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The Psychology of Collecting

Where can I write about the Psychology of Collection? I do not have a degree in any of the behavioral sciences. (I took Psychological Foundations of Education to get my teaching degree a few years ago. Got an ‘A’, but frankly, I thought it was all a bit silly.) The answer is simple. I made a hobby of finding people’s hobbies. Talking to them – or more accurately – listening to them talk about a topic they love. (And I have to say that there are worse ways to learn about something. An interesting discussion and a perfect essay are often separated by little more than the speaker and his interest in the subject.)

Collecting may be considered a subset of a larger human movement whose name—if only for convenience—is a hobby. But I’m not sure if this is true. I theorize that collectors and hobbyists are completely different things. Take the human model train as evidence. When they came to northern California, I took my case work to training shows. Nice people who train model ‘hobbyists’, but they come in two different flavors. There are those who build roads and small towns and mountains and then play with their trains. Then there are the collectors who somehow have to own an example of every locomotive that Lionel built in a given year. Or all the locomotives that Lionel has ever built. Or all locomotives, cars, tankers, cabs, etc. of a certain size/year/manufacturer. Many times they don’t even open the package – it lowers the price, I’m told. Both producers and collectors go to the same show and -I guess- talk to each other -but they are completely different genres.


There are some poor souls who are pathological in their concentration. Not my word, ‘pathological’. Research people use this word to describe accumulation as it interferes with everyday life. Their houses are filled – and I mean literally every square-floor-to-ceiling-filled-until-it-collapses-on-the-floor-below. These people usually have no interest in the items in their collection, but if someone is tired it is appropriate to remove one of them. There are some studies that show how this can be explained. Steven W. Anderson, a neurologist, and his colleagues at the University of Iowa studied 63 people with brain damage from pneumonia, surgery, or encephalitis who had no problems with digging before their illness, but later began to fill their homes. do such things. old newspapers, broken appliances or trash cans. The good doctor says:

These compulsive hoarders all have damage to the prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in decision-making, information processing and behavioral organization. Those whose collecting behavior remained normal also had brain damage, but instead it was distributed throughout the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Anderson suggests that the urge to collect stems from the need to store supplies such as food — a drive so basic that it originates in the subcortical and limbic parts of the brain. People need the prefrontal cortex, he says, to determine which “needs” are worth collecting.

I need to make one last point before I get to the purely stupid-non-pathological collectives. All the reading I’ve done suggests that aggregation—for what reason and to what extent—is poorly understood and there really isn’t much clear research out there. This brings me back to my starting point – I pretend to be an expert on the psychology of recruitment because there is no one else out there who is better qualified than me.

NUT-DOSE COLLECTORS (non-clinical):

A little less ‘traumatic’ / ‘dramatic’? – and it’s very clear that I’m being thin-skinned here – the only collectors of obsessive compulsive disorder. Not obvious brain damage – just good old fashioned OCD – or should we call it OCCD, (Obsessive Compulsive Collection Disorder). But I wonder how many people who are really into a certain topic, (fundraising, Denver Broncos, UFOs, conspiracy theories, you name it) have family and friends who look at them, shake their heads and go on OCD says something below. their smell But before we get to the collectors – Collectibles with a capital C, coins, stamps, model railroad car collectibles, etc., we might consider the collector in all of us. There is a beautiful story written by Judith Katz-Schwartz – Grandmother’s Memory. Her grandmother was a refugee – as a very young girl – from Tsarist Russia who collected…

… the tip of the Bic pens is nicely cut with rubber patterns; hundreds of tiny clothes pulled on safety pins; at least a hundred glass vessels, all clean; Ace’s eighty-seven bands were neatly rolled and folded.

I thought this was a little funny, until the girl I share a wood shop with reminded me of the two large garbage bags I filled with carefully cleaned bottles of BBQ sauce. I love BBQ sauce and put it on almost everything. About a bottle a week. I don’t know what will come of them, but I know the day will come when I’ll be glad I have all these empty BBQ sauce bottles.

Judith sums it up beautifully and with a little compassion and understanding, I think. In the above article, it is …

Some people collect for investment. Some collect for fun. Some people do this to learn about history. And some people “save things” because it helps them fill a significant hole, calm fears, eliminate insecurities. For them, collecting provides order in their lives and a buffer against the chaos and terror of an uncertain world. It serves as a protection against the destruction of everything they have loved. Grandma’s things made her feel safe. Even though the world outside was a dangerous and constantly changing place, she could still sit safely in her apartment at night, “getting my stuff together”.

