'My Collection Obsession': One Man's Collector Is Another's Hoarder

TLC special looks at extreme collections: shoes, vacuum cleaners, Dolly Parton.

August 16, 2011, 6:16 PM

Aug. 17, 2011— -- Marilyn Mansfield, a sometimes model and mother of three, loves to cradle her new babies, supporting their heads and holding them close to her maternal bosom -- all 500 of them.

The Staten Island, N.Y., 33-year-old collects custom-made dolls that cost as much as $1,000 each. One even has birth marks and spit bubbles, and the latest lifelike doll even breathes.

"I like flaws on my babies," says Mansfield in a new documentary, "My Collection Obsession," which airs on Sunday, Aug. 21 on TLC at 10 p.m. "Humans are not perfect."

Mansfield's dolls fill her three-bedroom apartment on shelves and in their little seats and cradles.

"They all have their place," she said.

She has even discussed her last wishes with her husband if she should die.

"My daughter has told me which ones she would want and two or three I want to go with friends," Mansfield said. "I know this sounds morbid, but I would definitely like to be buried with them."

Mansfield is one of three other collectors who have taken their hobbies to extremes. Darlene has 15,000 shoe-related memorabilia. Kyle, who is only 16, has been obsessed with vacuum cleaners since he was only a toddler.

Harrell and Patric's 2,500-square-foot home is an homage to Dolly Parton, floor to ceiling. One holds down a job, and the other spends his days keeping up with the collection.

Even the country singer herself is stunned by their obsession.

"I am speechless," she says, after being taken into their basement to see hundreds of costumes, shoes and framed photos. "It's amazing someone could love you that much."

One man's collector is another man's hoarder, but experts say that there are key differences.

"With hoarding, we look at three main behaviors: one acquiring too many possessions; second, having great difficulty discarding something; and three difficulty organizing," said Julie Pike, a clinical psychologist from the Anxiety Disorder Treatment Center in Durham, N.C. "But there is a lot of overlap."

She is featured on TLC's reality show, "Hoarding: Buried Alive."

Unlike hoarders, collectors are usually well-organized and know exactly where each item is and what they have. They are also proud, not ashamed, of their possessions, she said.

"But if collectors get in a place where they are spending so much money that they can't pay their mortgage, that's a problem," Pike said. "Or if they are spending so much time at it that they can't go to their job or leave their house."

More likely, collectors have an "obsession or preoccupation," according to Pike. "Most of us have a degree of that rather than the ends of a continuum."

Viewers will have to decide for themselves about Kyle Kirchbaum of Michigan, the youngest of only 200 vacuum cleaner collectors in the world. His sister thinks he's "weird" going to yard sales to find vacuum cleaners that have piled up around their house.

His mother has told him that when he goes to college, "the vacuum cleaners have to go."

Collector Treats Dolls Like Her Children

As for collector Mansfield, she said her house is neat, even with wall-to-wall dolls.

"If I ever got to the point where I was a hoarder, then I wouldn't buy them anymore," she said. "If I get a new one, I am sure there's a spot for them."

Mansfield said she has loved dolls since she was a child and views her obsession and her collection as "a work of art."

"So much goes into making them," she said. "Their hair is rooted one at a time. They are weighted to feel as babies. They are definitely works of art and I appreciate them so much. The more realistic they are, the more I love them."

Mansfield treats her dolls like her own children, spending three hours each day, washing them, dressing them and even taking them to the park.

"In fact, when she gets a new doll, it's like she's actually pregnant," said her husband Zoth. "What will it be, where will I put her?"

Her favorite is Anna Nicole, a 43-inch doll that is the size of a 5-year-old that she bought for more than $1,000 in Texas. She has about 20 of these realistic "reborn," which are handmade.

"She's only a little shorter than my son who just turned 7," Mansfield said. "She has long brown human hair and she has open-eyed little glass eyes that are made beautifully."

She even took her to the store and spent $70 on a pair of shoes after taking her to the playground.

"People come over and say how cute she is and how old is she," Mansfield said. "When I tell them it's a doll, they either don't believe me or they get totally freaked out."

Mansfield said she couldn't estimate what she has spent -- "definitely in the thousands," she said. "I buy them clothes and carriages."

She also collects dolls with horns and fangs, or Krypt Kiddies that she buys on the Internet. It was those dolls that started her obsession in the first place a decade ago when she attended a horror show.

"They are demonic-looking baby dolls that are custom made," she said. "I also have some horror movie and Living Dead Dolls -- 10-inch creepy dolls in coffins."

"I love them all," Mansfield said. "I like them creepy. Most people think the normal dolls are creepier than the scary ones because they are so life-like."

Her youngest daughter likes the dolls, but her son is unimpressed. Her husband, on the other hand, is totally supportive and said it gives him more free time.

"Whenever she is with the dolls, she's not bothering me," he said.

For Mansfield, the dolls are just another part of her maternal nature.

"When you see a doll, your instinct is to hold it like a baby," she said. "I watch TV and hold one. It's very soothing and calming."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events