Stuff, Spent, Bottled and Sold: Notable New Books

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Four new books explore why consumers do what they do—even when they know it’s unhealthy, unsanitary, and/or obviously bad for their finances.
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. By Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, professors at Smith College and Boston University, respectively.

Excerpt:

Irene was apologetic to the point of tears about her situation. Her husband had just left her because of the clutter. She had no money. She was afraid her children would be taken away because of the condition of her home if her husband were to petition for custody. Her daughter had developed severe dust allergies, making it difficult for her to stay in the house. Irene recognized that she had a problem and needed to do something about it. Some people who hoard never have lucid moments about their habits, so Irene was fortunate in this respect. She at least had what psychiatrists and psychologists call “insight” into the irrationality of her hoarding behavior. Yet despite having insight when talking generally about her problem, when trying to decide whether to discard a five-year-old newspaper, she could not see the absurdity of keeping it.

Our first stop, the kitchen, showed the enormity of her predicament. A two-foot pile of stuff covered her kitchen table. The pile contained a wide assortment of things—old newspapers, books, pieces of children’s games, cereal boxes, coupons, the everyday bric-a-brac of family life. Only a small corner of the table’s surface was visible, about the size of a dinner plate. The table had been cleared once, according to Irene. Five years earlier, she’d removed everything to the floor so that her son could have a birthday party. After the party, the stuff went back on the table.

Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict. By Avis Cardella, a fashion editor and former model.

Excerpt:

I used shopping to avoid myself. I used shopping to define myself. And at some point, I realized that I was no longer consuming; I was just being consumed. When I stood in the lingerie department of Barneys, flanked by rows of candy-colored Cosabella thongs and Ripcosa tank tops, and couldn’t remember how I got there, I knew I was in trouble…

Shopping was my escape, my friend, my balm, my release, my pacifier, my pleasure, my secret, my pastime, my kill time, my fantasy, my reality, my recreation, my therapy, my drug, my stimulant, my lover, my memory, my link with the past, my trip to the future.

Shoo Jimmy Choo: The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spending Less & Saving More. By Catey Hill, money editor for the New York Daily News online.

Excerpt:

Ladies, if you have credit card debt, save less than 13 percent of your income every month, have no in-case-of-emergency fund, or are certain that you’ll marry rich and then fix your finances, you can’t afford not to read this book. And here’s the kicker: I won’t make you give up your passion for pedicures, your love of lingerie, your hankering for handbags, or whatever else you can’t live without buying. You may have to buy fewer of these items, but I’ll show you how to have it all. If I, a shopaholic who can’t pass a day at work without scouring eBay for the latest Prada bag, who absolutely refuses to wash her hair with any shampoo other than Kérastase, and who can’t stand the sight of her butt in anything other than Paige jeans, was able to become financially secure, so can you.

Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. By Peter Gleick, MacArthur fellowship recipient and president of the Pacific Institute.

Excerpt:

September 15, 2007, was a big day for the alumni, family, and fans of the University of Central Florida and the UCF Knights football team. After years of waiting and hoping, the University of Central Florida had finally built their own football stadium—the new Bright House Networks arena. Under clear skies, and with temperatures nearing 100 degrees, a sell-out crowd of 45,622 was on hand to watch the first-ever real UCF home game against the Texas Longhorns, a national powerhouse. “I never thought we’d see this, but we sure are proud to have a stadium on campus,” said UCF alumnus and Knight fan Tim Ball as he and his family tailgated in the parking lot before the game. And in an exciting, three-hour back-and-forth contest, the UCF Knights almost pulled off an upset before losing in the final minutes 35 to 32.

Knight supporters were thrilled and left thirsting for more–literally. Fans found out the hard way that their new $54-million stadium had been built without a single drinking water fountain. And for “security” reasons, no one could bring water into the stadium. The only water available for overheated fans was $3 bottled water from the concessionaires or water from the bathroom taps, and long before the end of the game, the concessionaires had run out of bottled water. Eighteen people were taken to local hospitals and sixty more were treated by campus medical personnel for heat-related illnesses.

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