Reader Question: Secret collecting behaviour

Reader Luna wrote to ask us this unique question:

My husband keeps collecting things, especially newspaper and magazine cuttings and he keeps them in separate files. Most of the cuttings are of no use. He does not want to throw away old plumbing or electrical parts but if I throw something away, he does not even notice. Please help me to deal with this problem. He does not do this in front of us but keeps collecting when he is alone. What could be the reason for his behaviour? Please help.

Thanks for sharing your dilemma Luna. I am sure you’re not the only person who has been, or will be in this situation.

There could be many reasons why your husband is collecting items. Perhaps he finds it an interesting hobby but knows you do not approve so he collects things without you watching. There could also be a medical or psychological reasons for his behaviour. While Unclutterer has a plethora of resources on how to organize, arrange, and manage collections, we are not qualified to assess human behaviour – that is best left to medical and mental health professionals such as doctors and psychologists.

Our suggestion is to have an open honest discussion with your spouse indicating your concern about his behaviour. The American Psychiatric Association provides some great advice.

It is important that you remain positive and supportive. Do not judge or criticise. While you may see your husband’s collection as a waste of time and effort, he most likely does not. You may wish to focus your conversation on safety (e.g., avoiding trip hazards, keeping fire escape routes clear, etc.), keeping the collection organized or perhaps confined to a specific area of the home. Show empathy – listen and try to see things from your husband’s perspective.

Also, stop disposing of his items without his consent. This may be difficult for you but if he finds out, it will undermine the trust he has in you and he may have trouble believing you’re acting in his best interests.

You may wish to encourage your husband to see a medical doctor to rule out any medical reasons for his behaviour. Visiting a mental health professional – perhaps the two of you together, would be beneficial in helping to understand each other’s perspective.

Thanks for your great question Luna. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for.


Do you have a question relating to organizing, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject as “Ask Unclutterer.”

11 Comments for “Reader Question: Secret collecting behaviour”

  1. posted by infmom on

    Classic signs of a hoarder. My husband does the same thing. Can’t throw out the old parts because they might come in handy someday. Files things compulsively and once something is in a file it never comes out. Stacks up things he’s going to get around to reading someday. His father was just as bad, especially with the “might come in handy” junk. As if using some grimy old part that’s been kicking around for years is somehow superior to buying a new part and doing it right the first time.

    While I agree with the advice to seek professional help, I disagee with the advice not to throw things out without telling him. If you tell a hoarder you’re gonig to get rid of something, it will upset the hoarder and they will cling to the junk even more fiercely. If you quietly get rid of something, chances are extremely good that the hoarder will not notice.

    My husband had a six-foot stack of technical journals that he couldn’t throw away because he “might miss something.” I begged him to either start reading them or just throw them out (some of them were three and four years old). He could not or would not do it. But when we moved into this house, during the preparation for the move I quietly took all those magazines down to the recycle bin. He never noticed. To this day I don’t think he knows they’re gone.

  2. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    If your husband (naturally it’s always the husband) wants to keep something you want to throw away, it may be a mental health issue but not necessarily the husband’s.

    There is no indication in the original post as to how much space any of this stuff is taking up and like was mentioned, he keeps the newspaper clippings in files. Sounds pretty organized to me. If there were stacks of newspapers and magazines in the living room, that would be a different issue.

    My late father-in-law had some of these characteristics, although their house was not cluttered. He did have a couple sheds with junk, however, which in no way detracted from their quality of life. You must remember that in his case, he grew up during the depression when things were costly and money scarce. He was also an engineer, which explains everything else.

  3. posted by Greg on

    I also disagree on not getting rid of stuff behind his back. When he is not around, get rid of the junk, or at least a portion at a time. I did that, and my gf never noticed. If you don’t say anything, your husband will never notice either.

  4. posted by Heywayne on

    Ahh! There is no sweeter victory than needing a part that you find in your “just in case” stash.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Your hubby needs digital subscriptions and an introduction to screenshots plus scanning apps.

    My sis and I had a severely physically abusive step whose family has various organized crime interests. Your hubby may well have clipped national news recently regarding a sentencing hearing! I keep obits, trial data and more in order to avoid that family. My paper clips are long gone to scans.

    Country/rural families keep parts. Antiquers keep furniture parts, vehicle owners hoard old car parts. Car companies often quit making parts for vehicles over 20 years old.

    If the car/truck/tractor is long gone, he should be listing that stuff at eBay Motors. If the problem is Trash-80 or ’90s computer parts, look for a recycler.

    If it’s worn-out brooms, bales of plastic bags, and rat’s nests, get the poor fellow a check up from the neck up. You don’t want black widows, brown recluses, and dust mites setting up shop.

  6. posted by S in San Diego on

    Consider how you would feel if someone in your home was secretly getting rid of your things. I think there is an excuse if the things in question actually pose a health/safety risk. It’s your home, too, I assume, so you should have some say. I feel for you and wish you luck.

  7. posted by wwaxwork on

    Give him a space that is his. These bins & no more are all the space we have for x collection. Or as long as you keep it all in the spare room/garage/toolshed/man cave. It’s his house too. I found this the hardest part of organizing with my husband. As an example of what worked with my husband was he had boxes & boxes of electronics & computer games. I set up in our office a wall unit of really nice shelves & put his best items on display, I got him help me to decide what he thought was good enough or important enough to him to display. Half way through he started throwing out stuff on his own. In the end we didn’t even fill the whole case & he took the extra space & bought some nice storage boxes so the electronic “crap” is stored nicely along the bottom. Work together to find a solution that works for the both of you. Will it be the super uncluttered house of your dreams no, but it will be the home of both you & your husband.

  8. posted by Mark on

    I save a lot of clippings myself, so I can sympathize with your situation. At our public library you can scan and save to a thumb drive on their copy machine without any fee. So each month I scan the batch of articles and enter it into my collection. I’ve got about a dozen or so categories that I like to add to. Then it’s off to the recycle basket with the paper. I feel good about having the collection, and my wife feels good about not having a lot of paper files around.

    Perhaps he would feel comfortable with a similar system. Good luck.

  9. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    With regards to digital subscriptions or saving photos or any of the other suggestions in this or other articles, I do not feel comfortable with any solution that requires electricity, batteries or a computer.

  10. posted by Marta Bergen on

    There may be an abnormality in Chromosome 14 in hoarders. They haven’t fully researched it, but they’ve found a link. It is very likely a genetic disorder that’s triggered by something – a divorce, a death, children leaving home, something devastating. I grew up with two hoarders and they have different styles and a difference in severity, but I would believe it. I have a touch of the hoarder myself, although I find it easier to throw things away.

    Anyway, please don’t try to change your husband. He won’t change and you will go crazy trying to “help” him. I liked the above suggestion of giving him his own hoarding space. Just make sure it is fire-safe. Many hoarders die from fires or falling piles of stuff.

  11. posted by Shorewood on

    Perhaps another family member could go through the collections with your husband–my daughter was successful where I wasn’t.
    However, it’s your house too. He shouldn’t be able to spread out into shared space. You don’t have to go along with crazy behavior.
    My husband never missed anything I got rid of. He had stacks of ads and catalogs–three and four years old! I gave them to a daughter to recycle (because he would have been upset that I was going through “his” things.) And if something was really trash, like old electrical parts, it went.

Comments are closed.