Some collect as a relaxing hobby or to create a decorative space in their home. Others collect for the challenge and reward of finding rare, unique items from across the globe. The varying reasons that people collect is what makes the psychology behind collecting so fascinating. Studying how collecting evolved to become a modern hobby and evaluating why people begin to collect certain items helps us better understand this psychological impulse.
History of collecting
It wasn’t until humans gave up their nomadic lifestyle over 12,000 years ago that collecting became possible. In the 19th century, aristocratic collectors were the most common, as their collections were perceived as a status symbol. They amassed art, fossils, books, zoological specimens, and other objects that were popular at the time. The Victorian era aristocracy kept these items in what was called a “cabinet of curiosities,” a special curio or room designated for displaying and storing collectibles. Many of these cabinets contributed to the establishment of the first museums in Europe.
Since the introduction of the cabinet of curiosities, people all over the world have become curators of varied objects such as baseball cards, photographs, and stamps. Often, people start their collections as children and either grow out of it with time, or keep up the tradition for years to come.
Why do people collect things?
Previously, research suggested that people collected things because they felt an emotional connection to the subject matter. However, according to a recent study by Itamar Simonson, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, people are more likely to begin a collection once they possess two of one item. Simonson says this is because people begin to associate owning the same objects with being wasteful or superfluous, but don’t want to get rid of something they enjoy. This redundancy becomes difficult to justify, and thus, a collection ensues.
People also collect things for profit and for pleasure. Those who collect for profit are considered professional collectors. Anyone who collects for enjoyment is considered an amateur collector, though the categories are not mutually exclusive. Some reasons people might collect for fun include nostalgia, connection to a historical period, or the prestige behind having the largest collection of something.
Other phenomenons such as the “endowment effect” or “contagion” also point to why people collect things. The endowment effect describes people’s tendency to value something the more they own it. Contagion is when people collect celebrity’s belongings, as they are seen to be imbued with the person’s essence.
Things people collect
Some of the most fascinating aspects of collecting are the objects themselves. Learn about some of the most unique items people have collected over time, from sugar packets to erasers, to back scratchers and tiny chairs.
Whether you’ve been collecting for years or are looking to begin your first collection, there are many collectibles to choose from. Connect to the past with vintage watches or assemble blue and white porcelain for a stylish but practical option. Whatever you choose, take pleasure in the art of building a collection.