Is collecting a form of creative hoarding?

So you need a hobby? Why not start a collection of stamps, baseball cards, antiques, toys, figurines, thimbles, Coca-Cola products, music boxes, lunch boxes, teapots, beer cans, coins, or perfume bottles?

It seems that some people tend to choose hobbies in which they don’t really do much of anything other than accumulate items. The idea of collecting things never really intrigued me. I did collect baseball cards when I was younger, but I gave it up when I entered high school. The one thing I do collect are my concert ticket stubs. I have quite a few in a scrap book my wife bought me. They used to reside in a box on my desk.

I’m not really sure what thought process goes into deciding one day to start collecting Beanie Babies. Are the Beanie Babies just so cute that one must have them all? Must you start packing away whatever you decide to collect into giant plastic bins to accommodate your new love affair with these items?

I know some people collect things that they deeply cherish and each item is as important to them as the next, but this is Unclutterer and the act of cluttering up your living space with Barbie dolls does not compute. Why not try a hobby that doesn’t result in adding clutter to your lifestyle? There are many to choose from, when compared to collecting, that don’t add that much clutter to your life. Why not try gardening, cooking, hiking, board games, card games, biking, kayaking, skiing, or climbing? Yes, all these hobbies add items to your life, but you actually use them and don’t store them away for safe keeping.

20 Comments for “Is collecting a form of creative hoarding?”

  1. posted by Jamie Phelps on

    I have a collection of Pez dispensers. In the past, I just accumulated as many as I could find that I didn’t have. Now, if I buy a Pez dispenser, it’s usually a rare one from a flea market or something. Right now, I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 of them. Unfortunately, they are in storage right now because I don’t have anywhere to display them.

    Some of them are special and have good memories, but mostly it’s just a nice conversation starter. I never lack for an answer to the “Tell me something interesting about yourself” interview situation.

  2. posted by Misty on

    In our family we have a running joke about “Coke gifts.” My in-laws decorated my brother-in-law’s bedroom with some Coke decorations when he was a kid. Like wallpaper border, quilt, lamp. It was just a decorating choice and held no emotional appeal. But then everyone who saw the room got the idea that this was my BIL’s favorite thing, and when they couldn’t think of anything else to get him as a gift, gave him something Coke-related. It quickly got out of hand, and he had a de facto collection. And since the in-laws apparently think it’s a sin to throw anything out (only slightly overstating there), my BIL had to keep it for years and years.

    Now I’ve switched to giving people consumable gifts (like food items, trips, services), but before I made a conscious effort to do that, I would often see something in someone’s house that they had more than one of, and get them a related item. For many people, their love language is gifts, so they treasure what they got, and it just builds from there.

  3. posted by Jo Paoletti on

    I am with you 90%. Accumulating piles of “collectibles” as a hobby is often just a form of hoarding. But there are exceptions, and your examples of stamps, baseball cards and coins may be among them. My grandfather collected stamps for most of his 74 years, and the total accumulation was about 3 linear feet of albums and boxes. Like most stamp collectors, he didn’t just collect them, he sorted them, studied them, read about their history and learned about the world through them. Likewise, baseball cards were once the means by which young fans learned about their favorite teams and athletes. Don’t you think there is a difference between collecting which results in a pile of stuff with no meaning except as a collection and collecting which is a means of acquiring knowledge?

  4. posted by Cyrano on

    My 2 cents:

    On Display: Collectible Hobby
    In Boxes in Storage: Creative Hoarding

  5. posted by Andamom on

    I think it really depends on what you are collecting, the size of your collection, and how things are arranged. My mother collects stamps, for example, and while everything is contained within books — there are huge numbers of these books (and I don’t get the sense that they are organized in the way that other stamp collector would find most useful). Her husband restores and sells antique fountain pens — and there is an enormous collection of pen parts and full pens in various states of completeness. Both stamps and fountain pens can be worth quite a bit — and though they are not completely liquid investments — they do have a known value.

    I am anti-clutter — but if you see a true value associated to your collection — determine if others do as well. If yes, make sure that the collection is kept well and structured so that it can be sold or donated because even if you don’t want to sell, your heirs may not value your collectibles as much as you do…

  6. posted by hunter on

    You’ve got to watch board games. I play them all the time, but they tend to take up quite a bit of space and quickly fill entire cabinets.

    The only thing I collect at the moment is prehistoric stone tools. So far I have three. They all fit in less space than a shoe box and currently serve as bookends. Not too much chance the collection will overrun the house!

