Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

"Help, I Have Too Much Stuff!": Extreme Possession Attachment and Professional Organizers

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

"Help, I Have Too Much Stuff!": Extreme Possession Attachment and Professional Organizers

Article excerpt

Compulsive hoarding is a serious problem for consumers, their families, and the communities in which they live. Consumers naturally form attachments to their possessions. However, at the extreme end of the attachment spectrum, these attachments can undermine a consumer's well-being. This study describes attachment styles exhibited by consumers who sought help from trained professional organizers (POs) to help them achieve their de-cluttering goals. Narrative case descriptions were compiled from 28 trained POs across the United States using an Internet survey with mostly open-ended questions. Interpretive analysis demonstrates how POs craft strategies to help clients let go of meaningful goods by considering the client's unique attachment profile and the temporal relevance of possessions to self. This study illustrates how POs help consumers improve their well-being by unraveling possession attachments that threaten consumers' quality of life.

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Consumer researchers have explored deep emotional attachments to goods and have related possession attachment and sources of possession meaning to the maintenance and perpetuation of self- or family-identity structures (e.g., Belk 1988; Curasi, Price, and Arnould 2004; Epp and Price 2010; Furby 1978; Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995; Richins 1994; Schultz, Kleine, and Keman 1989; Wallendorf and Arnould 1988). For the most part, possession attachment research has focused on the positive aspects of attachment and how possessions fortify a person's self-identity. Research has also shown how self-identity structures are disrupted and possibly re-constructed in transformative ways through dispossession practices (Cherrier 2009; Cherrier and Murray 2007; Lastovicka and Fernandez 2005; Roster 2014). However, little to no consumer research has explored attachment styles and possession beliefs at the negative end of the spectrum, as is the case when consumers' ties to possessions threaten to undermine their well-being. Nor have studies examined how these strong emotional ties to possessions relate to the work of service providers, such as professional organizers (POs), who are often called upon to work with consumers whose hoard of special possessions threatens their ability to remain in their homes.

It is no wonder that consumers are often reluctant to part with their possessions, especially those that are particularly meaningful for self-identity. However, for chronic packrats and compulsive hoarders, nearly everything they own is associated with highly charged meanings, making disposition a difficult and painful process (Frost and Gross 1993; Frost and Hard 1996; Frost et al. 1995, 2007; Steketee, Frost, and Kyrios 2003). The perversity is that an overwhelming inventory of "special" objects prevents packrats and hoarders from extracting the super-charged meanings they associate with these goods, and creates a life situation where the accumulation of special possessions threatens, rather than promotes, the maintenance and development of self-identity.

Hoarding Disorder is a remarkably common but often hidden mental disorder characterized by the acquisition and saving of a large number of possessions, creating excessive clutter that can pose serious threats to the health, safety, and well-being of the affected person and those who live with or near them (Frost and Hard 1996; Frost, Steketee, and Tolin 2012). Recent epidemiological studies estimate that clinically significant hoarding disorder affects between 2% and 5% of the adult population, which in the United States alone equates to 6-15 million adults (Iervolino et al. 2009; Mueller et al. 2009; Samuels et al. 2008). Hoarding, when severe, causes significant impairments to a person's ability to execute basic life functions in their spaces, such as cooking, cleaning, personal hygiene, moving through the house, and sleeping, which can put a person at substantial risk for falling, fire, poor sanitation, or other health concerns (Frost, Steketee, and Williams 2000; Steketee, Frost, and Kim 2001). …

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