Why Do Hoarders Hoard?

The term “hoarder” is one you hear a lot these days. At one time the term was used to refer only to those with a profound and psychological inability to limit their attainment of possessions and/or the inability to dispose of them once they have been attained. Nowadays, the lapel of hoarder is pinned on anyone who has a lot more possessions than is usual. As an estate sale professional, I have first hand experience with the hoarding behavior of the American people, at least those on the west coast. A few days ago, I read an excellent blog called So Many Things, So Little Prosperity, (written by William L. Scurrah, a retired college English instructor who writes about “a deeper view of important ideas and issues”) that presented some of his ideas about why there are so many hoarders in today’s society. In my comments on his post, I added my findings to his, and this is basically what I wrote.

Most hoarder households I have worked on (and there have been many) have fallen into one or more of these categories:

  • Adults with a home full of their own purchases who have inherited the household belongings of their parents or other relatives. This may be directly related to the category of people who hang on to things because of the memories associated with them, but it may have other reasons: people are often so busy that, at the time, it just seemed easier to put all that stuff into the garage or storage unit until one has more time to deal with it. It can also be a form of perceived savings for the future.
  • People (mostly the elderly or those who have limited mobility for whatever reason) who have been lured in by the ease and the promises that they have found on late night shopping channels.
  • People who have made a lifestyle choice or have been forced by the economy to downsize, which leaves them with all the huge household trappings crammed into a much smaller space.
  • People with an ingrained thriftiness that butts up against the cheap products being produced today, which can lead to an abundance of broken purchases that that the person still hopes can be fixed or somehow still be of use.
  • People who hang on to stuff because of the memories associated to them. Maybe it’s due to the fast pace at which today’s society changes, but many people–the elderly chief among them probably because they have so many years to hold on to–cling to things that still are “the way they were”.
  • Many are collecting as a safeguard against a bad economy: buy at a cheap price now (often by shopping at garage sales or discount stores) so that they will have it later when it will be much more expensive to purchase.
  • Rarely have I encountered a hoarder of expensive symbols of a conspicuous consumption (though I did just do a downsizing sale in an expensive community that contained exactly that). Perhaps I have found less examples of this kind of hoarder because family members are often happy to obtain all of these types of hoarded possessions, and it therefore doesn’t make it into the sale.
  • People with a compulsive or pathological hoarding disorder, which (according to Wikipedia) ” is the acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them) in excess of socially normative amounts, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Compulsive hoarding may impair mobility and interfere with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, hygiene, sanitation, bathroom and sleeping.”

Whatever the reasons, our society is indeed becoming a hoarder nation. It’s good for my business (who else wants to deal with the masses of possessions), but I’m unsure what it says about our lifestyles in the long run.


Filed under October 2011

3 responses to “Why Do Hoarders Hoard?

  1. I am just the opposite of a hoarder. I would love to give everything away. As soon as my children get their own households, I’ll be divesting of belongings.

    • I do a balancing act. When I feel I’ve got too many things, I start trying to give some of the things away. However, I have a fairly high tolerance level of what is too much. Being in the business I’m in is like being an alcoholic who owns a bar: you are tempted to drink it all, but you don’t want to drink up all of your profits. You have to develop a certain amount of restraint if you are to succeed.

  2. Pingback: Thrifting Blog Digest-#1 |

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