I don’t think I have ever been consciously collecting stuff. Maybe because I saw how my late dad holding onto every single power tool and building supply that came his way led over the years to an overstuffed garage in which it was difficult to locate what he needed when he wanted to fix something.
So when my son, around the age of six, started collecting stuff such as football cards and various book series, I got a bit nervous. Had my reluctance to having too much stuff made him a hoarder, as my dad hoarding tendencies had made me feel wary in the presence of too much stuff?
Since working as a professional organiser, entering many people’s homes and lives and doing a fair amount of reading on the topic, I’ve realised most people collect something whether it’s free hotel toiletries samples or caps, but that their collections do not necessarily make them hoarders.
So what are the differences between collecting and hoarding really? The table below summarises my findings:
|Limited and specific e.g. caps, free hotel toiletries, Star Wars or Hello Kitty memorabilia etc.
|Wide and random, including stuff other people will see as trivial and trash
|The way the items are kept / stored
Often stashed in a cabinet or left on any possible surface
|The way the items make you feel when you acquire them
|The way the items make you feel when you see them
|Safe yet guilty
|The way the items make you feel when someone sees them
|Proud to show them and talk about them
In fact, you’re probably trying to avoid having visitors
|The way you feel when you need to discard stuff (not necessarily your collection)
|Not necessarily easy, but ultimately feeling freer
|Extremely anxious, quite often resulting in the inability to throw anything
Now before you assume you’re a hoarder, be aware that’s normal for most people to feel some degree of embarrassment because of all the stuff they’ve accumulated and feel anxious at the idea of decluttering.
The signs to watch for if you think you are hoarding are:
- Your “stuff” interferes with your everyday life. The piles of stuff in your home make it difficult or impossible to use most of your living space, to move from one room to another, or to perform daily tasks, such as cooking, bathing or even sleeping in your own bed.
- Your living conditions are unsafe – high risk of tripping or setting the home on fire, or unhealthy – resulting in allergies or even respiratory problems for example.
- You tend to live in isolation and can experience some anxiety disorder or even depression.
Based on the number of people I’ve helped over the last 5 years as a professional organiser, I’d say hoarding touches less than 5% of the population.
Did my son belong to these 5%? No, he was just a collector as many children are. In fact, he has happily let go of all his collections when it was the right time for him to do so. At 15, he asks me once in a while to help him declutter his bedroom because he appreciates it makes him “feel lighter and freer”.
And if I think whether your level of clutter is severe or not, you too should do something about it because whether you realise it or not clutter ruins your life: it harms your health, it hurts your relationships, it derails your career and it drains your wallet. Ultimately it affects your well-being (link to April post). Of course, different interventions need to be taken if you’re a hoarder, but that topic is worth a separate post.
In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me if you too want to learn to let go of things that are just stressing you out and feel in control of their homes and lives again.