Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Report: The Hoarder in You

I am not a hoarder. Want to get that out of the way up front. We don't live in a house navigable only by narrow paths through piles of junk. As evidence, I'll share that my sons and I frequently play pass football games in our family room. (A different type of pathology, if you ask my wife.)

The Hoarder in You is written for those of us who live along the continuum, from the person with a drawer of random stuff to the true hoarders whose lives are profoundly affected by the disorder. Before you decide this post isn't for you, I'll offer a statistic quoted in the book: 88% of people wish they had less clutter. That's the boat I'm in and that's who this book is aiming to help.

The Hoarder in You earned high praise ("about the best self-help book I've read") in the New York Times review that convinced me to read it. Written by psychologist Dr. Robin Zasio, this recent book uses stories from her practice to illustrate lessons on clutter and hoarding. Less of an organizing book, The Hoarder in You explores the thinking processes that lead to hoarding behavior, whether it is as relatively innocent as an out of control CD collection to a crisis situation that renders a house unlivable. Three of the most common culprits Zasio mentions are emotional attachment to items (as if they embody the person or experience they represent), anxiety (that one might regret discarding an item in the future), and overvaluing items (that theoretically have some value, but in reality are essentially worthless to you).

Parallels to Weight Loss

I found several parallels between treating hoarders and working for weight loss. Although it's not addressed in the book, some of the behaviors of pack rats also lead to packing on the pounds. Awareness of these lessons in The Hoarder in You may help you avoid pitfalls in your weight loss efforts.

1. You won't know if you can live without it until you try. Hoarders can't bear the thought of parting with possessions. A key to Zasio's method is try. Soon you learn that you can live with that object you never thought you could part with. The same goes with food. I used to eat fries or chips with meals regularly, but when I stopped, I didn't miss it.

2. All or nothing thinking is harmful. If you start to have clutter and think you're a failure, it opens the floodgates to more clutter. Dieters often have the same dilemma, violating their diet and then thinking, "I blew my diet for today," and eating much more.

3. Buying things you don't need because it's a "good deal" will hurt you in the big picture. Zasio states an obvious, but often forgotten truth: If you won't use it, no discount on price will make it a good deal. Think of Costco, which encourages you to buy in quantity at low prices. I used to do the same thing with the $1.50 hot dogs, those enormous slices of pizza, and the delectable Very Berry Sundae.

4. Feeling compelled to accept/keep gifts will increase your clutter, and won't do much for the giver. Hoarders have an irrational commitment to honor gifts as a sacred commitment to the giver. This is at least as big a problem for over-eaters, who find it hard to say no to a co-worker's baked goods.

5. Valuing items incorrectly leads you to consume when you shouldn't. To a hoarder, an old, broken computer has some value. But there is a cost that subtracts from that value - it clutters your home and is a visual reminder of an unfinished project. Even if you actually finish it, which you probably won't, you will have an old computer, which isn't worth much at all. With eating, free food is similar. Yes, that meeting refreshment would cost you money in the store, but it's not really free. The cost of it cluttering your waist needs to be figured in to truly value it correctly.

6. "Just in case" thinking is faulty logic. You might upgrade an item, but keep the old version just in case. You get new shoes, but keep the old ones in case you need them. You get a new TV, but keep the old one in case the new one breaks and you can't afford to replace it. For me, I often will eat more than I should just in case I won't be able to eat later, like when I'm going to a dinnertime meeting where I'm not sure there will be food. Most of the time food ends up being there after all and I consume too many calories.

7. Engaging in "retail therapy" feels good in the moment, but sets you back in the long run. We've all heard of retail therapy, but for hoarders, this is a big psychological deal. At times of stress, loneliness, etc., hoarders (and a lot of non-hoarders) shop to feel better. And many of us eat for the same reason. For me, it's the end of the day where I am vulnerable. Eating is an escape, or sometimes a reward for persevering through a difficult day. But it just makes things worse in the long run. Zasio suggests substituting another stress reliving activity in those situations, such as exercise, listening to music, calling a good friend, or getting out in nature.


Caron said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

downsizers said...

Good post. I just posted a few days ago about a weight problem that also includes money problems and clutter. The three do correlate. I had some good comments if you want to check it out. Good post. I think I will get the book but I have to tell you, books are part of my clutter - what to do, what to do. :-)

Jessica said...

This is a great post. Very insightful.

Bruce said...

Great connection Alan. I see a lot of that in my own behaviors. Being aware of why we act the way we do can really help.

Dr. Fat To Fit said...

There are several things here that definitely are trouble for me. The all or nothing one for sure. Thanks for this. Lots to think about. Especially since football is not something I like thinking about now. So Mike Leach headed to Wash state. Watcha think? I personally love him.

Mer and Mo said...

I think most of us practice that "just in case" notion by keeping our old clothes. "Just in case" I gain it back...that can be a hoarder - holding onto things that you don't dare want to have to wear again. Keep hearing my friend, Mer, in my head saying "throw it away",

I espcially love #1, just because I read it to say that I can live without all this extra weight, I will keep working on leaving the extra weight behind so I can live with the new me.


Michele said...

Lots of good stuff here, Alan. I definitely see the connection to obesity and hoarding in me. Hoarding may be a strong word, but, I definitely have challenges with getting "cluttered" up by stuff. This whole year I have worked at de-cluttering, organization and dowwsizing. I am not going to say I am cured, but I have made great progress. Great post and looks like a good read. Thanks, michele

❀❀ Dawn (Lay Down My Idols) ❀❀ said...

Good post! So true. There are a lot of parallels between overeating and overconsuming, AKA debt too.