Why Do We Collect Things?

As a teenager I loved collecting things from bath cube wrappers, beer mats, cigarette boxes, to coins; not necessarily anything of value but I loved getting something different to add to my collection. I also loved organising them together into sets, especially the coins by their country of origin.

As an adult I collected records of my favourite pop artists, I read and kept storybooks (historical romance), and painted and bought loads of artist materials (acrylic). I hardly ever threw anything away. I’ve been collecting shells and pebbles from beaches as long as I can remember, and there would be bowls full around the house. That’s the one collection that lasted through till now. I also bought souvenirs in the different countries I visited and displayed them as a reminder. For some years I had a beautiful collection of dark blue glass objects on my east-facing kitchen window, because I loved the way the sun shone through them.

Why do we collect things?

What is our attachment to our collection?

For some it is because of potential value, like stamps, but there may be something else to consider. We always want more, the next one, so is there a kind of fulfillment we are looking for? It was only in helping to clear dead relatives’ things that I began to wonder at our incessant need for collecting. Is it an addiction?

Collecting pebbles and shells is because I find them beautiful, but I could enjoy their beauty momentarily and then leave them where they are – stones always look more colourful when wet and they are boring when dry, unless they are polished.

I have known people who look forward to their next tattoo, and I wonder why they want to so disfigure their bodies. I have friends who collect cars and I wonder if you can only drive one at a time, why have more?

Some rich people collect works of art but when they are locked away for security and not put on show, it makes me wonder, what’s the point? Is it acquisition for greed, for future wealth or for identity as the owner of a famous work of art?

Having cleared houses from people who have died and had visible proof that you can’t take it with you, I have taken stock of my own collection addiction. I’ve recently moved countries, so have let go of all my books and glass objects, and have sold my coin collection. I left all the pebbles and shells in my garden. Where I live now we are not too far from the coast which has beautiful sandy beaches, so I still pick up pebbles and stones, but now I admire them and drop them back on the beach. Every now and then one stays in my pocket, but it’s easier to let things go now, to release my attachment to having ‘things.’

We are so beautiful inside and nature provides us with that reflection constantly, we do not need anything outside of us to make us feel beautiful.

There is much for us to explore, in how we live, and why we do the things we do. I don’t have answers to the question about why we collect things, but I felt to start the conversation…

By Carmel Reid, originally from the UK and currently on a long term visit to Australia, working as a volunteer in a charity op shop

Related Reading:
Making Space
Bringing Sunshine inside my Basement by De-cluttering
De-cluttering my Flat and my Life: A Forever Deepening Amazingness



638 thoughts on “Why Do We Collect Things?

  1. Great blog Carmel and great question. Why do we collect things and why do we hang onto things that we no longer use? Is it because we feel we don’t have enough? Are we scared we are going to lose something? I am in the middle of selling a much loved home and going through the packing process, at the outset my intention is to “downsize” and simplify but it is interesting how much I don’t want to let things go.

  2. I have worked with a few people who have been diagnosed with hoarding behaviours who struggle to let go of anything. Though there is very little room to move in often the collections are done in a very ordered way. but it has felt oppressive.

    Reading ‘We are so beautiful inside and nature provides us with that reflection constantly, we do not need anything outside of us to make us feel beautiful.’ is so beautiful that I’m reminded we have already everything and do not need to distrust that what is needed will be there if we are living connected to the rhythms and cycles that we are in without resistance.

  3. Could it be that we collect things because we have an attachment to certain objects and are not able to let them go because we may have sentimental values placed on these objects? I find there are certain things that are harder to let go and I often wonder why. It almost feels like they have an invisible string attached to you and if you let them go it can leave you feeling a bit exposed or vulnerable. But once we detach and get rid of items that we do not use even if they have lots of sentimental value, it can leave us feeling lighter, clearer and very different. Have you ever experienced this?

    1. I let go of a lot of things when I left the UK, many of which I was happy to let go. In answer to your question, there was a table of my mother’s which was beautiful but I didn’t want to ship it to Australia so I sold it. I must have some emotional attachment to it and what it represents because I sometimes feel sad about it. I do miss a few other things as well because they were useful and I haven’t been able to replace them here, but that is not emotional although it is the comfort of familiarity.

  4. It is always worth remembering that for all the material goods we accumulate, we cannot take any of it with us when we die….so why do we need to collect so much while we are living is a great question to ponder on. For several years now I have been working with ‘less is more’, in terms of space, and bringing more order, harmony and flow, it certainly is?

  5. Is it a woman thing, collecting stones from the beach? I did this too, but not for years now, but I do still love to walk along the beach in all that glorious space. Mmm, will have to plan a trip to the beach me thinks!

    1. I reckon collecting things can act a bit like a void filler. As in when we are not living and feeling the fullness of who we are, we have the propensity to collect things perhaps in an attempt to fill our life up but with material items and for some people this could be junk or expensive art etc. But of cause nothing in this world we can collect that would work to fill the void we may feel inside. I reckon love is the only thing in this world that works, and the thing is, we cannot collect love, we actually have to live and breathe it.

    2. As I get older I am finding collecting quite pointless compared to when I was young. I observed collecting was a normal and valued thing to do as a child and copied with stamp collecting, spoons, and swap cards to name a few. Now I love minimalism, having what I need and not hanging onto things that don’t suit me anymore.

  6. I used to collect things. I did it because it was an identification that I had things worth of value. They ended up being stolen, and what I had left I was not able to resell for any value. These days I do not even waste time to take photos and publish with a description to sell online. For the time I spend doing all of this does not add up to what I love doing instead. It’s a waste of time and in the end it does not return anything of value but an outside identification.

  7. I used to collect little sentimental things when I was a teenager – things that meant something, that reminded me of someone. Just so that I could “feel them around me”. There was a sense of pride with some of these things, for example I kept a part of a sports kit from a friend of mine. I felt like this gave me a status of “cool” or “popular” – it gave me identification.

  8. Working as a carer, I go to the homes of the elderly and the disabled and on one occasion I went to an elderly ladies home which was decked out with plastic boxes from floor to ceiling in every room. There was just enough room to walk, but the house was very cluttered to bursting point. It was so full that there was not enough room to kneel on the floor without bumping into something. Personally, being a non-collector or hoarder, I found the environment very uncomfortable and oppressive but looking at it from my clients’ point of view there must have been some comfort or security with the collecting. It makes me wonder if this was an outward display of undealt with hurts and emotions.

  9. Carmel reading through your blog again today I was reflecting on the times I’ve wanted to keep a beautiful stone or leaf I have found on a walk even though it didn’t feel right to do so, and your words about not realising the beauty within rang very true, that there is an attachment to something outside of ourselves as we don’t realise what is within.

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