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Many people enjoy collecting things that are meaningful to them, whether it’s stamps, coins, dolls, or Blue Willow china. Collecting can be a fun and rewarding hobby that brings joy and connection to our lives. But for some people, collecting can become excessive and lead to hoarding, thereby damaging their physical and mental health. Learn how to tell the difference between collecting and hoarding—as well as how to get help if you need it.
What Is Collecting and Hoarding?
Hoarding is characterized by the acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions, leading to clutter that precludes activities for which living spaces were designed. It often results in substantial health risks, marked occupational impairment, and significant distress or impairment in daily functioning.1
Collecting is a widespread behavior involving the acquisition and preservation of various objects or experiences. Motivations for collecting can range from personal passion and nostalgia to social competition and cooperation. It’s a complex activity that often reflects a part of self-identity and can be seen as a lifelong pursuit. The psychology of collecting offers insights into both beneficial hobbies and behaviors that can verge on mental disorders.2
Key Differences Between the Two
It can be hard to tell the difference between collecting and hoarding, especially if you are someone who enjoys collecting things. Here are some key differences between the two:
Collecting is driven by a sense of purpose and enjoyment. Collectors are typically focused on a specific type of item and have a clear goal in mind for their collection.
Hoarding is often motivated by a need to acquire and hold on to things. Hoarders may acquire a wide range of items without a clear purpose or plan.
Collecting is a choice that people have control over. Collectors typically have a system for organizing and displaying their collections and are able to let go of items that no longer fit their collections or bring them joy.
A lack of control often drives hoarding. Hoarders may feel overwhelmed by the quantity of items they have and may have difficulty letting go of even the most insignificant things.
Collecting can have a positive impact on our lives. Collecting can bring us joy, fulfillment, and a sense of connection to others who share our interests.
On the other hand, hoarding can have negative consequences. Hoarding can lead to physical, emotional, and social problems, such as clutter and disorganization, financial strain, and isolation from others.
Collecting vs. Hoarding Quiz
So are you a collector or a hoarder? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine if you are a collector or a hoarder:
- Do I have a clear purpose and goal for my collection?
- Do I have a system for organizing and displaying my collection?
- Can I let go of items that no longer fit my collection or bring me joy?
- Does my collection bring me joy, fulfillment, and a sense of connection to others?
- Do I feel overwhelmed by the quantity of items I have?
- Do I have difficulty letting go of even the most insignificant things?
- Do I feel ashamed or embarrassed by the state of my home?
- Do I have trouble using my living spaces for their intended purposes because of the clutter?
- If you answered “yes” to most of the collector questions and “no” to most of the hoarder questions, then you are likely a collector.
- On the other hand, if you answered “yes” to most of the hoarder questions and “no” to most of the collector questions, then you may be a hoarder.
- If you answered “yes” to some questions in both categories, then you may have some characteristics of both a collector and a hoarder.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to be aware of your collecting habits.
How to Overcome Hoarding
If you or someone you know is struggling with hoarding, be sure to seek professional help and support. Hoarding is a complex issue that often requires the assistance of professionals, such as therapists, social workers, and organizers. These professionals can help hoarders regain their quality of life.
Tips for Decluttering and Organizing
Here are some starter tips that may help those who are trying to overcome hoarding. These ideas are better suited for people who are currently living in a safe (yet cluttered) environment.
- Start small. Decluttering and organizing can be overwhelming, especially if you have a large quantity of items. It’s important to start small and take it one step at a time. Choose one small area or one type of item to work on, and focus on that. This will help you feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
- Set goals. It can be helpful to set goals for your decluttering and organizing. For example, you might set a goal to declutter one room per week, or to sort through a certain number of items each day. Having goals will help you stay motivated and focused on your progress.
- Be realistic. It’s important to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Decluttering and organizing can take time, and it’s normal to feel frustrated or overwhelmed at times. It’s okay to take breaks and to ask for help when you need it.
- Get support. Overcoming hoarding can be challenging, and it’s important to have support from others. This can include friends, family, professionals, or support groups. These people can provide encouragement, help with the physical work of decluttering, and offer emotional support during difficult times.
By taking these steps, you can make progress in overcoming hoarding and creating a more organized and clutter-free environment. Remember to be kind to yourself and to celebrate your successes along the way.
- Frost, R. O., Steketee, G., Tolin, D. F. (2010). A brief interview for assessing compulsive hoarding: The Hoarding Rating Scale-Interview. Psychiatry Research, 178(1), 147-152.
- Spaid, Brian Ijams (2018). Exploring consumer collecting behavior: a conceptual model and research agenda. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 35(6), 653–662.