Today’s guest article sheds some light on the differences between hoarding and collecting. Many thanks to Ariane Benefit for sharing her insight.
TV shows featuring hoarders are causing lots of people who never thought of themselves as hoarders to wonder, “What really is the difference between ‘collecting’ and ‘hoarding’?” Lots of people collect. Some of these collections are huge and go far beyond what the average person would ever consider having in their own home. And yet they are considered enthusiasts or collectors, not hoarders.
For example, some people have attics full of Department 56. Some people have their entire homes decorated with Santas year round! Others collect snowmen, or cat decorations, or any number of other thing. In magazines like “COLLECTIBLES” they celebrate these collections and people show off their homes in pictorials. On HGTV, they’ve shown homes where every inch of surface space is completely covered with Santas. Shelves of Santas line every wall. So what is the difference between collecting and hoarding? Where do you draw the line between “eccentric” and “disorder?”
First of all, collecting is a natural human instinct. It comes in many shapes and sizes, but we all have it in one way or another. Out of control or “compulsive collecting” and it’s partner, compulsive “keeping”, are what is referred to by the term hoarding. Personally, I feel that hoarding is a very unfortunate label for this behavior.
Hoarding is such an ugly word. Why would anyone want to think of themselves as a “hoarder” when the actual behavior looks like “collecting” AND we as a society actually celebrate and marvel at collections? Collecting crosses all cultures, borders and languages. Every society honors and celebrates “collections” of things that are displayed in a way that educates, serves some kind of purpose, or inspires awe. The obvious example is museums. Others include libraries, stores, even magazines and blogs. They are all collections of things, ideas, photos, etc. Even our closets, drawers, and filing systems are collections.
There are a wide range of ways that “collecting” disorders are expressed. There is a real difference between someone whose collecting behavior is focused on a single thing that overtakes their life, someone who “collects” animals beyond their ability to care for them, and someone who literally can’t let go of things, even garbage and rotting food. Each of these disorders has it’s own set of mental and emotional characteristics.
Only recently has serious attention been paid to researching and defining these differences. I wish we could change the name of “hoarding” disorders to “collecting” disorders. My hope is that soon the terminology will be refined so there will be less “stigma” associated with the problem, and people will more easily be able to self-identify that they need help to resolve the problem.
For now, I have borrowed from several books on hoarding as well as my own experience to create a top 10 list of signs that you are “hoarding” rather than “collecting.”
Your collections ARE likely to be a hoarding or collecting disorder if any of the following are true.
1. You aren’t able to use some of the spaces or furniture in your home for their intended purposes. For example: if your floors have become storage, and you can’t easily walk on them or you can’t use your kitchen to cook because all the “collections” are in the way.
2. You aren’t able to keep your collections clean and in good condition.
3. You aren’t able to store and/or display your collections in such a way that no harm comes to them.
4. The “collections” are often in your way and keep you from doing things you really want to do.
5. You can’t stop collecting, and feel like you “have” to – even if the collecting is putting you in debt, or keeping you from having other things in life that you want – like being able to have friends visit your home.
6. You want to let go of stuff, but can’t. When you try, you get overwhelmed and go distract or soothe yourself in some other way.
7. You are embarrassed to call in repair or other service people into your home.
8. The collections are starting to control your life and your life is revolving around them.
9. You find yourself feeling overwhelmed instead of overjoyed when you really look at your collections.
10. You aren’t proud to show your collections to others.
Your collections are likely NOT a problem if:
• Your life is functioning well and you are paying your bills and taxes on time.
• You could get an appraiser to verify that your collections are worth something.
• You keep your collections well organized and in good condition.
• You know what you have and how much of it you have
• Your collections give you real “joy” and don’t distress you.
“Healthy” collectors have the space, storage, time and money to actually take care of the things they collect and preserve their value. True collectors value their things and treat them well. And when they can no longer take good care of them for whatever reason, they sell them, or give them away, rather than let them get damaged in any way.
If your collections are creating a negative impact on your life and relationships, it’s time to reevaluate, recognize that you may have a deeper problem, and seriously consider getting help to take back control of your life and your things. Here is a page of resources to get started in your search for help with hoarding disorders.
About the Author
Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed., is a sought-after life coach, ADHD coach, and chronic disorganization expert who has helped hundreds of clients get unstuck, embrace their imperfections, and harness their creative strengths to conquer their clutter and organizing challenges. She is the author of several highly acclaimed organizing books, as well as the popular Neat & Simple Living blog.
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