The Difference Between Hoarding And Collecting

“The maggots are crawling down my hand and biting my wrist, Stan. Can we throw this away?” —Dr. Chinstrap, “Insheeption,” South Park

In A Nutshell

Between 700,000 and 1.4 million people in the United States alone have issues with hoarding, and the difference between hoarding and collecting is largely how a person feels about their surroundings. Generally speaking, collectors are proud of their items and display them, while most obsessive-compulsive hoarders keep their possessions because they can’t bear to throw them away, even though they may be ashamed. They may feel anxious whenever anyone asks them about getting rid of things and, unlike collectors, there’s often an element of disorganization to their stash.

The Whole Bushel

According to the International OCD Foundation, about 1 in every 50 people has a serious problem with hoarding. One of the most common explanations a hoarder might have for their overwhelming amount of stuff is that they’re just a collector. That can be difficult to argue with, but there are some very clear differences between the two sets of behaviors.

Both involve buying stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Hoarders can focus on a handful of particular items and collectors can amass collections of different things . . . so what’s the difference?

Much of it boils down to what’s going on inside a person. Most collectors are those who are proud of their collections, who collect certain things because of the love of the item, or theme, or object. They’re also proud to share their collection with others—they like talking about it, they like sharing stories, and they like showing it to others.

There is also usually a sense of organization to the collector. Things are of value, they’re neatly displayed or organized, and if there’s overflow, the items are boxed and stored carefully. There’s a sense that even though there’s a lot of something—too much, some people might say—it’s all cared for.

You might think someone’s crazy for having 500 different types of pickle jars, but if they’re proud of it, they’re a collector.

Hoarders, on the other hand, may often be ashamed of the state of their house and the items that they’ve amassed. Most hoarders go to great lengths to keep people out of their houses and away from their things; many know that they’re getting carried away, but they can’t help it. They may be embarrassed rather than proud, but they still don’t know how to stop.

There’s usually no organization to a hoarder’s home, no sense that everything has its place. There’s often a wider variety of things that get collected in the hoarder home, and many hoarders gravitate toward free things or stocking up on bargain items that they can’t possibly use.

A collector will find other collectors to share and swap items with, while a hoarder may suffer in isolation.

There’s also a difference in the reason a person accumulates things. Collectors get things because they take pleasure in having them, while hoarders may keep things because they’re afraid of not having them. While a collector might loathe to part with a few prized possessions, it’s because he’ll miss them, not because he thinks something horrible might happen because he gets rid of them.

Hoarding is an obsessive compulsive disorder, and it’s not something that a person comes by voluntarily. Collectors collect because they want to; hoarders hoard because they have no choice.

Hoarding also often has an element of danger involved as well. The behavior is associated with fire hazards in the home, health problems, sanitation problems, and, in the cases where a hoard spills outside the home, there can be issues with town and city regulatory agencies. And when animals are involved, that can escalate the situation to a whole other level.

Perhaps most importantly, collectors and hoarders don’t respond the same to interference from concerned loved ones. Hoarders often need intervention to help keep things from getting completely out of control, and require respect, understanding, help, and usually therapy to get over their hoarding tendencies.

Show Me The Proof

International OCD Foundation: Hoarding Fact Sheet (pdf)
ADAA: What is hoarding?
Psych Central: 10 Things You Should Know About Compulsive Hoarding

  • Lisa 39

    My mom and step dad are hoarders, when they moved from Parkman to Cleveland it took 5 months to pack up and clean up, I talked my mom into throwing out a lot of junk but it wasn’t easy. Just the thought of the Parkman house keeps me on my toes about not hoarding and getting rid of crap I really don’t need.

    • Clyde Barrow

      I watched as one of my good friends developed into a hoarder. It got pretty bad on multiple occasions, with the city coming out to force him to clean up the property multiple times…of course he had the cats, too.

      In 2012, he once again attracted the attention of law enforcement when he was shooting off a replica Civil War cannon in the yard, much to the chagrin of the neighbors. By this point, I hadn’t talked to him in a few years because his mental health deteriorated with the escalation of his bad habits/hoarding. But he managed to get himself arrested, and the cops found his house in shambles, with stray cats running amok, and a ‘collection’ of gunpowder and explosives. He’s serving a 5 year prison sentence because of the explosives, now. However the city charged him a bill to clean up the property which he couldn’t pay, because he’s in prison, and they confiscated his house and property to pay the bill! So when he gets out of jail, he’ll be homeless, and still likely not received any treatment for his mental condition.

      A whole host of problems come with hoarding, and almost always include other mental health issues.

      • Lisa 39

        Wow, that’s awful, poor guy. I think hoarding is a side effect of mental issues, my parents have plenty of of those with paperwork, the Parkman house was so bad that there was a path from the back door through the whole house, when we tackled the living room I found a table with chairs in an alcove with a bay window, they had arts and crafts, books, magazines and just junk piled to the ceiling, it was a long and shitty 5 months.
        I feel bad for your friend and you’re right, he’s not getting the help he needs in prison, if I were the judge I would have had him committed to a mental health facility, people don’t live like that and fire cannons in their front yard because they’re criminals, they do it because there’s something not right going on upstairs.

