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Why Collecting is Fun

What is it that makes collecting so satisfying? It must be a remnant of our more primitive hunter-gatherer selves, from a time when bushes and logs were picked over for every last berry, mushroom and tasty grub. Now, the bush and log are tag sales and bargain bins, but the exuberant feeling of “Score!” must be similar to what our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced.

Primitive man didn’t have to restrain himself from collecting — nature stepped in and seasonal changes put a stop to the process. But how do we modern folks know when it is time to stop collecting or to part with some or all of a collection?

Collections are usually cyclical, beginning at certain points in life, but the time and intensity involved often keep a person holding on to a collection long past real enjoyment of it. For example, many boys begin collecting baseball cards at about age 10. Although these collections rarely have great value, some men will hang on to them for a lifetime. 

In addition to time spent and the energy invested in a collection, cost can also factor into whether a collection, or parts of it, can be let go. Women and their shoe collections are a great example of this. As Carrie Bradshaw, from “Sex and the City,” would say, “They hurt my feet, but they cost $525 and I love them.” 

Jewelry is even harder to part with because, after all, it takes up so little room. I held on to a few pieces for years that had never flattered me just because they were 14K gold. I finally consigned them for a pittance, but at least now when I look at my jewelry collection I don’t have that buyer’s remorse I used to have every time I caught sight of them. It’s not that I gained much space; the letting go allows me to enjoy the rest of the collection so much more.

A great way to determine if a collection, or part of it, has outlived its purpose is to ask yourself questions like, “Do I still feel a positive charge when I look at the collection?” and “Is it displayed or is it packed away?” Even a displayed collection may not be juicy and active, though. Sometimes we become numb to our surroundings, especially if they are cluttered, and those dusty dolls on a shelf may as well be in a box in the basement.  

Not properly caring for a collection is a sign that you have moved on and it might be time to let it go. A client of mine had improperly stored her collection of kimonos for so long that when she pulled them out, the once gorgeous silk garments were moldy and moth-eaten. It would have been better to have parted with them 20 years earlier; at this point they went into the trash bin.

If you’re unsure about whether to keep a collection, one option is to store it for a while and rotate a different collection into view. If you’re tired of your tea pots but can’t part with them yet, box them and bring out your quartz crystal collection for awhile. This is a great way to keep collections fresh and appreciated. If you’re not excited to see the old collection again when it’s time to rotate it back into display-mode, then it is probably time to let it go. 

For collections such as books or cashmere sweaters, I like the “new one in, an old one out” rule. If you add to the collection, keep it manageable with a mini-purge of older items.

When thinking about saving a collection to “hand down” to children or grandchildren, keep in mind that most of the joy in a collection is the experience of the hunt, not the having. You might decide to clear out your old collections and give the kids the joy of creating their own.