Collecting vs. Accumulating


Collecting is a fun hobby that provides a variety of payoffs:

Memory Stimulation

Collecting items such as postcards from our travels brings back happy memories. Looking at these reminds us of a pleasant place, time, person or experience.

Investment Value

Many pieces (e.g. art, baseball cards, coins) have a numerical value in the marketplace. When we acquire pieces like these, we not only enjoy looking at them, but also build a collection that may pay financial rewards in the future.

Connection to the Past

Often we gather items (e.g. linens, dishes, vintage clothing/toys) simply because they maintain a connection to days gone by. 

Reminder of Individualism

Many people collect items that represent our specific interests, hobbies or preferences. A fisherman may keep duck decoys, or a woman may accumulate items that correspond to her nickname. Having these items makes us feel special and unique. 


Many people collect items in a series or group, finding pleasure in the process of assembling a “complete set.”


Regardless of why you collect, it is important to adhere to a few guidelines to keep your hobby from getting out of control.

1. Clearly define exactly what you are collecting.

Frequently our collections are too broad, and we end up collecting too much.  For example, rather than collecting “old toys,” consider collecting “vintage wooden toys from the first half of the 20th century.”

Similarly, limit the number of collections you have. Collectors benefit from focusing on collecting one or two types of objects rather than collecting a dozen. You may collect a variety of items during your lifetime as your interests evolve. If/when you start collecting something new, seriously consider letting go of the old objects.

2. Determine where the collection will “live.”

Just like any other object we own, our collection needs to have a home in our space.

If the collection is being held for investment purposes, make sure everything is being properly stored to protect the value (e.g. art away from direct sunlight, wine in a climate-controlled location, etc.) Need some help with properly caring for your pieces? Here is a book that comes with lots of great advice.

If the pieces are primarily for sentimental value, it is desirable to store them in a designated display space. Sentimental collections add little value to our lives if they are squirreled away in a difficult-to-access box. Instead, bring your collection out so you can enjoy it. Some items can be hung, some do well grouped on shelves, and others are best stored in albums or cases. Think creatively about how to enjoy what you’ve saved. For instance, a collection of stones can go outside in a rock garden, while shells can be displayed in a clear vase.

In some cases, there are storage cases made specifically to hold the pieces, such as a coin album or box lined with silversmith cloth.

3. Insure investment pieces.

If a collection has value, it should be insured separately from regular homeowner’s/renter’s insurance. Be sure to photograph the items periodically so there is an accurate record of the complete collection in case of damage or theft.

It is also wise to keep a list/inventory of everything in your collection. This can become part of the fun, because it enables the collector to look back and remember the provenance of each piece.

If the items you assemble come with authenticity paperwork, either secure this to the back of the piece or keep it in a separate, labeled location. Purchase receipts should also be kept for high-ticket pieces.

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Collecting can add joy and fun to life, but if it isn’t done wisely, it can lead to piles of clutter and a loss of value. Remember, not everything you own multiples of is a collection.

Are you a collector? Do you have any tips on how to make the most of this hobby?

29 thoughts on “Collecting vs. Accumulating”

  1. This is such great and valuable advice for all collectors. When I was younger I used to collect porcelain dolls and Beanie Babies. But it got out of hand very quickly. I ended up selling off most of them when I was in my late teens though. But good to see if I ever did collect something else in my older age that I’d at least have some great tips and advice to use thanks to this article by you 😉

    1. I think the idea that we may move through a collection and then beyond it is so valuable. Just because we enjoyed collecting something in the past doesn’t mean we need to keep all the pieces if we no longer are pursuing the hobby! My Mom was a doll collector too!

  2. I can totally relate to this one! Both my husband and I are collectors. I like to say that I collect small things and he collects large ones. We have many different collections including Pez dispensers and porcelain signs. At this point, we collect less and just enjoy the collections we currently have. However, on occasion, we do add something. We definitely adhere to the “make sure there’s space for it,” rule. One of the collections I’ve stopped adding to and in fact have let go of many of them, is my collection of miniatures that I started when I was a little girl. At the point it no longer was enjoyable and I no longer wanted to display them, I stopped. I agree, that the collecting and displaying needs to have enjoyment accompany it. Are you a collector?
    Linda Samuels recently posted…Do You Savor or Squander the Valuable Time You Have?My Profile

    1. I really am not a collector, but I have family members who are. I love hunting for their collections: all of the fun of the “chase” without needing to figure out where to store anything:) Collecting is like any other hobby. We may enjoy one pursuit one day, and then move on to another in the future. And it is okay to let go of what you no longer enjoy!

    1. Recently had a client with a box of vintage fabrics and quilts that she had stored in a cardboard box in the garage. You can guess the outcome — water damage.. mold. She was so sad, and I completely understood. If it is worth keeping, it is worth keeping well!

  3. I started collecting postcards when I was quite young. I would buy them when I went anywhere, ask people to send one or bring them back when they were travelling, and bought some vintage ones at antique shows. I even saved all the advertising ones I received. They are organized in photo boxes according to location with additional sections for ads, greetings, and other.

    Now, when I receive a postcard, I add it to the collection, but I rarely take them out and enjoy them. I definitely don’t want to get rid of my collection, but sometimes it seems pointless. I would welcome any advice you might have to offer me!
    Janet Barclay recently posted…12 Awesome Online Tools and Apps for Digital MarketersMy Profile

    1. My daughter collects postcards as well. We actually got her some albums that have slots for the cards which helps make it easier to flip through and enjoy them. That said, I don’t think she often looks at the collection. I think the real question I always ask is, “Why are you keeping this?” If you are keeping it because you invested time and energy in the collection (i.e. because of past effort), that isn’t a good enough reason to justify the real estate. If you are keeping it because you want to look at them and enjoy the memories, that is a good reason. The challenge then becomes how to get them out and enjoy them. One thought is to hang a board where you could hang these (perhaps with magnets), and use it as a piece of art. Every 6 months, return the cards to your box and take out some new ones. Just one idea!

  4. Seana, your comment about hunting for others’ collections reminded me — I’m more of a collector than I thought I was! For myself all I collect (that I can think of) is Newbery Medal books (two bookshelves full of used paperbacks), and magnets from places I’ve traveled (side of fridge). But I also collect Caldecott books and Girl Scout memorabilia for my oldest and dearest friend, and I went through a serious vintage salt-and-pepper shaker phase when my brother and I were trying to recreate (and add to) my mom’s collection (they live at my brother’s house). Fun, meaningful (to us) collections that don’t occupy much space or cost much money!
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Organized for Life….and beyond?!My Profile

  5. Great information! I love that you mentioned displaying collections. What is the use of having a group when you can’t look at it every day?

    When my husband and I got married, we wanted to collect things from our trips but didn’t want the collection to get too big because it would clutter up our home. So, instead, we decided to collect ornaments. They get displayed through the holidays on various sized metal tabletop trees and our large Christmas tree. It’s so much fun seeing how many places we have visited.

    1. Isn’t that an impressive collection? I love the way they are all displayed… that makes the collection a true piece of art that can be enjoyed on a daily basis!

  6. Thanks for your insight, Seana! I enjoy collecting cloth travel patches. They are inexpensive & small. I keep them in a pretty box on a bedroom shelf that is easy to access. Whenever I want to revisit those memories, I can hold the patch in my hands. These patches truly delight my heart!!

    1. I love this comment, Olive. What better reason to collect than to “truly delight your heart?” Having your collection close at hand for easy and periodic reflection is the perfect solution!

  7. Great article! I love the distinctions between collecting with a purpose and just accumulating. I don’t know how many of my organizing clients have started with a collection and just ended up with a huge group of similar items and no real purpose.

    1. Yes, exactly. Or used to collect something that they have lost interest in but feel like they “shouldn’t” let go. Live in the “now” and be intentional about what you keep!

  8. I took note of your suggestion to insure valuable collections. My husband’s is not insured and frankly I don’t know how to value it. We’d have to look for an appraiser who knows this type of collection.

    1. You make an excellent point! You may need an appraiser to estimate value of a specialty collection. An appraisal of a large collection will cost money, but it may be worth it. There are associations of appraisers and you could start there and see if you could find someone. Here is the link to one of these associations:

  9. I was a collector as a kid, but I always had a place for things. Like I had a special shelf built into my bed that I used for my troll dolls. And I collected memorabilia from movies.
    I’m almost worse now! I get a little neurotic when my kids have like six pieces of an eight piece set. Maybe I am an accumulator enabler!
    Tamara recently posted…7 Tips On Bringing Dogs and Cats TogetherMy Profile

    1. We went through that when my husband bought our girls these “state quarter” collectible folders. I think he and I were more interested in trying to get all 50 than they were!

    1. Yes, dusting is definitely a “thing” Marcia! There is no way around it… we have to clean and maintain and take care of and store the things we own. I love that you have your collections in a place that you can SEE and ENJOY them. That is the whole point, after all!

  10. I love the distinction you make between the two. As a military family, we’ve traveled and moved so many times. I’ve always limited my kids on their “collections.” I steered them to small items that are easy to display and store. I began collecting pressed pennies from places we visited. They’ve got to be the easiest collection to store and display (in a pretty glass bowl. 🙂
    Susan Santro recently posted…This Is How We Roll Link Party #120My Profile

    1. For families who move frequently, collecting is kind of a challenge. I love the idea of collected the pennies and storing them in a bowl where they can see them and periodically pull them out and enjoy them. Plus, the price is right, and they pack/travel well!

  11. I am not sure, really. At one point, I wanted to collect something but then kinda stopped when I barely even had enough to be called a “collection” so I guess I’m not really a collector. Buttt I do hoard lots of notebooks and notepads that I barely use so I guess those count as well? Also, I buy one keychain from every place I visit. I lost some of them though.

    1. A keychain collection sounds fun. They can be easily hung for display or strung together to flip through. Not everyone enjoys collecting. With my job, I tend to be on high “clutter alert” all the time. However, I do enjoy seeing what other people have collected, especially if they really enjoy them!

  12. Thank you for helping to clarify the difference between the two terms! It’s so easy to call our accumulations our collections, as if that justifies the overwhelming amount of stuff that we hold onto. Great post!

  13. Pingback: How to Keep Memorabilia | The Seana Method Organizing & Productivity

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