Why Do We Collect Stuff?

So why do we collect stuff? There have been a few theories tossed around on the subject; and of course, psychological explanations as well. In fact, one needs to look no further than Sigmund Freud for such entertaining enlightenment.

In Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of Development, he suggested that the act of collecting directly correlates to the “traumatic” experiences of losing our “possessions” during toilet training. To make up for this traumatic loss, Freud believed that the collector is trying to exert control and regain their possessions lost years ago. Who would’ve thought that watching your beloved apple juice swirling down the drain as child is the reason for your collection today? Well, Freud I guess.

I would propose simpler, more human explanations as to why we collect things. Most people collect stuff because it’s fun. Others enjoy the social aspects of collecting – joining clubs, chatting online, visiting shows, going antiquing, and swapping stories with fellow collectors.

There are some that collect to preserve and honor the past. For example, those who collect militaria memorabilia are doing their part to preserve artifacts from historically significant periods of long ago. I think this is just a natural way of satisfying our very human instinct of preserving the past for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

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Others may collect things to trigger pleasant memories of their own past. Such collectors remind me of my experiences working in retail. Every morning, there would be two to three gentlemen impatiently waiting outside the store for me to open the doors. Once the doors opened, they would race to the toy aisle in search of the newest Hot Wheels pegged to the wall display. As I got to know a few of them, I learned that they were simply evolving a collection that they started in their adolescence. I guess for them, collecting toy cars is just a way to remember and relive their childhood – even if they are in their 40’s!

I believe the thrill of the hunt is a common characteristic shared by most collectors. There’s an element of satisfaction that one gets from the hunt itself—the quest to find another rare item to add to a collection. The time, research, and energy dedicated to tracking an item down, and then procuring that item, is a great thrill that most collectors enjoy. The pleasurable experience of a successful conquest motivates the collector to start the process all over again…and again, and again.

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For others, there’s a sense of satisfaction and relaxation that comes from the constant arranging and re-arranging of items in their collection. If you’ve done this more than a few times, you may be experiencing the lingering side effects of “lost possessions” experienced during your formative, toilet training years! Revisiting Freud’s theory of Psychosexual Development, he suggests that “Anal Retentive” people are obsessively organized and neat, which serves as a means of control and comfort in one’s life. If this sounds familiar, you may want to have a chat with your parents, as their over-demanding toilet training exercises must have caused irreparable harm to your psyche! As an admitted obsessive-compulsive, I must confess that I leave the toilet lid up from time-to-time in an act of defiance. I wonder what Freud would say about that?

While all of these may be rational (or irrational) explanations as to why we collect, I really think it comes down to something as simple as a basic interest and enjoyment in the things we collect. So why do you collect?


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