Are you a “vintage hoarder”? 12 ways to deal when your “blessing” becomes your “curse”

The time has come, I need to come to grips: I am a “vintage hoarder.” No: Not an old woman who hoards everything, although that day may be looming. Yes: A collector who has an extremely difficult time walking away from intriguing vintage — often “useless” — items, of all sorts, that must be rescued. Remember the 39 Fuller Brush spatulas? A high — and low — of my collecting life. But alas, a huge corner of my basement… the storage alcove in my garage… the storage hatch above my garage… two closets… and a significant portion of my attic are already full of such treasures. Yes: I am a vintage hoarder, and I must come to grips. In this post, I talk about the “blessing” and the “curse” of being so gifted in the art of seeing beauty in so many places and things. Yes, the team that wrote the book says it’s a gift. Maybe you have it, too? Read on for my tale, of how this strength can become a weakness, and for some of my ideas of how to deal. Perhaps you have some tales, and ideas, to share, as well?

The Diagnosis

I am not going into great detail on the potential drivers of Vintage Hoarding Disorder (I made this up, VHD, or Vhoarding) — because Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee already have done so in their book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (affliate link, but seriously, considering the subject of this story: Get it at the library!) Important note: This post is not about full-blown, clinical hoarding; that requires professional intervention; yes, read the book to start, but more importantly, consult with a professional.

To better understand my own “lite” version of the compulsion, I read this book over the summer, and it was fascinating. Randi and Gail are both university professors, Randy is at Smith and as I recall, Gail is at Brown. They have studied the issue of hoarding — serious hoarding, not my vintage hoarding lite — for more than 10 years, and I think they are the undisputed experts. Six months after reading the book, here is what has stuck with me from key points in the books that rang true when I consider my own “diagnosis”:

  • Hoarders often are imbued with a very high level of visual and contextual intelligence. That is, they see meaning in objects… they give meaning to objects… much more intensely than others, who can let stuff go… discard it… with much greater ease. This book is amazingly empathetic regarding the issue; it was marvelous — not judgmental at all. Yes, this is it for me — and maybe you, too, I think: We have an incredible visual intelligence… and a huge heart, when it comes to things. I know for a fact, that I could NOT let those 39 Fuller Brush spatulas go to a dumpster! They were strange and wonderful relics of a time gone by. At another estate sale, the last day, I bought a dead woman’s entire life’s worth of personal photographs. I could NOT let those go to a dumpster. They were her life! This is typical reasoning of a hoarder. Just like the books’ title says, we have this incredible ability to give meaning to stuff. We are not really part of today’s “throwaway” society; trashing useful items or items that hold (or better said: which we ‘give’) sentimental meaning, pains us. However, when the hoarding starts to control us or to put crushing weight upon us — not so good.
  • The other thing I remember from the book that rang true for me, is that the act of accumulation can be social. That is: We go shopping, or spend hours on ebay, instead of going out for drinks with friends, or whatever. I know, for example that I am fundamentally introverted. I regain energy from my “me” time. At the same time, I have a very active mind — and as described above — I’m super visual. So during my “me” time, I might go onto ebay or go to the Goodwill — and end up buying stuff.

When a Blessing becomes a Curse

  • Analogy: If you are really detail-oriented in your research when you need to make a decision, the result is that you can make really good decisions. Flip side, though, is when you are so thorough you can’t make a decision at all — you are paralyzed. This is when a “strength” — thoroughness — becomes a “weakness” — indecision. The same principle goes for vintage hoarding. Today, my collections are not so bad that they have taken over my house — all the living and bedroom areas are clear. But, I know my passion has gone too far when … I can’t find what I am looking for… when I think about how, when I die, someone will have to clean all my stash out, and it will be an ordeal… and, when I feel “crushed” by the weight of those unattended piles, tucked away in their nooks though they may be. I know that to process my piles is going to take, like, a month. *Crushing weight of something big un-done = Stress.* Feng shui is all about creating spaces where positive energies can flow and flourish; any clutter and any piles above or below are impeding that energy.

