The Collector’s Delight: The Things People Collect and Why

Ever went through your old boxes and found hordes of stamps? Do you have a neatly arranged shelf of all the items you collected, on display? Or do you spot your favourite thing and just have to have it, come what may? Well, you certainly are not alone People all around the world like collecting things, for some, its stamps, for some its books or it may be unimportant things like matchboxes, peculiar stones, shells, pens, or maybe, if they can afford them, even antiques. The act of collecting things has more of an emotional value than a monetary payoff. Psychologists believe collection is part of the human mechanism of adhering to constants in an ever-changing life. While the collectibles might change, the process of collecting remains the same.

In 16th century, the habit of collecting was termed by scholars as “cabinet of curiosities.” If we go further back to the B.C. era, the royal elites of Mesopotamia used to collect things of known value and display them as a measure of status. Ancient Egyptians were fond of acquiring books from all over the world, which were then housed in the library of Alexandria. As the number of collectors increased, with it came prosperity and opened doors for an entirely new field of interest which not only satisfied the innate desire of possessing something valuable, but also provided a means of income. It turned into a commercial industry with collectors buying their favourite items and sellers making more of them.

This can also be termed as the dark side of collecting. Collecting is believed to build an emotional attachment with the items one collects, but there are some who collect things solely with the purpose of selling them. This means that those who are genuine, avid collectors have to shell out a lot of money to get their hands on what they want. Also, psychologists warn that collecting can turn into an addiction, similar to that of drugs or gambling. There is no limit to the availability of collectibles, ranging from small and inexpensive items like coins to larger valuables like paintings, if one is not careful, things can spiral out of hand really fast.

Collections help people in many ways. For some it’s a source of income, especially through exhibitions, or a way to channel their expertise, which they can use to guide others, etc., but on a personal level, it helps provide a structure to one’s life. Collecting involves organising, restructuring, cataloguing, and maintaining things in such a way that manoeuvring around those things is easy, for example – a book collector who owns thousands of books keeps them catalogued and neatly arranged in shelves so that if one askes about a particular book, the collector knows where to find it. This is what differentiates it from hoarding. Hoarding is basically the result of a collector who has gone off the rails. It is categorised as behaviour that leads to piling items of little to no value in heaps and stacks, unorganised and strewn about. Hoarding is pathological as it affects the daily life of the hoarder. Such behaviour arises from the distress one feels while discarding possessions for the fear that they might need it in the future. This leads to family problems, work-related issues and serious medical conditions.

Despite these dark sides, collecting is beneficial for positive emotions. It provides a purpose to many who seek the thrill of conquering by adding that new item to the list, the excitement of the hunt, the social recognition one gets while putting the collection on display, and at times, they become a symbol of reverence for the bygone era, or a means to hold on to memories of people who have passed away, leaving behind their treasures.

A little fun fact at the end. Below are some popular terms assigned to the most collected items:

  • Arctophilist- one who collects teddy bears
  • Deltiologist- one who collects postcards
  • Numismatist- one who collects coins
  • Phillumenist- one who collects matchboxes
  • Philatelist- one who collects stamps

Focusing on Literature and Lifestyle of the Urban Youth of the Country, LitGleam is a monthly magazine, an intrinsic part of BlueRose Publishers.

Within its pages, our readers find provocative essays on literature and lifestyle, guidance for getting published and pursuing writing careers, in-depth profiles of poets, fiction writers, and writers of creative nonfiction, and conversations among fellow professionals.