Why Are People Compelled to Collect

9.02.2007 Most of us are collectors. Not surprising, considering our history as hunters and gatherers. What we collect – whether it be works of art or old computers – tells us much about ourselves and our society. Professor Susan Pearce, who has studied the process of collecting for years, has a lot to say about our relationship to the material world and about the value we bestow on the objects of our desires.

It is definitely a psychological thing. We did a survey of people in England a few years back and 66 percent of the 1,500 people we interviewed described themselves as collectors. That means about two thirds of the people in Britain collect, and it is no different in the US or Canada. It is different in the rest of the world because of their relationship to material things. This level of collecting is slowly becoming true for some Asian countries, including China, Japan and Taiwan, but it is not true for South America or Africa. It likely reflects the amount of disposable income and the number of material things that one has access to.


What compels people to collect?

This is the big question. An individual may collect things in order to create his or her own identity. In exactly the same way, an institution like a church or a museum may collect things in order to create a corporate identity. For example, people from a certain country will identify with the collection in the national museum because it is part of their own history. Identity can be created at every level from the individual to the local community, to the regional and national communities, but not normally at the international community level.


What about individuals?

They tend to collect things from the past which has some relevance to them. They may collect things from their own past, or from another person’s past that they believe has personal significance. Structuring one’s past is a very important part of structuring identity. For example, knowing where we come from and where we belong. Or, they are doing it to structure the way they present themselves to the world or to structure where they live.


In what way?

Collections furnish a home. They are physical, touchable, tangible things. They help create your environment, and again, your environment is a very important part of your identity.


What does what we collect say about ourselves or the society in which we live?

I think collecting is a way of creating value in things. Today’s collection of obsolete items, which were yesterday’s big thing, might have value tomorrow. There was a time when you couldn’t give Pre-Raphaelite paintings away, but a few people hung on to them and now they are worth millions. Everything goes through a lifecycle.


Do most people collect for a profit or to keep for themselves?

The motives are mixed. They like to know their collection is increasing in value, and they sometimes sell things, but they rarely do it to make their fortunes. It’s about emotional value.


What roles does financial value play?

Formost people the fact that things are currently disregarded and have no financial value is a motive to collect. Part of the fun is the chase, tracking things down and buying for a song. There is a strong hunting instinct in all of this.


So it all goes back to hunting and gathering?

That’s right. You can argue that this is one of the ways that we cope with our most ancient instincts. Another reason is that we are simply human beings and are ruled by what I call the “lust of the eye.” We just like bright, shiny things, and we collect regardless of social class, but gender plays a big role.


Men and women collect different things?

I did a survey asking men and women what the most important thing they owned was, and without exception, the women replied a piece of jewelry owned by their mother. And, virtually all of the men said their car. It’s absolutely stereotypical, but true.


Do men and women also collect differently?

Very differently. Women generally collect things that on the whole reflect their own personality or that of their families. Often, family means their mother or their grandmother. They display what they collect to help make the home. Men, on the other hand, have their collections in the loft, shed, spare room or office for example. In other words they keep their collections separate and somewhat private. This also illustrates that the home is still much more the woman’s domain.


Tayer09 Tayer09
51-55, F
1 Response Mar 7, 2009

Well, I am a woman and I collect coins. So, my psychological profile of a collector is more male-oriented than female. Because my "collections are separate and somewhat private."<br />
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