What is the Difference of Hoarding and Collecting

Many people will refer to themselves as collectors, or pack rats, but seldom few will openly admit to being a hoarder. So, what exactly is the difference? Finding out is key to identifying a problem.

What is the behavior behind collecting?

Although some collectors might be holding onto something special for its potential future value, money is usually not the motivation. Collectors usually build their treasure troves due to an emotional connection to a particular object or idea. Some people collect stamps or coins, while others may collect specific comic books or specialized toys. 

There is a feeling of reward and satisfaction when adding new items to a collection, and for some the thrill is in the search for the perfect find.

The compulsion to collect forms in early childhood when we attach ourselves to comfort items, and when kept in check this can be a healthy and enjoyable hobby.However, in extreme forms collecting can become an addiction.

What is the behavior behind hoarding?

Some people struggle to throw things away, and can become incredibly distressed by doing so. This is usually a sign of disposophobia, one of the symptoms of hoarding disorder. Hoarders have a psychological addiction to collecting and saving items – even at the cost of their own health. People who suffer from hoarding disorder tend to experience a much more intense sense of responsibility for the items they collect, escalating their psychological ownership to an unhealthy extreme. 

Can a collector become a hoarder?

The joy of collecting can spiral into an unhealthy compulsion as the result of trauma. Being somewhat disorganized or having a bit of clutter does not necessarily make a collector a hoarder, but someone can be pushed over the edge if other mental health issues start to take hold. The death of a loved one and other tragic, life changing events may have the potential to turn a collector into a full blown hoarder, especially if other illnesses like OCD or PTSD are present. 


Is hoarding and collecting the same thing?

  • Organization. While some collectors might need a little bit of help clearing some clutter from time to time, hoarders will often be living in full blown squalor. There will be more than a little disorganization here or there, the disarray will impact the entire home. 
  • Access to the home. Collectors will generally have a designated area to store and display their things. Hoarders, on the other hand, can block off entire rooms of their house with the size of their collection, causing them to be anywhere from unsafe to completely unusable.
  • Disposophobia. It’s true that a collector might find it difficult to depart from certain items in their stash, but someone with hoarding disorder will be unable to throw things away even when they are broken, unusable, or harmful to their health. The extreme distress that hoarders feel when discarding their things goes way beyond the begrudging feelings of a collector who has to downsize.
  • Decision making. Hoarders often will not have the mental toolkit for problem-solving, and they will usually be unable to make important decisions regarding their belongings. This goes beyond a collector’s casual unwillingness or aloofness towards getting organized. A true hoarder will struggle to make healthy decisions for their belongings.

Psychological Disparities

There is a psychological benefit to collecting. People often feel a sense of pride or accomplishment towards a nicely displayed, intentionally curated collection. Hoarders, on the other hand, tend to feel strongly ashamed and isolate themselves from others so their collections can never be seen. A hoarders’ impulse to collect stems from stress, fear, or trauma, and their mental state can decline dramatically the longer their disorder goes unchecked. 

How to recognize a hoarding disorder

Know the symptoms of hoarding. An obsession with collecting, coupled with poor decision-making skills is a tell-tale sign. Other signs of hoarding include an inability to get organized, a willingness to live in unsanitary conditions, intense depression, and extreme anxiety towards discarding things even when they are broken, rotting, or have no value. 

Call for professional help

The cleaning professionals at Hoarders911 can help your loved one reclaim their life from hoarding with our innovative 7 Step Hoarding Solution. We handle everything, from professional organizing, to junk removal, all while providing compassionate care. Ask about our handyman capabilities, and how we can transform any hoarder home into a warm and welcoming environment.


Many hoarders will claim to be little more than collectors with a bit of clutter, but once you learn the true signs, it’s easy to tell hoarding and collecting apart.. Being able to identify hoarding vs collecting apart could save a life.

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