When you’re working on a large collection, it’s easy to see clutter add up as your assortment grows. With an increasing amount of items, does your collection actually translate to a hoarding problem?
Despite your concerns, the answer is no- definitely not! No more than all beer drinkers are alcoholics. Hoarding is a specific and defined psychiatric disorder that often co-occurs with anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions.
What is Collecting Classified as?
The practice and behavior of collecting is as old as humanity. Prehistoric humans collected flowers, rocks, and other nonfunctional objects. Even many higher-intelligence animals, like chimpanzees, also engage in collecting for fun.
A collector’s behavior is not a disorder of any kind. In general, it is a prosocial, happy, and fulfilling pastime that takes a similar role in people’s lives as pop culture or sports. However, psychologists do point out that some collectors, while not hoarders, develop negative habits while collecting. This is sometimes called the “dark side” of collecting.
Light Side vs. Dark Side of Collecting
The light side of collecting behavior is most commonly reported by collectors. It includes:
- Excitement of the hunt
- Satisfaction and pride when finding a new item
- Feelings of pride or contentment at looking at one’s collection
- Social bonds with other collectors
The dark side is not usually as strong, but it is almost always present. Most collectors, at some time or another, experience the following:
- Decreased payoffs over time
- Compulsive behaviors
- Need for more collections to manage anxiety
Which side is stronger in you? Do you feel happy when collecting, or just compelled?
Although even those deep in the dark side are not “hoarders,” it is likely that they are not spending their money wisely or meeting all of their emotional needs. A good question to ask yourself, to see if the light side or dark side is stronger, is: “Does the idea of quitting fill me with anxiety?” If yes, you may need an alternate way to manage your anxiety in order to put the joy back into collecting.
Hoarding disorder occurs in about 2-5% of the population. It is treatable, and mild cases sometimes improve on their own.
The primary symptom of hoarding disorder is nonspecific collecting: you don’t just go for specific toys or cards, you go for everything: newspapers, letters, old kitchen tools, torn clothes. Other symptoms include mental distress about the amount of stuff you have collected, purchasing items that you do not want or need, and having trouble performing household tasks due to clutter.
Hoarding behavior usually occurs due to depression, starting in puberty. A primary symptom of depression is avoidance: your mind wants to avoid getting hurt or stressed any more. This makes it very hard to accept the stress that comes with deciding to throw something away.
If you have trouble getting the mental energy to throw away anything, you may want to look into treatment for depression or chronic stress conditions.
We all know, deep down, if something is joyful, compulsive, or distressing. If it is joyful, you’re doing great. If it’s compulsive, you may need to find additional outlets in your life. If it’s distressing, you may need professional help.