Why We Collect, and When to Stop

Carl Jung would pin it on our evolution as hunter-gatherers. Sigmund Freud decided that our need to collect comes from our trauma in infancy in releasing our bowels, thereby instilling in us a fear of being separated from things that we feel belong to us. I would scoff at that but I have a three year old who has yet to pay her respects to the porcelain throne.

Much of this information can be found in “The Invention of Collecting” in YouTube so I blame them for citing Freud. It’s actually a really cool video on one collector, Jefferson R. Burdick, whose personal collections provided 20 percent of the 1.5 million pieces in a rotation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

A remote tribe in New Guinea collects human heads, Christians collect religious artifacts such as crosses, my grandfather collected butterflies while my grandmother collected Hummel figurines, my best childhood friend collected anything to everything to do with the Beatles while I collected anything to do with Piglet from Winnie-the-Pooh. She is still cooler than I am.

When to Stop Collecting

You’re Actually Accumulating, Not Collecting

We use “accumulating” and “collecting” interchangeably in terms of weather. Snow can be collecting or accumulating on the ground. This sounds much more educational than “We have snow.” We use other terms too such as “accrue,” “curate,” or “house” in explaining our affinity for items.

Bankers use a more neutral term when they are talking about your loss of money due to interest on a loan, also displacing you or them from being the active subject of the sentence to being the victim of circumstance as an adjective. “Your student loans have accrued interest.” This has changed from the similarly passive “accumulating interest” or the far less neutral connotation in “collecting interest.” Think about it, collect is a fine enough word until you are taking a “collect call.”

Accumulating is just too passive of an action. Accumulation would happen with or without you being there where “to collect” would be to bring items in intentionally.

Intention is what you are going for.

Books Not Worth Re-Reading or Gifting

So what is it that you have accumulating around the house?

  • A stack of stylish magazines from yestermonths
  • A shelf full of unread or under-read books
  • Memorabilia that isn’t kept up with but is accumulating dust
  • Nail polish, makeup, soaps, and lotions that you keep adding to
  • Unmarried socks that you are sure will find their match
  • Gifts from others which you haven’t put to use
  • CDs, DVDs, and VHS tapes

Take a hard look at these items. See what your shelves and drawers are like without them. If the word is “bare”…see if that bothers you. You might even reconsider the utility of the shelf, or closet, or curio you are staring at.

Your Enthusiasm for Your Items is What Matters…and It’s Waning

The way in which we stand behind our collection, “I have a lot of Beanie Babies” vs. “Here’s my beanie bag collection” can say a lot about our pride in what we own.

You shouldn’t be ashamed of things you collected or were given in the past. Yet we are gluttons for self-ridicule. We all go through phrases of inspiration and self-doubt. Think of any time you had a motivation to lose weight, learn a language, or try a new hobby. How many different items associated with those goals are still lying around? I’ll confess something here…I had TONS of that stuff and every time I looked at it I was embarrassed for myself but I held on to some of them because I was holding out hope that maybe I would someday be the better version of myself to succeed in these endeavors.

Just for benefit of illustrating my point, here are some of those items I was sure I would use someday

  • Books on letterwriting
  • Thai, Japanese, and Arabic CDs and workbooks
  • 3 tubs of protein powder
  • 9 tote bags with logos from my trips to a weight loss shake shop
  • 15 adult coloring books
  • A book on becoming a pharmaceutical sales rep (it was a cry for help)
  • Size 12 pants for a size 6 body
  • Size 2 pants for a size 6 body
  • 8 empty Journals (because someday I might not cringe at the thought)
  • Books on traveling through Europe (my bank account knew the truth)

At the point of purchase, these items weren’t critical to my survival but they did seem crucial to the person I wasn’t meant to be. So, I kept one book on letterwriting, one really nice adult coloring book, and I am currently using the tote bags for my trips to Aldi’s. Those two books are on prominent display in my office in the shelf right above my laptop. From time to think, usually when I am stick of staring at a screen, I take them down and diligently work through a page. Everything else (and more) on the list is gone.

You Keep Items Handy to Remind Yourself of What You Experienced, Not of Who You Are

You Drank Some Good Wine (What You Experienced) Alcohol is Important to You (Who You Are). See the Difference? Also, Why IS Collecting Wine Corks a Thing?

But what of the items that are of little use but that are indicators of previous achievements? Think of all those trophies, medals, prom and wedding memorabilia, college degrees, and young child things (first lost tooth, drawings, report cards, and art projects).

I admit it, I tossed those too. There are most definitely better, more eco-friendly ways to get rid of what one no longer wants but I was gathering items in a tornadic fury without much consideration for where they landed.

If I want a reminder of my wedding, I only have to look at a photo or, better yet, my husband. If I want to remember my hockey experience, I can be there for my kids in their sports. If I want show off my college degree, I show up and perform well at work. If tossing all these items make you cringe as much as keeping them…take a picture of each and keep it in a folder titled “memorabilia.” You can look on them any time you wish.

The Clutter Masquerading as “Just In Case” Items

Unless You Live in a Library or a Law Office, Your Storage Shouldn’t Look Like This

I recently made the discovery of the difference between “Just in Case” items and “Just for When” items when I was days away from a trip to the donation center with some old towels. Little did we know that we’d be using those old towels to soak up water in the basement. I’m sure there are better ways to clean…but I wasn’t about to go researching what my options were until all the water was sopped up.

“Just in Case” items are more nebulous in comparison to their “Just for When” cousins. So here is a common list of “Just in Case” items I’ve encountered over the years.

  • Pans, plates, inherited china, and kitchen electronics
  • Old keys
  • Items friends left behind more than six months ago
  • Various cords to…what again?
  • Old phones, computers, games
  • Fabric bits, scrapbooking remnants
  • Totes of outgrown children’s clothing
  • Toys the grandchildren of 20 years hence will appreciate…or not

Do the box test. Put all these items in boxes (I’m sure many are already in boxes) and gather them in a room. If you don’t use these items or go looking for these items to use in three months time…reconsider their value.

The china can be sold on The children’s toys can be replaced cheaply in the future through what you can find at donation centers or used kids clothing stores. If you aren’t going to to find that friend and hand the item over yourself, toss it. Obviously they’ve found little use for the item since appearing on your doorstep.

Why Am I Doing This Again?

The biggest two reasons for getting rid of all these things are the anxiety and guilt they cause. You need those feelings even less than you need the items.

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