I’ve never met a teapot that I didn’t like. And that’s almost it right there. We collect things for fun and enjoyment. We also collect things because it strikes a sentimental cord; it reflects our interests and style. The bonus is that we learn a lot about history and the economy over the decades.
I’m not talking about clutter. (That can happen too.) It’s more about a hobby that we’re passionate about. Stamps, coins, buttons, postcards, cookie jars, dolls, and shoe collections, some we display, and some we love to brag about.
If you have a collection that tells a story, reminds you of a moment, and makes you feel good then it’s a keeper. It’s one of those things that make you happy.
Why Do We Collect Things?
Although it may sometimes seem as if we have a genetic predilection to collecting things, it is actually a basic human instinct. Our need to collect things is a survival advantage enhanced by natural selection over the centuries. Ancient ancestors who were able to gather scarce objects were more likely to live longer. Meaning you’re not alone when it comes to your love of collecting items. Even in our modern age, the accumulation of wealth and assets correlates to longer life expectancy. But besides this instinctive trait, there are numerous other reasons why we may feel the need to collect:
Knowledge & Learning
If you have an innate curiosity, then collecting certain items is a way for you to learn more about history or just the things that fascinate you. Collecting specific items mean learning all about them, their history, and their uses, and of course their value.
As an avid collector, you may actually take great pleasure in the act of searching for items to add to your collection. Or you may love displaying your collection and the sight of it brings you great peace. Collecting things can be a stress buster, mood booster, and relaxing activity for many people.
Cultivating a collection can be a deeply satisfying endeavor. Because of this, you may get personal pleasure from collecting items. This includes an appreciation of beautiful or unique things and taking great pride in the ownership of your collection.
The Social Aspect
Having a collection or being a collector is a hobby and one which can include plenty of social interaction. You may enjoy meeting with fellow collectors or receiving recognition from them or other people in your social circle. In this way, you get to share the pleasure of pretty things and knowledge that you’ve gained.
Starting a collection is rather easy, but completing that collection can be a challenge. This can actually take years to achieve which means that it is an activity that appeals to competitive people. If you’re competitive then the process of completing your collection before another collector does or beating them out to find certain items may be a challenge that you relish.
Memorabilia & Nostalgia
This is probably one of the most common reasons why people collect. If you have an interest or love for a certain time in history, musical artist, TV show, or book, then it’s likely that you’ll want to collect some or all of the memorabilia. Nostalgia for things from your past or your youth can also be motivation for you to collect items that remind you of that time.
Things That We Collect
There is no limit to what you can collect and there definitely are some strange collections out there. Although collections come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and values there are some that are more common than others. The following items are the most popular things that people like to collect:
- Coins or paper money collections
- Movie or movie poster collections
- Video game collections
- Hardcover and paperback book collections
- Stamp collections
- Rock, gemstone, or crystal collections
- Doll or toy collections
- Shoe or handbag collections
- Baskets and organizing item collections
There are plenty of other items that can be added to this list, but then it would go on forever. You get the gist – people love and treasure a variety of different items. Many of these collections can actually be quite valuable, but I believe the value for most people and their collections is subjective and based on their reasons for collecting. Whether it has monetary value or just sentimental value, people take their collections seriously.
What’s the Difference between a Collection & Collecting Stuff?
Being a collector is a wonderfully healthy outlet and activity that allows you to connect with the world and others. But how do you know if your love for collecting has become a problem – or worse, hoarding?
If your collection doesn’t negatively impact you or those living with you in any way, then it is merely a passionate hobby that you should continue to pursue.
If your collecting habits stop you or others from being able to use certain rooms in your home, then you may have a problem.
A collector has a passion for gathering a very specific set of items. This is more of a side interest than something that takes over your whole life. As a collector, you will carefully organize and proudly display your collection for others to see. Plus, your collection will allow you to create social communities with others who have similar passions.
On the other hand, if you are just collecting items for the sake of collecting stuff, then you won’t have a focus on specific items. Rather, you will acquire a wide range of random things and your collection will have no order or structure to it. In this case, the collection won’t be well displayed, but the collected items will result in clutter.
When Collections Become Clutter
So, at what point does a collection become clutter?
To determine whether your collection is actually clutter in disguise, ask yourself these important questions (be honest with yourself):
- Are the items taking up space that can be put to better use?
- Are they gathering dust or do you take care to clean and display them?
- At what number do you plan to stop collecting (do you have a limit)?
- Are these items you truly love and feel passionate about?
- Are you keeping them because they have monetary value or sentimental value?
Once you’ve answered these questions truthfully, you’ll have a better idea of your reasons for collecting the items. But remember, if the items get in your way or impede your life in any way, then it’s time to sell, recycle or give it away.
How to Organize Your Collection
Now that you’ve determined that you’re a true collector, it may be time to ensure that your beloved collection doesn’t become cluttered over time. After all the items you’ve acquired are prized possessions and need to be treated as such. Luckily, as a collecting culture, we’ve come up with plenty of genius storage and display solutions. But first, you need to get yourself organized. My advice is to always keep your goal in mind and to follow the steps below to avoid overwhelm. Before you know it, you and your guests will be able to easily admire your treasured collection.
- Have a plan and a vision in mind for how you want your collection displayed (lined up on a shelf or protected in a display box, etc).
- Categorize your collection to be able to organize it accordingly (e.g. different genres for record or CD collections).
- Invest in necessary and practical accessories to display your collection such as shelving or glass cabinets (you can even get creative and DIY your storage accessories if you want).
- Track your collection or keep a record of it by creating a database or spreadsheet that you can easily reference (this prevents the acquisition of duplicates and is pretty handy for insurance purposes).
- Don’t be afraid to mix and match the display and presentation if you have two complementary collections (allow your passion and personality to shine through in the way you show off your collection).
