Why Collect Stuff?

Small Hoarder

At dinner with some of my colleagues the other night, Mary and Marti, we considered the question: why do people collect stuff? We came up with a number of reasons, besides the usual ones like to invest in things that will hold or appreciate in value, to preserve family legacies or a piece of history, or for the sheer enjoyment of owning interesting items or decorating our abodes with them.

We figured that some people collect things in order to relate to an era that captures the imagination. Some collections are an expression of an individual’s sense of reverence for significant people or events that possess a certain meaning for the person, that illustrate the person’s sense of connection and continuity with history. In sum, the collection is a symbol of the person’s sense of place in the vast scheme of life.

Others may collect things in order to fill up a void — to infuse meaning into his or her life by importing concrete representations of historical value into their existence; so that the person perceives himself as a link in the long chain of humanity, rather than as a meaningless speck in an impersonal universe. In a sense, the collection is an armament in the all-too-human war against loneliness.

Still others collect things for the pleasure of imagining later generations discovering wonderful surprises about their forebear’s aesthetic sensibility.

Certainly, there are some people who collect and preserve things for reasons that include a combination of some of the above, and more.

The motives for collecting may be determined by many factors — unique as any individual. Or, the reasons may be far less complicated.

What do you think?