Hoarding vs. Collecting: Three Defining Attributes

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Hoarding vs. Collecting: Three Defining Attributes


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As people become more aware of hoarding through news stories and watching Hoarders, I’m often asked to differentiate between those with hoarding disorders and people with large or unruly collections. While each individual is unique, I’ve found that three cognitive and behavioral attributes help us distinguish the differences between hoarders and collectors.

Perceiving Value

Most collectors consider the monetary value of their collections to be, at least in part, motivation for ownership. However, those with hoarding disorders tend to keep things that have little (or no) financial worth – and perceive value according to personal interpretations that might seem arbitrary to others.

Visual or functional appeal may inspire collectors to begin collecting, but most plan to sell items for a profit if (or, they hope, when) opportunity presents itself. Collectors also often aspire to upgrade their collections, selling or trading items of lesser value to acquire objects that they (and other members of a collecting community) consider of superior value.

Hoarders discern value differently and are usually at odds with culturally-accepted norms of valuation. Hoarders rarely accept money or are willing to trade the things they amass, and the value they place on objects is based on sentiment or other emotional attachments. For them, the idea of letting go or severing the relationships they have with possessions, even in return for money or something of similar financial value, is painful.

Maintaining Functionality

Perceived and actual value is only part of the equation. The impact of possessions on someone’s ability to live comfortably plays a large role in differentiating hoarders from collectors.

Just as there may not seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why a hoarder has kept something, there’s generally no apparent logic to how things are grouped or where they are stored. The hoard – the mass of uncategorized possessions – takes over the living spaces in a hoarder’s home to the point that the rooms are no longer functional.

Serious collectors usually sequester their collections, both to confer status and prevent damage. A collector may have lots of a specific type of item – china teacups, Beanie Babies or Neil Diamond posters – but can still prepare meals and eat in the kitchen, sleep unencumbered on the bed in the bedroom, bathe in the bathroom and entertain in the living room. On the other hand, a person with a hoarding disorder may be sleeping in a chair or on the floor because the bed is piled high with stuff, making it inaccessible for normal use.

Expressing Pride and Joy

Finally, there’s a vast chasm between the amount of personal satisfaction and delight that collectors feel about their possessions and the resulting emotions in hoarders.

A collector’s pride in ownership is obvious in the way the collection is curated – new acquisitions are analyzed and categorized. Thought is given to how items will be blended into the pre-existing collection. Collectors are proud to display their possessions and take visitors on tours of what they own, and are gratified by the interest others take in their collections.

Collectors’ eyes may light up when the subject of recent acquisitions comes up in conversation – they’re eager to discuss the “official” value of what they own, the manner in which an item was acquired, and any plans for an object’s future. Collectors often expend money or effort to create appealing methods for displaying their collections to show them in the best (literal and figurative) light.

People with hoarding disorders, however, experience shame about the items they’ve amassed. They avoid visitors and evade discussion of what they’ve accrued. Hoarders often keep the very existence of their acquisitions a secret. When pressed, they may exhibit anxiety when trying to discuss the items surrounding them.

Objects in a hoard are usually not arrayed into categories, and there’s generally no intention to display items so they might be appreciated, even by the hoarders themselves. Acquiring and keeping items may give hoarders a sense of comfort, but not joy.

In short, it’s not the number of possessions, or the possessions themselves, that differentiates hoarders from collectors, but three cognitive and behavioral attributes – perception of value, ability to maintain functionality in living spaces, and expression of pride in one’s possessions.




About the Author

Julie CoraccioJulie Coraccio is the host of the international TV show Reawaken Your Brilliance as well as a clutter coach and professional writer.View all posts by Julie Coraccio

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