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

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.