Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Need to Collect

I have a collection of various things; Christmas ornaments, glass spheres, small pig figurines, and miniature perfume bottles. The other day I was looking at the collection of things that I have on my desk at work; I wondered why do I collect these things? Why do humans have a need to have things around them? Is this something that is genetic to our species?

I found some very interesting things when I looked into the subject. A few feel that collecting is a basic human instinct. It is a survival tool augmented by years of natural selection. Our ancient ancestors managed to accumulate scarce objects and the ones that did may have been the ones able to survive longer. Maybe it even gave them an incentive to do so. Supposedly having great wealth correlates to longer life expectancy. Others said it goes back to our history as hunters and gatherers. But it is mostly something American, Europeans, and Canadians do. It probably reflects the amount of disposable income and the number of material things that one has access to.

According to much of the information, there are several reasons why people collect things:
  1. Knowledge and learning
  2. Create a sense of identity; a reflection of our personality
  3. Relaxation and stress reduction
  4. Personal pleasure
  5. Pride of ownership
  6. Social interaction with fellow collectors
  7. Competitive challenge
  8. Recognition
  9. Altruism (donating your collection to a museum)
  10. The desire to control, possess and bring order
  11. Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
  12. Accumulation and diversification of wealth
  13. The quest the represents a life-long pursuit that is never complete
  14. A security against uncertainty and loss

 There are even words for collectors: an archtophilist collects teddy bears, a deltiologist collects postcards, a numismatist collects coins, a vecturist collects subway tokens and a clock collector is a horologist. But most of the reading that I did on the subject pointed to the need to control things. Apparently Freud said it was due to our loss of control when we were toilet trained. Furthermore there is a difference between men and women. Women tend to display their collections, whereas men have theirs in a separate place.

I can see that the need to control things is a big reason. I know some collectors who are very picky about who sees their collections, who gets to touch the things, and those who feel great pride having a complete set of something. It represents a feeling of achievement, which could be a needed thing when we lack those feelings in our everyday life.

To me, the collection of the ornaments, which are given each year of employment that I keep in my cubicle, is a visual reminder of how long I have been at the same company. I do have sense of pride that I have lasted this long and feel very fortunate to been able to stay employed at the same place for a long time. So I guess the mystery of why people collect is really not really a mystery at all. We all need a sense of control.

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