Jo-Ann Boepple: The line between collector and hoarder

Published 8:16 pm Monday, January 10, 2011

My daughter called me a hoarder when she visited me over the holidays.

boeppleThat term was offensive to me, so I thought I would try to find the distinction between a hoarder and a collector. I think of myself as a collector. Once again I consulted my trusty base of knowledge, Wikipedia, which is becoming a household name.

My source says that hoarding can be called “pathological hoarding” or “disposophobia.” It is the excessive acquisition of possessions and failure to use or discard them. Wow! Sounds like every collector I know.

Some people collect automobiles that they may never use nor do they intend to use them. Others collect everything from matchbooks to shoes, wooden tools to war relics, antique dishes to dolls and railroad signs to toy trains.Some even collect large train cars.Would you classify them as hoarders?

Wikipedia says that hoarders are commonly called “pack rats” and are sometimes called “obsessive-compulsive.” That is not my definition of OCD behavior.

If this is a hoarder, what is a collector?

The thrill of collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing and maintaining whatever items are of interest to the individual collector.

The items collectors collect may be antique or simply collectible. Antiques are collectible items at least 100 years old; collectibles are less than antique, and may even be new. Collectors and dealers may use the word “vintage” to describe older collectibles. Most collectibles are man-made commercial items, but some private collectors collect natural objects such as birds’ eggs, butterflies, rocks and seashells. Items which were once everyday objects may now be collectible since almost all those once produced have been destroyed or discarded. Some collectors collect only in childhood while others continue to do so throughout their lives and usually modify their aims later in life. Collecting postage stamps, matchboxes and postcards are examples of forms of collecting which can be undertaken at minimal expense.

Most of the attributes assigned to the hoarder do define me, such as acquiring and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value or having living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed.

All of this describes the antique dish collection that is in my basement along with a varied collection of other useless items.

But what is the collector?

Some collectors start purchasing items that appeal to them, and then slowly work at acquiring knowledge about how to build a collection. Others (more cautious or studious types) want to develop some background before starting to buy items.

The term antique generally refers to items made at least 100 years ago or more. In some fields, such as antique cars, the time frame is less stringent — 25 years or so being considered enough time to make a car a “classic,” if not an antique. Traditionally in the area of furniture, the 1830s was regarded as the limit for antique furniture. However, Victorian arts and crafts, and some types of 20th century furniture can all be regarded as collectible.

In general, then, items of significance, beauty, values or interest that are “too young” to be considered antiques, fall into the realm of collectibles.

Many collectors enjoy making a plan for their collections, combining education, stimulation and experimentation to develop a personal collecting style; and even those who reject the notion of “planned collecting” can refine their “selection skills” with some background information on the methods of collecting.

Now, while some of these items are small and don’t require much space such as stamps and postcards, others such as clocks or travel trunks require a large space.

Now, this should clear up the difference between hoarder and collectors. For me, I prefer to be called a collector and if you see my daughter, tell her for me.

And what does she collect? M&M items, many of them from all over the world, in many languages and if you think they are just the small, colored pieces of chocolate that don’t take up much space, most of her collection is made of advertising items or containers. Some are taller then she is.

She is a collector and not a hoarder.