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The primary difference between a packrat and a hoarder is that packrats suffer from a relatively mild compulsion to store things, while hoarders have a crippling version of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A packrat may feel a strong need to collect items, and they may even have trouble throwing things away, but a hoarder can have his entire life controlled by the overwhelming compulsion to save everything. In general, being a packrat is seen as a minor eccentricity, while hoarding is considered by many psychologists to be a severe mental disorder requiring treatment.
One thing that separates hoarders from packrats is the motivation for their behavior. Packrats generally have fairly logical reasons for the things they keep, while hoarders are often motivated by irrational ideas or compulsions they can’t explain. For hoarders, it can be almost impossible to throw away anything, and many of the things they keep have no purpose at all.
Hoarders' houses often become filled with old newspapers and piles of junk. Eventually, it may be very difficult for them to navigate from one room to another. Sometimes, they may squander a great deal of their money renting extra storage space so they can avoid throwing things away.
A packrat's house is sometimes cluttered, but it’s generally less extreme. They may have a lot of old items scattered around, and they may collect some unusual things that most people wouldn’t consider keepsakes. In general, it isn’t difficult to navigate in a home where a packrat lives, and things may be relatively tidy.
Hoarding, on the other hand, can actually become dangerous after a while. Depending on the kinds of items they’re saving, hoarders' homes can become a sanitary hazard, and there are cases were hoarders have been killed when piles of junk collapsed on them. Hoarding can also create a fire hazard, which can endanger the hoarder along with her neighbors.
Different psychologists have different ideas about treating obsessive hoarding. One approach is to encourage more social interaction, which can help hoarders value things in the outside world more. Some psychologists focus on trying to teach hoarders self-motivation and helping them see how their behavior is affecting their life in a negative way. Medications are often used in conjunction with these therapies to make it easier for the hoarder to accept the change in his life. It’s not unusual for some therapists to actually enter a hoarder's house and help him put the clutter into a proper perspective.
Very good distinctions and explanation. Thanks! -- Packrat (but I am not printing this out)