The Cure

I have been *thinking* about strategies more than applying them, yet, alas. But here are some thoughts:

  1. I read the book, which gave me compassionate insight into my dilemma. It gave me facts to help understand why I have this problem. But not in a harsh, self-judging way. Au contraire, it made me feel good about this strength of mine. I am always more motivated by the positive than by the negative. Now, I am kind of super-proud of my book-recognized visual intelligence. Now, my challenge — a positive one — is how to channel that intelligence in a positive way.
  2. When I go to estate sales, I am only going to try to buy stuff that I can turn into art. Visual intelligence = artist. Yes! For example, I have this idea. I love these time capsule estate sale houses — for the stuff, but also for the lives lived there, that I can see through the stuff. Here’s how I will make art out of each estate sale: I will take a big plastic container box with me to each sale. I will look for a substrate (an old not-valuable painting or framed something… something hangable) and then, I will look for little its and bits and pieces from this house and the family who lived there. I will take a photo of the house. And I will keep a copy of the estate sale listing. Then I will collage all the best pieces to create a hangable vintage collage. Only stuff from that house, plus the listing ad and a small photo of the house, gets on the collage. After I have like 20 houses, I will see if I can get my artwork into an exhibition, even if it’s at a local coffee shop. Maybe I will sell them, maybe I won’t. But I think this artistic application combining all the reasons I vintage-hoard will be very gratifying. Please, steal this idea if you like it. Send me pics of your creations. P.S. I will try really really hard not to buy anything else at the estate sale, unless I really really need it, and I tell you, I need nothing. Some other ideas to shop-vintage-to-make-art: Only look for vintage ornaments and learn how to make vintage ornament wreaths like Suzy. Take them to craft fairs at Christmas time. Her wreaths — very well made ones — are selling for $100.
  3. Another strategy for estate sales and shops: Get a nice camera and learn how to use it, start a blog, and take photos instead. (Be sure to get appropriate permissions before taking photos in private spaces and posting photos to the web.)
  4. Get your visual fix by going to museum exhibits. Go on all the tours and to all the lectures — get smart. I once met a longtime boyfriend at a museum. Just sayin’.
  5. Be a decorating maximalist. Pull all your fabulous stuff out of all those piles and put all your favorite items onto your walls. As much as you possibly can. Holes everywhere. Fill every space. I recently began doing this in my office, and a friend who saw it commented, “Gosh, now the room really looks like you.” Well, yes, it does. What took me so long? 🙂 Choose a great paint color then make your walls a collage… a glorious mosaic… of all the vintage lovelies that you have collected. Do this in every darn room, if that’s what you want. Your friends already know you have this thing about vintage. Who are you fooling. Get it all out there, let your freak flag fly. P.S. When you die and they have the estate sale, it will be a lot easier for them to sell it right off the wall than out of boxes. Not to be morbid, but.
  6. Sell stuff on ebay. But you really have to do it. Really really. If you decide this is a strategy for you, I hereforeto order you: No buying anything else, until you sell 10 items on ebay. Once you sell 10 items, you can buy 5 more. But until you whittle the piles down, no loading them up further. Also, you can think of it this way: If you spend three hours accumulating, plan for 15 hours moving the stuff out via ebay. Now, doesn’t that slow you down? Put a starting price of what you paid for an item — and just let it go, let it flow, out into the retro universe.
  7. Open a booth in an antique mall or become a picker for a dealer. See #3, though. You really really have to do it. No making piles.
  8. If you’re gonna be deep into vintage, buy ONLY vintage. Don’t buy new stuff, too. That way, it can still be about the hunt, and you will save money (only if you really buy what you really need) and save stuff from going to landfills. Anytime you can narrow your collecting focus, you make the hunt more difficult, which means you will acquire less. Theoretically.
  9. No “buying stuff to hold your stuff.” This is only enabling. I have cartop carrier, that we never use; it’s in the shed; I have stuff to hold my stuff to hold my stuff. Shoot me.
  10. But, do organize your stuff so that you can get at it for your art projects. Make yourself a beautiful craft space. This kind of organization has a goal: To make space to use the stuff to make art. You will spend more time making art with what you already have, than accumulating more stuff. Theoretically.
  11. Take your clean-up and organization projects slow or you will get overwhelmed. How about 1/2 hour a day.
  12. Become more social: Collect more friends. Call a friend for lunch or a drink after work or a cup of coffee and homemade muffins — even if it’s just once a week or one more time each week. I’m always reading that what makes us most happy — even we introverts — is people. That said, I still know I my “visual intelligence” demands I spend a lot of time searching out visual beauty. Surely, it’s all about maintaining a healthy balance.

