The social platform for antiquers, collectors, and enthusiasts

Nostalgia’s Siren Call: Unpacking the Collector’s Sentimental Journey

Nostalgia, from the upcoming graphic novel by Cat Huang, set in a magical antique shop, where the “blank” main character seeks to find their identity by exploring antiques and the nostalgia felt as they uncover clues.

By Shirley M. Mueller, M.D.


Hello – I’m Shirley M. Mueller, and I am delighted to be writing for the Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. My columns going forward will include topics such as human food hoarding, the healing power of collecting, why we like bad art, and many others. I welcome suggestions or comments. Best, Shirley.


Nostalgia, from the upcoming graphic novel by Cat Huang, set in a magical antique shop, where the “blank” main character seeks to find their identity by exploring antiques and the nostalgia felt as they uncover clues.
Nostalgia, from the upcoming graphic novel by Cat Huang, set in a magical antique shop, where the “blank” main character seeks to find their identity by exploring antiques and the nostalgia felt as they uncover clues.

Collecting is often deeply intertwined with nostalgia, a sentimental longing for the past. It can significantly influence the motivations and experiences of collectors. Here, we explore psychological theories and empirical studies behind this craving, all of which are important to help collectors understand themselves.

Nostalgia as a Motivator for Collecting

At the core of many collectors’ passion lies nostalgia. This longing is often rooted in personal or cultural history, driving individuals to collect items that resonate with their memories or represent an era they perceive as a “past golden age.” Russell Belk, in his seminal work “Collecting in a Consumer Society” (1990), highlights this aspect by emphasizing that collecting can be a way to reclaim and preserve the past, thereby providing a sense of continuity in a rapidly changing world. This gives comfort. Thus, collectors often use their collections as a bridge to the past. This process reconnects the collector with memories, experiences, or eras that hold personal significance.

Nostalgia and Identity Formation

Collecting items from one’s past is more than a hobby; it’s a means of establishing identity construction and reinforcing it. This happens because nostalgia serves as a link to one’s personal history, thus contributing to a sense of individuality and self-continuity. This concept was explored by Batcho (2013) who suggested that nostalgia is not merely a retreat to the past but also a support in difficult times. By collecting objects from the past, individuals are able to maintain a consistent sense of self, even as they navigate the complexities of the present. This link between nostalgia and identity is particularly strong in collectors, who see their collections as extensions of their personalities and life stories.

Emotional Regulation and Nostalgia

Another important aspect of nostalgia in collecting is its role in emotional regulation. Juhl et al. (2010) found that nostalgia can counteract feelings of loneliness, boredom, and anxiety, indicating its role in emotional coping strategies. For collectors, the act of collecting and the objects collected can serve as emotional anchors, providing comfort and stability in times of change or stress. Searching for, acquiring, and organizing collectibles can be a soothing and therapeutic process, offering a respite from the challenges of everyday life.

Nostalgia and Social Connectedness

Beyond its personal implications, nostalgia when collecting also has a social dimension. Collectors often seek out others who share their interests, leading to the formation of communities and social bonds centered around collecting. Wildschut et al. (2006) demonstrated that nostalgia fosters social bonds and increases positive feelings towards others. Collecting communities, whether they meet in person or connect online, provide a space for individuals to share stories, exchange knowledge, and celebrate their shared passion. This sense of belonging is a crucial aspect of the collecting experience.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Nostalgic collecting can extend beyond the personal to the cultural and historical. Collectors are often drawn to Items that have broader cultural or historical significance, seeing their collections as a way to preserve and celebrate these aspects. Stern (1992) discusses how nostalgia in advertising appeals to collective memories and cultural history, a concept that can be extended to the realm of collecting. By collecting items from a particular era or culture, collectors are not only reconnecting with their past but also preserving a piece of history for future generations.


Nostalgia plays a multifaceted and significant role in the psychology of collecting. It acts as a powerful motivator, driving individuals to seek out objects that connect them to their past and provide a sense of continuity and identity. It serves as an emotional regulator, offering comfort and stability in times of change. It fosters social connectedness, helping collectors to form communities and bonds with others who share their passion. And, it connects collectors to broader cultural and historical narratives, allowing them to celebrate and preserve these aspects through their collections.

For collectors, their collections are more than just objects; they are windows to the past, anchors in the present, and legacies for the future.



Shirley M. Mueller, M.D.

Shirley M. Mueller, M.D., is known for her expertise in Chinese export porcelain and neuroscience. Her unique knowledge in these two areas motivated her to explore the neuropsychological aspects of collecting, both to help herself and others as well. This guided her to write her landmark book, Inside the Head of a Collector: Neuropsychological Forces at Play. In it, she uses the new field of neuropsychology to explain the often-enigmatic behavior of collectors. Shirley is also a well-known speaker. She has shared her insights in London, Paris, Shanghai, and other major cities worldwide as well as across the United States. In these lectures, she blends art and science to unravel the mysteries of the collector’s mind.