It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?
-Henry David Thoreau
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Book Review: Buried in Treasures

There are 3 names that come up again and again when it comes to the topic of hoarding – from their independent work to their collaborative work: psychologists David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost, and Gail Steketee.  All three wrote, Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding and although it was not the first book I read on the topic, it was the book I was always intending on reading – it’s “that big” a book on the topic.  I read it more than a year ago now, and happily made notes (and have the book to refer to) for both this review and how it can apply to those I work with.

First, let me share that I was almost shocked when I found a copy of the book – it was quite a bit smaller than I’d imagined, coming in under 200 pages long.  It’s also very much a workbook of sorts for people wanting to tackle their struggles.  Similar to many books on organizing and hoarding, it tries to make it clear that unless you are ready to make changes, they will be hard to come by.  It is discouraging to hear that the success of “recovery” is minimal; that it takes continued efforts and mindfulness.

This is the case though for all of us – and applies to any changes we want to make.  As they say in the book, “People start to work on their hoarding problem when the reasons for change outweigh the reasons for not changing, and not a minute sooner.”  Now if you take out the word hoarding, it applies to changes in general.  Changes are difficult to make, whatever they are, and we need to be ready and truly motivated.

They spend some time talking about reinforcement, positive and negative, and how these are critical to self-control and exert powerful influences over our actions.

“We all tend to be motivated most strongly by immediate rather than delayed consequences.  This is a big part of the problem: instead of being able to step back and appreciate the long-term consequences of our actions, we become slaves to the here and now.  …long-term consequences, unpleasant as they may be, simply are not very powerful motivators compared to the immediate…”  Buried in Treasures

I see this in myself sometimes, and this does seem to be universal – we struggle with what impact our decisions will make down the road.  Or even struggle to make decisions in general, though not making a decision is ultimately still making a decision.

I’ve talked before about how I dislike the term “hoarding” and I will even talk to clients about how I myself have some “hoarding” tendencies.  On some level, we all do.  I do have close to 2,500 books.  My husband teases me sometimes about the number of containers I have.  I can resonate with the desire of collecting.  The authors were sharing a story and although the level of my stuff does not compare, it hit home for me: “…defining himself not by what he did, but rather by what he had and what he hoped to do. … Now ask yourself: is the amount I have proportional to the amount I do?”  I, like some many others, have big dreams – many ideas and hopes – and collecting items for that one possible day translates too often into having excess clutter.  Now, I evaluate whether the things are relevant for me currently or are more for a dream.  I can always find those again if it becomes more than a dream.

The authors spend time talking about some of the common struggles people face – the idea of “how did this happen to me?” There are many tips and techniques they share.  Two of them stood for me. One is the idea of the OHIO principle, which I talked about in a previous post – where you move pieces along in your system and aren’t worrying about loose ends because it’s been “handled.”  The other was “elaborative processing” where people have “the tendency to think of more and more uses for an object.” I played with this for myself, how creative could I get – and at what point do I not care anymore what it’s potential is.

In closing, another quote – a goal we all share, to find balance in our lives:

“…for most of us, successfully navigating life means striking the right balance between that feels good and what is good. … There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer; it depends on the person and situation.  But living a balanced and successful life does involve, at least some of the time, inhibiting things that are immediately reinforcing and instead choosing things that will pay off in the long run.  Another way of saying this is that we run into trouble when we become too dependent on immediate rewards, and lose focus on long-term goals.”

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