Updated on 09.11.07

Personal Finance And Nostalgia

Trent Hamm

My wife has an enormous collection of Breyer horses, most of which are still in their original packaging. She began collecting them when she was seven and was still adding new ones to her collection as late as her college years.

Currently, this Breyer horse collection resides in several large storage containers that have largely sat untouched for years. Every once in a while, we’ve discussed selling the collection (it does have some significant value), but when we go down there to take a full inventory and some photographs, she pulls out a few of her favorite horses and is taken to a land of nostalgia. Before long, she puts them back away, having convinced herself again that she shouldn’t sell them.

I’ll confess to a similar feeling when it comes to my vintage baseball cards, particularly my almost-complete 1965 Topps set and some of my pre World War II cards. I know they have cash value, but whenever I look at them, a pure wave of good feelings and nostalgia hits me and I end up putting them away again. At this point, I’m actually considering some display options for my office for a few of them.

After telling these stories, you might think that I would chide myself for hanging on to these things. They’re not good investments – they don’t appreciate much (the vintage baseball cards are holding value, but the Breyer horses are slowly sliding) and they take up space in our home.

However, my belief is that if an item provides significant emotional value to you, you should keep it. I’m not planning on liquidating that baseball card collection anytime soon and I’m even slowly looking at finishing that 1965 Topps set.

Doesn’t this fly in the face of any sort of personal finance advice? I don’t think so, and here’s why: items that provide emotional value are providing value. I get a lot of happiness from looking at many of my old cards, just as my wife feels happy when she looks at the Breyer horses. The objects have a value that’s not quantifiable, but it does exist.

If you have a collection of some value in the basement that makes you feel happier every time you look at it, don’t sell it unless you have no other choice. You might have money that will make a better “investment,” but a mutual fund won’t put that funny, happy feeling in your stomach.

What about growing that collection? That’s up to you, but as a general rule of thumb, collecting things usually winds up costing far more than you’ll ever get out of it. Thus, only collect things if they bring significant emotional happiness to you and also honestly ask yourself whether the feelings for the things you do have are nostalgic and whether adding new ones would improve that feeling or not.

As for me and my baseball cards, I’m looking at framing and hanging some of my 1930s Goudy cards – I think they’d look gorgeous in my office and every time I look at them, I think of my grandfather and some wonderful memories.

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  1. viola says:

    You are right on to display your favorite collectibles. Your wife should find a way to do the same. It’s a shame to waste storage space on something that she loves so much when it could be used for enjoyment.

    We aren’t robots with no emotion. People will always attach memories to specific objects. As long as collectibles aren’t causing a space problem AND they’re valuable to you, keep them. But also display them since you might as well sell them if they’re just going to sit in a box unseen.

  2. Amanda says:

    I would disagree with your premise that things that collections – of anything – provide value. If your wife values the horses so much, why are they in a box in storage? Would she actually miss them – after the initial pang – if they were gone? I really don’t think so. I’ve found this to be the case with all the things I have collected, no matter how much I thought I valued them at the time.

    So either let your wife display the horses, or sell them off to purchase something she would really value and use and look at every day, or to put the money away for your children – something I think that you both value more than any horses or baseball cards. :)

  3. another amanda says:

    i helped my mom sell her collection of childhood dolls and doll clothes on ebay a few years ago. it ended up being a very happy occasion, more than a sad one! the dolls and doll clothes were in boxes for 40+ years and my mom had moved them all over the country. some of the doll clothes went for ridiculous money ($50-$100 for a small doll dress with tags, hundreds of dollars for the dolls) which helped it be a good experience. also the buyers were so happy with the items – they sent us emails telling us how thrilled they were with the rare items they found and thanked us for describing the items and their condition so accurately. My mom feels like the items were “placed” and that they have new homes now! :) ebay makes getting good prices for collectibles so much easier and it’s fun to watch the auction prices go up and up.

  4. FIRE Finance says:

    We beg to differ with Amanda in this aspect. If something we love gives us joy when we look at it, then it is worthwhile to keep them even if it is in the storage. There might be some constraints which prevent us from displaying stuff we love, but that does not mean we should get rid of it.
    For example: On a lazy afternoon, leafing through our treasured albums (though stored in boxes) we find ourselves wandering in the blissful memories of the past which fill our souls with so much joy. Though we do not look at it everyday and the fact that it is not displayed do not decrease its ability to give us some joy with souls who have loved us. In fact it is a wonderful break from the rat race called life!

