Why do people collect things?

Antique radios

Most people collect something at some time in their life. Children are especially prone to it, but some continue it into adult life and pursue collecting as a hobby or even a profession, like the antique radios pictured here.

If you had pots of money, what would you collect?

An astonishing number of celebrities use their wealth to invest in collections. Demi Moore, for example, has an entire house devoted to her collection of over 2000 vintage dolls. She doesn’t live in the house. It’s just for her dolls, said to be valued at $2.25 million.

  • Celine Dion, meanwhile, has over 3000 pairs of shoes.
  • Jay Leno has 130 classic cars, housed in an enormous custom-built garage.
  • Tom Hanks has a splendid collection of antique typewriters.
  • Angelina Jolie collects knives.
  • Dolly Parton is mad about butterflies.
  • Claudia Schiffer collects dried insects.
  • Johnnie Depp collects animal skeletons.
  • Penelope Cruz is said to have collected over 500 types of coat-hangers.
  • Rod Stewart has a huge model train set up in the basement of his Beverley Hills mansion.
  • Ben Stiller collects Star Trek paraphernalia.
  • Leonardo Dicaprio has an impressive collection of action figures.
  • Rosie O’Donnell has a Happy Meal toy collection.
  • Nicole Kidman collects Judea coins from Mesopotamia.
  • Kiefer Sutherland collects Gibson guitars.

The list goes on and on.

Collections of this type are usually beautifully displayed and painstakingly categorized. A great deal of time and effort is invested in searching for items to add, and there is also the extensive cost of purchasing, insuring and maintaining them.

What lies at the heart of collecting

I would love to sit each celebrity down and ask them: How did it start? What was the first item you acquired, and how did it make you feel? In fact, I often ask these questions of less famous folk who have amassed collections of various types.

What I have discovered, in all cases, is that there is an initial acquisition that sparks the interest of the person to find more. In my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain that when someone feels moved to collect a particular type of thing, what they are in fact doing is responding to an intuitive yearning to gather a particular type of essence that is important for their personal development.

It’s a specific frequency they need to bring into themselves at that time, and this is entirely valid. But life is constantly changing and moving, and it’s actually only necessary to collect that essence for as long as it takes to spiritually integrate it into the person’s life. When that’s done, they can move their focus to something new.

So, if you have a collection of some kind, I encourage you to take a fresh look at it from this perspective. Why are you so attracted to the type of item you collect? What part of you does it resonate with? What feelings does it evoke? And, most importantly, how can you consciously integrate the essence of it and move on?

In case you’re wondering, some celebrities do progress. Nicolas Cage used to collect comic books but eventually sold them all, and Janet Jackson stopped acquiring pig figurines when her collection got out of hand. But the others? As far as I know, they continue to accumulate more of the same.

Copyright © Karen Kingston 2017

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About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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10 Responses to Why do people collect things?

  1. I wonder whether ending up with piles and piles of books concerning the same topic has the same origin as you describe here regarding collectibles. Can they be seen as stand-ins for real experiences or, simply, as an indicator for what topic’s really important to you? Even so, they may easily become substitutes for ‘the real thing’, at least, if no action ever follows out of it. Do you have any comment on this? Would it be a good start to analyze what was the feeling that prompted the buying or what these books were meant to represent? What would be a healthier (and more lively) way to integrate the topic? And do you have any recommendations as to how to downsize such collections (which volumes to keep or not to keep at all)?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Ena – In Chapter 21 of my book, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, I explain:

      ‘Neuroscientists have coined the term “infovore” to describe the natural appetite humans have for new information. They have discovered we use the same pleasurable neural pathways when learning new facts as are activated by taking drugs such as heroin or morphine. In the same way that some people get addicted to internet pornography, online social networking, gambling or gaming, so it is also possible to get addicted to the “high” that comes from information gathering. Some infovores will spend hours and hours online searching for meaningful data, to the extent that it becomes a form of obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

      If this is part of your lifestyle, the question to ask yourself is, has this activity become a substitute for experiencing life firsthand? Are you living in a world of your own, with less and less real communication with people? And do you find that a large proportion of the material you are acquiring is not immediately useful but of the “just in case you need it” variety? If so, it is as much a form of clutter in your life as the physical kind that people keep for the same reason, and you will need to engage in some form of therapy to discover the cause of your addiction and address it.’

      The same can apply to books, depending on whether you actively learn from what you read and put it into practice or just mine the information and do nothing with it.

      If you need help clutter clearing books, you may be interested to know that this is covered in depth in my Clear Your Paper & Digital Clutter online course.

  2. I love this explanation. I like museums specifically for the reason that I can look at a variety of collections and not have to maintain them myself. This article makes perfect sense to me. It also makes sense why I don’t like most of the things other people, with sweet and good intentions, give me for either my stamp or thimble collections. I like to keep them small, and am very particular about what goes into them. Other people’s ideas are for them, not me. Thank you Karen for these marvelous insights.

  3. Wonderful article. Karen’s message, to me, is about discernment. It’s about hearing the larger message of your collections and then you can move on in a more expanded and joyous way. The gift of this article in the question. Are we asking the right questions? There in lies the gift. Very perceptive and wise article….

  4. One problem comes with age. Due to our age and disability we had to downsize from 7 large rooms with built-in cupboards into three tiny rooms. We have not “collected” but during our life have travelled extensively and brought home beautiful objects, no junk or clutter, and decorated our home with them. It has always been a joy to us. But now, there is absolutely no room for these things anymore, I have already got rid of almost three quarters of all our possessions. These things cannot be sold, and nobody wants them. Older people are downsizing themselves and young people buy their stuff at Ikea, they do not treasure things like silver cutlery or American Indian carpets which need care. It saddens me very much that our beloved things now have become a burden.

  5. It would be useful to be able to work out why one collects a particular type of item, but how does one ever work out that reason? I used to collect paperweights (I still have them most of them but the vast majority are packed away). I stopped collecting them several years ago. What could that mean? Was I trying to be more grounded? and am I now grounded enough to no longer feel the need to collect them? Or, as I believe was the case, do I just love beautiful colours and glass objects? I do have a lot of shoes (grounding again???) but I certainly don’t consider them ‘a collection’. Well, Karen, perhaps you could write a book for us to help us understand firstly what actually is a collection, secondly, what it might mean and thirdly, how can we avoid/end/change the situation.

    1. The clues as to why someone feels attracted to collecting a particular type of thing lie in asking ‘What part of me does this resonate with?’, ‘How does it make me feel?’, and so on. Each person can find their own answers if they are willing to go deep enough.

      The fact that you now keep your paperweights packed away would indicate that you have passed through the phase of collecting to yourself whatever frequency they helped you to access, and they could become clutter if you keep them stored indefinitely. In this instance, it would be nice to know why you liked them so much, or you can simply let them go when you are ready and move on.

  6. Alice Cooper collects watches. 🙂

    For me people can collect whatever they want as long as they are happy with it.
    They live their lives as they please and I have the freedom to live my life as I please.
    No need to be critical of anyone.

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