Difference between Hoarding and Normative Collecting Behaviors

Collecting is a part of human nature. The reason for collecting and the type of objects collected is variable and unique to each person.


Normative collectors are specific in what they collect, are organized and mostly functioning.

Types of Collectors

McIntosh & Schmeichel (2004) classify collectors as such:

  • Passionate collectors, who are obsessive and emotional. They will pay any price for the right item.
  • Inquisitive collectors, who see collecting as an investment.
  • The hobbyist, who collects purely for enjoyment.
  • Expressive collectors, who collect as a statement of who they are. These types suggest some overt motivations for collecting: profit, the emotional thrill of acquisition (intense but short-lived positive affect), pleasure (mild but consistent positive affect), and self expression or aggrandizement

The extent of “passion” put in the collecting activity is varied. In most cases, collecting is healthy and fun. It is when the activity becomes detrimental to the person’s health, relationships and/or finances, when the person feels helpless in controlling his/her collecting activity, that the collecting becomes a “disorder”.

Normative Collecting vs Hoarding


Hoarders generally are non-specific in what they collect, and in general live poorly.

The fundamental difference between hoarding and collecting can be determined from the kind of object that is being collected, the acquisition process, the likelihood of excessive acquisition, the level of organization of the collected objects, the presence of distress, social impairment and occupational impairment issues encountered by the collector (Nordsletten et. al 2013) .

From the table we can appreciate that normative collectors would in general be found to be better off in many life aspects than hoarders.


From my perspective, hoarding and collecting, while both activities involve collecting or accumulating objects, arise from very different needs. Patients from the two groups look and live differently. If the objects of desire among the normative collector is to bring self satisfaction and perhaps aggrandizement, for the hoarder, collecting could be a strategy to hold one’s sense of self in place.

Treat hoarders with empathy

It is this second group of individuals who need more support and empathy from the society. Isolation and mocking (a.k.a reality tv productions on hoarders) do not help the hoarder, but create more anxiety that perpetuate the condition, making life more difficult for the persons. Individual and group psychotherapy is known to help sufferers maintain function in their daily lives.


McIntosh, W. D., & Schmeichel, B. (2004). Collectors and collecting: A social psychological perspective. Leisure Sciences26(1), 85-97.

Nordsletten, A. E., de la Cruz, L. F., Billotti, D., & Mataix-Cols, D. (2013). Finders keepers: the features differentiating hoarding disorder from normative collecting. Comprehensive Psychiatry54(3), 229-237.