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



690 thoughts on “Why Do We Collect Things?

  1. When we collect objects it is as if we then identify ourselves with these things, they become an important part of our lives and we become attached to them, and they give us something back. I met an elderly gentleman that lived in a mobile home and it was absolutely full of dolls, many were collectors’ items but he loved them and I could feel they were all giving him something that made his life comfortable.

  2. This is a great question; ‘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?’ I can also feel that with shopping and buying things that this too can be a addiction – that we can be always looking to fill a gap or emptiness.

  3. “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.” True Carmel, I love walking in nature and no longer feel the need to collect shells and pebbles from the beach, which I used to do – which just gathered dust after a few months in my home.

  4. Perhaps we collect things to remind us of the good times we’ve had, a pebble from the beach could be a heart-warming reminder of a time you felt touched by the scenery and the warmth in your chest. But perhaps, by collecting things and holding onto the past, onto this ideal we are actually harming ourselves. We are not connecting to the present and seeing the beauty, all of these things we keep could potentially take us away from the present and become a distraction away from what is going on right now.

  5. I love to not collect things. Collecting things for the sake of it feel like clutter and makes rooms or spaces feel smaller. I love to have objects that has their place to create an ambience or feeling in a room, but extra stuff I can do without.

  6. We get fascinated by objects but often that is not enough and we want to own them. We need something dense and tangible to verify our feelings. I wonder if that has anything to do with not being fully in presence and holding parts of ourselves back from feeling what is there to be felt.

  7. But the more we collect the heavier we become, in ourselves and our environment. I always feel lighter whenever I clear out a part of my home or when helping another with theirs. It’s showing me that the heaviness comes when I feel I need something from outside of me to be something, be it to hold onto an identity or protect an identity I hold.

  8. I think it’s synonymous with how we hold onto things in life also – people, family, jobs – we hold onto everything for dear life in case we loose something, not realising that life is actually a beautiful experience and you don’t actually need to hold on for dear life for things to unfold and develop in the most incredible way.

  9. I used to hang on to clothes that had shrunk in the washing machine and I realised how much I identified myself with clothes. Of course it is a shame when something is broken, but it should never leave you desperate, as nothing in the outside can define you more than who you are without it.

  10. Since I have read this blog months ago my pattern of taking shells or things that nature offers completely changed. I appreciated a beautiful shell at the beach for example but I left it there for other people to enjoy it also. Why always owning things in a material way when the richest way of owning is to let in the reflection that it brings at each moment?!

    1. Wow I love your comment, it makes me realise that we hold onto things whether it be money or shells as a substitute for the true riches of life – and they are already abundantly there if we let go of the former.

  11. I know the feeling of wanting to capture or own a beautiful moment or thing but never actually when I have it does it fulfill me or feel like it gives me the same feeling of wonder and beauty. I am pondering on the fact that nothing is standing still, everything is constantly moving so that is why we can’t have that same feeling about the same thing as we have already moved on and the next beautiful moment is coming to us.

  12. I very rarely hold onto anything these days because I know it has been offered to me for a reason, usually as a reminder to appreciate my life and what is before me, but If I do I ask myself why do I want to keep it, what is the purpose of holding onto it, and if I can’t answer it I usually let it go

  13. I am wondering what the psychological reason is for collecting things but as we are each unique (although the same!) I guess it could be something different for each person but my feeling is it is a kind or ownership, even on a subtle level where we do not want to let something go or just be, we have to ‘take it with us’. I feel in practice what we need to be doing more is letting go. This is what I am currently starting to do, declutter and let go of anything I am holding onto, even looking at past relationships that on some level I have found I have been holding onto. I know that when I do this I will have more space in the body and life for more love, joy and magic to unfold … something we cannot own or hold onto but is definitely worth allowing in.

  14. I have a friend who is just over 60 that started collecting record singles as a child. His collection today has very few holes in it from the fifty’s to the seventy’s. The library is sorted by year and alphabetically floor to ceiling on the walls and racks with a small bed in a large bedroom. I met a person that collected Dinky cars that had no wall or shelf not covered with display cases. I also meet a man that owned a museum of old firefighting everything that included a 1921 fire truck. The museum is also the large restaurant at a seaside resort he owns. What kind of hole in their lives are these three examples, unsuccessfully, trying to fill?

    1. These collections feel each like a museum on itself. And the flavour that always comes for me with it is kind of heavy, dusty, dark and stagnant. It feels like a self-created heaviness that does not allow the natural flow taking place.

  15. One man’s rubbish is another’s treasure. When does seeing a purpose in an item become an obsession? This is where a free on-site, called many things, where you can give away things locally that can be used by others rather than hoarded. And, they come to you to pick up and use what you no longer need.

  16. Collecting things can be an addiction and it can come in many different forms. When we disconnect from our Soul, we can feel an emptiness and with this, we tend to fill that emptiness up with addictions to give us a sense of relief but it never truly heals that sense of emptiness until we return to reconnecting to our soul. No amount of collecting things can fill the gap we feel from stepping away from our Soul.

  17. Whatever our addictions are… And in this case, yes collecting can really be quite an addiction, it is such a big step to let go of something that has been such a big part of our lives

  18. I feel our attachment to collecting stuff, and this has certainly being my experience, is that we feel we are not enough without these collectables and the more we collect, the desire for more seeks to be fed. As you say Carmel it does feel to be an addiction and your blog has inspired me to uncover the underlying cause of the attachment addiction that I indulge in.

