My well-thumbed Oxford dictionary says ‘collecting’ is ‘bringing things together from different places or people’. Therefore the activity could be as old as humanity, even dating before our ancestor hunter-gatherer days.
I can understand why early humans created stashes of nuts to see them through winter. However, this does not to my mind really explain why we may collect things like restaurant menus, sports memorabilia and so on.
Psychologists Try to Explain Why We Collect Things
Some folk gather valuables together like postage stamps and fine art. These become a store of wealth just like like those nuts in a cave, although aesthetic enjoyment also plays a role. Psychologists are not particularly adept at pinning things down, however they do suggest these reasons for low value collections:
1… Collections have deeper, emotional value. They allow us to connect to our childhood, and recall a time that was important to us.
2… They help ease our insecurity and anxiety about the future, and comfort and assure us life will continue as it once did in the past.
3… However, others enjoy the chase, the hunt for something unique that nobody else has. Beauty in the eye of the holder plays a role here!
Why Do Young Kids Start Collecting Things?
The Association for Consumer Research believes kids have less complicated reasons for collecting things, than offending their parents’ obsession with tidiness. Their authors suggest the root cause may be sheer boredom, or an opportunity to vanish down a tunnel into a secret world.
Alternatively, they may simply enjoy the pastime as their adult peers do. However, other reasons may be more social. They could following the example of a classmate they admire, or simply want to be different. I can definitely see a shadow of antique collectors here!
The researchers were Stacey Menzel Baker and James W. Gentry both from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They interviewed 79 children of whom 72 collected something. Ease of entry was an important factor, particularly the cost of the items. Therefore their kids were more interested in quantity than being connoisseurs.
Baker and Gentry decided collecting has benefits for developing young minds. It helps them discover they are unique, and can influence their personal environment. However, they are less likely to sustain the flow compared to adults. That’s because the act of collecting matters more than the particular items concerned.
How We Collect Things Differently As Adults
The reason this could well be we have disposable wealth, and a developed appreciation of the finer things in life. However, psychologist Christian Jarrett writing for The Guardian puts this down to love, anxiety or desire. This takes us back to the theory collections have emotional value.
Jarrett confirms ‘about a third of people in the UK collect something’ which I imagine puts us high up in the league as a nation. He believes our national collecting streak could be driven by loyalty, for example amassing football club memorabilia. But we may also collect things out of an obsession to discover something exceptionally rare.
So much for love or loyalty. Christian Jarrett moves on to his second theme, existential anxieties about our right to exist, or the afterlife perhaps. Owning a valuable collection suggests our identity will somehow live on through our possessions. We also have solid proof of an achievement.
The third string to Christian’s model centres on our desire to own things, which amplifies their subjective value to us. Moreover, if a rich or famous person previously owned them, some of this may endow to us improving our subjective self-worth further.
When Collecting Turns to Compulsive Hoarding
We learned that children collect for collecting’s sake, where monetary value of the items is irrelevant. However, pathological adult hoarding may break out in later life, in which the accumulation has emotional value.
Neurologist Steven W Anderson suggests this behaviour may stem from ‘the basic drive to collect basic supplies such as food’. However, any cognitive assessment of real value appears to be dormant.
Would You Like Me to Help Downsize a Collection?
My name is Jeffrey Avery. I am a sworn valuer of household antiques and other collectibles. My specialisms include jewellery, furniture, classic cars, coins, stamps, books, vintage toys, and records.
Much of my business involves deceased estates, where items must be sold to raise capital. I also regularly assist with deceased house clearances, including where the departed was a compulsive hoarder. I am quick, discreet and impeccably honest. Read Avery Associates reviews to learn more about my service.
Jeff of Avery Associates came to the rescue. Providing superlative service and communication, he proceeded to sort through and find many financial documents and then sort, clear and clean the properties, dealing with many related problems along the way. Having Jeff as our ‘man on the scene’ eliminated the stress and left us 100% happy with his services (K Anderson)
Preview Image: Antique Clock Collection (©Jefffrey Avery)