The psychology of hoarding in its different manifestations.
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things is eminently readable, a prime example of the best of what popular psychology has to offer. Great case studies, analysis that goes deep but never wonky, and well-chosen anecdotes bring the multi-faceted issue of hoarding to life.
What struck me the most was the insight that hoarders are people who see more beauty and complexity in the world than most people, sort of like aesthetic savants. They can’t bear to throw things away because of the pleasure they take in looking at them. Other hoarders are extreme perfectionists, unable to start a cleaning job they will be unable to complete to their exacting standards. Still others attach memories to objects in such a way as to feel like they are losing their own lives when asked to throw something away.
I’m fascinated by hoarders because on some level, I understand the compulsion to keep things that look and seem pretty. But I also love giving stuff away and hate clutter, so I don’t think I’ll ever end up buried under a pile of objects. Recently I traded in a bunch of grad school texts through Amazon’s buyback program, so that I would have Amazon gift cards to buy some expensive textbooks for a new academic endeavor. I haven’t looked at these books in 15 years, and most of the ideas and content are outdated, not to mention useless. And I really need these new texts to study for the professional exam I plan to take in 2011 or 2012. Yet trading them in felt like giving away a piece of myself–each book kept because it shaped my thinking and was important to me at one point or another. To get rid of them meant acknowledging that I’m not that person anymore. Yet I’ll always have the education I received through those books and the classes I used them in. I don’t need the books to know who I am.