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the WiseGuide

By Jerry Jenkins

Forsake or Keepsake -- The Ins and Outs of Collecting

Many of us have collections of something. Maybe itʼs as simple as baseball cards from our youth, or autographs from our rockstar heroes, to as complicated as a storage building full of antique automobiles. While collections can attain significant value, and some, such as classic cars, can be savvy investments, most collectors start accumulating items for their emotional value. Monetary concerns are secondary.

Psychologists tell us there are many reasons why we collect:

We may wish to relive our childhood. Keeping simpler, more pleasant times alive can be a satisfying pastime.

Sometimes we connect to a period of history. Whether itʼs Civil War memorabilia, or depression-era glass pieces, something in our psyche resonates with a particular area.

We may wish to keep the past in our present. Keepsakes can stimulate our memory and help us to understand ourselves by understanding our past.

The thrill of the hunt may get our juices going. Searching for that elusive item to complete a collection can provide entertainment and even an adrenaline rush.

Some inherit collections, and keep them as memorials to their loved ones.

Some collectors are pitched items from TV, which are typically overpriced to begin with, and unlikely to gain in value.

There may be a need for psychological security. Some psychologists root collecting in unfulfilled childhood needs. Collecting can relieve anxiety and create a sense of transcendence in the collector.

We may have other needs that collecting meets such as simple personal aesthetics, expressing individuality through weird or unusual collections, a need for approval from experts, or even a desire for a form of immortality, hoping our collection will survive for generations past us.

There can be a dark side to collecting. It can cross the line into obsession, even pathology. When collecting takes time and money from family and friends, it can be problematic. Financial and social strains may erupt. At some point, collecting can become hoarding. This is no longer a pleasurable hobby, but a decidedly different situation.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual from the American Psychiatric Association lists criteria which determine when hoarding becomes pathologic. Four are particularly relevant: (1) you canʼt discard something and have an unrealistic view of its value; (2)

you feel distress over disposing of a thing; (3) your accumulation of things is so large your life is cluttered with them; and (4) your everyday life is impaired.

If every square foot of a home is filled with stuff, but the resident doesnʼt even take interest in it, while still accumulating more, sometimes sacrificing the purchase of food for another item, collecting is no longer healthy!

Some interesting figures in history were collectors with a dark side: Saddam Hussein collected sci-fi paintings.

Hitler desired 18th century Bavarian furniture.

Kim Jong II love videos, as did Stalin, although he had a penchant for Westerns. Idi Amin had a stable of racing cars.

Does this mean if you attend train meets with the hope of finding that elusive Lionell piece that you are destined for a locked unit someday? Many of us have cherished collections that fill a place in our spirit, and do so in a healthy manner. While we may bond with our collection, and not understand why others donʼt appreciate it as we do, we may also find new friends and social contacts through our personal property, creating a new “tribe” to which we may belong. For most collectors, our “obsession” is a harmless one. And for some, it can be even an economically profitable one.


Wikipedia -- “Psychology of Collecting” -- Psychology_of_collecting

Horizon -- “Uncovering the History Behind Collecting” -- http://

The New York Times -- “Collecting as Pleasure and Pain” (December 30, 2011) -- http:// pleasure-and-pain

Home Museum -- “the Psychology of Collecting” -- howto/HowToArts/Psychology/psychology.htm

Psychology Today -- “4 Signs that Your an Extreme Collector” (July 31, 2012) -- http:// collector

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