  7. posted by Jamie Phelps on

    In response to your wonder that people prefer hobbies that accumulate stuff: I think that has to do with having something to show for their efforts. Unless I’m a serious gardener or a renowned chef, I don’t have much to show for my efforts in the long run. Of course, the ease with which we can document things with photography on sites like Flickr and blogs and all sorts of things like that, we need to modify our paradigm some. Now, if I am a gardener I can take pictures of my flowers or other plants. If I’m a chef, I can take pictures and get taste testimonials from folks. Or start a blog describing my gardening or cooking exploits.

    I think folks have a tendency to not want to come off as dilettantes or armchair aficionados. It’s time to get creative or get over caring about our extrinsic motivations.

  8. posted by Danny on

    Interesting question here. Like Jamie, I used to collect Pez dispensers, and had a pretty expansive collection. A combination of things moved me away from it, though. One was that I got married and, although she was cool about them, I knew that my wife hated the dispensers. The other was that I realized I have the wrong mindset for collecting. Instead of enjoying the items that I had, I alway fretted over the ones I didn’t, and grumped that my collection would never be “complete.” The day I sold the entire collection on eBay was a huge load off my mind.

    I was lucky to be introduced to ham radio, a hobby that does come with some gear and clutter, but in a manageable way. For me, it combines a fun activity with a joy of accomplishment. And if you just can’t get away from wanting to collect something, you can neatly store the QSL cards from your contacts in photo albums or file drawers.

  9. posted by Nora Rocket on

    I collect tattoos. They don’t take up any space around the house and are never “packed away” in some ignoble plastic bin in the basement…

  10. posted by JustBeth on

    Some collections exist just to give joy. There are a few things I collect, and every time I see them, I smile. That makes them worth keeping around. I still have way too much stuff packed away, but I’m slowly getting rid of things.

  11. posted by hak on

    I may disagree with you on this one a wee bit. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

    I work with a very wealthy man who collects stuff: paintings, cars, and his favorite I think, people.

    The people he collects are employees and recipients of his many scholarships. He doesn’t really “keep” them per se, but I believe he enjoys surrounding himself with this pool of people.

    Aside from the people collection, he does not appear to enjoy his other collections as you would expect. The cars are never driven and the other items are rarely, if ever, used.

    Now that I’m thinking about it, I believe he just likes to admire all of his collections and not really use them. They’re like works of art.

    I’m more along the lines of your average collector. I used to do the comic books, stamps and coins as a kid. Those are all gone now.

    Like you, I’ve evolved to the philosophy that if I collect it, it must have a purpose. Hence, the only thing I’m truly collecting these days are my race numbers from the various triathlons and mountain runs I’ve competed in. Those are more of a keepsake than a true collection as I’m not out rounding up other people’s race numbers.

    Although I’m going all over the place with this comment, I think and feel that each of us has to find a sheltered source beauty somewhere in our lives. A collecting hobby can provide that inspiration.

  12. posted by Jack on

    I think it depends on the collection and the reasoning behind it. I have a friend who is a costumer, for example. She has a number of costumes that she made for herself, for her own enjoyment. Some of them she wears a couple times a year at ren faire type events. Some, she doesn’t even get to wear that often. But she uses them as display pieces and enjoys having them as well as having made them. (She also makes costumes for other people, both as gifts and as a small business.)

    Another friend of mine collects statuary. Not huge pieces, but ones that she likes and that are meaningful to her. Some people would consider them clutter because they just “sit and look pretty” but I don’t think something has to be useful to be worth having around. I think beauty has a use too.

    Of course, I used to collect comics and most of those are long gone now. Too much work and not enough enjoyment.

  13. posted by Monica Ricci on

    Collecting is fascinating to me. I believe there are several methods to collect, and myriad reasons to and even though I’m an organizing expert, I have had collections in my life. As a young girl, I used to have a horse collection. It probably topped out about 20 figurines and at some point in my late teens/early 20s, because I never felt very emotionally attached to it, I gave it away.

    I think people can be mindless about collecting or they can be deliberate and thoughtful about it. Mindless collectors will indiscriminately accumulate anything that falls within the boundaries of their collection. Deliberate collectors seek out the rare, the unusual, the truly “collectible” items.

    For myself, I think the only non-functional thing I own several of are pistol shooting trophies and those aren’t things I bought. Besides that, I try not to have redundancies in my life. That being said, I don’t think collecting is inherently bad as long as it doesn’t impede on your space or your quality of life.


