Healthy hobbyist or hoarder?

hoarderEveryone seems to know someone that collects a bunch of stuff. Maybe that someone is you. Many would consider the items picked up in dumpsters or from friends getting rid of their stuff to be worthless junk, hence their reason for getting rid of it. Most people would simply pass on the junk about to be tossed, but not that one guy, he wants whatever crap you’re throwing away. To that collector who deems himself an artist or thrifty fella who is being frugal, it’s a treasure. Surely, someday they’ll need to buy it or they’ll be able to use it, so why not grab it now, save later, and just put it somewhere until you need it. Then, there are the squatters, who take free living to the extreme to make a political statement, as opposed to those who do it by necessity. But when is enough, enough?

How do you know if your frugality has become obsessive and is a detriment to your life or others? What do you say to someone who has so much junk they have pathways through their home to navigate through it? I hear a bunch of excuses for keeping crap these days in the name of frugality; this article will help you distinguish for yourself and others if the collecting and frugality is a healthy hobby or a potential disorder for concern (that may someday overtake your life).  Moreover, this is to help those who may have no idea they’re already a hoarder (or know someone with the attributes), get the help they need. I will not get into the psychology of these disorders per se, I”l leave the why do these people hoard for another article in the near future. Last but not least, I’ll leave you with a link to a cool blog I found in writing this article along with some other useful resources.

The Difference Between Hoarding and Collecting

Frost & Hartl’s (’96) definition of clinical hoarding:

(1) the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or of limited value; (2) living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed; and (3) significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

Now, for an alternate explanation of the above definition, and another viewpoint on the difference between a hobby and hoarding:

Professionals look for these three things when evaluating compulsive hoarders:

  • An inability to discard objects coupled with anxiety if a hoarder does try to throw things away
  • Impaired ability to function due to hoarding
  • A cluttered living space that has become so filled with objects that it can’t be used effectively

Hoarders typically fixate on keeping things such as:

Newspapers, old mail circulars, discarded food packaging, plastic containers, and in extreme cases, items like hair, fingernail clippings and even feces.

Conversely, hobbyists collect things of value worth money to others. If they were to sell their collection, they could make money from it. Just because your brother has a collection Nintendo games that line his bedroom walls from floor to ceiling doesn’t mean he’s a hoarder (even if he doesn’t play half of them), just as a mother who has 2,000 precious moments dolls doesn’t make her a hoarder. It all seems to come down to if others see value in what you’re collecting.

So, it’s time to ask yourself or your friends or family, are you keeping a bunch of stuff that’s worthless to everyone but yourself?

If you have determined either you or someone you know has a potential hoarding problem, don’t fret! Use the below tips and get in contact with a professional therapist.

Show empathy. Showing empathy doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with everything the person says. But it does mean you are willing to listen and to try to see things from the other person’s perspective.

Don’t argue. There is simply no point in arguing about hoarding. The harder you argue, the more the person is likely to argue back. The only solution is to get out of the argument.

Respect autonomy. Remember, most of you are dealing with an adult who has freedom of choice about her own possessions. Try to engage your loved one in a discussion (rather than an argument) about the home and her behavior. Ask your loved one what she wants to do, rather than just telling her what you want: “What do you think you would like to do about the clutter in the home?” “How do you suggest we proceed?”

Help the person recognize that his/her actions are inconsistent with her greater goals or values. Ask the person about her goals and values: “What’s really important to you in life? How would you like your life to be five years from now? What are your hopes and goals in life?” Discuss whether the person’s acquiring or difficulty organizing or getting rid of things fit with those goals and values. This is most effective if you ask, rather than tell: “How does the condition of your home fit with your desire to be a good grandmother? You’ve told me that friendships are very important to you; how well can you pursue that goal, given the way things are right now?”

If you have been accustomed to arguing and threatening and blaming, your new approaches will surprise your loved one, and it may take a little time before the person begins to trust you. Try these methods in several conversations and notice whether the balance seems to be tilting in the right direction. If so, be patient and keep up the good work.

Neat blogs on hoarding:

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