Collecting Versus Hoarding: It’s a Matter of Perspective

Musings By Joschik

Christian is one of the founders of the hobbyDB project. As much as he loves collecting diecast cars (among other things), he sometimes wonders if he takes his hobby just a bit too seriously.


They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The perception of whether something has any value is often very personal. But in the case of collecting, people usually agree that certain items have some value. The difference is usually a matter of degrees and amount. In other words, when does a hobby move from “collecting” to “hoarding?’

collection closet

Is this closet a sign of collecting or hoarding? Depends on a lot of factors…

Consider the following criteria. None of these are hard and fast rules, but if you find yourself on the questionable end of most of these answers, it might be time to sell off a few collectibles.

How much of your collection is  on display? Some collections fit on a bookshelf, and some require a warehouse. If it’s all on display, does it take up most of your house? Is a lot of it in storage? Has a good chunk of your collection not seen the light of day in several years?

Some collectors, rather than being completists, will collect enough of their obsession to fill the allotted space, and then stop. For something like bobblehead dolls, a person might just collect only ones they are interested in. And when their shelves are full, they might dial back their efforts a bit. For diecast cars, many collectors will grab the entire documented set.

This question is really a double-edged sword… if you have a modest display but a vault of hidden goods, you might be over the top. On the other hand, if you have every single item out, to the exclusion of any other home decor, you might want to slow down a bit as well. There’s a healthy balance in there somewhere.

toy collecting

Is this “hoarding?” It’s a lot of stuff, but neatly organized, so probably not.

 

What kind of chaos lies underneath? It’s possible and plausible to have tens of thousands of toys in your collection with only a small percentage visible. But about that stuff in storage… how organized is it? Did you carefully stack and pack and wrap and protect each item? Are they in a climate controlled, water proof area? It’s not like you need to keep your collectibles in a hermetically sealed humidor, but if you just have dumpsters full of stuff randomly tossed in a big pile… yeah, that might be a sign of hoarding.

Do you find yourself buying items you don’t really want just to complete your collection? This can be a slippery slope. Many collectors started off just buying a few items that spoke to them, such as a model of the car they currently drive. Then finding out that the model is part of a series of a dozen cars, they go out and find the other eleven, even though they have no other emotional or historical connection. Is this necessarily unhealthy? Not really. But it begs the question of who’s in control of what you collect.

Did you take out a second mortgage to add to your collection? Did you have to buy a second home to store or display it? Unless you’re talking about large items such as cars, jukeboxes, or arcade games, when additional real estate gets involved, you might be headed into some unhealthy territory.

hoarding or collecting

“Hoarding?” Possibly, if this is the way the items are always displayed.

Do you even know what you have in your collection? Everyone has stared at an item on the store shelf and had a moment of doubt as to whether that one was already part of the collection. That’s normal. Once in a while.

Some sort of checklist is essential for any collection, especially when you get into hundreds or thousands of items. Or if many of them are in storage. (Shameless plug: hobbyDB can be a great resource for documenting your collection, including notes on what you paid, the condition, and the location of the item.) A checklist that you can peek at on your mobile device is really useful. A detailed inventory is also useful for insurance purposes and just in case someone else will be the executor of your estate some day (more at insureyourcollection.com).

Do you ever buy an item just so no one else can get their hands on it? There are many times you know you can fetch a good price for an item by selling or trading, so it makes sense to grab it if you see it. But if you’re just trying to corner the market on that item, maybe you’ve turned the corner towards hoarding.

Do you have extras of your extras? Some collectors like to have every model in a perfect package. And maybe one to display loose in a case. And maybe one or two to trade. And another in case the mint-in-package example gets dropped and a corner of the card is bent. And so on. At some point, this adds up more towards hoarding than collecting.

Do you have trouble parting with those extras in sales, for trade, or as gifts? That’s why you have eight copies of that one Star Wars figure, right? Right?

toy hoarding

We’re going to file this one in the “hoarding” column for sure.

Does your collection stray from its core? For example, if you collect Topper Johnny Lightning cars (1969-71), there are some items such as track sets that are a direct extension of those cars. Maybe you also gather advertisements, lunchboxes and whiskey decanters from that line that relate directly to the core of your collection. And perhaps you collect the reissues of those cars as well. These levels of devotion all sound like “collecting.” If you start acquiring unrelated things that only contain the word “Topper,” “Johnny,” or “Lightning” in the name, you might be trending towards hoarding.

Do you collect variants that are not readily distinguishable from other versions without a microscope? If the UPC code on the back of the package is the only difference from one variant to another, most collectors would not bother calling that a difference. Obsession to detail can be fun, but at some point, it can border on insanity.

Collecting is fun, we get it. That’s why everyone at hobbyDB is a collector of some sort of thing or another. And we’re not judging anyone. We’re just suggesting exercising a smidge of moderation and responsibility. Not too much, of course. That could be also become obsessive.

Do you have any other insights that help distinguish between collecting versus hoarding? Let us know in the comments!

2 comments to “Collecting Versus Hoarding: It’s a Matter of Perspective”

  • William Boyden says:

    Had to snicker and laugh inside (I’m in a library) to myself as I read thru this. Guilty as charged for many of the examples! No whiskey decanters, though. Mostly because, haven’t found any.

  • Dan Wesson says:

    I think that for some, the sheer enormity, or what appears to be enormity in relation to what one had before, becomes the collector’s cherry vision. It’s awesome and awesome is the goal. And when awesome is reached with prize objects, awesome becomes mind blowing. The feeling of doing something outside of the realm of righteousness can become very addicting. The feeling of getting away with something…legally…is a carnival draw. Other factors fall in place as well, for some. Comfort, security, wholeness, completion, love, desire, infatuation…this list goes on. Hoarding fills many voids, but, one must take a hard look at which void(s) it may be filling. If it’s harmless and not causing unhealthy strain(s), go for it. But, it isn’t really all that necessary for the development of success. Like food, eat too much, illness follows.

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