<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <br> AMAZING JUNK <p> <br> The Pleasures of Hoarding <p> <br> Tag sales. That's my thing. It's what gives me joy. I get a <br> real high from finding a bargain. Every Saturday morning, <br> I'm supposed to work, but I go tag-saling instead. They <br> dock my pay, but I don't care. This is what I love to do. I'm <br> in a much better mood when I get to work. <br> -Irene <p> If she hadn't gotten onto the highway, it might not have happened. If she had turned north instead of south, things might have been different. But she went south, a direction that took her past the entrance to the mall. The Target billboard hooked her. Before she had time to think about it, she was in the parking lot and out of the car. At this point, it didn't matter which way she turned. Shopping cues surrounded her, and favorite stores stretched out in all directions. The pleasure of buying-of acquiring stuff-was at her fingertips, and she was powerless to resist. <p> Janet came to us not long after that binge. Her home was seriously cluttered, but more problematic for her was her excessive buying. Although she had a successful professional career with a good income, her family was always short of money. Her credit cards were maxed out, and she owed more than $25,000. She had tried but failed to pay off any of the debt in three years. In fact, the total was growing rather than shrinking. <p> Her financial problems were the source of serious arguments with her husband. The week before she came in for treatment, her husband had criticized her for her spending and refused to help her with cooking or cleaning at home. She was angry and upset. She felt unappreciated by him and complained that he had made her "slave of the year." Depressed about her circumstances and anxious to avoid further conflict with him, she got into the car to go for a drive. <p> Her drive led her to the mall, and before she knew it, she was standing in a clothing store, still brooding over the fight at home. Even at this point, however, a shopping episode was not inevitable. She had not yet thought much about what she was doing. When she did, however, her thoughts betrayed her. Her first thought was not of shopping, but of her husband: <i>What right does he have to tell me how to spend my money? I work hard and make a good salary. I deserve nice things!</i> These thoughts wiped away any chance she had of resisting the urge to buy. Despite the fact that she understood the seriousness of her addiction to shopping, the thoughts made it seem to her that she had a <i>duty</i> to shop just to prove her worth. The combination of her emotional state and the rack of dresses in front of her strengthened her rationalizations, and they in turn kept her from thinking rationally about her plight. <p> She tried on a dress. The clerk commented on how nice it looked. Janet's mood brightened. She forgot about the argument with her husband. The attentiveness of the clerk pleased her. She felt respected, important, worthy-things she didn't feel at home. She found shoes and a belt to match the dress. She was happy. She found a card that wasn't maxed out and bought more than $500 worth of stuff. Her euphoria was palpable as she headed out of the store. <p> But even before she got to her car, her thoughts changed. How much had she spent? Was it really more than $500? She had hoped to reduce her credit card debt by that much this month; now she had increased it by that. How could she tell her husband about this? She couldn't very well hide it from him. He saw all her credit card bills. How mad would he be? <p> As she pondered these questions, the implications of her purchases sank in. She sat in the parking lot and cried. Regret and worry engulfed her. Worse, she began to draw damaging conclusions about herself that usually surfaced only during her occasional bouts of depression: <i>What is wrong with me? I must be a terrible person to put my husband and children under such financial strain for things I don't even want. Anyone who does this must be totally worthless.</i> <p> Janet's depressed feelings persisted after the episode, and little in her life seemed to alleviate them. Shopping helped, but only temporarily. It was the only time she felt important and respected, but afterward she felt even more depressed and worthless. Post-binge, the conflict at home intensified, making it that much harder for her to resist her shopping urges: a vicious cycle. <p> One feature of hoarding that sets it apart from disorders such as OCD is that it can be intensely pleasurable. For most people who hoard, the experience of shopping or acquiring is so overwhelmingly rewarding that it erases all thoughts of consequences. Recently, we surveyed nearly a thousand people with hoarding problems. More than two-thirds of them bought or shopped excessively, and just over half had problems with the acquisition of free things. Both Gail and I speak frequently to self-help groups about hoarding. On these occasions, we avoid bringing