Collecting Experiences Instead of Things
You don’t need to be anti-possessions or even a minimalist to realize that as a society we collect way too much stuff. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with surrounding yourself with functional (or beautiful) things that bring you joy. But sometimes those things (even carefully curated collections) can hold you back. This desire to own or have more is a human trait, though and something everyone struggles with at some point or another. But what if there was another way to collect things without it ending up as a mountain of clutter?
Well, there is!
It’s called experiences and memories.
Love people, not things and collect moments, not stuff.
This is the simplest way for a collector at heart to keep collecting without the need to actually possess more. By the way, choosing to collect experiences instead of physical items gives you true freedom as well. So, why not expand your horizons and quests with adventures? Perhaps create a life with fewer things and more human connection. Maybe even the experience of a lifetime!
What do you collect?
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I’m not much of a collector, but my father started collecting corkscrews years ago. His hobby has been so much fun for all of us. I think he has more than 500 today, and he inventories each one, numbers it, and adds it to a three-panel wall display. I love the way his collecting has unfolded. We have fun hunting new ones, joy that we can give him a gift he will really enjoy, and sheer entertainment when we stand before the display and talk about them all!
That sounds so lovely. I never knew there were so many corkscrews to be collected. I can see where you get your organizing skills from.
What a fun family experience!
I’ve been collecting postcards since I was in high school – or maybe even longer. My collection includes mementos of places I’ve been (local and otherwise), cards that were sent to me or brought back for me by friends and family members, antique postcards of places I’m familiar with, advertising (old and new), and probably some that don’t fit into any category. I have most of them organized by place / ads / greetings (apparently people used to send postcards for birthdays and holidays). I like my collection but I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually looked at it.
Your postcard collection obviously has sentimental value. Sometimes it’s just comforting knowing that it’s there.
I’ve kept birthday cards for years. I like to go back and read the notes from people over time. Especially from people who are no longer here. Heartfelt !
Both my husband and I are collectors- he collects large things like old enamel signs (think Coke buttons and Mobil Pegasus) while I prefer small items like miniature objects, Pez dispensers, sparkly things, and cobalt blue glass. We collect other things too, but those are just some of them. We have slowed down at this point and enjoy what we have and rarely add more. The collections have space to be displayed and enjoyed.
The collections are integrated into our space. Our home is small, yet it doesn’t feel cluttered.
You and your husband have so many common interests! I’d love to see a picture of the cobalt blue glass that you collect. It’s one of my favorite colors and I really enjoy the different shapes of glass.
This is all very compelling. I agree about all of the reasons you identified for people to collect, and I also think that people find that having a collection helps you build a personal brand (not that people would identify it that way). For some people, having an easily-summarized identity that they and others can express with comfort can stand in for holding opinions or taking stands that might otherwise cause friction. Collecting may also be relaxing, help you acquire knowledge, and so on, but just being able to say, “I’m a butterfly collector” or “I collect rare postage stamps” gives people a badge that helps them get out in the world.
I’m a non-collector of tangible items. I don’t think there’s anything I like enough to want multiples (unless Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups count) but I do love collecting experiences, whether it’s books read or countries visited.
Thank you for giving us so much to think about!
Thank you for such a well thought-out comment. It makes so much sense. Like you, I’m not a true collector of anything in particular. Though I do collect and save birthday and special occasion cards. I’m not sure that counts. But I do love them!
Collecting experiences is what I enjoy. That’s why I love to celebrate milestones or anything that brings a personal gathering. Thank you so much again!
I believe, it all comes from our preferences. We are all different, that’s why, different things appeal our attention. Thus, there are so many of different and unusual collections around the world.
Very well said. Do you have a collection?
I love your article — so many of your points describe me explicitly (especially about the hunting & acquiring of items). My problem is that I like too many things — my collections cover miniature tea sets (I have 400 of them); miniature pianos (166); Russian dolls (80 unstacked); miniature angels; stamps; 20 big scrapbooks of cards that people gave me over past 50 years; Precious Moments figurines; porcelain mice; miniature hats; miniature food; photos of my travels = 70 albums & 55 scrapbooks, etc.). All are neatly displayed in 8 curio cabinets. During this virus, since I’ve had to stay home longer, I’ve enjoyed viewing and cleaning/re-organizing my various collections. Thank-you for making other people understand about collecting, and that we’re not crazy people. Regards, Jean. PS: Too bad I can’t send you some photos of my beautiful collections.
I’m so glad my article on clutter was helpful. It’s a topic that plagues so many people.
You have lots of collections but they sound wonderful. As long as they’re not taking over the home or another family member’s space, AND YOU ENJOY THEM!!
Keep up the good work, you’re off to such a great start!
Can you copy and paste some of the pictures to the comments section?
Hi Ronnie….thanks for your comments. Unfortunately your system doesn’t allow me to copy & paste any photos. I tried but it doesn’t work. Best regards, Jean.
If you are referring to copying and pasting the material from my blog then no, it’s not enabled. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have on any of the topics.
Hi Ronni….further to my email dd Aug. 26/20, today this article on one of my collections was published on their website. Hope you can access it:
Thank you for getting back in touch. Unfortunately, I’m not able to access the link and I’d love to see the tea pot sets!
Dear Ms. Eisenberg,
I am in the middle of writing a book on collecting and displaying rocks and minerals. I was impressed with your post on collecting stuff and would like to credit your ideas in my book. You have a lot of books on Amazon and I am not sure which one to purchase. Are you able to suggest one that I can reference in my book?
Thank you for getting in touch and this wonderful opportunity. I would very much like you to credit my blog, The Organizing Confessions. The information is current and covers a myriad of subjects that you may find helpful and interesting.
Feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com.