Then there was an episode of the sit-com TV Third Rock from the Sun. You may recall that Dick – (John Lithgow) was involved with Fuzzy Buddies. I see “Fuzzy Buddies” as a productive way to avoid being sued by people who make “Beanie Babies”. If one is being completely honest about things, I suspect that most – if not all of us – found a little bit of ourselves in the character.

There is another very unusual type of hoarding—which is practiced by dictators when they collect bric-a-brac. The possible reasons for collecting are many: compulsion, competition, exhibitionism, the desire for immortality and the need for expert approval. According to Peter York, a British journalist who researched the decor of dictators for his book Dictator Style, he recognizes all of these things in his subjects. Basically it’s the job of dictators, he says, to take over everything. For instance…

Saddam Hussein

Sci-fi fantasy pictures featuring menacing dragons and scantily clad blondes.

Adolf Hitler

Bavarian furniture of the 18th century. The antique dealers of Munich were ordered to keep an eye on him.

Kim Jong II

20,000 videos (Daffy Duck cartoons, Star Wars, Liz Taylor and Sean Connery movies)

So Amin

Lots of race cars and lots of old movies of reruns of I Love Lucy and Tom and Jerry cartoons

Joseph Stalin

Western with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and John Wayne. Stalin also inherited the films of Joseph Goebbels.

He also notes that “Some of these people,” he says, “were really short.”


I don’t know what else to call this set. There are few companies that sell things so well—and with such a terrible understanding of their customers, and do so with deliberate marketing plans carefully designed to exploit the peccadilloes of poor collectors—that these collectors are victims of something—themselves— or the victim. old marketing companies, don’t know which.

On point are Hallmark Cards and Christmas Keepsake Ornaments. Note especially the word “keepsake” and compare it with the idea of ​​”nostalgia”. (Every research on collecting by the PhD crowd seems to hinge on the word “nostalgia”.) It makes sense to collect things that speak of the past. This is no more and no less than any historical museum. It’s also reasonable to collect things that evoke fond memories of our past—let’s hope. (People my age remember the games Chutes and Ladders and Candy-Land. That’s what Daniel Arnett writes in his article Why We Group, published elsewhere on this site.) But these things are true.

Hallmark has made millions – and I have nothing against making money – by selling fake nostalgia – and let’s not mince words here – to women. If you read the articles I have, it seems that these women are not women with careers, education, children to raise, or – and we still do not mince words here – not much else to do.

And how far will Hallmark go to buy these poor ladies the next ornament – or series of 5 or 10 ornaments? Seminars, conventions, newsletters, freelance (artist) opportunities, and advanced viewings. (Progressive visions for millions of sealed plastic ornaments??? YES!)

Not just Hallmark either. Think Franklin Mint, Hummel figurines, small English cottage ceramics, commemorative plaques with Elvis painted on them. These things are ‘nostalgic’ for nothing. When a kid’s movie comes out, McDonald’s or Burger King has little plastic toys/figures/antenna balls of each character. Children of a certain age must then eat Happy Meals until they get the whole collection. (For kids, “nostalgia” is all about going back to the movie they saw a week ago.)


My sister tells me about the fourth and final category of collectors. This type can also be seen as a victim, but I chose to call them casual. He writes…

Someone mentions once that they like X and then for years all their friends call them X and then they really start to hate X. Loren and Bonnie. [my nieces] There was once a teacher who everyone in the whole school knew loved giraffes and collected them. I was talking to her one day and she said it all started years ago when she was explaining a project the kids had to do to talk about themselves. She used herself as an example and suddenly said that she likes giraffes. Now this poor woman has received every possible giraffe item ever made. She told me she doesn’t even like the damn animals.

The psychology of these poor souls is easy to understand. They are the ‘co-dependent,’ (‘accidental enablers’?) link of a mild-OCD crowd. They know it means well but they are too eager to say anything to get themselves out of it. What will you do?

Judith has a wealth of valuable advice to offer collectors. And it has some very nice items for sale. Check out her website Twin Brooks and her book Secrets of a Collecting Diva. If I had her book before I wrote some of my articles it would have saved me a lot of time researching and creating things.

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