I’ll admit it, I am. And I can attest that in my case collecting was not a learned behavior. My dad is decidedly not a collector and my mother only bought “collectible” plates churned out by Bradford Exchange and Franklin Mint later in life. (She had been seduced by their pitch that at some future date these plates would be worth a lot. After her death in 2001 my dad couldn’t even give these away. Most ended up at thrift stores. )
But once a collector like me gets smitten by something, she/he wants more of it. More pocket watches, more Victorian fans, more Chinese snuff bottles.
It’s hard to explain to non-collectors. If you have one lovely Murano glass bowl, why do you want another one they ask. And another? And another?
It is a conundrum ScienceDaily.com has no answer for:
Most people have a collection of some kind at some point in their lives. Indeed, historical studies show that acquiring and retaining objects, even when they are not necessary for survival, is not only nearly universal, but also has been part of human behavior since the earliest human societies. Yet despite the ubiquitous nature of this trait, very little is known about what drives humans to collect.
Right now I’m not actively collecting anything, but when I do buy something for myself it’s because I appreciate its aesthetic, creativity, uniqueness and/or history. There is something about it that captivates and charms me. A certain je ne sais quoi. I’m guessing it’s the same for you.
Which leads me to one of my favorite collections–my vintage sterling silver charm bracelets. For decades now I’ve adored the tiny, intricate details on vintage charms and love wearing them. I have been known to heap on five to seven when heading out on the town.
A few weeks ago, feeling the need to glam it up a little while sheltering at home, I piled on a bunch. And they did lift my spirits.
A writer at Heritage Auctions posited an idea about collecting I hadn’t thought of before which seems particularly apt during this pandemic:
…things make you feel safe. Though the world outside is a dangerous and continually changing place, you can still sit safely in your home or apartment surrounded by your collections.
Of course we all know there is no real security in things. Where I live in California we are one wild fire or earthquake away from loss and yet while we own our bits and bobs they do bring a bit of joy and comfort.
Looking back I realize that most of my early collections were started by other people. Once one person gives you a decorative box, others assume you collect them and give them to you too and then it seems you are collecting boxes!
Also in my teens I inherited several antique sterling silver souvenir spoons from two great aunts and later in life I found myself adding to the collection. I mean honestly spoons! Why would I want to collect spoons?! And yet I did quite happily for decades. I was (and am) intrigued by the amazing details of these small items.
While I have sold off part of my collection, there are some that I plan on always keeping. Just because.
And it got me thinking about why humans collect the things we do.
It is amazing the things people collect—teeth and toupees, skulls and chamber pots, trolley-car transfers, hair and fans and kites and forceps, dogs and coins, canes, canaries, facts data on Siamese twins or the Dionne quintuplets, Presley stuff and Beatles stuff and buttons and bones, hat pins and forged signatures and first editions—and how devoted their proprietorship is.Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “An Accidental Autobiography”
There really is no rhyme or reason. My brother Dan has a small clock collection. My step-mother loves dolls. My friend Ann has amazing vintage hats. (You’ll want to check out her blog.)
Perhaps that’s the neat bit…we are all so fabulously different. But there’s one thing I am sure of…if a collection no longer gives you pleasure, it’s time to let it go. Life is too short to be cluttered up with stuff we don’t care about.
Would love to hear what collections rock your world.
Wishing you health and happiness,