The Psychology of Collecting


It’s a very interesting thing, the human mind. We’ve made study of it for over a millennia and yet some discoveries still manage to confuse and surprise us. One of our minds’ most defining features is the ability to feel emotion through things like chemicals and hormones. Even further, we can express these very feelings. This leads us to the simple yet mysterious topic of why we collect things or give sentimental value to seemingly useless objects or ideals.

Most people would give you straight handed obvious responses to this such as: “It’s a heirloom” or “I thought it looked cool,” but just like most sciences and concepts giving it more thought will severely complicate things and give a whole new perception to the topic. 

Now to start with the basics. We should know that anything we keep or collect, no matter how useful or relevant, has some sort of emotional value to us. Even the pencil that you might’ve lost after one class has had some sort of minor connection to you emotionally. This can be easily repeated by getting a subject and having them lose an object they needed or liked—see how they may react to losing it.

Now, take something more valuable from said person like a backpack or a watch that was gifted to them. The emotional response is suddenly much more apparent now that something they valued personally has been removed; this is due to our human perception of what is called individualism.

Since the very beginning, we’ve used tools and strategy to overcome predators in addition to exploiting our prey. Overtime as we became more and more sentient; objects and ideas didn’t just exist for the race alone, we made ownership for individuals. Imagine this, you’re one of the first humans along with your friend named George. George had a stick and you didn’t. There were no sticks anywhere else, and you couldn’t use the same stick as George because it was his stick and his alone.

This concept would follow us for the rest of our evolution to today. It likely originates from our basic instincts as animals to give others space as to not spread disease plus claiming territory to secure mates. Prime modern examples of things that we keep around despite their burden are toys,figurines,art,heirlooms, and even fashion accessories i.e., things like jewelry and excessive watches. Many of us collect things like these as a hobby despite that heavy price that comes with them.

The Anime Industry sells many of these curios for a large benefit through online merchants,physical stores, and most infamously, the conventions. A well known anime convention called NDK takes not only place in Denver but also takes place in many of the fans wallets as well. Every year the masses will flock to this convention to appreciate the entertainment and communicate with others, but that’s not the only point of the convention.

Even gatherings like this meant for smaller entertainment events and social interaction can’t escape the industries’ main economy. Two massive sections of the convention are always reserved, one for the up and coming artist to sell prints of their works called “Artist Alley,” and then there’s the official vendor area which is more commonly known as “Merchant Alley.”

Artist Alley is a place where unique art can be purchased for anywhere between a couple dollars and 300 bucks. Despite the price of the items most artist will find themselves running out of stock on at least one trinket or the other. This proves that these works have some form of admiration, no matter the price, but it doesn’t answer why we use valuable currency to achieve possession of the merchandise.

We gather items from certain genres based on niche franchises with the sole purpose of what? Impression is likely a factor, after all some people just want to be the fixated center of the crowd. Some will tell you that they do it to financially support something that they like or believe in. There’s even a group that collect for monetary benefit to themselves, similar to an investment.

However no matter what opinion is shared amongst the majority; the common factor between them all seems to be expression. Invaluable (Their list here) has a list of 10 unique collections and the reasons behind them and the one thing every one of them shares is that the collector has a desire to express themselves somehow.

Maybe you’re a history buff who likes documents and artifacts for their unique qualities and historic values⁠—you still use those items to express who you are as a person. That room decorated with WWII paraphernalia tells people some of your qualities from even a slight glance. The portrait print of Descrates on the wall gives a pretty accurate idea of what kind of philosophy you lend yourself to and even the minimal clutter of decoration speaks volumes about the traits of your character. In the end, we as a race may never be fully able to explain this phenomenon.