Why do we collect things?
Why are we fascinated even on things with little value?
Jul 6, 2017
There’s an Umbrella Cover Museum in Maine that houses more than 1,300 umbrella covers from over 60 countries as of July 2015. Over 3,500 troll dolls found abode in the Troll Hole Museum in Ohio. In Tagaytay, there’s Puzzle Mansion that shelters about 1,500 jigsaw puzzles. These three collections out of a jillion others are recognized by the Guinness World Records.
Collecting thousands of the same things could appear as bizarre and gratuitous as it does not only involve money but also time and energy in making and preserving them. However to a certain extent, many of us do the same, albeit not in a world-record-kind of way. It can be as small as bottle-tops and as old school as autographs. But why the fixation?
Feeling of connection
Architectural historian and professor Joseph Rykwert associated collecting with time traveling. Revisiting our collection of, say, pressed flowers or fridge magnets makes us relive memories and connect to that period of history.
We’re all melodramatic in our own ways. Collecting may help us cope with the sentimentalism, helping us keep the past present and knit a blanket of safety zone where our fears and insecurity about losing a part of ourselves are alleviated.
Psychologist and author Christian Jarrett said that there is also a phenomenon called endowment effect, “which describes our tendency to value things more once we own them.”
“Humans are unique in the way we collect items purely for the satisfaction of seeking and owning them. The desire to collect only became possible about 12,000 years ago, once our ancestors gave up their nomadic lifestyles and settled down in one location,” Jarrett said in an article.
Thrill of pursuit
To avid autograph collector Bryan Petrulis, there are three sides to collecting: “the thrill of the chase, seeing who will sign that day. Second, the collecting aspect, trying to put together one of the best autograph collections around. And, finally, feeling more connected to the game because I actually meet the guys playing it instead of just seeing them on television.”
He went on exhausting quests. He used to go to the teams’ hotel directly from his midnight-to-eight shift as a telecommunications specialist. When Sports Illustrated wrote a feature about “veteran signature seekers” in 2005, he has about 50,000 baseball autographs.
Psychologist Mark McKinley said in his paper that “additional collector motivations include psychological security, filling a void in a sense of self. Or it could be to claim a means to distinction, much as uniforms make the ‘man.’”
A collection may also be a legacy that we can leave behind. As Jarrett also noted, another psychoanalytical explanation for collecting “is that collecting is motivated by existential anxieties – the collection, an extension of our identity, lives on, even though we do not.”
But here’s a dark side
Just like anything really, collecting is not always a pleasant hunt. Petrulis said it gets addictive like drugs, sex, and gambling. “It’s like putting a coin in a slot machine. It might not pay off this time, so you put another quarter in and keep doing it until you are tapped out or finally hit the jackpot.”
We collect because of various reasons—to obtain physical manifestations of our interests, for memory preservation, to leave a legacy, and many inexplicable more. As it is an individualistic journey, it is also a social one as we get to enjoy social camaraderie with others who share the same interests and get to exchange experiences and knowledge.
Header image courtesy of Unsplash.com
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