Collecting vs. Hoarding

Collecting vs. Hoarding

The word “hoarding” immediately sends chills down the spine of every collector.  It connotes mountains of junk, ever expanding and out of control, swallowing up homes and apartments and fostering nests of cockroaches and rodents.  Filth!  Yuck!  Noooooo!

Okay, relax, because most collectors are not hoarders.  In a country with 258 million adults, experts peg the number of hoarders at five to fifteen million Americans, or less than five percent.

 Still, some collectors will be accused of hoarding by a spouse, friend, family member or acquaintance.  It’s happened to me.  (More on that later.)  Many collectors will face unpleasant scrutiny of their collection, namely:

  • How much do you spend on your collection?  Couldn’t that money be better spent?
  • Is all that junk worth anything?
  • We’re running out of space!
  • What a waste of time!
  • You love your junk more than you do me and the kids.
  • When will this stop?  How much is enough?

If you haven’t heard any of this yet, you will, probably sooner than you think.

But here is the good news.  You can manage and disarm your critics and, through self-appraisal, evaluate your collection and collecting habits to make sure that collecting doesn’t sneak up on you and take control of your life, poison family relationships and lead to financial ruin.  

Here’s a game plan to ensure that you remain a reasoned, well-adjusted collector, not a hoarder.

#1 – Avoid Defensiveness

If your collection is scrutinized or comes under attack, avoid becoming overly defensive or hiding your collecting activities or collectibles, especially with family and close friends.  It’s a part of your life – don’t hide that fact.

Explain that collecting is a healthy activity that helps counter life stress, is a valued coping mechanism and a pleasurable recreation activity or pastime.  Collecting is a form of self-expression, helps us stay in touch with our roots, teaches valuable history lessons, and, often, is very profitable.  There is no need for defensiveness.  

#2 – Don’t Dig a Deep Financial Hole

Collecting is most likely to trigger family rancor when it strains household finances.  Sometimes, the quest obscures the financial realities of building a collection – i.e., you spend yourself into debt, more than you can reasonably service or retire.

But debt isn’t fundamentally bad or wrong.  Debt is often the engine of growth worldwide.  If we lived in a cash-only world and never added debt to our balance sheet, the economy would be a shadow of its current size, depth, and breadth.  It’s perfectly alright to use debt to purchase an item for your collection, with two caveats:

  1. Don’t use debt 100% of the time when collecting, to avoid living beyond your means and building a collection that will eventually become a financial mirage.  (“Where did all the money go?”)
  1. When collecting, use a prudent amount of debt; that is, use debt wisely.  If you can’t service the debt and have no reasonable chance of ever retiring it, you’re overextended.  When collectors are seriously pinched financially, they are forced to quickly sell a portion, or even all their collection, at below-market prices.  The value of your collection evaporates almost overnight, as you wallow in financial desperation.

#3 – Organization & Access Are Key

Collections morph into hoards when they become a disorganized, mountainous mess that can’t easily be accessed or enjoyed.  When it grows so large and out of control that it’s literally a heap of indistinguishable items and nothing can be dug out of the pile, appreciated, and enjoyed, you’ve got a big problem.

I mentioned that I was once called a hoarder, about fifteen years ago, by my lawyer at the time.  Not for a moment did I think he was right.  But rather than arguing the point (it never pays to argue with a lawyer), I used his charge as an inflection point.  I stepped back and took a long, hard look at my collection.  It wasn’t anything close to the dramatic scenes portrayed on Hoarding: Buried Alive.  But it was rather disorganized, wasn’t carefully stored and preserved, and wasn’t displayed to be used or enjoyed.  I knew or remembered most of what was buried in the collection, but no one else, including my (former) lawyer, did.

I took a month to organize and store my entire collection.  Storage and display shelves were purchased.  Items were stored in water and fire-proof containers and storage sleeves and boxes. Boxes were neatly stacked.  When I finished, it was evident that I owned a collection, not a hoard.  And everyone could see that plain as day.  

#4 – Attempt to Display and Interact with Your Collection

If you’re simply collecting for pure profit, displaying your collection, or having ready access to it, isn’t it important.   But one way to build support for your collecting habit among friends and family is to display a portion for all to appreciate and enjoy.  Then, collecting won’t be considered an obsessive- compulsive behavior leading to strained relationships, cluttered living, and financial pain.  No, the fruits of your labor will be evident to everyone in your life.  

The Bottom Line

Collecting should enhance your life and the lives of those around you, a never-ending quest for fun, accomplishment, and financial reward.  Don’t let collecting overwhelm you, morph into hoarding, and become a burden to you and the important people in your life.  After all, every day should be a great day for collecting!

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