  5. George says:


    There’s storage and then there’s $torage. My 55-yr-old sister had a bunch of collectible crap (interior decorating items) that she was paying to store ($200/mo) when she had no income and lost her home. She was living in our spare bedroom for free while getting back on her feet financially.

    She wouldn’t part with them because she was going to use the decorations in whatever apartment she found after finding a job. I pointed out that the items were stacked up 8′ high in boxes in 800 sq ft of storage and that she was planning on renting, at most, a 2-bedroom apartment that would be smaller than the storage unit, so where did she expect to store them once she got the apartment?

    Nope, couldn’t reason with her. She eventually moved to the apartment after 3 months at her daughter’s house and 9 months at our place. 3 months after moving to the apartment, she moved all those items to her apartment, filling it floor to ceiling, leaving just enough room for a path to her bed and kitchen! Inevitably, the items were damaged with all the moving they endured.

    In the end, it cost her over $3000 in storage before she managed to throw them out… enough to have bought the items new again, twice over!

  6. RG says:

    I read somewhere that taking a picture of the collection or the item that causes you to reminisce is just as effective at providing those feelings as actually having the item! So, why not take a picture of the collection or item, stick them in a scrapbook, and you can reminisce that way – with out so much clutter and taking up precious storage space.

  7. AJ says:

    This is almost funny.

    Money is, ultimately, a means to acquire goods and services. Using money well (saving and investing whilst spending wisely) does not mean that we should never buy anything. What sort of life would one have if one lived in a empty box with a fat portfolio and account?

    It’s entirely a matter of assessing personal value and living accordingly.

  8. Scarfish says:

    I used to collect things until I was robbed and most of the things were stolen. The tragedy of losing them was heartbreaking, especially because for the most part, the things weren’t financially valuable but only emotionally. I now attach a little less sentimental value to things because I realize they are just things and do not define me as a person. I have nothing against collecting things, but I do not hold on to things so dearly that I couldn’t or wouldn’t part with them if I needed to. I’m definitely of the “take a picture, it’ll last longer” mentality now, and even then, photos can be destroyed, stolen or lost…I’d rather make memories I can never forget regardless of a memento.

  9. Sarah says:

    Living in a hurricane zone has helped me outgrow the ‘collector’ mentality. Every summer I face the reality that I may lose all my tangible things this year – and frankly, a fire is always a risk for everyone. At first I took pictures for insurance purposes. Then I’d remember that I had pictures when rearranging boxes, and get rid of the originals, because, ‘after all, I have pictures.’ Now I only acquire things that I’m interested in right now, which has had a positive effect on my budget, but also a sharpening effect on my life list, resulting in a much more satisfying lifestyle. Don’t live in the past!

  10. ~Dawn says:

    It was from Debt-proof living that was suggested you take a picture of the item that holds memories, though she was talking about doing that before you sell or give away an item. But it would work with collections that are boxed up.

    I used to collect comics, those have to be put away and not displayed, because light destroys them.

    On the topic of finances and collecting, I think one or two collecting hobbies is fine, but no matter, you HAVE TO stay in budget and have the discipline to pass up a ‘good deal’ if you are having trouble paying regular bills. Priorities!

  11. Debbie says:

    Another idea is to keep one item on display at all times. But you can keep changing which item is on display.

    If every season, you switch out your horse or the five cards that will fit in your picture frame, then you are getting that nice feeling of looking through everything once a season also.

    I have a bunch of Girl Scout badges and patches which I like looking at. I stuck most of them on my old vest to wear as a Halloween costume, but then just hung it up in my closet between my jackets and shirts. Now when I’m digging through my closet, I often get a glimpse of this, which makes me smile.

    I used to collect rocks. I keep them on display hoping some little kid will love it and I can give it away. This would be more likely if I actually met kids and then actually invited them over.

    I still collect coins because I think they’re pretty and interesting; not for resale value. I keep them in a notebook in pockets with special holders, and every time I go to a foreign country, I save one of each coin to bring home and sometimes my favorite bill.

    I also collect books and DVDs, but am learning to heavily prune those. I plan to keep only the ones I am re-reading and lending out.

  12. Trent, have you read “It’s All Too Much?” by Peter Walsh. We read it earlier this year and it changed our perspective on those things we were holding onto just like that. Not that they’re the same, because only you know your household, but it something to consider.

