Collecting versus Hoarding

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Collecting versus Hoarding: Introduction

Many people have some type of collection, whether it is crystal figurines, antique post cards or something as large as cars. When there is a particular item that someone enjoys, they will purchase similar items to increase the value of the collection as a whole. A hoarder typically is overrun with stuff, as opposed to having an arranged display of a particular item. Hoarders may have an abundance of hidden food, dead animals and trash throughout the residence. When examining collecting versus hoarding there are a variety of ways to distinguish between the two.


Someone who is a “healthy” collector has the money, time and space to invest in the items they are collecting. A collector has a respect for the items, values them and takes precautions to preserve them. Collecting is most likely not a problem when:

  • The collections are well organized
  • Items are in good condition
  • The owner knows what and how many of each item they have
  • An appraiser will verify the items have value
  • The item(s) being collected bring the collector happiness
  • The collector does not become stressed out when viewing the items
  • The collector has a fulfilling lifestyle and is functioning accordingly
  • The collector is not in debt, behind in bills and at risk of losing everything due to the collecting.

A true collector knows the value of each item and is willing to part with them when they are no longer capable of taking care of the item. Instead of risking damage to a collectible, the person will be willing to sell, trade or give it away. A “healthy” collector does not allow the collections to cause negativity in the environment nor do they typically affect their relationships or lifestyle.


Although many hoarders value their possessions, the typical items a hoarder possess do not have monetary value. Hoarding, a behavior that presents itself through a variety of symptoms is difficult to observe in the majority of situations. Someone who is a hoarder does not typically allow visitors into the home, therefore the often massive piles of “stuff” goes unseen by others. A hoarder will typically present with behaviors such as:

  • They are embarrassed to let others into the home, including repair or service personnel
  • The person will often become overwhelmed when looking at their “collections”
  • A hoarder does not show their collectables to others
  • There is an uncontrollable urge to continue collecting, regardless of the lack of money available or if they are deeply in debt
  • The items they consider to be collections are not kept clean and are in poor condition
  • The is no proper storage or display areas for the items collected
  • There are spaces in the residence, including pieces of furniture that are unable to be used in the way they were intended due to items being stacked on top of them. For example, sofas or dining room tables have become so packed with items someone cannot sit at or on them
  • Floor space is overrun with items and a path has been made to travel from room to room
  • Collections are in the way and prevent the hoarder from completing the tasks or activities they used to complete
  • When they try to discard an item, they become extremely stressed, may have panic or anxiety attacks and refuse to let the item go
  • The items have become the control factor in their life
  • Their home has become unsanitary due to hoarding of items and/or animals
  • The environment is unsafe for a human to inhabit.

Hoarders are often referred to as “pack rats” by friends and/or family members. Their life is severely affected by their behaviors, preventing them from enjoying an active social life. They often are embarrassed about the condition of their home and fear being discovered. The hoarding may become so extreme that it carries out from the home and into a vehicle, outside buildings or work space. Many hoarding cases are not recognized until an emergency arises and police, fire or medical personnel have been called to the home.


PubMed Central, Psychiatry: Sansone, Randy MD, Sansone Lori MD. Hoarding, Obsessive Symptom or Syndrome

PubMed: Hoarding in a compulsive buying sample.