Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why do people collect things?

Stamps. Coins. Butterflies. Porcelain figurines. Old cars. Barbie dolls. Autographs. Nazi flags. You name it.

Some psychologists say it has to do with our "hunter-gatherer" instincts from our ancestors. I don't buy that. Perhaps that accounts for "pack rats" who collect everything. Or maybe that just stems from a fear of poverty. But pack-ratting is not collecting, the way I mean it here.

Whole books have been written on the subject, though. Did you know 66% of us collect something or other? That's almost half of us, right?

Here's what one expert says the reasons are:

1. Knowledge and learning
2. Relaxation and stress reduction
3. Personal pleasure (including appreciation of beauty, and pride of ownership)
4. Social interaction with fellow collectors and others (i.e. the sharing of pleasure and knowledge)
5. Competitive challenge
6. Recognition by fellow collectors and perhaps even non-collectors
7. Altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums and learning institutions)
8. The desire to control, possess and bring order to a small (or even a massive) part of the world
9. Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
10. Accumulation and diversification of wealth (which can ultimately provide a measure of security and freedom)

Very often, more than one of these apply. Or several. One, three and nine would apply to me, I think. Maybe eight as well.

I don't think I am collecting anything right now. No more coins, baseball cards, old cars.

I have a sizable library, but I don't collect books. I buy books to read. I have always been interested in photography and I have several old cameras, some are valuable. But I don't have enough old cameras to call it a collection.

The more I think about it, the less sure I am any of the above really applies to me. I collect simply to have examples which document something or other. Old souvenirs or photographs are capable of evoking memories. But is that really collecting? Probably not.

Why do YOU think people collect things?


  1. True, most people within the standard norm of the bell curve collect for the reasons above.

    Yet, someone once told me: "There is a fine line between hobby and obsession".

    Then there are hoarders. This has to be believed to be seen - currently there is an A&E show devoted to that topic, simply called Hoarders, and there are some 3-6 million of them in the States, 1-2% of the population. Now that is a sickness, much like OCD, compulsive gambling, or substance abuse. Collecting of items with no meaning satisfies an urge in the brain, no matter how detrimental it is, and can be unhealthy and ruinous to those in close contact with the hoarder.

    The woman in your photo seems innocuous enough, although the Barbies seem to be swarming in around her. It would be interesting to see what else is in that room - is it just a curio cabinet full of these, or is there an unseen shrine or entire room dedicated to the dolls...

  2. I have a completeness thing and I get (generally temporary) obsessions. I think it's related to my fiction, but that could be a self-serving rationalization.

    I don't collect books, per se. I love books and the books I buy, like you said, I read, often time and time again. Unless I buy a book specifically for research, it is likely to be read many many times. However, I have zero emotional ties to the books themselves and have yet to touch the books I own that I also have on my eReader. My eReader is so convenient.

    If I like an author, I have been known to buy everything I can by that author - either until I lose interest (which rarely happens but has) or until I run into books that are serious disappointments. For books in a series, I like the WHOLE series and, when I reread "one" I usually reread the whole series. I get immersed.

    Ditto for movies and will often watch a whole series over a weekend.

    During one rough time in my life (before my divorce), I was seriously in the throes of a Nelson Eddy obsession where I had all of his movies (all of them) on video tape or laser disk and went for several months where I watched AT LEAST one a day. I also collected huge numbers of his recordings. I still love his voice, but I'm apparently over the obsession. That was an escapist thing, though, I think. I also fall in love with characters and watch/read them obsessively until I understand why they so appeal to me (and some of those traits often manifest in my writing later).

    I'm not even going to go back and read over the comment. Clearly I'm insane. I admit it.

  3. Why do people collect things? I can only answer for myself. I collect photos, recently pictures I've taken myself to remind me of holidays and interesting places I've visited, but also family photos from as far back as I can find.

    I collect the pictures of both sorts for memories, so that will be your number 9. I found that after my parents died, so much was left unanswered, so many memories had been lost, that I wished I'd known. I want to be able to pass on the memories to future generations when (perhaps if, but I suspect when) they find themselves interested in what happened in the family. In time that will include more recent history, all the places we've lived, and others we've visited.

