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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Secret Lives of Hoarders

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Hoarders

If you're like me (and for your sake, let's hope that is not the case), you have a few television shows you simply cannot miss.

One of mine is Hoarders, on A&E. Hoarders are people driven by compulsion to collect and keep items which vary from case to case but range from old newspapers to soiled adult diapers -- and worse.

Much, much worse.

We're not talking about a few odd shelves stuffed with bric-a-brac.  We're not talking about closets filled to overflowing with quilts or shoes or boxes.  No, an instance of full-blown hoarding usually involves a dwelling that is literally stuffed to the ceilings with the most bewildering variety of junk.  On Hoarders, I've seen mounds of coat-hangers surrounded by bags and bags of rotting groceries.  Sometimes the refuse is stacked and packed over such a long time that it compresses down into disgusting layers of trash-strata, whereby one can date the layers by identifying the flattened remains of cats squashed amid the bits of unrecognizable debris.

You think I made that up?  I didn't.  It's happened, more than once, and with more than a single carcass found in the same home.  Think about that for a moment, and ponder the intensity of stink required to mask the scent of multiple decaying cats.

That, my friends, is as good an introduction as any into the tragic world of the hoarder.

Enter Matt Paxton, cleaning specialist extraordinaire.  Matt is the owner of Clutter Cleaner, and he and his team will go where angels fear to tread and take a shovel to boot.  Tackling hoards and helping hoarders and their families is Matt's business, and his experiences as the founder of Clutter Cleaner and as cleaning expert on A&E's Hoarders made him uniquely suited to write the book on hoarders.

In fact, Matt did just that -- write the book on hoarders, I mean.  That book is The Secret Lives of Hoarders, and I give it five stars out of five.  Although stars are perhaps not the appropriate symbol here -- call it five tons of gooey refuse out of five tons.

Either way, it's a great book.

Author Matt Paxton is very effective on the show when dealing with hoarders and their often-dysfunctional families.  With them, Matt is firm yet compassionate, even-tempered, and dedicated to helping people who simply cannot help themselves.  All those qualities come across easily in the book, which never once descends into the sort of cruel mockery a lesser person (I'm looking at me) would be sorely tempted to include.

Matt's book introduces us to a number of more or less representative hoarders.  He gives us a background of each, the source of their hoarding behavior, and any family interactions that help or hinder.  Yes, Matt describes the hoarding behavior in the same sort of gut-wrenching detail featured on the TV show.  But that's not the emphasis of the book.

Instead, Matt and co-writer Phaedra Hise look past the mounds of rotting diapers and dehydrated cats and into the minds of the people who simply cannot throw anything away.  I'll never watch the show the same way again, because now I've seen an inkling of how desperately trapped hoarders truly are, and how they'll struggle with their compulsions every minute of every day for the rest of their lives.

It's tragic.  It's disgusting.  It's often irreparable.  But it's never boring.

Fans of the show will also enjoy Matt's candid revelations into his own past.  People who have never seen the show will too.

I'll end with a bit of honesty here.  I sometimes view celebrity book offerings with one part suspicion (and probably two parts jealousy).  Oh wow, he/she is on TV, and now they have a book out.  I'm sure it's good.

Forget that, though.  This is a good book, and it was published because it is a good book told in a wise voice about a fascinating topic.  The Secret Lives of Hoarders is an honest, unblinking look at what for some families is a dirty little secret.  Paxton deals with it all with compassion, wit, and an empathy born of a genuine desire to help those suffering from a mental illness that literally weighs them down with tons of garbage.

So check it out!  It's not hard to find.  Amazon has it in print and as a Kindle e-book.  You can buy the print version direct from Clutter Cleaners.  Barnes & Noble has it in print and Nook format.  I've put all the links below, so enjoy!

Secret Lives of Hoarders in print

Secret Lives of Hoarders Kindle e-book

Clutter Cleaners website

Buy Secret Lives of Hoarders direct from Clutter Cleaners (Matt will even sign it for you!)

Print or Nook e-book

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