  14. posted by Jennifer on

    I think it depends on the person. My grandfather collected stamps all of his life. He enjoyed them- looking at them, organizing them, and selling them. My husband “collects” stamps- they go in a box or drawer and nothing is ever done with them. That’s very stressful for me 🙂

  15. posted by David on

    Whether collecting constitutes hoarding or not is really a matter of perspective, and as Jennifer mentioned, it depends on the person. Hoarding connotes thoughtlessness, whereas collecting implies mindfulness. Hoarding tends to grow in many directions that may or may not be related logically or aesthetically, whereas collecting is more often focused and clearly delineated; it’s all about INTENTION.
    Hoarding is a basic instinct; survival through accumulation, as opposed to aggression. Our ancestors figures this one out when they turned to agriculture. Collecting, on the other hand, has nothing to do with survival, and everything to do with enjoying the pursuit of pleasure.
    The act of collecting and accumulating items that belong to a single category, be they rubber bands, toe nail clippings, Ming vases, impressionist paintings, postage stamps, coins or aircraft is in itself not hoarding, but a way of understanding the experience of the world around us and making an aesthetic statement on what pleases us most about the subset of items we have chosen to include in a collection.
    Some collectors are excellent at focusing their tastes and can live with collections of 3-5 exquisitely chosen pieces that are representative of everything they love, while other collectors tend to let their pursuit of pleasure devolve into something unmanageable, as if pleasure were all that counted in life, to become life itself. These last types of people are compulsive. The former are aesthetes of the first order. Most people fall between these two extremes, I would venture to guess.
    What strikes me about the minimalist argument is how puritanical we can be when it comes to accepting our aesthetic pleasures. So for example, if you live in a tiny apartment, is it not important to recognize the importance of the pleasure and beauty in our life by collecting, say, spoons and displaying them in a small frame above your dining area? Too much of the minimalist argument has been function over form.
    The real challenge is to find the subtle delicacies inherent in the balance of the two opposite poles. You will recognize a hoarder just as easily as you will a collector, really: just begin to ask questions to locate the balance between form and function.

  16. posted by Cyclegirl on

    Most cyclists I know have terrible bike clutter! I personally have three bikes, many bike parts (sometimes you need to swap them out), a variety of bike clothes (and if you think bike shorts are unitaskers and shouldn’t be bought, try riding for 4 hours without them), pumps, shoes, etc etc etc. So while I highly recommend cycling–it’s great fun and great exercise–I wouldn’t extol it for it’s anti-clutter properties!

  17. posted by Anne (in Reno) on

    I collect books! But not just any books, very hard to find books by one specific author. They live on my bookshelf and get read regularly (first edition, schmirst edition). Right now I have about 20 and they take up less than 1/2 of a shelf so I am not too worried, he only wrote a finite # of books and they are getting harder to find, I stumbled across one in a snooty used bookstore for $300 but I already had it and won’t pay more than $30 for ’em. So I’m sticking with calling that a healthy collection. So there 😉

  18. posted by BlackSoxFan on

    You know, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve been collecting Chicago White Sox cards from the Black Sox scandal for an even longer time. I hate clutter, but I love collecting antique items as well. Whether it’s a vintage poster, a Shoeless Joe Jackson baseball card, or a teak radio, i just can’t get enough. I guess opposites attract huh?

  19. posted by Ginny on

    I have collected quite a few different things over the years & I would have to agree it is a form of creative hoarding. I am a pack rat by nature, so collecting was easy to fall into. I have actually been pretty good about only collecting my favorites & not getting sucked into that mind trap that you have to have it all. I think it a little bit of keeping up with the Jones for a lot of people as well. Especially know with the internet & being so easy to talk to other collectors & see what they have. That is why I have backed of collecting & trying to simplify my life. I thought it was a bit funny though that your ad space has the Barbie catalog in it, since Barbies are so widely collected, LOL.

  20. posted by tinkmcd on

    As for the “why” of collecting (and even hoarding, “creative” or otherwise), some people do think that the items they collect might “be worth money someday” – a notion that may be reinforced by the media (e.g., “Antiques Road Show”). Others maintain that the items “may come in handy someday” – a mindset that is often developed originally through experiencing a period of poverty, or taught to us by a caregiver who lived through such an experience (as, for example, my grandparents and mother lived through the Great Depression) and that in these environmentally conscious times is of course worth cultivating. The key is to keep it within reason: i.e., not to collect broken things, or what Canadian singer/songwriter Marie-Lynn Hammond has brilliantly termed “bits of string too short to use”; and to cut back our consumption of certain items (e.g., stuff that’s overpackaged, or gift wrap and ribbon) so as to reduce the temptation to assuage our guilt by, for example, saving the wrappings for some future use.

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