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  • Writer's pictureLisa Jones

Collecting versus hoarding

As children many of us enjoyed collecting or were encouraged to create a collection. It might be soft toys, autographs, stamps or Kinder Egg toys. As we grow up we may shed our collections, but some people are drawn to collect and have a specific interest that makes collecting items enjoyable.

Collections are useful things, we learn from them and we can visit them in galleries and museums. Private collections can be just as fascinating and sharing collections with other enthusiasts makes the overall activity more sociable and rewarding.

But if your habit of collecting something becomes more obsessive and starts to take over life in ways that are less enjoyable it’s time to evaluate your hobby and determine a course of action to get back on track. With all activities if they become detrimental to your life, something has gone off course that needs correcting. The ways in which collecting can become a problem would be; if you are spending more money than you can afford, if you are spending less time with family and friends than you need to or if your collection is encroaching on living space that you need for other activities.

There is a big difference between collecting and hoarding but it would be feasible to see how one might lead to the other. You might be very attached to some items in your collection but offered the chance of a swap or trade with a more desirable item you would be tempted to enhance your collection. A hoarder would not be able to let go and the thought would cause anxiety and distress. Hoarders would not display a “collection” of items in an orderly way and preserve them in the same way an avid collector would. They have items strewn around their house exposed to damage despite believing they know where everything is.

Here are some red flags that your hobby may be turning into hoarding behaviour:

  • The value of an item may be monetary, but it may also have value as part of a collection despite low value alone. A hoarder would have trouble discarding any object regardless of its value. This may also be true of a collector, so worth looking out for if a collector wouldn’t be able to part with any item or their collection under any circumstances.

  • Collecting should be enjoyable and so any distress caused by a hobby would be problematic. Keep an eye on unhealthy attachment to objects and how it serves the “value” of the overall collection. Consider your initial objectives and what pleasure you get from your collection when you find your emotions taking over. Did you want to achieve a completeness in your collection, finding pleasure in seeking that missing piece to make a whole, or did you want to explore the unknown and learn new things about particular objects – sharing knowledge and swapping information with other enthusiasts? Return to your objective and adjust if needed but monitor your ability to adapt and change to ensure you have a goal in mind.

  • Is your collection displayed or catalogued and well preserved? Have you adapted your living space to house the collection, however big or small (consider tractors versus stamps for example)? If its important for you to be able to look at and manage your collection you will be safely in the collector camp, but once the items become lost and sometimes forgotten, you are nearing the danger zone of hoarding.

  • The last red flag is the most important one. Feeling out of control or distressed by your “collection” and feeling unable to stop means you may have crossed the line over to hoarding. Over time it may have caused relationships to break down, financial difficulty and social isolation – but still the behaviour continues.

If you recognise any behaviour in yourself that feels like your, once enjoyable, hobby is slipping into something less pleasurable seek help or tell someone close to you that you want to change. Depending on how severe the impact is on your life you may be able to make some simple changes to get back on track. Think about the following points and how they make you feel?

  1. Consider selling your entire collection or giving it to a charity shop, museum or another collector. Perhaps start with considering one or two items.

  2. Rearrange your living space and find a dedicated place for your collection. If you have limited space, would you downsize your collection or choose something else to collect? This also applies to digital storage – not only in terms of server space but also accessibility and your realistic ability to catalogue.

  3. Revisit your original goals for the collection. Is your collection something you are proud of and would be happy to show to another person? Again, this is true of digital collections – what is the subject matter/purpose of your collection?

  4. Has the collection become a burden to you? Do you feel you have less time to dedicate to it, perhaps due to your work, family or other activities that you find more enjoyable?

  5. Finally, think about what the collection and the hobby of collecting gives you in terms of enjoyment. Do you meet interesting people and it enhances your social life or has it inspired you to develop other skills such as writing articles or becoming a subject matter expert? Perhaps the objects or items themselves give you pleasure in seeing or listening to them – they may evoke positive emotions for you and provide relaxation and focus that you can’t find elsewhere.

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