children with shopping bags

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article about the growth of the self-storage industry referred to the U.S. as a “hoarder nation.” The term “hoarder” gets tossed around a lot, but do we really qualify as a “hoarder nation”?

Technically, we’re not. According to the American Psychiatric Association, anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent of the population suffers from hoarding disorder, which is considered a mental illness. The association draws a clear distinction between hoarding and collecting.

“Hoarding is not the same as collecting; collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them,” the association says. “People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly.”

Obsessed With Stuff

If you use that description as a guide, the U.S. doesn’t fit the by-the-book definition of a “hoarder nation.” But experts do agree that Americans are obsessed with their stuff. In fact, the National Retail Federation predicted American shoppers would spend $616.9 billion during the 2014 holiday season, up about 4 percent from 2013.

“In this über-consumerist culture of ours, it’s becoming easier to accumulate too much stuff and not have enough time and energy to get rid of it,” said Terrence Shulman, founder of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding.

holiday shoppers

Consumerism has contributed greatly to our accumulation of stuff, experts say.

Danielle VanDusen, media coordinator for The Betty Brigade, a personal assistance and concierge service, said she thinks the “hoarder nation” label is pretty accurate.

“There are hoarders literally everywhere. They could be in your own neighborhood and you wouldn’t even know it,” VanDusen said. “The fact of the matter is, we are such a consumer society that is constantly after the next big thing that almost everyone just has too much stuff.”

Indeed, a survey taken in October 2014 for SpareFoot found that 27 percent of American adults described their homes as either “very” or “somewhat” cluttered.

An ‘Abundant’ Society

Professional organizer Robyn Reynolds, who has worked on the show “Hoarders,” isn’t quite as quick to tag the U.S. as a “hoarder nation.” Rather, Reynolds said she thinks we’re an “abundant” society where people acquire things faster than they let go of them.

“I don’t believe we are all hoarders, but we are definitely a superficial, status-driven society fueled by stuff we own,” Reynolds said.

Along those lines, professional organizer Barry Izsak characterizes the U.S. as a nation of “consumerholics and packrats” instead of a nation of hoarders.

Ramani Durvasula

Ramani Durvasula says many of us suffer from “accumulation addiction.”

‘Aspirational Clutter’

Professional organizer Melinda Massie, who helps rehabilitate people teetering on the edge of hoarding, said “hoarder” has become a term that’s thrown around casually to portray someone who’s swept up in the consumerism craze. This craze has led to what she calls “aspirational clutter”—items we’ve purchased in the quest for “perfect” lives.

“There is a significant difference between having way too much clutter and the mental illness of hoarding,” Massie said. “Often, those with too much clutter just haven’t devoted the time to making some concrete decisions and letting go of what they don’t need. Hoarders are virtually unable to do so, even with professional help.”

Clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, former host of the Oxygen cable network’s “My Shopping Addiction,” has a slightly different take on whether we’re a “hoarder nation.” Access to cheap goods, credit and storage space have contributed to what she identifies as “accumulation addiction.”

“A person who is not able to regulate the purchasing tends to have trouble regulating getting rid of stuff,” Durvasula said.