The Collector's Lament: Letting It Go
By Theresa Claire, CFP®
According to Shirley M. Mueller, M.D, author of Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play, 33-40% of Americans collect something. Mueller argues that we collect things for a variety of reasons. Some collect because the objects are rare or unique, which stimulates and intrigues our brains. Others, because a collection can bring us pride of ownership and often social networks form through collectibles which may present opportunities to build friendships. Collectors may be bargain hunters who feel a sense of accomplishment from finding a great deal. Antique collectors may feel connected to the past, historical events, or people and perhaps desire to preserve that legacy for future generations. The final reason for collecting, as Mueller describes, is for intellectual stimulation. Yes, all these reasons are valid for why collecting is so popular, but lest we forget, what one sees as treasure, another may see as trash.
A Personal Story
In 1962, my father went off to boarding school in Maryland, leaving behind a shoebox of baseball cards depicting iconic players from the 1950s. "In those days," he recalled, "you could get five cards and a stick of gum for $0.25." Thanks to his daily paper route, he had plenty of money to buy cards, even though he gave his mother 65% of his paycheck (although not exactly by choice). "I collected cards for five to seven years and had a Mickey Mantle and many rookie cards of players who became legends."
When he returned for his first vacation break, he discovered that his mother had cleaned up his room in his absence. She threw away things from his childhood, including his collection of nearly complete sets of teams from 1957 and 1958. "It was gone; there was nothing I could do," my father lamented.
If my grandmother (Nana) had not thrown those cards away, the collection could be worth millions today. But then again, they might have been lost in the great basement flood of 1994.
My dad is not the only one in my family to lose a "valuable" collection. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of my siblings received Disney VHS tapes for gifts and kept them sealed in the packaging. After college, they were packed up and put in the attic, where they stayed for about a decade. Finally, my parents prepared to move a few years ago, and my mother gave those tapes away. Now she laments, "those tapes are selling for thousands." But if you think of a collectible as an investment, are you really a collector? Take the seven-step test below to help you decide if you should make a purchase or hang onto that box of videotapes collecting dust.
If you are tempted to make impulse purchases of collectibles at tag sales or online, like seeing a Princess Diana Beanie Baby in factory condition for $7, ask yourself these questions before making the purchase.
- Will collecting this item bring me pride?
- Will owning this enhance my social network?
- Will this help me feel connected to the past or preserve a legacy for a future generation?
- Does this stimulate my intellect by requiring specific knowledge about the subject matter or is extremely rare?
- Would I feel okay if I couldn't sell her for at least as much as I paid for it in the future?
- Can I afford it?
- Do I have room in my house for it?
If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, or you want to buy a "collectible" toy for a child who would enjoy playing with it, go ahead and make the purchase. This same test applies to anything you are holding onto in hopes that it might be valuable enough to sell one day. Otherwise, keep in mind that someday, someone else might just throw it away.
Collection Stories Wanted
If you have a collection that brings you joy, a friendship circle, helps you connect to your roots, stimulates your intellect, or is remarkably unique, we'd love to hear about it! Click here to share your story.