Posts Tagged ‘collecting’

Is It Collecting Or Hoarding?

Monday, August 15th, 2011

by Ramona Creel

An organizer friend of mine recently posted a quote by Nate Berkus (you may know him better as Oprah’s “style guy”) that started a lengthy conversation about hoarding. Since this seems to be such a popular topic with the media, a growing problem for my clients, and relevant to the whole “cleaning out” theme — I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you.

A Not-So-Fine Line
This is what Nate had to say — “Here’s the difference between a collector, which I consider myself, and a hoarder: A collector has no shame involved. It doesn’t keep you from having people over. It doesn’t impede anything in your life. In fact, it enhances it, because it’s so fun to keep looking for the collection.”

My response is “maybe.” My mother considered herself a “collector,” but that didn’t make my life any easier when I had to clean out her house after she died. Perhaps the difference has less to do with shame and more to do with focus.

I think true collectors focus in on one or two things they love to accumulate, while hoarders keep lots of everything — collectors seem to have more of a plan or a goal when they acquire something, while hoarders do not — collectors also care about what will happen to their collections (passing them on to someone who will value them), and hoarders definitely don’t. It seems as though everyone in the organizing community has a different take on hoarding. There’s even talk of making it an officially classifiable mental illness. Check out the proposed DSM-5 criteria:

  • Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions (this difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding)
  • The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible — if all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities)
  • The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others)
  • The hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease)
  • The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, elusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in dementia, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder, food storing in Prader-Willi syndrome)
  • Specify if “with excessive acquisition” if symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space

That defines the behavior, but it doesn’t look at the reasons behind it. So I asked my colleagues to share their thoughts about where hoarding came from — I’ve summarized and paraphrased their responses:

“Hoarders tend to define themselves by the objects they own, while collectors do not”

“Collectors tend to keep their collection in a way that keeps themselves and those items ‘safe,’ while hoarders do not take safety into account”

“Hoarding is just collecting that has gotten out of control”

“Collections are confined and contained, while hoarding occurs in random piles that eventually end up taking over”

“Collections are organized — hoarding is when there is so much that it cannot be located”

“Collectors see the world as full of abundance and celebrate that — hoarders experienced lack in their life and feel they need to keep everything because they might need it someday”

“Hoarders feel they are less of a person without their things — collector keep themselves separate from their things”

“Hoarders accumulate items to boost their self-esteem, while collectors create something that can be admired and possibly have financial value”

“Collectors have a healthy emotional attachment to their stuff (it makes them feel good), but hoarders have an unhealthy attachment (it makes them feel bad”

“Collecting improves quality of life, but hoarding deteriorates quality of life (income, relationships, peace of mind)”

“Collectors choose one or two categories of items to collect (carousel horses, hummels, first editions, etc.), while hoarders keep anything and everything”

“Collectors become attached to things of value — hoarders become attached to what is essentially trash (newspapers, recyclables, string, used aluminum foil, butter tubs, spoiled food, etc.)”

“Collectors accumulate out of love, hoarders accumulate out of fear”

“Collectors choose to collect, while hoarders are driven by compulsion”

“Hoarders often hide their accumulations away, while collectors display theirs with pride”

“Collectors look for unique additions to their collection, but hoarders will accumulate numerous identical or duplicate items”

“Collectors enjoy sharing their collections with others — hoarders find that eventually their obsession with ‘stuff’ alienates their friends and family”

“Collectors get a positive sense of satisfaction when they add to their collection — hoarders are simply trying to alleviate negative feelings (anxiety, inadequacy, worry, pain, etc.)”

“Collectors recognize when their collections have become unmanageable and do something about it — hoarders live in denial”

“Collectors still insist on a functional living and working space, while hoarders are willing to sacrifice this for their ‘stuff’”

“Collectors only add new items when they feel it will enhance the collection — hoarders can’t resist the urge to constantly acquire more”

“Hoarders refuse to part with anything they own, while collectors are often willing to sell portions of their collection if the right price/buyer comes along”

“Hoarders can’t tell the difference between what is valuable and what is not — collectors understand very clearly the value of the items they own”

“Collectors honor their collections, while hoarders have a less respectful relationship with their ‘stuff’”

“Collectors will stop collecting when they feel they have enough, but hoarders never feel they have enough”

“Collectors will get rid of a collection if they tire of it — hoarders feel compelled to continue accumulating even when doing so loses its joy”

“Collectors can draw healthy boundaries around their collecting activities, while hoarders are obsessed”

“Collectors create conscious themes with their collections, while hoarders experience an uncontrollable pile-up of random things”

“Hoarders value things over relationships, while collectors keep their things in perspective as secondary to the people in their lives”

“Collectors can trade or sell their collectibles — the things hoarders accumulate are only valuable to them”

“Collectors pay very close attention to their collections, while hoarders often allow their ‘stuff’ to languish unused and serving no purpose for years”

“Collectors take very good care of their things — hoarders let their belongings rot and decay and go bad”

“Collectors take into account their space restraints and are constantly making room for new items, while hoarders just pile more on top of what is already there”

What do you think — where should we draw the line between collecting and hoarding?

Copyright Ramona Creel, All Rights Reserved.

Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity — traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities — clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you’ve always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona — read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order — at http://www.ramonacreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ramonacreel and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ramonacreel.