Feature: Why is it that we collect things?

We aren’t going to beat around the bush here, we are going to discuss a question that many people who do collect things, and those who don’t, often wonder; why is it that we collect things?

A Collection of Patek Philippe antique pocket watches owned by Tiffany & Co.

So why do we do it?

Essentially, collecting is a basic human instinct; a survival advantage which becomes amplified by ages of natural selection. From those of our ancient ancestors who were able to accrue scarce objects, many may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring and thus handing down the collection, creating a legacy and heirlooms of sorts. In regards to wealth, it correlates to longer life expectancy even in this modern age- and who would argue that any form of wealth is more basic than scarce in tangible objects? Antique pocket watches are certainly a wealth worth having.

If you collect – or ever have an intention to begin a collection – your initial priority should be to develop an inner awareness of the ambitions you have personally in terms of your collection.

We have taken the liberty of including a list of the most common reasons people collect things for you:

  • Knowledge and learning
  • Relaxation and stress reduction
  • Personal pleasure (including appreciation of beauty, and pride of ownership)
  • The desire to control, possess and bring order to a small (or even a massive) part of the world
  • Social interaction with fellow collectors and others (i.e. the sharing of pleasure and knowledge)
  • Competitive challenge
  • Recognition by fellow collectors and perhaps even non-collectors
  • Altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums and learning institutions)
  • Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
  • Accumulation and diversification of wealth (which can ultimately provide a measure of security and freedom)

The reasons listed above, as well as others, aren’t mutually exclusive. It has been observed that the majority of collectors realise several – often most – of these benefits, even if it requires significant investment in what some may see as excessive amounts of time, energy and funds.

Numerous non-acquisitive pastimes afford similar levels of knowledge, recognition and satisfaction, along with other benefits of collecting. But in contrast to the tropical fish enthusiasts, horticulturists, and such similar hobbyists, committed collectors of rare objects will very frequently find that they have formed a substantial wealth when all is said and done, particularly when they recognise, at least to themselves, that doing so is a target they set to achieve.

Image:Kamal Aboul-HosnunderCreative Commons.

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