— Life —

Hoarding vs. Collecting: A Delicate Distinction

pin it

I asked my son the other day, “You don’t think I’m a hoarder, do you?”

“No,” he said. “More like a crazed squirrel who doesn’t know it’s spring.”

This didn’t make me feel better, and I can tell you precisely why. A crazed squirrel is a hoarder with mouths to feed. Survival is her boss, and she’s on a deadline. Back in her tree cavity, a bunch of mewling babes await her, and they will be there tomorrow and the next day into infinity… poor thing.

I’d rather be a bachelor hoarder; one who amasses with no purpose, who answers to no one about his weird psychological compulsion.

A couple years ago I shopped the estate sale of a bachelor hoarder and it was fascinating. His midcentury-modern ranch sat on a wooded rise in bucolic Elm Grove, Wisconsin. As I waited in line I began to sense the scope of what lay beyond the front door. Shoppers entered and exited within minutes, hands empty, shaking their heads. One gentleman quipped, “Gonna need to hose off in my dog’s tub after walking through that!” I smiled at him but inwardly, I scoffed at his yellow-bellied squeamishness.

Note to the reader: I’m a big talker but a short walker. Within twenty minutes, I had my scarf to my mouth, breathing shallowly while stifling an urge to run after that man and get directions to his dog tub.

Never in my life have I seen such filth. I’ve seen summer camp filth… college dorm filth…. but this was different. This was aged filth. It raised up easily, turning into little personal tornados that encircled each shopper. Slow movements were best.

In the back bedroom piles of posters, still in their original plastic, leaned against the wall. Thank the Lord for plastic wrap! As I lifted a poster out of the stack, I noticed the carpet was edged in a thick layer of dirt. How odd that the dirt was so linear. I peered closer and realized it wasn’t technically dirt. It was a swath of dead bugs, thicker than my shoe, and it ran the perimeter of the room like a fringed border on a rug.

Yet even through the pestilence, I could see the man had an eye for the finer accoutrements of life: cameras and lenses; top-of-the-line stereo components; 1920s art deco pottery; rock ‘n roll memorabilia; albums for miles and a collection of road maps from every corner of the globe.

So let’s be clear. The only difference between a hoarder and an archivist is cleanliness. If this guy had employed a cleaning lady, his house would have been a virtual museum. He would swing open his door to reveal rooms full of interesting objects, evidence of a vibrant life well-lived. Instead, his place is Wisconsin’s version of Grey Gardens, a toxic embodiment of an unhinged soul.

If you are bothered by an inner voice–or an outer voice belonging to a concerned citizen–telling you that your accumulation of things is getting out of hand; that you are nearing the precipice of a neurosis; that you are engaged in hoarding; there exists a simple solution: Pick up the dust cloth and get to work.

Photo by Christopher Flynn. 







  • 1010ParkPlace March 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    So wonderful!! Your humor is contagious! I’m inspired to perhaps write about a collector I “knew.” While she was neat and tidy, she was a piece of work! xoxox, Brenda

  • Lisa Ricard Claro March 8, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Haha! The hubster and I are in the process of downsizing. I didn’t think I was a hoarder/collector, but my attic says otherwise. The yard sale will be huge . . . AFTER everything is cleaned up to a sparkly shine. 🙂

  • Linda March 8, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Well there’s a big distinction I never thought of! Filthy nice stuff is simply filth. Clean nice stuff is archival. So sad that this man’s treasures were too icky to live on to enrich other lives.

  • Susie March 10, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I probably should not have read that while eating lunch! On the other hand, I ate less ha ha. Downsizing is a process and sometimes hard to part with things. Also, parting with things that you have no idea what there worth can be scary. Nevertheless, if they don’t bring me joy or they have served their purpose then they are going to serve another…and happy to say it’s all clean!

  • Rena March 11, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Oh I can’t stand that! My mother is from the depression era and never wants to throw anything away! When we moved this last time I took her to my cousins for a week and went to town getting rid of things. 13 bags to Goodwill! Garbage bags! The only thing that keeps her from becoming a hoarder is me! I’m to OCD to deal with it and hubby is even worse!

  • You Might Also Like


    Sign up to our list and we’ll send you our sought-after guide “45 Ways To Change Your Life”
    I'm happy you've joined us! If you like what you read, I'd love for you to stay and subscribe to our updates by email. We have a great community of like-minded women, and your presence can only make it stronger.