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. KarenQuilt says:

    Digital photography! Great idea! It is a great way to house the things we would love to own but know it would be best not to drag “one more item” into the house because it would just go into storage. We could even start blogs and share all our digital “finds” in our blogs! Then we can go look at them any time we want or share them with whoever we want — and we can add stories, if we are so inclined. And none of this would take up space. We could actually do this with everything we have hoarded too…..if we can stop long enough to unpack and photograph them.

  2. Hiding says:

    I’m a full-on hoarder. I wish I could confine it to just vintage items. I haven’t read all of your comments yet. So please tell me what happened to your spatulas? I’ll bet they are much better quality than the cheapo imports available today.

  3. The Hoarder's Wife says:

    I read this book the beginning of the year, as well, and it was fascinating. Matt Paxton, of A&E’s Hoarders, released a similarly interesting book about his experiences. It’s hard to let go of things or to walk away, especially if you know it might be a hard-to-find piece.

    I struggle with this in my own home, as a restorer, and as the wife of a hoarder in denial. I fully admit it’s hard to throw away something my grandmother had for years, even if it’s broken, too old to be useful, or neatly packed away and not taking up too much space. I have a closet full of vintage bakeware right now that needs to be pruned down and organized. It’s still tough.

    I know I saw a couple comments above about it not being a problem if one’s spouse/family/friends wasn’t complaining; I guarantee it would be, but they wouldn’t be able to see it as such. That’s the trouble. It’s a collection, even if it’s piles of unknown things. It can still stress the hoarder out, without them understanding why. It certainly effects everyone else in the house. It causes immense stress in mine. I wish he’d read this book.

    Sorry about the massive, off-topic comment.

  4. Joe says:

    Reading this and laughing, crying (I am drinking red wine it’s totally normal) and understanding myself. ‘Visual intelligence’ huh? I will have to run that by my long suffering husband. My addiction to collecting has got worse over the years and if it’s old/vintage/retro and a bargain I can’t pass it up. If I’m having a strong day I leave it where it is, after carrying it around the shop like a baby, put it back and then inevitably go back to look for it a couple of days later to find it gone! and then feel I was vindicated and should have bought it because obviously someone else also saw the potential/value and bought it after I had put it down…..mind games, all in my head.

  5. pam kueber says:

    The mind game I play with myself in these kinds of instances: I think, “Do I really need it?” If “no,” then I say, “I will leave it for someone who really does.”

  6. Karol B. says:

    Relating to this so completely! I now know the reason I love this blog. Thanks so much Pam for sharing this informational insight into myself as well as fellow “artists”. Ideas are stirring…..

  7. Brian D. says:

    I sympathize with your Vintage Hoarding as I seem to have the same disorder , probably worse though . I think I can help , if you are willing to part with one of your Dishmaster Sunburst panels it may go a long way to easing you into the difficult transition back to a ‘normal life’ ? I’ve been searching a long time and all I can find are your pictures , teasing me . I did try contacting Dishmaster as you suggested but no luck , What do you think ?

  8. Callie says:

    Most hoarders I know end up ruining the stuff they hoard. It’s a shame because it ruins it for the rest of us and drives up prices. Just think, there are more people out there who would love and cherish the items that are hiding under the bed. Just let it go.

  9. Lisa says:

    It’s a social thing,indeed. I would much rather spend time alone thrifting or crafting than socialize with human beings. What can I say? I’m my own best friend.

    But I do resell 98% of my buys. It still gets overwhelming, but the mental attachment to “things” just isn’t there for me.

  10. lisa says:

    I have started a new way to conserve my money and curb some of the hoarding ..when I go to an estate sale or thrift shop I lock my money in the car… that stops my impulse buying and the water stays turned on at my house. If I want it bad enough and it is a super cannot pass up deal then I will make the extra effort to go back for the money.. who needs to shower anyway 😉

  11. I HATE extraneous stuff in my living space, but I SO love to rescue things (I like your spatulas, by the way), and I have great difficulty chucking things. Selling online is my answer. My basement is full of “junk,” my living area is not. I can be pleased to know my pile in the basement is a rotating pile that makes me money. If it stops rotating I’ll have a problem. I can’t tell you all the things I list because I can’t bear to throw them out (here’s my latest example: https://www.etsy.com/listing/184208335/cafe-curtain-rods-tension-rods-vintage – notice the “I don’t know why anyone would want them, but I’ll let YOU decide that” in the description). Thankfully, people will buy ANYTHING.

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