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Collecting vs. Hoarding

Are “Hoarders” The Same As “Collectors?”

Hoarding is not the same as collecting.

Generally speaking, collectors are proud of their possessions and enjoy showing them off. An avid car collector would enjoy driving his vintage sports car around the block; a boy who collects baseball cards would be proud to show them to his friends. Collectors often find joy in their collection and go out of their way to impress others. They make reference to their collection during conversation or go to conferences to meet others with similar interests.

Collectors often have a specific location in the home for their collection. The child who collects baseball cards may have his cards in a special folder. Others may have their collection of stamps, cameras, figurines, or dishes laid out in a hutch or bookcase where viewing them is easy. Additionally, collectors budget and save their money to accommodate the purchase of new items and feel satisfied when adding them to the existing collection.

If you are a hoarder, however, you may be embarrassed by your possessions. You purchase items with the intention of finding some function for them but end up feeling embarrassed by them. When one item is purchased, another will follow, followed by another and so on until there are more items than places to put them. This process usually results in clutter.

Clutter is the product of either having too many items with not enough storage or feeling overwhelmed by the possessions and not knowing where to put them. Of course, you may hoard and not have clutter because you organize everything and put it away. However, most people who hoard do have clutter.

It is fairly common for hoarders to be so embarrassed by their possessions that they try to dissuade people from coming over to their homes. You may prefer to meet people at restaurants rather than having friends over for meals. This is the exact opposite of collectors.

Hoarders prefer to purchase new appliances when the old ones break, because the thought of having repairmen at the house is too overwhelming. Steve, a hoarder for fifteen years, confessed that he did without a refrigerator for three years because he could not let anyone in his home to repair the one that broke, and he could not have a new one delivered because there was no space for it. As you can see, although there are a few overlapping qualities between hoarders and collectors, there are plenty of differences too.



  • Feel proud of their possessions
  • Keep their possessions organized and well maintained
  • Find joy in their possessions and willingly display them to others
  • Attend meetings or conferences with others who share their interest
  • Enjoy conversations about their possessions
  • Budget their time and money around their possessions 


  •  Feel embarrassed by their possessions
  •  Have their possessions scattered randomly, often without any functional organization
  • Have clutter, often resulting in the loss of functional living space
  • Feel uncomfortable with others seeing their possessions, or outright refuse to let others view their possessions
  • Often have debt, sometimes extreme
  • Feel ashamed, sad, or depressed after acquiring additional items.

3-part definition of clinical hoarding :

  • The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value (Frost and Gross, 1993).
  • Living spaces are cluttered enough that they can’t be used for the activities for which they were designed (Frost and Hartl, 1996).
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

Hoarding has three components:

  • Acquiring possessions compulsively – compulsive buying, or collecting free things.
  • Saving all these possessions and never discarding.
  • Not organizing and maintaining all the saved possessions.

People who hoard keep things for the same reasons as anyone else:

  • For sentimental value – emotional attachment or to remember an important life event.
  • For utility value – the item is, or could be, useful.
  • For aesthetic value – the item is considered to be attractive or beautiful.

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