When Collections Become Burdensome Obsessions

How to get a grip on an out-of-control collecting

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On the Syfy cable channel series Collection Intervention, collectibles expert Elyse Luray helped collectors reign in their out of control passions one segment at a time. What seems like an impossible task can be managed with the right attitude. What's the trick? You've got to start somewhere.

How Do You Know a Collection Is "out of Control?"

You know the first step to solving a problem is realizing you have one. This means you've got to recognize that your collection has grown into a worrisome accumulation of objects that are taking over your life.

Some of the red flags signaling a collection has grown unwieldy include:

  • Repeated concerns and comments from close friends and family members about the size of a collection or the amount of time spent pursuing your hobby like this is "overtaking your life."​
  • Alienation from a significant other or family due to concerns about your collection and/or repeated arguments over the size, nature, or storage of the collection.
  • Financial hardships caused by over collecting - essentially, you should be selling instead of buying more.
  • A severe lack of space to properly store collections.

That last point is often one of the most significant signals of an out of control collection, according to Luray. Collections that have outgrown their allotted space present a number of issues. These include not being able to locate items in your collection that may be of value (ie. I know I have one of those but I don't know where it is), collections that are deteriorating and ruined because of improper storage, or those in which a collector has no earthly idea how many items they have or how much their collection is worth.

Taming That Beast of a Collection

Getting a vast collection back on track can take anywhere from a few days to a few years, depending on exactly what you've collected and the volume. In many instances, it requires mastering "the art of letting go," according to Luray, and that's not always easy.

It can also seem like an overwhelming task, so breaking it down into manageable chunks will be extremely important. Decide how much time you can devote each day or each weekend, and force yourself to take steps to accomplish your goal. Good intentions won't cut it.

Of course, this is easier for some collectors than others. Problems arise when there is an extreme emotional attachment to objects. If you just can't get a grip on your feelings about your possessions but they're overtaking your life, it might be time to get some professional counseling.

If you're not quite to that point and want to give it a go on your own, follow these steps:

  • Put the Hunt on Hold - Until you get things under control, try to use the time you would normally spend adding to your collection to focus on getting it in a manageable state instead. That might be hard, especially at first, but do your best. You'll quickly see that you do indeed have time to work on culling, organizing, and displaying your collection if you give up some or all of your shopping time temporarily.
  • Cull Your Collection - Start by culling out the things you really don't want. There's no collector on earth that hasn't accumulated some impulse purchases they probably should have never brought home. Whether they're expensive splurges or something that turned out to be basically worthless, determine the value and get rid of the items that you really don't enjoy owning anymore. Sell them if you can, and if they aren't worth that much effort consider, donating the items to a charity-operated thrift store or other entity that would welcome them. If you collect dolls, for example, give your usable items to children's home. You can feel good about helping yourself and others at the same time, and at least you'll get the tax write-off.
  • Inventory and Organize - Once you've decided what to keep, get organized. Most out of control collectors have no clue about what they have and what their collections are worth so break things down into manageable batches and start taking inventory. Catalog as much information about each item as you can such as what it is, where you got it, how much you paid for it and what it is currently worth if you know. If you don't know current values, you can at least document the collection and then go back to fill in that blanks regarding value as you have time to do further research.
  • Curate the Items You Want to Display - Once you have your collection organized, determine which of those items you want to display in your home to enjoy and share with others. For instance, a quilt collector can display quilts on several beds and walls in a home, and then properly store the rest of the collection. If you have lots of small collectibles, clean out those shelves and display cabinets and start over. Try to group similar items or themes together to make the collection more appealing to the eye. Ask a friend who is good at decorating to help you if you need some pointers, and read articles about decorating with collectibles to get ideas.

Focus Going Forward

You'll feel pretty good about your collection, and yourself, when you get things under control, so be sure you don't fall back into the same trap again. You can certainly keep collecting and enjoy your hobby, but learn to be more selective and focused on your purchases as you start shopping again.

Rather than buying anything and everything related to your chosen collecting interest, try to focus on filling in gaps such as completing sets or looking for rarities. Save your money for those larger purchases that will make your recently-honed collection complete rather than buying just to be buying. Now that your collection is organized and you have an inventory of what you already own, it will be much easier to set and accomplish collecting goals. Instead of having a burdensome pile of "stuff," you'll have a fun and rewarding hobby once again.