  13. Michelle says:

    I like Debbie’s idea. I am the same way with photographs, only my photos are the emotional collection, not the replacement. I have tons of blown up photos and frames since photography is a hobby of mine.

    Recently I have decided to get rid of all my excess frames and instead keep only what I wanted to hang up right now. Then once a month I change out all the photos. My friends love visiting because they say it feels like walking into a rotating gallery with something new everytime, plus I free up a ton of storage space while still getting to keep and make use of my photos

  14. Margaret says:

    Don Aslett has many books on getting rid of clutter. Check out your library.

  15. boggeddownnblue says:

    This is a great topic; for me, it illustrates the conundrum I was in when I once subscribed to 2 online newsletters: one was devoted to living clutter free & the other to frugality. If I read the clutter-free newsletter first, I’d find myself ready to get rid of my LPs to save space; then, the frugal newsletter would talk about how you could make money either selling the LPs to collectors or could make craft projects to sell from the album covers as well as the records themselves. I was always ping-ponging between the 2 options. I then went to a crafts fair and indeed saw one fellow who was selling kitchen clocks made out of LPs; and a woman selling plastic totebags with sleeves wherein you could place an album cover. Both items were marketed as vintage and/or shabby chic items and were priced at around 50 bucks a pop. I saw the totebags sold at boutiques, too. The cool thing was that you could get by with using covers from pretty awful albums instead of ones that you would still like to listen to–the tackier the album art and sillier the band, the more fun the totebag was.

    As for me, I actually do listen to my albums on a vintage-look turntable that cost $100. It enables me to record the album onto a CD or a tape. I love it and I love the albums and their covers. It’s as fun as pulling an old book I love from the bookshelf and reading it again or at least perusing. High-tech it ain’t, and I’m probably the only human alive who still uses a Walkman, but it works for me until the day comes I can afford an iPod other than the shuffle.

    On a related topic … what about guilt-inducing items you could possibly sell? I have a few things–overly florid china pieces that could bring $100, maybe–that were given to me when a relative died. They are not my taste at all, but I feel very sad and guilty at the thought of selling them just so I could put a couple of hundred dollars’ tops at my credit card debt of my own making.

  16. Mrs. Micah says:

    Indeed. Personal finance isn’t about maxing out the amount of money you have, but the goal is (IMO) to achieve happiness and well-being.

    A lot of well-being comes through not being in debt, being able to afford necessities and a few nice things, saving for the future, but well-being is a lot broader. I think you draw a nice distinction between just gathering stuff and collecting things that bring you joy, even periodically (and the joy isn’t just from acquiring them, but from looking through them).

  17. Patrick says:

    Trent, Great article! I started to write a comment last night, but it got so involved I had to turn it into a post on my site – “Should You Sell Your Baseball Card Collection?”

    My assessment is the same as yours. If you don’t need the money, and the item brings you joy, you should keep it.

    Do I need my baseball cards? Absolutely not. But they bring my joy even though they just sit in my closet. Thanks for the great article, and inspiring me to write one of my own.

  18. Katy Raymond says:

    My younger brother once told me his secret to a clutter-free home. “Get rid of stuff BEFORE it becomes sentimental.” It’s a trick, but worth trying!

  19. daydreamr says:

    I don’t see the big deal here! Is this house so tiny that you can’t let your wife keep a collection that she’s worked on for, what, 20 years or so? Sorry Trent, I’m not trying to diss you but the way you explain things it’s like you are trying to force her into something that she really doesn’t want to do. You talk her into it and take her hand like she’s a kid and lead her down the path.

    Leave this one alone or your wife will come to resent you. This isn’t a prinipal of frugality, it’s being cheap; wanting to make a quick buck regardles of who it will hurt. You may think the value is sliding on this junk that’s taking up valuable storage space. But what else are you planning on storing. Your baseball cards? Other junk that you can justify?

    What about your daughter. She will be old enough to apreciate them someday and I’m sure she will be grateful for a collection of breyer horses if only because they were her mothers. You never know what their value will be. There will always be someone looking to collect things.

    Maybe your daughter will inherit them and decided to sell them off. Maybe she will make a small fortune on them. Maybe the horses will be a Godsend. Maybe when you and your wife are old and can’t take care of yourselves she will have to sell them off to take care of you. You never know. Or maybe she will get married and tell her hubby to get ****** when he suggest selling them :)

    And you don’t know what things you call crap will be worth. I know this girl who’s grandmother saved everything. When they cleaned out the house they found unopened boxes of cereal that were worth hundreds of dollars. Peole collect the darndest things so if your wife means more to you than $, don’t go there. And don’t listen to these people who are saying you should make your wife do it. She is an adult. You shouldn’t attempt to make her do anything.

