What drives and motivates seemingly normal, intelligent and rational individuals to collect all kind, any kind of things?
The psychology behind this behavior has not been deeply, seriously or scientifically studied. Thoughts and theories span from Freud’s, who seemed to have a theory about anything, to the mundane.
Freud explained the need for collecting as a result of our traumatic experience of “potty training”! It goes something like this: as little kids we are trained, in the toilet, to let go and the sight of what was once ours going down the drain was very traumatic! In a nutshell, Freud is suggesting that this loss of control and of precious and personal possessions is why some people collect … stamps!
A less dramatic speculation is that getting attached to things is a universal human response to unspecified trauma or trouble and can lead to the psychopathologic behavior known as “hoarding”, which cannot really be affiliated with the milder symptoms of simple collecting. True collectors are not that nuts! Right?
The neat thing about non-scientific studies is that anybody can come up with an idea. Here is one, the first collector/hoarder was Noah! Did he not gather 2 of each example of living animals on earth and kept them in one location?
Even though the science is at the Psychology 101 level, the names given to the different collecting disciplines are etymologically sophisticated. Everyone knows numismatic for coins or philately for stamps. But what about arctophile for collecting teddy bears, vecturist for subway tokens, or better yet, names for things we did not know were collected such as helixophile, corkscrews, or tyrosemiophile, cheese labels for Pete’s sake, and best of all entredentolignumologist for… well I’ll let you guess that one!
In the 18th century a popular elitist activity was to have a “cabinet of curiosities”, an aristocratic form of prestige, power and wealth boasting that lead to the uniquely Western society institution of the Museum.
But to most, collecting is pure enjoyment, that brings a lot of fun to one’s life by expanding knowledge, interests, skills, social interaction and connection to the past, present and future.
Looking, searching for and maybe eventually acquiring that elusive, rare object is a definite joy. But But the ultimate adventure for a collector is the “QUEST”. The search and anticipation are the ultimate, euphoric, existential elements of the perennial journey to the mesmerizing goal.
The Quest, the Opium of the collector!