Recommended Reading: Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive
Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding

Many visitors to our website have described themselves (or been described by family or friends) in ways that suggest hoarding, and so we’re particularly pleased to come upon this sensible and functional resource. Compulsive saving—hoarding—is typically diagnosed when all three of the following criteria are met: 1) there is the accumulation of objects that most people would consider of very limited value (newspapers, for example) or useful only in small numbers (shoes or fountain pens, for instance), and there is great difficulty in discarding them; 2) the resultant clutter is severe enough that portions of the home are difficult to access or downright unusable; and 3) the behavior results in significant impairment or distress. Until now, we haven’t known of a research proven, time-tested program to recommend. But with the publication of this book, there’s now exactly what the title promises: help for compulsive acquiring, saving, and hoarding.

Tolin, Frost, and Steketee define and describe hoarding and discuss how it develops, giving context to the cognitive, affective, and behavioral factors involved. The authors show that in the cognitive domain, hoarders often have difficulties processing information, and in the affective domain, they form strong emotional attachments to their possessions, about which they have unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs. The book also shows how people who hoard have been positively reinforced for both avoidant and acquisitive behaviors.

Buried in Treasures has useful, practical, and structured exercises that build on each other. Additionally, it makes helpful distinctions between “bad guys” and “good guys,” between types of distorted thinking and strategies for clearing away those distortions. The “bad guys,” which sabotage a hoarder’s attempts at reform, include 1) the refusal to set a high priority on the problem, 2) the inability to let go of unhelpful beliefs, 3) a pattern of overthinking or confusing oneself, 4) the habit of avoidance and excuse-making, and 5) the seizing of short-term payoffs in preference to far larger long-term ones. The “good guys,” which put the compulsive saver back in control, include 1) keeping your eyes on the prize, 2) thinking things through, 3) doing behavioral experiments to test out possibilities, 4) developing specific organizational skills, and 5) taking a systematic and strategic approach to problem-solving.

Particularly strong is the chapter on enhancing motivation. First there’s an excellent, non-judgmental explanation of the intricacies of motivation and the need to give oneself a motivational boost. This is followed by material designed to help the reader assess his or her own readiness to work on the problem of hoarding. There’s also a section to help the person who hoards think about personal goals: about what he or she wants to accomplish and about how he or she wants things to be after finishing the program.

Typical of the book’s practical approach are its two chapters on sorting and discarding. The first deals strictly with preparation—how to get ready for the sorting process and how to stay motivated—while the second treats the nuts and bolts of the actual sorting and organizing. Throughout Buried in Treasures, Tolin, Frost, and Steketee emphasize—as do we at Stopping Overshopping—that to really stick with the Program and do all of the work, most hoarders need strong motivation and the support of some combination of family, friends, a coach, or a therapist. So in addition to its recommendations for hoarders, the book also offers helpful information on how to bring the problem to a loved one’s attention, how to help others stay motivated toward change, and, for coaches, how to accompany a hoarder on a non-acquiring trip.

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