handouts, as experience has taught us that many in our audience will collect multiple copies, adding to their clutter. <p> People who hoard also derive intense pleasure from the things they own. During one of my visits with Irene, she got very excited and said, "I have to show you something." She scurried to the next room and returned with a large plastic bag filled with bottle caps. "Look at these bottle caps-aren't they beautiful? Look at the shape and the color," she said. Much as I tried, I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for this collection. Old bottle caps? What in the world did she see in them? She seemed hurt when I didn't share her appreciation. It is possible that people who hoard see and appreciate features of objects that others overlook, perhaps because of their emphasis on visual and spatial qualities. Irene put pieces of broken toys, packing material, and the like in a box she labeled amazing junk. When her kids were young, they played with it. When they lost interest, she hauled the box out occasionally to admire the features of these treasures. Might this reflect a different way of perceiving the world, one focused on aesthetic pleasures that the rest of us overlook? If so, is this a gift or a curse? <p> The pleasure extends beyond aesthetics. Much of Irene's hoard consisted of newspapers, magazines, and books. She described herself as an information junkie: notes to herself, names of restaurants recommended by people at work, lists of places to see, TV specials to watch, and various bits of wisdom all found a place in her home. On the pile in her TV room, a page torn out of a magazine article read, "When your cat won't take his medicine, spill some on his fur; he'll instinctively lick it off." Although she had no cat, she saved it in case one of her friends ever needed such advice. She loved knowing details like this and doubted her ability to remember them, so saving seemed a good idea. Gradually, her collection got out of hand. <p> "I used to go through the newspaper, page by page, looking for interesting articles," she told me. "When I found one, I would read it and then cut it out and throw away the rest. Before long, to save time, I looked through the paper and cut out the interesting articles, but I didn't read them. After a while it was easier to look through the paper and just keep the whole thing if it contained an interesting article. Finally, I stopped even looking through the paper and just saved the whole thing. I plan to read them when I have time." Over time, simply having the papers substituted for reading them. Just to know she had them was almost as pleasurable as actually reading them. Even after reading them, she was reluctant to get rid of them because she might forget what she read. <p> The pleasurable aspects of hoarding are even more apparent during the process of acquiring things. Despite the fact that Irene was in very poor financial shape after her husband left her, she couldn't stop herself from buying more things: "That's my thing. It's what gives me joy. I get a real high from finding a bargain." Irene's high from shopping echoes the experience of most compulsive buyers and resembles that of people addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some researchers have suggested that compulsive buying is a form of behavioral addiction similar to drug dependence. If so, processes in the brain that control pleasure and reinforcement may be involved. Addiction researchers have identified the ways in which certain substances such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol influence the brain's reward system. Cocaine prevents the neurotransmitter dopamine from escaping the synapse, the area between brain cells where communication occurs. The dopamine that builds up stimulates the pleasure center, not only producing the high that addicts feel but also interfering with normal judgment and memory, making it that much harder to resist the drug. Heroin causes the same flooding of the pleasure center by blocking the neurotransmitters that inhibit the effects of dopamine. <p> So far, no studies have shown disrupted neurochemical transmission in compulsive buyers. However, it is theoretically possible that behavioral addictions such as compulsive buying or even compulsive gambling might begin as habits and gradually evolve into addictions that are controlled by disruption of neurochemical transmission. <p> Aside from the high of shopping, resisting the impulse carries costs that make buying easier than not buying. I asked Irene what would happen if she resisted the urge to go to a tag sale. She replied, "I would feel like I'd lost out on something. There's something out there that I might need or want, and I'll lose it." <p> Irene's upstairs hallway was crowded with shopping bags containing her purchases-things she justified buying by telling herself she would use them as gifts. In her mind, the fact that these were destined to be given away put them outside the realm of her hoarding problem, despite