  20. daydreamr says:

    Hi Debbie, I collect coins from other countries too! It’s fun and when I’m bored, I take them out and look at them. I have coins from Italy and other countries that may end up being worth something because of the Euro taking over. It’s not only for the money. I like your point that someday your collection of rocks might make a child happy. That’s really thoughtful of you. You could always be a big sister or find the name of a child who is in need of xmas (or holiday-I don’t want to offend anyone…) presents. I did that one year and it felt so good to give a child something they would not have otherwise. I have a collection of frogs and other kitsch. I have a tote full of stuff that I rotate, some of it is stored at my mom’s house. But when you collect unusual pieces, you don’t want to give them up.

  21. Samantha says:

    daydreamr, I think you need to re-read his post. He isn’t making his wife do anything! He is actually saying to KEEP a collection if it makes you happy.

  22. Corinne says:

    This is such a wonderful post to read – I too have a huge collection of Breyer horses that I amassed in my horse crazy pre-teen years (before moving up to the real thing!). I even showed the little things in competitions akin to model train competitions. I would never sell them, valuble though some of them have become. My dream is for my own (eventual) children to have the joy of using them for imaginative play, and thereby maybe inherit my horse addiction along with my little plastic ponies!

    Cheers for a nice read.

  23. Personally, I believe if you don’t even like something, you should definitely sell it to pay down debt. You hold your late relative in your heart. Disliking their beloved china won’t bring them closer to you. And if they loved you, they’d rather you were out of debt — even if it IS of your own making. (Especially if the guilt motivates you to stay out of debt!)

    As for the Breyer horses … little girls are so into horses now, it’s like a contagion! Your daughter will probably love them. As a child, I remember how precious my mother’s old toys were to me. They’ll pay off one way or another.

  24. boggeddownnblue says:

    Thanks for your input, CheapLikeMe. You know, if I thought I could get a nice piece of change for the china and it would go for something like helping a niece with tuition or a down payment on a home … I wouldn’t think twice about it.

    In general, it is kind of interesting how much “knick-knacks” from the mid 20th century have appreciated in the kitsch-collector market (aided by eBay, et. al). Which brings me to ask some of you this: Is it necessary for old toys and dolls and well anything to be in near-perfect condition for it to bring much money? Anything I have from my past (Barbie dolls, etc.) were played with to death, and look it.

    It is this reason why I have stalled at putting old, read and re-read books on amazon or half.com. I’m worried I will not describe their condition accurately and will get pissed-off customers. I feel to be safe I could just explain that they are a reader’s copy and not in good condition for anything else.

  25. !wanda says:

    boggeddownnblue – I say sell the china. Someone else will actually like the pattern and derive more enjoyment from it than you.

  26. daydreamr says:

    Although he says his wife should keep the collection, he’s complaining about it. He’s comparing them to his collection that is holding it’s value. I’m sure he feels that his collection is more worthwhile than hers. The value of her collection is slowly sliding. When he says they talk about selling the collection, who brings it up? I’m sure it’s not her. I’m sure she’s just fine with them taking up precious space. I bet he brings it up often and probably has recently. So what if they go untouched, undisplayed. They mean more to her than the money that would probably go into the investment portfolio. I also think the comment about “the land of nostalgia” has hints of sarcasm. He thinks it’s silly for her to get upset. These are not investments, at least the breyer horses arent. They are something his wife collected years ago. She does not want to let them go. The space in the house is already there. She has the right to a certain portion of it anyway. I read the articl over and still hold the same opinion: Trent should not suggest selling off her precious collection ever again no matter how silly he thinks it is.

  27. Schwamie says:

    My dad got me interested in stamps when I was given an album as a Chanukkah gift when I was five years old. Now almost 35 years later I still collect them. Yes, it is an advanced collection with most of what I need starting to cost a larger sum of money. I was already offered a very high five figure for my collection. I strongly considered selling it as it would pay off half of my mortgage. Then after thinking about it, I will be ably to pay my mortgage off over time and still have my collection to enjoy well into my golden years. While financial “crises” have come and gone, my stamps have continued to stay with me. Shy of needing funds to maintain my family, I will likely never sell them (until I’m old and my kids have no desire to continue with collecting).

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