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

Spara

Spara

700 thoughts on “Why Do We Collect Things?

  1. Thank you Carmel for this blog, since my first read I have examined this topic of collecting things in my own life and looked at my attachment to objects, and I feel more able to let things go now.

  2. I struggle when there is clutter- less is more for me. Wanting there to be clear space around me also offers me something to reflect on and suggests maybe I have to much clutter or busyness happening within in the form of ‘thoughts’. Great opportunity to reflect.

  3. By keeping our lives simple and clutter free, we get to feel more clearly what is happening around us, and many times we are not comfortable with what we are feeling, hence it is easier to keep the clutter and ignore what we feel.

    1. I absolutely agree Henrietta whenever I start to collect things I know that there is something I am not wanting to feel but it needs always my honesty to make myself aware of it otherwise it is easier to collect things.

  4. Carmel, you have brought some great insight into why we collect things and on reflection I feel I too have done that either out of fear of being without or due to filling up an empty space within, like trying to substitute for something that is missing. And so it is revealing to consider that there is a part of me that I am seeking to fill up but rather than fill it up from within, I seek to fill it up with something from the outside.

  5. I have spent most of this life collecting things I had seen value in them. It is true that one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. When I shed almost everything I had dragged around this world, it was amazing how easy it was to give away and who wanted it. there are still some small things being hung on to but all the big stuff is gone. There is always more to discard and the biggest change is to feel into something if I could need it before I collect it!

  6. ‘..we do not need anything outside of us to make us feel beautiful.’ So true.

    I remember wanting to keep all the Quality Street wrappers as a child. I felt they were so pretty and reflected back the sparkle in me. Writing this I am reminded of those moments when sparkle is reflected back to me by others – it happens all the time like this evening getting the train home, the doors are taking ages to open, I worry a little so look down the carriage to see if the other doors are opening, a woman see me worry and smiles back as she’s waiting for the doors to open to. It’s a really sweet moment. Feeling the sparkle in me as a child and even more so, if I felt it reflected back, I’d not have wanted to even eat the chocolates in the first place.

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