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'.

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