        • Clyde Barrow

          Exactly. I think the judge recognized mental illness because the D.A. wanted to give him 18 years! The judge stated during sentencing that there was obvious mental issues, and he didn’t have any prior criminal record. He liked to make his own fireworks and noise makers and set them off, but he lived on a residential street, so I can see how the neighbors would be pissed. He might have deserved a little jail time, that’s fair, but to take away a man’s property, cars, and possessions whilst a man is incarcerated is downright mean spirited and fucked up. So now the county has not only made him a criminal, but one that has nowhere to go and not a dime to his name when he’s released..which means he’ll probably be going in and out of jail for the rest of his life.

          As for your situation, I feel for you. That can’t be easy watching family go down that road. Unfortunately, there is very little one can do about it once they get in over their heads, and they will fight to the death to hold on to worthless garbage they’ll never ever use. They don’t realize it doesn’t only effect them, but everyone around them, including strangers, neighbors, family, et cetera.

          • Lisa 39

            Basically the county just turned him into a homeless criminal with mental problems, they didn’t help him at all. Gotta love the American way. Maybe he can go to a halfway house or a mental health facility, there are programs that can help him but someone is going to have to guide him in the right direction. He should really be assigned a social worker to help take care of him or he will absolutely end up back in prison, that’s a very sad story.

            I’ve talked about my mom on lv before, its really hard to watch the steady decline of a parent, this has been an ongoing issue for 35 years and I love my mom but I feel like I’m the parent most of the time, she’s convinced herself that she isn’t strong and needs to be taken care of, she really asks for help with things that are above and beyond normal expectations and doesn’t understand why people say no. I will give her credit for one thing tho, since we cleaned out the Parkman house she’s been real good about not hoarding, she actually throws things in the garbage! Like empty pill bottles, there were hundreds of them in Parkman, I asked her why she didn’t throw them out and she said that her & hubby saved them to store things in, if there had been 50 in a box I wouldn’t have said a word but they were just strewn through the whole house, pointless and useless. Now every time I visit I walk through the house and make sure crap isn’t piling up, I ask her about everything that looks like it doesn’t belong there, my brother and his wife do the same thing, I think my aunts do it also, it really does take a village to raise some children lol. Thank you Clyde, its nice to have sympathetic friends who understand the struggle.

    • My mum was a sort of weird cross between the two. She saved everything she could foresee a possible future use for, but she saved them neatly. Another weirdness was that she had rules about what one was allowed to actually use. There were tea towels, for example, that had been gifts which were not to be touched. She had stacks of them which were still in the original packaging. When I suggested opening them up and using the, as they were intended, she got absurdly upset. So, I’m not sure if collector or hoarder was what she was, maybe a new category needs to be found.

      • Lisa 39

        Wow, that’s odd, kind of cute tho but still odd. I’m glad that she was at least neat about it, that’s way better than unorganized. I have 2 names for it,

        #1, the ocd organized hoarder
        #2, the neat collector of (a) oddities (or b) the mundane.
        I only know about towels so I can’t pick which word, but you can!

        • A tea towel is a version of kitchen towel. They are usually made out of linen and are decorated with silk screen images. Ours were always Australian, with pictures of Koalas and Kangaroos and Australian flowers. Very pretty.
          Still considering possible names for the condition.

          • Lisa 39

            Oohhh they sound pretty! Do you know where they are now?

          • After she passed away, my brother and I divided the towels and used them. Eventually, they wore out, reduced to holes. I loved them. I am considering asking my cousin in Australia to send me some.

          • Lisa 39

            You should do that!

          • RotorRob

            Yeah, my grandma was that way, either roosters or clowns on all kinds of stuff, she was a collector. Very proud of the gifts or things she bought, and don’t touch em.

          • roosters…sounds like my ex mother-in-law.

    • michele

      Yep, dealing with same thing. My mom is a hoarder and every time someone mentions helping her clean up, it becomes a big family fight. She had a plumber in a few weeks agg and was in a panic after he told her the house was in code violation and he could not do the work unless she cleaned up. Yet, nothing has been done and she refuses help.

      • Lisa 39

        You have my sympathy, this isn’t easy to deal with, I wish there was a phone number like 696 kids for hoarders, we could call and they’d send someone to help but there’s not. Does your mom have mental health issues?

        • michele

          She has never been formally diagnosed, but she has lots of issues. Very passive aggressive personality. I too wish.for that magic number. I wanted to call the Hoarders show but they are no longer in production. How did you get yours to move?

          • Lisa 39

            My step dad had a heart attack and they moved here to be closer to bigger hospitals instead of that little town hospital. I’m really trying to think of suggestions to help you but we’re kind of screwed. I know if someone calls and complains the city can come out and make her clean it up or she’ll get fined, I would feel super shitty about doing that to my parents tho. Has she ever acted suicidal? If she has you can call the suicide prevention hotline, they’ll send a social worker to her house and get her help with those issues and her house, because that’s a mental thing.

  • Clyde Barrow

    I’ts Friday, so today I’ll be a hoarder of full beers….tonight I’ll be a collector of empty beer cans. Cheers!

  • Is there a secret to getting KnowledgeNuts delivered via email, as Listverse is?

    • RotorRob

      Yeah, we can’t tell you, it’s a secret.