Dear Abby:

"Living Like a Hermit in California" complained about her husband's unusual collecting behavior. "He owns 24 cars," she wrote. "None of them run; they just sit and rot. He buys old airplanes although he doesn't know how to fly and they, too, sit rusting away. He also collects cardboard boxes and anything in bulk." You suggested she contact a lawyer and get her husband a psychiatric evaluation.

His hoarding sounds like obsessive-compulsive disorder to me. I have depression and, during my worst times, I have voraciously collected metal washers. I found it soothing to have something to concentrate on besides my problems. The quality of my collection was a substitute for real accomplishment.

The fact that "Living's" husband is also withdrawn leads me to suspect that he has depression, OCD or a similar psychiatric problem. I got help for mine, and I feel much better. Her husband might never be normal, but a good place to start would be sympathy, patience and a caring doctor.

Ohio Hoarder

I advised "Living Like a Hermit in California" to consult a lawyer because she said her husband had moved them out of a house into a trailer and had spent all their assets on his "hobby." I agree that he may be mentally ill.

Read on:

Dear Abby:

The letter from "Living Like a Hermit" had a familiar ring.

My neighbor exhibited similar behavior and was diagnosed with manic depression. When she was up, she collected; when she was down she withdrew from the world.

Roger may be more than "eccentric"; he may suffer from a mental illness.

Been There in Tampa, Fla.

That may be true, but I am not qualified to diagnose him.

Dear Abby:

Tell that woman to get off her duff, learn more about her husband's collection and then get on eBay! There are people rebuilding old cars who have to order custom parts when none are available. And in California, the movie business is always looking for props.

One studio rented my former father-in-law's car while shooting a movie about the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. They asked for permission to paint the car black. He said, "Sure, as long as you paint it white again before you return it." And they did!

Nancy in Houston

I love your idea about turning her husband's "compulsion" into an income stream. They could use the money.

Dear Abby:

"Living's" husband appears to have OCD. One of the manifestations of OCD can be saving things for the sake of saving them. And the tendency to avoid talking may possibly be a symptom of an autism spectrum disorder. These two disorders can coexist. I should know, as they run in our family.

There are therapies and medications that can help him. Please urge "Living" to educate herself about these disorders and try to get her husband evaluated.

Nanette in Hawthorne, N.J.

Thank you for suggesting it. An excellent place to start would be NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a grass-roots, self-help organization that focuses on education, advocacy, research and support for people with mental illness and their families. Its Web site is: www.nami.org.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate