Why objects bring us joy
TAMPA, Florida – Mary Schrader is the most comfortable among her collection; 2,500 Hummel figures, all hand painted, fragile and full of nostalgia.
“It just reminds you of when you were a kid,” Schrader said.
Alan’s collection is just as colorful once he takes them out of their boxes.
“My kid probably wouldn’t believe his eyes,” he said, flipping through one of the hundreds of boxed comics boxes. “The more comics I had, the more I wanted to have.”
This is one of the largest private comic book collections in the world, with almost 100,000 issues – and looking for something to read is not.
But what do we do when we collect? Why does almost everyone find joy in putting together things that someone else would find unnecessary?
“They told me I couldn’t buy comics anymore. They said it was a waste of money,” recalls Alan.
Psychoanalysts like Katherine Matheson say that collections are more about what someone doesn’t have than what they have.
Don’t get distracted, she says, by classic cars, stamps or bottle caps. Instead, watch how they symbolically fill in the gaps in what they are subconsciously looking for in themselves.
For example, does someone who collects classic cars have any powerful travel memories? Does a capsule collector have an alcoholic parent?
“It’s a mirror. You’re whole for this moment. You see all of your shards in one place,” Matheson said. “We have a lack of balance, and we want to restore some kind of security, if only for a moment.”
She also says that collections are an easy way to make you feel like you’re progressing and achieving something. It is a sort of fortress of solitude.
“You have that kind of feeling, ‘I’m not alone, I’m in my collection,'” she explained.
For Mark Van Trees, whose father graduated first in his class from West Point, he never joined the military – but spent his life sending care packages to troops overseas. He also collects military challenge coins.
He has 3,200 in his office.
“They are all different and all unique,” he said. “I unfortunately did not serve, so this is a way of giving back to the military.”
Whether it’s challenge coins, comics, or Hummels, the reason for collecting is personal.
“I just fell in love with them and that’s it,” Schrader said.
Which is a good reason like any other.