Where collecting ends and hoarding begins...

What's the difference between a collection and a hoard?

Is it a question of quantity? How much stuff must you own to be a hoarder? What amount of stuff ceases to be a collection?

Or is hoarding about variety? Perhaps an enormous range of disparate items stops being a collection and starts being a hoard. If there is no obvious uniting principle amongst what is being kept, can it still be called a collection?

Is the value the definitive criteria? Are hundreds of old newspapers, drinks cartons or receipts a collection?

This question is something which is coming to trouble me more and more as I research (not lying-awake-at-night sort of troubling, but troubling none the less). It's a question which a lot of people pose to me when I tell them about my thesis, and it's not one which I can confidently answer.

At the start of the year, I thought I had a clear cut definition that I would assuredly reel out when faced with the question, 'what's the difference?' Collections, I would say, strive for completion. Collectors want the whole set; every first edition of Dickens, every Italian stamp issued since 1900, every Pokemon card. Hoarders have no such framework in mind, I would say, no blanks to fill in their scrapbook; they keep whatever falls into their path. Collectors, however, are discerning.

It wasn't long (at all) before the deficiency of this answer became apparent. What if you collect blue glass, or pebbles, or old books? The limits of these categories are far less stable, so surely the collecting activities are far more likely to appear as, or turn into, hoarding.

I'd be interested to hear what you think, because I'm about to delve into the world of clinical psychology and see what the medical profession thinks; Hoarding Disorder is under consideration for inclusion in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition), due for publication next year. Is hoarding really a clinical disorder? And if so, where do collectors fit into the picture?

As food for thought, I'll leave you with a link to the recent Channel 4 documentary 'Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder', about Richard Wallace from Surrey, England, and his relationship with hoarding objects. It's hard to watch this programme without both warming to Richard and being amazed at his way of life. It seems he initially started as a collector; he says 'the long term objective is to construct and maintain an archive of newspapers and magazines', but without the bespoke storage facility that he desires, the things seem to take on a life of their own, multiplying to a state far beyond his original intentions.

Despite the documentary's initial treatment of Richard and his position in the village where he lives, which left me feeling rather uncomfortable, it is worth pursuing to the end as Richard finally makes steps, in his own words 'to get back in control of things'.

Stamp Collector by Robert W. Service

I thought I would share with you this rather derisory rendering of the gloomy fate of the collector from Robert William Service...

Stamp Collector

By Robert William Service
My worldly wealth I hoard in albums three,
My life collection of rare postage stamps;
My room is cold and bare as you can see,
My coat is old and shabby as a tramp's;
Yet more to me than balances in banks,
My albums three are worth a million francs.

I keep them in that box beside my bed,
For who would dream such treasures it could hold;
But every day I take them out and spread
Each page, to gloat like miser o'er his gold:
Dearer to me than could be child or wife,
I would defend them with my very life.

They are my very life, for every night
over my catalogues I pore and pore;
I recognize rare items with delight,
Nothing I read but philatelic lore;
And when some specimen of choice I buy,
In all the world there's none more glad than I.

Behold my gem, my British penny black;
To pay its price I starved myself a year;
And many a night my dinner I would lack,
But when I bought it, oh, what radiant cheer!
Hitler made war that day - I did not care,
So long as my collection he would spare.

Look - my triangular Cape of Good Hope.
To purchase it I had to sell my car.
Now in my pocket for some sous I grope
To pay my omnibus when home is far,
And I am cold and hungry and footsore,
In haste to add some beauty to my store.

This very day, ah, what a joy was mine,
When in a dingy dealer's shop I found
This franc vermillion, eighteen forty-nine . . .
How painfully my heart began to pound!
(It's weak they say), I paid the modest price
And tremblingly I vanished in a trice.

But oh, my dream is that some day of days,
I might discover a Mauritius blue,
poking among the stamp-bins of the quais;
Who knows! They say there are but two;
Yet if a third one I should spy,
I think - God help me! I should faint and die. . . .

Poor Monsieur Pns, he's cold and dead,
One of those stamp-collecting cranks.
His garret held no crust of bread,
But albums worth a million francs.
on them his income he would spend,
By philatelic frenzy driven:
What did it profit in the end. . .
You can't take stamps to Heaven.