Hoarding and Collecting: What’s the Difference?

I’m putting my foot down. From here on out, I will no longer collect anything.

I used to be a collector, not of valuable paintings or artwork, just . . . things.

When I was in college, I started collecting coffee mugs. As a University of Nebraska student, I just had to have a mug with a big red “N” on it. I collected more mugs from places I visited. I felt cool once because I bought a mug from a restaurant owned by Michael Stipe while visiting Athens, Georgia.

I also had a collection of itty bitty boxes. They served no real purpose; they were just trinkets from more places I visited, like Cusco, Peru; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; or Johnson Space Center. I wanted to bring back a little piece of these places because I feared my memories alone would be inadequate.

Of course, there were the books! Historical novels, classical and contemporary rhetoric, qualitative research methods, statistical textbooks, poetry, an extensive Willa Cather collection, and many more, including the two textbooks I co-authored. I was proud to call myself a bibliophile.

Image by Min An at http://www.pexels.com

I finally realized that I used very few of the things I collected. Of all the coffee mugs in my cupboard, I kept using the same three. Once I finished a book, I found a place for it on a bookcase never to touch it again. And those little boxes? I grew increasing tired of dusting them.

Is collecting just well-planned hoarding? According to The Minimalists, The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus lists hoard as a synonym for collection. Maybe there isn’t a difference between collecting and hoarding.

When does collecting start to feel like hoarding? For me, it’s when you no longer find value or utility in those things you’ve collected. Also, you lose the ability to keep your collections organized, and it starts to interfere with your day-to-day life and living space.

Here are a few ideas for keeping your collecting from turning into hoarding:

Start With a Huge Clean-out

Go through all your stuff and just get rid of as much as you can. I didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t need three sweaters of virtually the same color. It was difficult at first, but I also realized that I didn’t have to declutter everything in just one day. It was a start, the beginning of a long process of rethinking my approach to my belongings.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you’re not sure whether to get rid of something, ask yourself, “When did I last use this?” If it’s been over six months, get rid of it. Is there a possibility you’ll need it again? Maybe, but is that reason legitimate or is it a way to avoid making a difficult but much-needed change?

One In, One Out

Here’s a rule many seasoned RVers know. For each new item you bring into your home, get rid of something you already own. This rule is a good way to prevent new clutter from building up. Sometimes when I’m out shopping and I see an item I want to buy, I try to thing of something I can get rid of. Most of the time I end up walking out of the store.

Image by Mouse Photos at http://www.pexels.com

Make Time for a System

Do you have papers piling up and can’t throw out? Try using manila folders to organize those papers into files you can retrieve easily. Keeping things organized is a great way to avoid clutter. If you feel like you don’t have time to do this, just try 5 minutes a day. It’s about progress, not perfection!

Go Digital

I don’t have photo albums because all my pictures are stored in my laptop, tablet, or phone. When I need a new book to read, I use the Libby app to tap into my local library (especially since the library is still closed because of the you-know-what-virus). If you have a favorite DVD that you watch now and then, by all means, hang onto it. But digitize the rest.

When Your Hoarding Should Concern You

This post is not about the serious hoarding that is the stuff of trashy reality TV. For some people, hoarding is a serious issue, something over which they have lost control, possibly because there’s an underlying “logic” or psychological issue that increasingly affects their mental, relational, and physical well-being. This is where intervention or therapy might be necessary.

What are your thoughts on collecting vs. hoarding? Don’t forget to leave a comment below!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Okay.. “Of all the coffee mugs in my cupboard, I kept using the same three.” I do the same thing with basically everything in my life. Makeup.. clothes… Cookware… Everything. This was a good read!!! Thank you for some new ideas!!!


  2. Going digital is indeed a life changing. Thanks for sharing ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. unsettled essence says:

      Thanks for your input. To your point, it’s never been easier to minimalize our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, absolutely. It takes much courage and time to do a lot of things especially when it comes to decluttering stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

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