cactus stored in basement during cold weather

Are You a Hoarder?

“Wow, look at all those cactuses. What a hoarder!”

The word “hoarder” is thrown around a lot, never in a kind way. It’s become a shortcut for a house that’s stuffed to the gills, too crowded in the speaker’s opinion. But as with most things, there’s a spectrum.

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization’s Clutter Hoarding Scale notes the key differences between a collection and a hoard.

The owner of a collection enjoys organizing their items and showing them to others. It’s often crowded but there’s a clear strategy for making sure all items are cleaned, ordered and displayed.

The person who lives in a hoard often knows where most things are, but doesn’t put a priority on showing them to others or arranging things for easy viewing.

– summary by Joyful Surroundings

I had a client who was a devoted Star Wars fan and owned boxes and boxes of Star Wars figurines, many posters, and multiple DVDs. They wanted to keep it all, but had no interest in collecting it all together, displaying any of it or spending time looking at it with anyone else. They didn’t have a collection because it wasn’t curated.

By way of contrast, I have a husband who has a lot of cactuses. He carefully tends them, trying to help them thrive in this unforgivingly cold climate. He methodically and laboriously takes them down into our basement as soon as the temperatures drop and then brings them back up once it’s safe to keep them outside once more.

He knows the scientific names of all of them, can tell you where he got each one from, and beams like a doting Dad whenever they flower. His Instagram account is 90% cactus flowers, 10% pictures of our dogs. In short, he takes great care of them, has them effectively displayed and most definitely enjoys showing his collection to anyone who’s interested.

Star Wars memorabilia boxed up in random places, untended, ungrouped and undisplayed? Hoarding behavior.

Cactuses nurtured, displayed and shared? Collecting behavior.

If I were to open a cupboard and find a few cactuses amongst the linens, or notice that cactuses were scattered throughout the house without being taken care of, then his collecting would have morphed into hoarding behavior.

Fortunately, cactuses have sharp, spiky bits. You won’t brush past one in a random place without the puncture wounds to prove it. If all our things were spiky, it’s possible that there’d be a whole lot less clutter to contend with!

cactus outside
Cactuses outside in the summer


  1. My husband and I are both collectors of various things. They are enjoyed, arranged, and displayed. I tend to collect smaller things like Pez dispensers, miniature objects, and sparkly things. Steve’s things are larger like porecelain signs and woodworking machinery and tools.

    Your husband’s cactus collection is amazing! It sounds like he derives a lot of joy from tending to his garden.

  2. Wow! What an amazing collection. I love to work with clients who have collections. They get great joy out of them, so the work is fun.
    My husband collects vintage stereo equipment and record albums. I don’t think it’s hoarding because he has space for everything and has stop collecting now that the space is full. But I don’t think he gets much enjoyment out of his collection.

    1. Interesting. I’ve come across quite a few clients who felt an obligation to their collection because they used to enjoy the items, but the thrill had definitely gone. I wonder if he’ll feel moved to let them go one day?

  3. Love this easy to understand delineation between hoarding and collecting. I also love your husband’s cactus collection. I don’t have a collection, but I do have a few, and I can relate to the joy of getting a cactus flower!!


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