Hoarding vs. Collecting

I wrote this piece as a guest post for a fellow blogger Wilma, whose blog has the morbid but highly entertaining name Death Bed Moment. This was part of a guest post offer I rashly made on Twitter one afternoon: you pick the topic, I’ll write some words on it. Any topic will do.

Wilma’s topic of choice: Hoarding vs. Collecting. Since all my collecting looks like hoarding, I felt that I was uniquely unqualified to contribute. And then I did it anyway.

Sometimes I wonder – particularly when I’m standing around in my spare room, mentally organizing the profound mess piled up in there – what difference exists between hoarding and collecting. Then I watch late night television, and as usual, it gives me the answers.

The ad for the $50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Proof will tell you everything you need to know about what separates hoarders from collectors. It’s all in the language. Listen to the ad and you will hear the words:  first; pure; famous; popular; American; iconic; stunning relief; masterpiece; through the roof; reserve;  strict limit; hurry.



That’s four nines!

Just so we’re clear: the $50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Proof is not fifty dollars (it’s nine ninety five). It’s also not the original gold coin; it’s a tribute to a coin that collectors love. It’s not even legal tender. And the gold of the tribute is an electroplate. You’d be buying less than a dollar’s worth of gold, even with gold prices “skyrocketing,” as they say here. It’s a pretty cheap substitute for an actual gold American Buffalo nickel. But there are bound to be a few souls out there with a hunger that can only be named and appeased by one of these cheapo mail-order coins.

It’s the words that give it the aura, that sense of value (but note that the word ‘value’ never appears in the ad). That’s part of what makes it a collectible (even though no serious collector would pay attention to this piece).

Once acquired, a collectible object behaves differently in the household than an ordinary object. The collectible is often given pride of place and is put on display. Unavoidably, the collectible organizes the space around it, so that nearby objects seem to orient themselves around it. Or it goes in a special case, which is then locked away. Whether it’s on display or hidden from sight, the collectible is all about order.

Hoarding is a different situation altogether. The impulse to hoard is like the ideal behind the collectible uncoupled from its socket and spraying all over the place; suddenly, every object becomes vitally important, a thing that holds a memory or an idea or some possibility. Or maybe there’s something shameful attached to the endless acquisition of things, so that closets are packed with boxes of unworn shoes, or albums of clipped coupons merge with piles of flyers, which in turn merge with papers and magazines.

When everything has value, nothing has value. The hoarded items gather dust, become invisible to the hoarder. The filth piles up, and one day you’re a bleary-eyed weirdo pushing your way through narrow paths between ceiling-high hedges of old newspapers and grocery bags. If there was anything of value or real use in there, you’ve hidden it away in a wordless midden heap of stuff. Don’t go doing that, please. It’s weird.