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



608 thoughts on “Why Do We Collect Things?

  1. It is entertaining to see the extent that we can go to manage life and get distracted from answering the call from evolution, accumulating things takes out space that would otherwise be filled with the love and appreciation that will support us to be more in life.

    1. Love and appreciation for who we are also supports our movements to be simple so we may choose to be the more we actually are. Carrying the burden of possession slows and can even drag us down.

  2. I realise that I have collected patterns in the form of emotions. It’s a hoarding of reactions shored up by reactions to supposedly keep me safe and secure. A bit like why we might collect material possessions.

  3. It is interesting how ownership of both material things we collect and even knowledge we collect reinforce our individuality by reinforcing our connections to emotional experiences or our identity.

  4. Carmel, this is really interesting to read; ‘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.’ I used to collect lots of things when I was growing up and felt that this in some way gave me my character, and made me look interesting, nowadays I have no interest in collecting things and enjoy me rather than my collections of things.

  5. There is perhaps an idea that we are what we own, or what we collect, but in fact, we are the connection that we have within, and what is around us is a reflection of what is within us.

  6. Having been an avid collector of things as a young girl I felt that they gave me an identity in some way and made my who I am, but I now see the true beauty is really me being me and sharing my connection with others too. Not a sticker, stamp, bead or pretty shell in sight just my own radiating glow from within.

  7. Perhaps looking for the next item in our collection is a reduced version of the purpose and focus we are designed to live with, always feeling what’s next for our evolution and what’s needed for humanity.

  8. I can relate 100% to this. I used to have a glass bottle collection because I loved the light that would come through all the different colours, almost magical. I also used to collect things that I ‘might’ use in future….always waiting till that one day when I were to own my own house and THEN i would use whatever it was. Not a hoarder of any old rubbish as such, but I certainly use to buy things for ‘one day’ – I’ve even bought baby clothes for a child I don’t even have or who is no where in sight. Slowly over recent years, I’ve been cutting back on all the unnecessary stuff, especially the ‘future’ stuff and there is no point being stuck in a different time zone. Either use it now and enjoy it, or let it go. I feel a lot lighter since taking on this approach.

  9. People like to define themselves by things ‘outer’. Life is reduced to things having a meaning and value a story, when really the only thing that matters is life itself, LIFE.

  10. I collected things as a child in an attempt to build some security and constancy in my life… it didn’t work but I understand why I did it. Nowadays (a long while later!) I have less and less need for material possessions (little to none of the collectable type) because theres is a richness in life that is borne from my developing, deepening, accepting relationship with myself and my place in the world.

  11. I love the feeling when I’ve gone through and sorted through any area of my home or work that felt like it was getting cluttered! It’s an ongoing process for me, keeping on reviewing things to help with the quality of flow that I’m in.

  12. We collect things because it makes us feel secure and comfortable, even though there is no need for this when we develop within ourselves a true foundation of support. Security is no longer the sought after commodity when we feel supported.

  13. Very practically I can feel how distracting it is to have collected or accumulated too much. For example to work at a desk that is muddled (too many project papers, pens etc). When I tidy or clear my desk between tasks to have that ‘fresh start’ for the next thing, it’s easy to focus, and very supportive.

    1. Yes Rosanna. I find the same is true if a room is left in a muddle. Just by taking a few moments to have a tidy up and put things back where they belong can make such a difference to how I am with my focus as the rest of the day unfolds.

  14. It is true shells, and stones do look more beautiful when we first find them, and at that moment it feels magical to see the beauty. Then when we take them home, they seem to lose their vibrancy and just feel like a rock or an empty shell. I would also try to collect items I found to remember the moment but could never quite hold onto it. The same would go with seeing something stunning with regards to nature, and I would tell myself to remember the moment as if it was a picture. I would be sure that I would, but inevitably the beauty would be a distant memory, the colours would fade, and my recollection would be basic at best. Maybe this is showing us that we do not need to hold onto memories and the past and that there are magical moments to be had every day if we so choose.

  15. The Truth about Serge Benhayon: No amount of expensive art work, diamonds, jewellery or other things that we collect could ever compare to the absolute beauty of the divine essence that lives within us all.

  16. When we peel back the layers of protection – we come to find that there was no reason to protect in the first place, we come to feel a greater acceptance of how gracious we are and how much love we actually hold and are able to express when we let down our guard. Beautiful.

  17. I have often wondered why people collect things also and I was hoping you were going to enlighten me Carmel as to why but alas you didn’t. There are many reasons why people do collect things but I expect that if we are connected to our essence, material things become inconsequential and the need to own lots of the same thing is just not there.

  18. I have spent a few years now shredding things I have spent this lifetime collecting. There is an interesting side effect happening, disposing of past memories that I have collected and carried around for years that have no purpose.

  19. Every now and again I collect things, but it is not long before I feel the need for more space and so my decluttering activity goes to work as I pass on those things that are no longer wanted.

  20. Great conservation to start Carmel, I feel part of the reason we collect things is because we want to own them, to in effect, put our stamp on them; perhaps we feel to own because we want to capture that moment in time, or hold onto something we cherish, but nothing is static and in trying to hold onto that moment we miss the one we’re in and the expansion that might be there. You now have me considering what I collect and why? Thank you.

