At some point in their lives most people have started a collection of something or other. It is a practice that often begins in childhood with some collectors largely abandoning their quest when they become adults and others carrying on or forming new collections as they develop hobbies and interests.
I have always viewed obsessive collectors as a little strange particularly when considering some of the weird and wonderful items they pursue. It has, however, dawned on me that I have also been prone to collecting and I now wonder why human beings are so gripped by the need to collect and complete sets.
People collect everything from fine art to sweet wrappers. If the items are obtained for investment purposes the motivation is obvious but what about the rest of us? I collected football stickers as a child and when I developed an interest in rocks and minerals I started to amass a huge array of crystals and coloured rocks all of which now reside in my loft. I am also the proud owner of several hundred football programmes which I bought compulsively for years and I have a totally pointless collection of Royal Crown Derby porcelain which I haven’t looked at living memory. Why is it that I bought all this stuff that I don’t need and is of little value in comparison to what I paid for it?
I decided to investigate the subject only to find that psychologists don’t always agree on the reasons behind the collecting compulsion. Apparently Freud related the practice to childhood fears about bowel movements! I don’t want to even attempt to explore that concept. Others have suggested that collecting is comforting as it often involves accumulating items which are connected to happy times during childhood and the past. Childhood is a time when many people feel more secure and protected and their collections are a way to maintain a connection to that period of their life. It could be for this reason that many people collect toys, games, comics and things related to places they have visited. Such items can give order to the past and enhance pleasant memories.
I am sure collecting is comforting but I am more persuaded by arguments that connect the habit to feelings of power and control. Some psychologists argue that accumulating a collection brings feelings of superiority or individuality and the arranging and managing of the items brings a sense of control in your life.
Naturally many collectors would argue that they accumulate their pieces simply because they like them or have an interest in the subject concerned. I am not all sure that this is true. However fascinated you are by a subject you don’t need a house full of things and more to maintain or fuel your passion. There is definitely something more to this than just an interest in a subject. I wonder if the truth is that people simply love the pursuit of their quarry. Seeking out and finding new pieces is a kind of quest that gives people something to do and targets to aim at. We all love a challenge, a mystery and the prospect of new discoveries and maybe this is the most important element of collecting.
Whether you collect movie memorabilia, books, crystals or watches, the practice brings feelings of security and control, connects you to your past and gives you a goal to chase. Little wonder then, that most of us are busy collecting something. At this point in time I have given up collecting anything in favour of trying to visit all 50 of the United States which is probably just another form of the same behaviour!
Sally Stacey is a professional writer who also owns a bridal shop and was on the board of a London based distribution company for 16 years. A frequent traveller for both leisure and business, Sally is always looking for a new adventure to write about.