So what do you think, dear readers?
Do you have a strong impulse, like me, to vintage-hoard?
What steps do you recommend to keep it under control?


  1. MJ says:

    Re-reading this as i clean out my inbox. Saving it. Describes me well. I do have to move out piles of stuff, but hard to actually do it. Have moved before and left most of my stuff behind. Harder this time. Is it age that makes the difference? Just seems like it’s not worth the effort these days. But don’t want to leave it behind for others to clean up. So ebay /etsy it is. After I take a nap or two………. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. WK says:

    Yes Ronda, it is good to hear your experience . Thank you for sharing and keeping this thread going as we work on decluttering . I am hoping to feel well enough to be able to sell some and have thought that Etsy looked more my style . Small ” hoarding ” victory —I did get a few things out to a Consignment shop . They keep forty per cent which is good for this area . Most keep fifty per cent .And I gave a Christmas Village to a GM rearing her GD . I bought the buildings on sale and then never set it up . I tried selling it on Craigslist for cost but listed it too late . Giving it away freed ME .It felt so good to get that space back visually and mentally

  3. WK,
    I actually sell handmade miniatures on Etsy, and it is generally a site for artisans. There are, however, quite a lot of vintage sellers, and I have found some very nice vintage things there. I don’t think their search engine is as good as eBay’s. eBay has been around longer, and is much bigger, so their technology is most likely better.
    I find it easier to do the listing process on Etsy than I do on eBay, which is where I generally list extras, things I no longer use, etc. That may be simply because I list on Etsy all of the time, and eBay infrequently, though. Also, eBay takes more in fees than Etsy, so my net profit is better with Etsy. Both sites allow you to print USPS postage from home at a good discount, so that’s helpful in lowering your costs for selling. I hope this helps. Ronda 🙂

  4. Char says:

    I’m Out!
    I can’t stand having unused stuff hanging in the “wings.” Yet I enjoy the treasures of others!

  5. Wendellyn Plummer says:

    You must have really good stuff on ebay. I have tried over the years to get rid of stuff, good stuff, on ebay reasonably priced and no takers. So, I just quit. Congratulations to you!!!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Well, I don’t know about that, but I guess I’d say that given the size and diversity of my collections/hoard, I’m cherry picking what I think will sell first/best…

    2. char says:

      I agree. I can’t seem to make it all worth it. Just as soon donate for someone else to enjoy for next to nothing.

  6. Ali says:

    I need to read this book. This is so me— I’m very highly visually stimulated. I’ve recently begun to think I need to let go of some things, I like the idea of opening a booth at an antique mall. eBay is hard for me because I don’t like packaging things and mailing them. I really have a hard time not buying things because I feel like it’s a piece of history that will be lost and forgotten. Maybe a good way to combat that is by taking pictures? That is one reason why I LOVE this blog, it brings these wonderful pieces of our history out of obscurity. I also put a high value on vintage things because I believe they are made better and last longer and have a quality that you can literally feel about them. Great blog post, thank you!!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Ali, yes, I think that lots of us here, who have such a great appreciation — a love — for these old items, even if they are not ‘valuable’ or even more so if they are NOT valuable, have this strength — which can become a weakness or stressor when it takes on too much of our lives. This book made me a lot more compassionate toward people and their collections / hoards / whatever you want to call it. We are all works in progess — and none of us is “one” thing.

      1. Pam Kueber says:

        P.S. more so than taking photos, I find that I have a better time walking away from stuff at Goodwill or estate sales or wherever when I stop and realize: I don’t really need it/have a place for it — and that someone else might. I let it go to them, and that makes me feel better. Before I walk away, yes, I take a photo. Even so, in my moments of ‘weakness’ I buy. Hey, I flipped a set of coasters on ebay a few weeks ago — paid $1.49, got $20 or so!

        1. Linda says:

          I agree with passing an opportunity to make a vintage purchase on to someone else who could possibly enjoy or benefit more from it than I could. That mindset has helped me leave behind countless items I don’t need and I feel more free as a result of it.

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