Tag Archives: psychology

The Psychology of Collecting

For years I’ve observed the link between collecting and mental illness. I’ve seen it in others and I’ve seen it in myself. I’ve also seen hoarding, excessive shopping, depression and bipolar disorder, though I’m glad to say that, apart from the hoarding, this has been from a distance.

I will confess now, that the house is full of junk and it is a case of hoarding rather than collecting. The old excuse – that it’s stock – no longer applies because I don’t have a shop. Even when I did have a shop I could never part with the rubbish. As a result, when I moved from the shop I moved carfuls of worthless junk that now just clutter the house. That’s how you know you’ve passed from “collecting” to “hoarding”, or from sanity to something that needs tackling.


Brick from Watnall Pit Brickyard

Julia, having found out that there were a lot of local brickyards, including those run by the National Coal Board, has started a collection of bricks. So far this one is the entire collection. We have a photograph of another in a post on Rufford Abbey, which was where we discovered that there were such things. There is, inevitably, a website on the subject. This is a good example of what can actually be done by a collector with a passion for his subject.

One of the things I found when doing the research for this post, is that Freud considered that hoarding to be a result of our feeling of loss of control we experience when we flush the toilet. I’ve never felt the urge to retain anything I’ve put down the toilet. Fortunately I’ve never known anyone who has, and nobody has ever brought such a collection into the shop. Dr Gillian McKeith might have an archive collection, but that’s work, not a hobby, so is probably acceptable.

I was struggling for vocabulary for a moment, but after reading the Gillian McKeith article I can now use the word stool. Normally I only use it when referring to a small backless seat, but needs must. None of the other words I know are really suitable, though the word stool is not as clear as it could be.

If I refer to not being offered a stool collection during my days in the antiques trade I lack clarity as, for all you know, I might have been in the furniture trade. I suppose, with modern technology such as freeze drying and vacuum packing, it is only a matter of time before the first stool collection hits the market. Or the fan.

It seems that many people collect things. Up to 70% of children collect things, though by the time people are in their 20’s only 23% of people collect things, falling to 12-15% of people in their 60’s. These things don’t have to be valuable, they just need to be something that interests the collector.

This is part of my collection of Post Box photos. The box is a double aperture Type C with the post-1980 “Royal Mail” logo. Oh yes, collections can be dull and worthless…


Post box at Bakewell

It’s clear from this that the people I would to as collectors are different from the people that psychologists would refer to as collectors. They see people who accumulate things as being collectors where I tend to think of collectors as people who collect to a plan. Even if that plan is to amass a pile of stuff as cheaply as possible.

As for hoarders, these are collectors who have let things get out of control. Between 2% and 5% of adults meet the criteria for being hoarders.

The lack of clarity in terminology is only one of the complications you run into. The mind of the collector is another cause of confusion.

There was a collector in Nottingham who used to enter all his purchases in a diary. This was so that he could prove to his wife that he was sticking to a strict budget. He did this by writing down a cost that was 10% of the true cost. Even at that level, his wife thought he was spending too much on his hobby.

It all went well until he died. His wife, armed with the book, then marched into the dealer where the husband had made most of his purchases. After lecturing him on the evils of him helping her husband waste his time and money she pointed to the book and demanding that he repaid her all the money her husband had wasted. She wanted the full purchase price back, she declared, and wouldn’t take a penny less.

So he paid her.

It’s a tricky moral point. He paid her what she wanted and she went away happy. If she’d merely asked how much he would give her he’d have paid more.

On another occasion a widow called me in to look at a collection. It didn’t go well and, after travelling fifty miles to do so, I fell off the badly made loft ladder leading up to the hobby room in the roof. It got worse after that, but I won’t bore you with the details, I’ll just leave you with the comedic picture of me stuck halfway through a roof hatch as she struggled to shove the ladder back under my flailing feet.



Notts and Derby sweetheart brooch

And, of course, no discussion of collecting would be complete without a picture of a sweetheart brooch. It appears to be as big as a Double Aperture Type C pillar box, but is actually quite a lot smaller.

I have yet to master photography as a documentary medium.

A Very Average Day (Part 2)

This is the second part of a post about Sunday, written on Tuesday.

I was finally able to load the clean laundry into the car a couple of minutes before 10.00 and decided to go directly to the supermarket, rather than go home first.

If I go home between errands I tend to brew up, sit down and turn to WordPress. It can take quite an effort to get up and go out again.

Since our new Sunday opening laws Sunday has become a strange day. (Note that “our” refers to England and Wales – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulations, and “new” means 1994 – I take time to get used to change). It’s always been a strange day, to be honest. Even before the 1994 Act it was legal for shops to sell some things on Sundays, but not others. Even if a shop was open you couldn’t guarantee being able to buy everything on the shelves.

This law was partly to safeguard shop workers from exploitation. Farm workers didn’t count. We were allowed to work Sundays, and when the shops are closed on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, we are still allowed to work. The law is quite keen on farm animals being fed and inspected every day.

And I was, quite honestly, happy to reduce Christmas Day to work, food and presents. It’s what people really want – I’m not sure how many people really enjoy the Queen’s Speech, Monopoly and arguments.

I remember being in a Motorway Service Station one Sunday before the changes came in. A man was reading the paper and talking to his wife.

“They won’t get me working Sundays.” he said. “It’s not right. I won’t do it.”

He seemed totally oblivious to the fact that people were working to allow him to travel, eat and read papers on a Sunday.

Anyway, let us leave 1994 and return to the present.

I missed the customary chariot race opening but, arriving at 10.07, was still amazed by the number of people who were already there, and by the speed at which they were moving. What is it about Sunday opening that turns the average shopper into a crazed looter?

There’s plenty of food in the shops, so why do we need all the wheel-to-wheel Ben Hur impersonations?

Later, I noted a new tactic from a particular couple – one of them stood looking at a shelf, whilst ensuring that their trolley stuck out into the aisle. The other stood looking at the opposite shelf, making sure that nobody could get past. It’s a new one for my anthropological survey of irritating shoppers.

On leaving, I passed a woman in a four-wheel-drive discussing shopping with her teenage son. He was clearly failing to live up to her expectations. In several different ways. It took me right back to the time when I used to do similar things with my kids. It never made them change and it often made me feel guilty afterwards. Kids are like that.

If I could, I would have told her she was wasting her time, but I don’t think she’d have listened. Anyway, I’m not exactly an expert. I did, however, manage to coerce Number Two Son into making brunch when I got home. I may be bad at parenting, but I’m good at psychology. Once I got his mouth watering he was putty in my hands…