I have a box in the corner of my room. Its a small straw box gifted to me by a friend. It looks ordinary and boring, but inside it lies my most precious possessions. They don’t look special in any way, but each is a small representation of a memory. Inside lies my house captain badge, a keyring gifted by my friends on my birthday, a necklace gifted by my friends when I said goodbye, bracelets from a friend whom I no longer talk to, numerous photos, and a music box gifted by my family amongst other knickknacks.
I love this box and it goes everywhere I move. And even if you don’t exactly have a box, you probably have some kind of collection of small things that are associated with memories. Since the beginning of humanity, humans have found solace in collecting objects- from kings creating massive treasuries, and people storing family heirlooms and art. It’s an endearing human hobby. Something innate exists within us that draws us to collect shiny things.
But why do we collect these things? Most collections aren’t monetary, rather they’re emotional. My grandfather collects stamps and grandma collects colourful jewellery because they make them feel happy. For some, collections allow them to relive moments and connect themselves to a time they feel strongly about. Collections can help ease insecurities and can act as a token to keep the past alive. Or maybe it’s just cool. For baseball or Pokemon card collectors, collecting is a thrilling quest. The reasons might differ but the psychology is the same. Collecting allows one to experiment with arranging, organizing, and presenting a part of themselves in the world. These tokens can act as a place of refuge.
But the exact reason behind what urges us to collect things is more science-based. Psychologists have often used a Freudian (proposed by Sigmund Freud) perspective when describing why people collect. They propose that collecting stems from the need for people to have “an object of desire”. It also allows us to exercise “control and ownership” over these items. This roots all the way back from our hunter-gatherer days where we’d collect nuts and berries just to store them.
This innate impulse to collect begins at birth. The infant first desires the emotional and physical comfort from their mother, then the familiar blanket and toys, and the child begins to cling to material possessions for comfort and security. Stuffed animals are taken to bed as they provide the emotional security they need to fall asleep. A sense of ownership built through possession of these items for the vulnerable child and it helps them feel like they can control their surroundings. This is the same reason that when in an unknown environment, a child stops crying when given their favourite toy.
And this isn’t limited to childhood. Adults use familiar things to cling to their past and draw comfort from too. It can be as simple as eating a meal you enjoyed in your childhood when you move away from home, or wearing the same watch wherever you go. These simple things give people a sense of control and are a source of joy and comfort.
So, go on and treasure your necklaces and trophies, and revel in your collection of cap-less pens, collecting things is fun and a small reflection into our psychology.