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Why Kids Collect & Save Things Is Actually Pretty Sweet, According To Science

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Most parents have noticed, at one point or another, that their kids love collecting things. It could be shells they find whenever they're at the beach, rocks they seek out whenever they're outside, or a specific kind of toy that they can't seem to get enough of. Growing up, my brother and I collected almost anything that caught our eye, from sparkling seaglass, to old bottlecaps, to acorns found on the street, to tiny rubber animal toys. But why children collect things is pretty sweet and fascinating.

One of the biggest reasons kids spend time forming collections of various items is simple: it's fun! Searching for these items and adding them to what you already have — and finding something new that you've been looking for — is exciting, entertaining, and takes up time. Kids get to learn more about things they enjoy, and it's interesting for them. Plus, they have fun playing with them.

But it also goes beyond that: kids collect things because it's kind of human instinct. Niroshika DeSilva, child psychologist, tells Romper that this comes from an instinct. "The human species learned skills of hunting and gathering supplies they needed for survival. Similarly, children may collect and accumulate toys as a form of this survival strategy." Their collection could be linked to their subconscious need for survival, which is interesting to think about (and will make you think about your own reasons for collecting whatever it is you collect).

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Collecting can also make kids feel more comfortable. "Collecting toys may contribute to feelings of security, satisfaction, and pleasure, such that there is a sense of comfort that comes along with visually seeing and holding the items that you feel are important and desirable," says DeSilva. "Additionally, collecting toys prevents others from taking them and therefore prevents emotional distress, which is equally desirable." So while their collection may seem silly and pointless, it actually gives kids a sense of soothing security.

If your kid collects basically everything that interests them, they probably own, well, a lot of stuff, and you may have spent some time worrying that this will lead to a hoarding problem later in their lives. But you probably have nothing to worry about. "Accumulation of toys in childhood isn't always translated into adulthood, and may not be correlated with obsessive compulsive disorder," says DeSilva. "There are some correlations with behaviors such as lining up toys and objects and autism spectrum disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, but this correlation is usually in addition to other symptoms and behaviors."

If you notice your child has a penchant for collecting, you can probably take it as a positive thing. Collecting helps kids learn as they gain more knowledge about the items they enjoy, and it also helps them learn categorization and a sense of individuality. Research has found that collecting also helps them grow as people by helping them learn more, and so it enhances their self-identity.

On top of all that, it leaves them feeling more secure, comforted, and at ease — and who doesn't want that for their little ones? Even if you do need to buy up all The Container Store bins to house it.

Expert:

Niroshika DeSilva, PsyD, child, adolescent, and adult psychologist at Pacific Coast Psychiatric Associates, a LifeStance Health company in San Francisco, California