're treating hoarding as a house problem . But hoarding is not just a house problem; it's also a person problem . Unless the person makes fundamental, sustainable changes in how he or she thinks, feels, and acts—that is, alters the way he or she relates to possessions—the problem is likely to return. This is exactly what research tells us: When someone else takes over the discarding process, the person with the hoarding problem usually continues to acquire and save items, and the house fills up again— sometimes more so than before the clean-out.

So throughout this book, you'll notice that we spend a lot less time talking about your house and a lot more time talking about you—how you feel, how you think, and what you do. From our research and our experience talking with people with compulsive hoarding, we think that much of the problem can be attributed to personal factors such as:

  • Trouble processing information
  • Emotional attachment to and unhelpful beliefs about possessions
  • Reinforcement for avoidance and acquiring
See the clutter behind closed doors.
This article is excerpted from Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, published by Oxford University Press, Inc. (c) 2007 by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee.


Next Story