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Are you hoarding? Or collecting?

As many as six million people—one in twenty—may be affected by hoarding, according to the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. (Los Angeles Times, July 17.) In the book, the authors took on a tricky question: When does collecting actually become hoarding? Coauthor Frost, a Smith College psychology professor, also penned an interesting analysis of the topic in the New York Times on December 30. “One misconception about the difference between collecting and hoarding is the idea that collectors save things of value and that people who hoard save things with no value (i.e., trash),” he wrote. “While people with hoarding problems often save things others would consider trash, they save useful or valuable things in excess as well. Many people with hoarding problems have homes filled with recently purchased items that have never been opened or have the price tags still attached.” And unlike collectors, hoarders don’t care about the aesthetic value of the items: “Motivation to display items is lost … and once in the pile, objects are seldom looked at again.” Perhaps the goal is the biggest difference between collecting and hoarding; as cultural historian and author Philipp Blom puts it, “collected objects are keys to another world and guarantors of immortality. That is why our urge to collect is impossible to ignore: it touches the very depths of who we are.”

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