Let’s start with the non-physical things you can collect. There is a lot of talk of experientialism these last couple of years, meaning that people would rather try and experience things and accumulate those rather than memorabilia like the infamous set of castanets or a raffia wine holder brought back from your trip to Spain. Experiences come in many forms from luxury cruises to hiking on the South Downs, from snorkelling in the Red Sea to silent retreats in Bhutan, alligator wrestling in Florida or a weekend knitting workshop in the outskirts of your hometown. All of those can turn into collectibles from the moment you do these things regularly. They won’t clog up your living room, but they are still collections of a kind.
When it comes to physical, tangible items, collections follow the same strategies: you want more of the same, you want them all (what I call the Pokémon syndrome), and you will end up being given some by well-meaning friends and family. The opportunities to add to your collection are usually endless. There is an attraction to collecting that I believe to be based on our intrinsic need to prepare for times of scarcity. It’s just that often this need starts to run amok and takes over.
The trouble is that not only this is an intrinsic trait for many of us, it also often stretches to more than one – often a whole lot of – different types of items. And that is when things go down different roads for men and women.
Women seem to be the bigger keepers of hoards (not hoarders!) that could be viewed as collections, especially for things that they perceive as potentially useful. I’m talking about spare buttons, bits of string, rubber bands, hairpins, bits of paper, ripped out cooking recipes and the like. The main descriptor they would reply with is ‘potentially useful’. It feels more coincidental as a collection. They don’t usually set out to collect them all, they just seem to accumulate.
Men seem to have a different approach to collecting: it’s usually an intention to amass things of a certain kind and it’s seen as a hobby rather than a happy coincidence. Men are generally more prone to collecting things like stamps or coins, merchandise relating to a particular show or game (bobbleheads or posters, dressing up gear, etc.) or items to be fixed sometime in the (hopefully near) future like broken furniture to be restored or spare parts for the motorcycle in the garage. Classics for men include railway or army regalia, uniforms, anything related to motor sports or football clubs, and many others.
I feel there is a difference in perception: Men set out to collect something they are interested in, coming from a place of ‘plenty’, while women accumulate more based on a sense of necessity, coming from a place of ‘scarcity’.
I certainly don’t claim that this is true for all men and women, I’m simply pointing to a perceived difference on the accumulation level. When it comes to letting go, they would run into very similar issues related to sentimental attachment, breaking up a set, feeling obliged to the giver, potential financial loss, feelings of overwhelm, and so on. As mentioned in my book “Promise Broken. Moving On.” (shameless plug: available on Amazon), the way we accumulate items has a huge influence on our ability to let go of them. That means that finding how things have found their way into a person’s life is paramount for determining the best way to help them letting go of these items.
In the ‘typical’ case of women (as described above), sentimentality is probably less important as impressing upon my client that certain things may be useless overall. There may be a point to reason that “it’s okay to keep 20 rubber bands, but 500 is a bit over the top” or “how likely is it that you’ll find a use for those 20 miscellaneous unique screws?”
That approach would not work for the ‘typical’ man: they have spend time and effort choosing the items they have collected: that poster has come from VidCon 2009 (with associated good memories) and has cost them £50 to buy, this collection of StarWars figurines in mint condition has taken 15 years to complete. The practical arguments used for the rubber bands and screws simply will not have any sway at all for that kind of items. It will need a more emotional approach, finding out what the collection really means to them NOW as opposed to 10 years ago, is it still actively pursued as a hobby, is there a financial element here, etc.
I find that taking not just the history of the collection into account, but also my knowledge of general differences between male and female behaviour around groupings of items has been very useful and should not be disregarded.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.