Guiding Someone Through “Collecting” Versus “Hoarding”

I’ve been a Brownie leader for nearly 10 years, and for almost every one of those 10 years, I have been “blessed” with many craft supplies. Although I’ve kept many (fewer recently), that doesn’t make me a “hoarder” – a term that has become rather mainstream lately. With TV shows like “Hoarders” and “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, people will often describe their home (or, more often than not, a friend’s or family member’s), trying to determine if they fall into this category.

I strongly believe that my grandmother was a hoarder (she was never diagnosed), and although my family saw some of the warning signs, we didn’t realize the magnitude of the situation until she had to move to a retirement facility. It was then that we realized that she likely hadn’t slept in her own bed for a couple of years. It was very difficult to come to this realization, but I say this because it is the driving force behind what I do professionally. Although I work with disorganized individuals of all levels, I have a strong desire to help hoarders themselves and their families. This is not something to be taken lightly. There are many layers to this disorder, and unfortunately there is no quick, easy fix.

If you believe that a friend or family member is a hoarder, please, please, please do not throw things out behind their back. You may think that they won’t notice, but they will. And as soon as they realize, they will likely be angry at you, and a sense of resentment may evolve. Also, they will often turn around and bring in more than you had thrown out in the first place, thereby exacerbating the problem. Simply be an encouragement, and support them if and when they are ready to face what lies ahead. If you find it overwhelming, there are support groups available.

Here are some of the red flags that may suggest that one should seek additional help.

1. Collectors showcase their items. They are proud of their collection, and want people to be able to see all of it, if not at least a portion of it, and perhaps rotate the items on a regular basis. Also, often collections have value. The value may vary based on demand, buyers, and interest, however it has value. A hoarder is not able to show off their items. They are reluctant to have people in their homes because of the state of the home. Also, the items accumulated typically have little or no value, and there are multiples of items. For example, a collector may have 30 Cabbage Patch dolls, in the original boxes, in mint condition. A hoarder may have 10 broken computers from the 80’s that are essentially obsolete.

2. A collector will have specific areas for their collection. They may have a cabinet in the dining room and some stored on the mantel piece, but they have a specific home, and it is confined to a specific area. A hoarder is unable to use a space for its intended purpose because a large quantity of items (various items) have made that space unusable. For example, he or she may not be able to have guests stay over because they are unable to access the bed in the guest room. A very strong warning sign is whether or not a person is able to use the kitchen without it being a hazard – use of a bathroom is another.

3. Lastly, a collector will enjoy their collection. They will look around proudly and appreciate what they have taken time, and often substantial money, to accumulate. However, in a hoarding situation, there someone experiences significant distress about the amount of stuff the person has. The distress does not necessarily have to be experienced by the person who is accumulating the items, as it may instead cause emotional turmoil for family or friends.

If you would like to discuss a specific situation, please contact me directly. I look forward to reading your thoughts below. Please keep them of a general nature, without specific details. Thank you.

Liz Voce. Photo credit: Takeshi Ochiai.

Liz Voce. Photo credit: Takeshi Ochiai.

By guest blogger Liz Voce. Liz is a Professional Organizer in the Toronto area. She stays busy (but very organized) running her company Sort It. Read others posts she’s written for GirlGuidesCANblog, including: The Crafty Cluttered Guider, and Thrills, Chills and Spills.

Author’s bio: Liz is not a psychologist, but has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and is currently taking additional courses through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization in order to continue pursuing education on this topic. She is not able to diagnose someone as a hoarder.

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10 Responses to Guiding Someone Through “Collecting” Versus “Hoarding”

  1. Reblogged this on Sort It ~ Professional Organizing for the Toronto Area and commented:
    My second guest blog post with the Girl Guides of Canada. Please let me know your thoughts!

  2. Evenwith less stuff, I probably wouldn’t showcase it. My “hoarding” as safety came about because my mother-surrogate and her daughter would steal, break, or remove things when I wasn’t around, or sometimes when I was. My stuff/my space wasn’t mine, wasn’t secure, ever. I learned like a Pavlov dog that if I “showcased” something it was the thing that was derided, broken or stolen first.

    When I clean an area up, I therefore go through this whole routine. . . . Will someone make fun of it? Will someone steal it? What if it gets broken?

    My long-term goals are four-fold: 1)get rid of stuff 2)keep enough that I can reasonably manage it 3)get new habits so I can keep my home clean and 4) feel safe enough in my own home that all of the above isn’t a struggle

    Even when my house is clean and/or empty, I don’t showcase stuff. Obviously, this is a bigger problem than what you talk about, but it’s an interesting notion for me. if I didn’t, well, getting rid of the stuff would be easy. I can and do get rid of things, but if I do it too fast? I panic.

    I’m working on it!

    I just cannot imagine ever being where I’d “showcase” anything. Having it out? Yeah. Having things displayed in such a way that they aren’t likely to be broken? Like on a pedestal? Yeah. But because I’m “proud” of the collection? I doubt it, no matter how much work I do!


    • Thanks for sharing teacup! We’re not really one’s for “collections” either, so we don’t have much out. Other than my husband’s “Superman Corner”, we’re pretty low key 😉 Again, thank you SO much for sharing!

  3. Cara says:

    Hi Liz – and thank you! I am in the process of moving to a larger home and am in the middle of deciding how to incorporate an organized, reasonable and normal amount of Brownie Supplies (aka “Brownie Mountain”) into my new home. It is so difficult to balance “Be Prepared (and keep everything because you might need it)” with “I can get more later so it is not necessary to take up space on the off chance I’ll need eight leftover somethingorothers.” I think I’ve got it, but it is really really difficult. What do you do with the leftovers when you’ve decided that they must go? That’s tough too.

  4. Hi Cara 🙂 Thank you very much for commenting! I tend to pass them on to smaller units, especially when I have only a few left over. Otherwise, I try to incorporate them into another craft. Really, though, if it’s been in my furnace room for more than 2 or 3 years (because with Brownies, you can’t do the same craft twice in a row), then I let it go. I may have great intentions, but they simply don’t get you far enough. Plus, I hate to say this, but some crafts go out of style. If you’ve been in guiding for 30 years and are doing all the same crafts, you may need to rethink that. So, if the craft supplies just aren’t practical for your style, then pass them on, or Thrift Store them.

  5. Sara says:

    I am in the same situation as Cara, I have a ton of Spark and Brownie Supplies and have no idea what to do with it. It’s so hard to purge that stuff because you might need it later. In other areas of my life I am a “if it’s not used, get rid of it” but with my Guiding supplies, I have a tough time of letting go.

    • Sara, I can relate. I can’t begin to tell you how long I held onto some old game books. But honestly, the person who gave them to me did so because she no longer wanted to hold onto them (she had no use for them either). I find that if I toy with the idea of letting something go, then later on when I come across it again, I’m more willing to actually follow through. Once you start to consider parting with those unused items, then you will start to rationalize letting them go, rather than reasoning with yourself to keep them. What do you think? Is there someone else who could use them?

  6. Crafting can lead to a lot of clutter, can’t it?

    I help people all over the world declutter and create homes they love (free masterclass available from and I often work with people who are creative. When you love to make things, it’s even easier to justify keeping something on the basis that it ‘might come in handy someday’.

    I advise people to organise, organise, organise their craft supplies so that, if something does ‘come in handy’, you remember you’ve got it and know where to find it! And to be realistic. If you haven’t used something in a long time, the chances are you won’t. Can you let go of things that would be easy/cheap to replace?

  7. Pingback: Bumbling [Brownie] Badges | GirlGuidesCANBlog

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