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She says: “Our house is full of his junk!”

Mary says: Tim is a hoarder – our house is beginning to look like one of those TV shows, and I can’t get my car in the garage. I don’t know if I can live like this – how can I get him to get rid of his stuff?

He says:“I’m a collector, not a hoarder.”

Tim says: I am a collector, not a hoarder. I know where all the elements of my collection are. For example, I have an amazing group of vintage surfboards in the garage; they just need a little sealing and waxing to be really valuable. Mary needs to lighten up.

What do they do?

Our experience is that a collector has an organized mess and a hoarder has a serious mess in need of serious help. A collector has a plan for their purchases whereas a hoarder just buys without an overall plan. A collector devotes time and effort toward one or two “collectibles” and is disciplined in their approach, while a hoarder devotes time and effort in “collecting” as much as they feel is necessary and exhibits very little discipline.

Typically, a collector is comfortable in their own skin (with themselves) while a hoarder is not and tries to fill a void with “stuff.”

Regardless, a collector or a hoarder, Tim’s behavior is becoming an irritant to Mary and consequently it is having an impact on their relationship. It is now a problem that Tim and Mary need to address and find a mutually acceptable solution.

If Tim’s collectibles are taking over the house, and an attached garage counts as part of the house, we can understand Mary being upset. Almost every married couple we know experiences this issue in some degree; be it multiple pairs of shoes filling the closet or multiple tools filling up the garage. It has very little to do with the size of the house and a lot to do with the perceived clutter. It is not unusual for one spouse to reach their tolerance limit with a spouse’s “collectibles” during marriage which forces the couple to readjust, reorient and rethink their purchases or trades. Why, because there are at least two people who live in the house and finding a balance for the two of you is necessary so that both can feel comfortable. Sometimes, it isn’t the amount of “stuff” we are collecting (or hoarding), it is really a matter how we are handling the feelings of our spouse. When we ignore our spouse’s feelings, it doesn’t matter what the issue is because our relationship will be in need of repair.

A solution that is 50/50 doesn’t work because that’s like keeping score. But, when each partner gives 110/110, each spouse is giving over and above what is needed. Scripture reminds us that, “Above all, let your love for one another be intense because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” (1 Peter 4:8-9)

Tim and Mary may discover that when they find time to discuss their feelings first, a solution may come about very quickly. When a couple learns to compromise, to find a balance, they will be communicating on a different level.

Deacon Tom Fogle and JoAnne Fogle help prepare couples for marriage.