  21. I find it is our attachment to having things that brings us comfort in some way, shape or form that keeps us collecting more and more things. Could we consider that maybe we become attached to certain objects and or people because we are not connected to who we are. Allowing ourselves to feel why we need something or someone could give us a great insight into how we value ourselves and treasure us first before we begin taking on treasures.

  22. Our need for things is really interesting to reflect on. What’s even more interesting is that we really don’t need what we think we need, as all we end up doing is collecting stuff and more stuff, that eventually we need to let go of.

  23. It’s great to re-assess our belongings from time to time, to review what we have and why – is it something that truly serves or is it just weighing us down and clogging up the space around us…?

    1. Yes it is great to go through all we have and see what no longer serves a purpose and pass it on rather than hold onto it just for the sake of it or because it cost us a lot of money. The spaciousness I feel when I let go of stuff far outweighs what ever monetary value it may have been.

  24. “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.” A great reminder Carmel that we are so much more precious and beautiful than any object we may collect, however amazing it may seem at the time.

  25. “we do not need anything outside of us to make us feel beautiful”. I recently undertook a self-imposed ‘make up challenge’ where I did not wear makeup for a week. It totally exposed a belief that I held/hold that I am more beautiful with make up than without. I know deep in my body that it is not true, but somewhere along the line I have taken that on and it plays out by me wanting to wear make up every day to be beautiful.

    1. Whoo hoo Sarah – this is a pretty full-on experiment – well, certainly for me to consider at my age, as make-up helps considerably to gloss over the ravages of time (or more truthfully, the ravages of our behaviours and way of living over time= the number of times the earth has revolved around the sun). It would be interesting to know in more detail what you felt as the experiment continued.

      1. Love this.:) It is true isn’t it, we wear our lived way on our face…. though the light of the soul cannot be dimmed when connected to and can still shine through, as it does with both you ladies.

  26. We collect so much in our life that maybe a check-list of what is worth-while-keeping should be paramount and all else can be cast aside? So after our divine essence most if not all would be shed and we could be left naked to find what life is all about?

  27. I’ve become more and more aware recently of the need to de-clutter my home but I was brought up in an age where you didn’t just waste things, they might be useful one day. There is enough pollution, especially plastic pollution on our planet and I am reluctant to add to it but my house is polluted with all the unnecessary clutter I have collected. So time to let it go: clothes, duvets (doonas), pieces of cloth, towels (I have more than enough) Old sheets I’m keeping as paint and dust sheets, ornaments, I can look around me and see what supports me and what no longer does.

  28. It is a great question to ask, “Why do we collect things”? As an observer, collections can seem a bit pointless, time wasting and eccentric. This suggests to me that what is valued by one person is not universally valued and so there is a personal attachment or investment for that person. I feel we all have a tendency to do this in various parts of our life, the collections are just a material display of this.

    1. I agree Fiona – there is a little bit of the collector in all of us, and it doesn’t always show in an external collection. I once had a fine collection of books – yes they were the practical tools of my trade ( teaching English Literature at University) and so needed but there was still a flavour of collector energy and identification in there. It was extraordinary when one day as a result of my ex-husband’s amazing daring in exposing (in his newspaper column) some very powerful organisations infecting our society, all our possessions were destroyed. Strangely I never tried to rebuild that library but just moved on and that felt good.

  29. It feels like we grab things as we live contracted. We can trust that the next moment will bring us the next beauty if we surrender. But if we try to control we lose the flow of magic and fear asks us to collect.

  30. In a recent gentle clear-out of some objects in my home, it occurred to me that the ones I was reluctant to pass on were the ones that I believed the most would give me some kind of an identity. And this was especially the case with the books, because I had this thought that if I kept them then somehow it would be known that this is who I am on the inside, that they reflected somehow my values and the inner workings of my perspective on life, and if I was to let them go, then no one would know who I am. Being honest about this thought process helped me to unravel how silly it is to think this way, and helped me to appreciate the depth and loving quality of my relationships with the people in my life – knowing that that is the enduring aspect of my life, not the words and pictures of someone else on paper bound in to a book.

    1. I remember feeling this when I got rid of my collection of philosophical books some years back. There was an identification with them; they superficially represented substance. Crazy really when we have it all within us when we connect to that wisdom.

  31. Looking back over the years it is very interesting to see that at different stages of life we ‘collect’ different items… or beliefs and ideals. The one thing they all have in common is they are fed by ‘pictures’, which reduce the fullness of the truth we naturally are.

    1. We can so easily collect ‘pictures’ of how life should look and miss what is being presented in the moment.

  32. I have only really had one collection and I am sure it was not a healthy focus in my life – interetsing to start to feel and understand why we develop such patterns, whether truly serving or not.

  33. I have been pondering on memories and it ties into collecting things. The things I have collected have been from my journey of life and how each one has a memory. I then clocked how we hold onto the memory or it is logged so we have a sense of belonging and that brought me to consider that I already belong in this multidimensional Universe.

  34. It is important to start these conversations and to then be willing to look at the truths there to be seen.

  35. This is such an interesting aspect of our lives as we all collect things in different ways. I am inspired Carmel by your sentence about the pebbles you collected in the past, but left them behind in your garden, and now how you are able to pick one off the beach, admire it for its beauty and then leave it behind. What a great analogy for life, thank you.

  36. We can collect memories and hold onto them and compare them to now rather then be in the present with what ever is happening. We miss so much when we do this, as we keep ourselves in the past unable to embrace the present moment.

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