    I look at pictures which were taken in Africa when I was a child, and I just can't remember clearly what they were about, so I'm setting about recording and annotating as much as I can. I have been allocated the task of the keeper of the family history, and that suits me fine.

    There are elements of 1, 2 and 3 there as well as 9, but I think that's about all. I don't believe I'm obsessive about it. :)

  4. I don't collect anything.
    I accumulate stuff.
    I might be a borderline hoarder.
    I have books everywhere.
    But not in any particular order, thought there are areas in which i might find, say, dictionaries... or pottery books. or poetry. There's a stack of books in the kitchen. The bathroom, oh, only about ten or fifteen.
    I treat books cruelly though, they might suffer soup, or notes scribbled in the margins, or water damage from me falling asleep in the bath.

    I've had too many land-rovers. So I have stashes of parts, bearings, water-pumps, suspension bushes, and so on.
    Um.. Tools. I like tools. all sorts of tools. sigh. a good toolshop to me is like a shoe shop to women, it pulls me in by some invisible force... i spend ages telling myself I don't really need a one-inch-drive 1200 foot-pound torque multiplier, but the only way to escape the tool-vortex is to buy something.
    Like a nice little diamond hone, for sharpening my kitchen-knives.
    Phew! escaped again....

    I have friends who are obsessive collectors. One has every Rolling-Stones record ever made, i think.
    He'll have several copies of the same one, because, maybe it was released in the U.S. with a different sleeve...
    Yawn. In the Land Rover fraternity, we call people like that "Rivet Counters", and that's not a compliment.
    I really have heard someone tut-tutting at some old car show, when he saw a prize winning restored 1949 Land-Rover, and told us the restorer had used the wrong pattern rivet-heads.

    Collecting, I think, is a bit of a suspect activity.

  5. One branch of our family has spawned many teachers, and these teachers used to find thmeselves several times a year unnacountably passing through the town where my parents lived. Overnight. To repay the hospitality, they used to send a postcard from the place they were visiting to my parents. My father started to collect these cards and add to them. Then one day a merchant seaman found out and sent him cards from all over the world. My father was hooked.

    He passed the collecting gene and ultimately the collection on to me. I think it's a wonderful hobby. My main interest is finding out about the history, geography or everyday life of another place, broadening my understanding of the world. But not only that, there are some remarkable differences between some national perceptions of attractive postcards. If you exchange cards on a regular basis, you learn interesting snippets about how other people live and their values. It isn't a solitary hobby at all, in fact can be as friendly as blogging, and I think we all know how friendships can be forged over the internet.

    For me there is absolutely no competitive challenge, though there could be, nor do I do it for recognition or altruism. I may just possibly want to bring order to a small part of the world - classifying the cards is sometimes testing. :) There is certainly no wealth involved, not with the type of cards I collect.

    Books are my other passion but I don't collect them. I keep any worthy of re-reading but I'm very happy to pass on light novels when I've finished with them. Bookshops, you can't collect bookshops, but they do draw me in the way tool shops pull Soubriquet. Mostly I just look, though, because there are so many books I'd like to buy that I just can't choose.

    Knowledge. Maybe I collect knowledge. I wish I didn't forget it quite so fast.

  6. Collecting used to be kind of special-it took real effort to find all the issues of Teen Titans, for example, but now anyone with deep pockets can find anything on eBay.

    I am more of a hoarder myself, with my collecting days long behind me. Now I have a lot of stuff that I think I might sell some day.

    The Wife still collects Star Trek Stuff and I can have the occasional weak moment when I find a Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirt at a Goodwill. Collecting is a form of hunting.

  7. I collect miniatures. I must have gotten this from my mom because she had shadow boxes and I thought they were fascinating. Each little window seemed to hold something different. I can just about tell you where each of my miniatures came from and how I got them. A lot of little memories, plus there is something about tiny little replicas of larger things that I love. I also have books, books and more books. I once gave away a pick up bed full of books to the Goodwill. I have a lot of collections of different things. I plan on doing something with them but what? Who knows.

  8. It's all I can do to collect my thoughts!



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