Collection or clutter? The psychology of collecting


April 18, 2019 06:57:44

Inspired by the likes of Marie Kondo and the Minimalists, many of us are trying to live with less.

But there’s a group who can’t be convinced to part with their treasures — collectors.

“Collectors are different people,” said antique sewing machine collector Les Walsh, who has about 150 machines dating back to 1863.

“People who don’t collect they don’t understand why collectors have such a passion,” he said.

Why we collect:

  • Nostaliga – to link to the past
  • To connect – with an idol or with other collectors
  • Control – organising a collection can reduce anxiety
  • Status – become an expert in the field or get kudos for an impressive collection
  • Consumerism – the joy of buying
  • Legacy – your collection can endure after you die
    Source: Paul Duckett, CQU

Mr Walsh purchased his first antique machine 20 years ago to add interest to his sewing machine dealership.

Since then, he has travelled to Europe and the USA to buy machines to enhance his collection.

The former Air Force aircraft engineer said he found the mechanics of the vintage machines fascinating but it was the seeking and sourcing of his next treasure that thrilled him.

“Collecting is addictive to any collector, you are just keen to know what your next find will be.

KISS collecting for 40 years

KISS fan Paul Neilson started collecting the band’s merchandise at age six.

He said in the late 1970s shops had aisles full of KISS merchandise; they were on cereal boxes and had their own confectionery lines.

“For me really it was the records I was buying, this stuff was just icing on the cake because there was just so much of it.”

Mr Neilson said as a lot of his collection was accrued as a child, he has things that are incredibly rare as few adults would have thought to keep them.

“As a kid I did cut up magazines, I did put posters up on the wall,” Mr Neilson said.

“And some of them are damaged but I still have them and some items are very well preserved because I just had the nous to look after them.”

The function of collecting

CQUniversity community psychologist Paul Duckett said there was a wealth of psychological research into the motivations of collectors and the function of a collection.

He said in an increasingly busy world, a collection could be a way for someone to control one aspect of their life and this might reduce anxiety.

Dr Duckett said collecting could give you a goal to pursue and could be a way to connect with other people.

“It connects you to other collectors,” Dr Duckett said.

“It may also connect you to people associated with the objects you are collecting — such as memorabilia on celebrities or historical figures.”

Collecting can be a manifestation of nostalgia for the past or a way to leave a legacy of yourself for future generations.

For Mr Neilson, his collection is a way to revisit some of his childhood experiences.

“There are a lot of items here that I look at and I think ‘wow I actually remember being excited getting this’,” he said.

“Most of my collection are items that I bought at the time when they came out,” Mr Neilson said.

“I am not a big fan of eBay buying of old items because there is no sentimental value there for me.”

A ‘fun kind of superannuation’

The growth of online commerce has seen an increasing trade in rarities.

Rare variations on free supermarket toys have sold for hundreds of dollars, as have second-hand cloth nappies.

Dr Duckett said increasingly the sense of value of a collection was a motivator to collect.

“If you have got a fantastic collection of things it can give you a bit of kudos,” Dr Duckett said.

“And your collection can actually be worth something … is almost like a sort of fun version of a superannuation scheme.”

Mr Walsh said people were increasingly aware of the resale value of what might once have been considered junk.

“Old things going to the dump isn’t as common as it used to be because people realise now that a lot of that old stuff they used to take to the dump could be worth something.”

Sharing the passion for collecting

Mr Walsh suspects his collection of antique sewing machines might be the second largest in Australia.

He has transformed one room of his house into a display area for the machines, which he hopes to open to the public as a kind of museum.

Mr Neilson said his memorabilia was mostly boxed up to protect the items and to keep “everybody happy”, however he has displayed his collection publicly several times.

“I like that side of it, if there’s an opportunity to display it and they are looked after I am all for it,” he said.

“That is what it is all about — people being able to see stuff they are not normally able to see due to its rarity.”






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