Why do we collect things? Love, anxiety or desire


About a third of people in the UK collect something. Their reasons and manner vary hugely. For some, like the football fan who collects club memorabilia, it is a way to express loyalty; for others, like the stamp collector proud of rare finds, there can be an obsessive streak.

One psychoanalytical explanation for collecting is that unloved children learn to seek comfort in accumulating belongings; another is that collecting is motivated by existential anxieties – the collection, an extension of our identity, lives on, even though we do not. More recently, evolutionary theorists suggested that a collection was a way for a man to attract potential mates by signalling his ability to accumulate resources.

There is also a phenomenon known as the endowment effect, which describes our tendency to value things more once we own them. Another is the concept of contagion – some collectors are attracted to celebrity belongings because these objects are seen as being infused with the essence of the person who owned them.

Humans are unique in the way we collect items purely for the satisfaction of seeking and owning them. The desire to collect only became possible about 12,000 years ago, once our ancestors gave up their nomadic lifestyles and settled down in one location.

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