Professional organizers frequently urge clients to photograph objects they have trouble letting go of, as an assist to “dispossession,” said Catherine Roster, research director for the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. (“Chronic disorganization” being the phrase used to describe the continuum from those mildly addled by clutter to full-blown hoarders.) Ms. Roster is collaborating on Ms. Botz’s new investigation, which examines “the accumulation of objects.”

As usual, Ms. Botz is thinking about humans and their compulsions toward their spaces and their stuff. A central tension of American life — the desire to acquire and the subsequent inability to dispossess — is the sore spot she would like to probe.

Ms. Roster, surely one of the few Ph.D.’s in marketing interested in the way people get rid of stuff, is enthusiastic. “This stage is much richer than we’d ever thought,” she said the other day. “Acquisition, consumption, meaning — it all gets tangled in this last stage.”

She continued: “Getting rid of a possession means abdicating all the pleasures and rights of that possession. And that freaks people out. It goes like this: ‘I got this from Aunt Maria; I can’t get rid of it. I spent a lot of money on this; I can’t get rid of it. I wore this a year ago, I might wear it again; I can’t get rid of it. If I get rid of it, I’ve lost all these opportunities.’ That’s a kind of death.”

And you wonder why it’s so hard to clean out your closet.

By PENELOPE GREEN, “Documenting Accumulations and Its Discontents” [The New York Times]


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