Why People Stop Collecting – Part II

There are five basic reasons why collectors stop collecting—personal, financial, availability, contemporary material and issues arising as part of the collecting process. Each divides into a number of subcategories.

Initially, I identified five “personal” subcategories: (a) age / retirement; (b) divorce; (c) pressure from the spouse and/or children; (d) emotional issues; and (e) death. I was certain additional subcategories would become evident as I continued to think about the concept. They did. Add “lack of time” to the personal list.

Harry RinkerIn a previous column—Why People Stop Collecting – Part I—I explored the subcategories of age / retirement and divorce. Pressure from the spouse and/or children is next.

In most relationships, one spouse or partner collects, while the other does not. The time the collector spends assembling the collection, the costs ranging from purchase to travel, the space consumed by display and storage, and the exchange with other collectors are a few of the many collecting aspects the spouse tolerates, often with a smile on the face and resentment inside. Collecting is not something that can be stopped “in the name of love.” What the collector fails to understand is the spouse’s continual thoughts that the time and money could, perhaps should, have been spent on “us” or “me” and not on another of those damn objects.

When each spouse or partner does collect, they rarely collect the same thing. He has his stuff. She has her stuff. I know couples who do collect the same thing, but they are few in number.

Pressure begins when the spouse and children come to the realization that when the collector dies, they are going to be responsible for the disposal of the collection. Having little to no knowledge of the collection—how large it is, the many places where it is stored, who can and cannot be trusted for advice, and the collection’s value—the disposal prospect becomes overwhelming. The pressure increases when the couple is faced with downsizing to move into a smaller home or retirement community.

The collector does not accept the “you cannot take it with you” adage. He believes he can. The collector knows better, but has no desire to face this reality.

As the collector becomes older, the pressure increases. A sudden temporary illness is an excuse to advance the disposal agenda. The get-rid-of-it chorus expands to relatives and friends. The collector faces the prospect of being hounded to death until he agrees to sell.

It takes a strong individual to withstand the onslaught. Most eventually succumb to the pressure. The warm-hand theory prevails—better to dispose of a collection with a warm hand than a cold one.

A collector’s emotions are complex. When trifled with or altered, the result can be traumatic. The collector is passionate, in love with what he collects. The objects are animate—real, alive, breathing.

From the hunt to research to display, collecting is about fun. When the fun disappears, the urge to collect diminishes, even vanishes. Assembling and maintaining a collection is hard work. However, the collector does not view what he/she does as work. The work spent on the collection is actually soothing and relaxing. Collecting helps the collector escape from the realities of the real world.

[Author’s Aside: I will be involved in the antiques and collectibles business as long as it is fun. When it becomes work, I am gone.]

An increase in a collector’s seriousness transitions collecting from fun to work. Quality collecting is pressure free. When pressures such as having to be at a particular antiques show when it opens or on a computer when an auction closes mount, a subtle shift in mental attitude occurs. Instead of relief, the collector begins to feel overwhelmed. Satisfaction disappears. The collector begins to see the collection through a new, jaded set of eyes.

Ask A WorthologistQuestions begin to arise, the most frightful being: “Do I need another?” An active collector never questions need. The mere fact that he sees and wants something is all the justification required. Questions drive away fun. If the collector is not careful, he slips into a lethargic state.

When operating at full strength, collectors have no problems finding time to devote to their collection. Business and family obligations are ignored. The collection always comes first. It is amazing how retirement changes this. “I am busier now than when I worked.” Retirement is the start of a new life. Couples can now do things together. Grandma and the children increase pressure to become better acquainted with the grandchildren. We finally can travel to all those places we have never had a chance to visit before. Change is the order of the day. We no longer live in a Couch Potato world. New and exciting things to do challenge the time the collector previously spent on his collection. Is it more invigorating and rewarding to find time to do something when one does not have the time available than when one does? The answer appears to be yes.

Death is the final arbiter. If there is a God, I want to be buying rather than selling an antique or collectible when I drop dead. Death is final proof that the collector really meant it when he said, “it is not about the money.”

Resisting the pressures of personal reasons to cease collecting is easier than resisting the pressures created by financial issues. The financial reasons why a collector stops collecting divide into four subcategories: (a) financial necessity; (b) recoup funds; (c) affordability; and (d) unstoppable decline in a collection’s value.

In theory, collecting is driven by discretionary income. In reality, a collector is prepared to do whatever it takes to acquire an object he/she desires. In many cases, “to spend” can be substituted for “to do” in the previous sentence. Collecting is fun as long as the collector has money to spend. Charging a purchase on a credit card or negotiating a layaway presents no problem.

When a collector’s financial resources become tight, collecting is not fun. The collector avoids going to auctions, flea markets, mall, shops and shows. Time spent on the Internet lessens. He has no desire to see things he cannot buy. Even worse, the prospect that the object may wind up in the hands of a rival is cataclysmic. Failure to hunt also decreases the amount of social interaction with other collectors, dealers, and friends.

Divorce (covered in a previous column), loss of job, a decline in the stock market, illness, and family issues are just a few of the causes for loss of purchase funds. Retirement also is an issue, but only for older collectors. It usually does not become a consideration until the collector is in his mid-60s to early-70s.

Although I have no proof other than my own gut feeling, once a collector is forced to cut back or abandon collecting because of financial reverses, he will not resume collecting with the same degree of intensity when his financial situation improves. In fact, he may never return. Once the collector learns to live without, the passionate need to possess diminishes.

When financial reversal occurs, the collector is forced to consider the sale of some or all of his collection as one of the solutions for financial relief. Reaching this conclusion is painful. It hurts even more when the financial reversal occurs during an economic slump, thus increasing and perhaps ensuring the probability that the collection will sell at a loss.

Further, the collector is aware his collection is not easy to liquidate. A forced sale is a disaster. It takes time to develop and implement a viable sales plan.

When a collector parts with part or all of his collection, he equates it to selling his soul; doing business with the devil. If it has to be done, the sooner it is over the better. Again, the long-term effects are devastating. The chance of the collector returning to collecting is slim.

I will finish my analysis of the financial reasons and explore the availability issues that cause collectors to cease collecting in my next “Rinker on Collectibles” text column.

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REQUEST—I would like your help:. In a previous column, I asked my readers to share with me why they stopped collecting. I received more than 40 e-mails, in addition to the comments on the WorthPoint Web site. Thanks to everyone who wrote. If you did not, I would like to hear from you. Send your thoughts to me at harrylrinker@aol.com or Stop Collecting, Rinker on Collectibles, 22 Stillwater Circle, Brookfield, CT 06804).

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site: http://www.harryrinker.com.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2010

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  1. Pua Ting says:

    I loved being a wholesale accessories buyer as a profession and looked forward to retiring and continuing ‘searches’ for myself, recession not withstanding. While on a very recent vacation, anticipating years of opportunities in new locations, I fell ill, ended up in 3 hospitals for nearly 3 months and was finally diagnosed with a rare fatal genetic metabolic disease.

    Ended up selling custom home of 35 years and relocated to be closer to clincial studies for the disease. Downsized, but collections still in packing boxes. Illness is definitely not a way to stop a collecting pleasure, but what I managed to unpack and carress feeds my soul for now. Transitory, yes, but what wonderful memories for my mind!