Q: I always knew when I was a kid that my mom kept too much stuff around the house but I never really gave much thought to it until a few years ago, after Dad died.
Since then, the amount of junk cluttering up the house is way beyond any sense of reason. I think that Mom is hoarding and I want her to get treatment for it but my older brother says otherwise.
He thinks that Mom is just a collector. He wants us to sit down with her and talk about how to cut down on whatever it is that is filling her little house. But now I am puzzled. My brother might be right, I don’t know. My question is, how do you tell a hoarder apart from a collector? Can you help us?
A: Sometimes figuring out the difference between a hoarder and a collector is difficult. Both get very possessive for what are accumulating. But their emotions in the process are different.
A collector is likely to have a sense of pride in what she is collecting and that can lead to a shot in the arm for increased self-esteem.
A hoarder is likely to get a sense of personal comfort from what she is hoarding but usually exhibit little self-esteem. Hoarders are so desperate at times to keep what they have accumulated that they are willing to sacrifice their personal dignity in the process.
Your mother started picking up more things after your father’s death and that leads to questions of whether hoarding is helping to comfort her through the grieving. You and your brother might try talking about this with her.
There are a couple of other things for you to watch. One is organization. Collectors love to organize their goods. When I was a kid, everyone was collecting stamps. Real collectors had their stamps carefully pasted in an album with side notes documenting each stamp. The album itself was a piece of artwork.
Hoarders are not that well organized. They tend to be indecisive. They cannot decide where to put things. All that hoarders really know is that they cannot throw things away, even if their stuff is filling the house and making reasonable living impossible.
If your mom is hoarding, you might refer her to a local mental health clinic. The professionals there will not call in a moving van to empty your mother’s house, but they can help your mother resolve her anxieties.
Even if your brother is right, you should try to help your Mom make her house a more reasonable place in which to live.