the fact that they had cluttered her hallway for years. Irene's decision to buy these gifts was influenced by a variety of beliefs. Chief among them was the belief that she needed to be prepared for a situation in which she might need to give someone a gift and not have time to shop for it. In our first study, we found that hoarders reported more buying of extra items "just in case" they might be needed than did non-hoarders. One of our first participants showed us her stash of thirty-four shampoo bottles and said that if she used one bottle, she felt compelled to replace it so that she always had thirty-four bottles available. She did the same with bars of soap. She said, "It's nice to know that when the bar of soap gets this big," and she moved her thumb and forefinger just a few millimeters apart, "I have fifteen more bars." Her sense of how many extras she needed "just in case" was obviously considerably higher than most people's. <p> Also affecting Irene's buying was her addiction to the idea of opportunity. This was so powerful that she avoided going to any large city because, inevitably, she would pass a newsstand. Newsstands drew her like a moth to a light. The number and variety of newspapers and magazines left her giddy at the thought of all they contained. She described her thought process: "When I gaze at all the riches, I say to myself, 'Look at all those newspapers and magazines. Somewhere in the midst of all of that there may be a piece of information that could change my life; that could make me into the person I want to be. How can I walk away and let that opportunity pass?'" Not pursuing that elusive but all-important piece of information would torture her. The only way she could tolerate a trip to the city was to cross to the opposite side of the street and look the other way whenever she saw a newsstand. Curiously, Irene actually spent very little time reading. The idea of reading or the image of herself reading was what motivated her, not the reading itself. <p> For Janet, buying served many functions. When she was dwelling on her problems at home, she never felt worthwhile or appreciated. In contrast, the store clerks treated her with respect, especially those who had waited on her in the past. She described a sense of control while shopping that was missing elsewhere in her life. Shopping distracted her from family conflict and worries about her debt, and even served as an indirect way of communicating displeasure with her husband for his criticism of her. But perhaps most of all, it offered her a brief respite from her worries and frustrations. For a short time, she could dream of all that her new clothes and sports equipment promised. During each shopping episode, these dreams swamped the memory of what came after-guilt, conflict, and depression. <p> Janet seldom used the things she bought. Her home was full of clothes with the tags still attached. As with other of our clients, many things never left the original box or packing material. For those who suffer from compulsive buying but not hoarding, the purchased items are frequently returned, sold, or given away. For people who hoard, boxes pile up and gobble up living space. <p> Although most compulsive shopping episodes begin with a bad mood that the shopping temporarily alleviates, occasionally a good mood sets them off. After one therapy session in which Janet described being able to resist the urge to shop for the entire week, she left the clinic feeling pleased with herself. She was proud of her progress and could see some light at the end of the tunnel. But on the way home, the traffic slowed just before the exit to the mall. She was inside a store in minutes, celebrating her success in therapy with more buying. Predictably, the result was more regret, depression, and self-blame. <p> Although it is hard for most of us to imagine, the urge to buy can completely obliterate compulsive shoppers' knowledge of themselves and their circumstances. Several years ago, I worked with <i>Dateline NBC</i> on a TV special about hoarding. The show featured Phil, a man whose buying and collecting had already cost him his job and his house and threatened to break up his marriage. Yet when the camera crew accompanied him to a thrift store, he could not resist the urge to buy a set of left-handed golf clubs. Phil already had multiple sets of left-handed clubs, despite the fact that he was right-handed and seldom golfed. From his point of view, they were rare and special and called to him. During the episode, Phil described himself as being "in the zone." During intense shopping episodes like this, our clients often describe dissociative-like states, periods of time where they are so focused on the item they want to buy that they forget about the context of their lives-such as whether they have the money, space, or need for the item. <br><br><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Stuff</b> by <b>Randy O. Frost Gail Steketee</b> Copyright © 2010 by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.