    1. I agree Elizabeth attachment or addictions is seeking something on the outside to fulfil us. The truth is nothing on the outside can or will ever truly full-fill us. This can only be done through our connection within .. a great reminder for me.

  19. Moving house is a great opportunity to review everything we own and have held onto in our belongings, and an amazing time to start afresh in how we order the home.

    1. Yes, I love moving house because of the opportunity to go through everything and discard things we no longer use. De-cluttering, clearing and getting rid of things we no longer use always feels so spacious, light and clear. I find collecting things is the opposite of this.

  20. Yes, it is great to start the conversation Carmel and has me pondering the opposite to what you offer was I struggle with clutter. As a society we do appear to have an attachment to things and have felt in myself the momentary joy first experienced in buying something new but this soon passes. Joy experienced in this way is not constant and can soon pass. Being open and willing to reflect with awareness of all area’s of our life makes more room for Love.

  21. It makes sense that we collect pretty things to remind us of the beauty that lives deep within us. But because we do not acknowledge or appreciate this inner beauty we build attachments to the outer forms and then have great difficulty relinquishing them. The pain we feel when we let go of these is simply the pain of not carrying beauty with us but this beauty does not come from the objects we collect and thus the illusion is exposed.

  22. I used to be a collector too of various things for many years but as I have connected more lovingly to my body and in staying present with myself the less attached I now am to outside things or having a feeling of emptiness to fill.

      1. Once again you have ‘hit the nail on the head’ Liane. A stop moment to feel the truth about addiction to collecting things. Beautifully and succinctly expressed and exposed in one simple, short, clear sentence –
        Collection is a substitute for Connection.

    1. The more we connect to our essence the less we accumulate in terms of material possessions and we more likely to live with order, simplicity and spaciousness.

  23. “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.” It’s funny but as I grow older I know this more to be the case, ask me this in my twenties or when I was a teenager and I would have laughed it off.
    The difference is now I can honestly say I love myself where as back then I was still running from my own self love.

  24. We can continue to fill our lives up with objects that we ‘hope’ will fulfil us but never can, they truly take the place of the quality of love that we already are in essence, the quality that holds far greater riches beyond anything in this world and is why we are left with the feeling of emptiness when we walk away from our connection to it.

  25. Your reference to clearing houses of people who have died is important to reflect on. It’s one of the things that highlights how ill prepared we are for dying and how there is in some cases a thought that someone else will look after that. I have seen very few people prepare for death to the detail by taking care of all the details.

  26. If we identify with “things” and put them as more important than ourselves then we are very lost indeed.

    1. If that what you say is true and to me it is, then we have to state that humanity is very lost in its wayward pursuit of making the physical life more important that the inner life that will give us all.

  27. Collecting things is accepted as quite normal in society – whether it be stamps, bottle tops for re-cycling, clothes, ornaments or ideals and beliefs in our minds etc – it all is designed to live in complexity of attachment to things outside of ourselves, rather than the simplicity of conscious presence with our body.

  28. When we appreciate and confirm what each moment brings we are then ready to embrace the next moment. Collecting things we try to hold on to a moment and take it with us but that simply doesn’t work energetically for everything has moved on to the what is next.

    1. Yes there are already great untold volumes of riches to embrace and appreciate in every moment we are with ourselves, as such with our Godly selves, and the vibration of Heaven that can pour through us when we are willing to be in connection to our Soul.

  29. I have never been able to understand the collector or the hoarder mentality as I don’t feel any of that within me. Owning things has never done much for me, things are either useful or not, I could not see any point in filling up space with things for the sake of it. The other side of the coin is how beautiful it feels to get rid of things, there is a lightening in every discarding.

  30. We used to buy expensive, design furniture and collected quite some beautiful items although not always comfortable to sit on for our bodies. Every shop assistant would tell us it was a great investment. When the time came to sell these items as we became aware that it was a kind of a bubble we had believed in and not supportive for our body, it was hard to get a good price for the furniture and some went to a thrift store. We don’t need this identifying with collecting design anymore, we like quality yes but our bodies will tell what to buy.

  31. I love your point about how we collect beautiful stones form the beach and you get them home and they’re completely dull and flat when they are dry. It’s like we go about our whole lives trying to find and capture magic, there is so much magic in life but if you try to keep it or hold onto it, it’s gone… that’s part of the magic.

    1. A reminder that holding onto things dulls our awareness and feeds individuality and separation, rather being open and transparent and sharing the inner beauty with all. The change in the beach stones being wet or dry is a great analogy for not having to ‘hold on’ to the magic in life, as it’s always there.
      “there is so much magic in life but if you try to keep it or hold onto it, it’s gone… that’s part of the magic”.

      1. Yeh, it’s like we think magic is a fleeting moment so we try to grab it and hold onto it, whereas there is actually magic in everything, we are just blind to it when we are holding on so tightly to a moment from the past.

  32. In collecting things we try and own the experience or feeling we felt at that time and in doing so we can miss the opportunity to embrace the next moment and let go what’s done.

  33. It’s a great conversation to start Carmel and like you I am not too sure why I have collected certain items over the years. Moving to a much smaller home a few years ago really emphasised what I had hung on to, most of which wasn’t needed in my new home, and what I genuinely needed to take with me. It was a very healing process of discarding, one that just didn’t stop when I moved in but has continued periodically as the need to be attached to ‘things’ has slowly been dismantled with the knowing I already have everything I need.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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?

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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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