Dear Lee,

Reader Rachel G., asked us a question that really got us thinking. Rachel wondered why her children aren’t collecting like her mother did. What should she do with all the collections her mother hoped to pass to the next generation? Rachel wrote, “After going thru mother’s endless supply of collectibles, we are exhausted and lean toward purging our things and embracing a more minimalist view. Is collecting still going strong?”

We have lived it – from going to house sales when it wasn’t the “proper” thing to do, to traveling to shows, to joining a collector-not-historians group, to wondering about collectors just one step from hoarders. I think some people have a collecting gene, just as some become star golfers. The interest is there, but it requires work to be good.

This is what we have learned.

1. The size, location and style of your house determines the amount and size of what you collect. Newcomers want to fit in and buy what is stylish in a new place. It is a fact that first-generation families rarely collect, although they save some special things from the past. Today, families move a lot and get rid of things each time.

2. It takes a confident person to collect something that is not in style, but that is where you find bargains. It also takes time that others may spend on sports or travel or reading.

3. Technology has changed the playing field and collectors must be up-to-date. A picture doesn’t tell weight, exact color, tiny flaws, and texture, and I won’t buy anything expensive without examining and touching it the old-fashioned way. I go early to an old-fashioned auction. I hear the gossip about sale items, family stories, previous owners, condition and competition before the sale. I have even helped prospective bidders search inside clocks to be sure all parts are original. But online auctions should be studied ahead of time. And I find the actual sale too fast to be fun. New collectors only know the new way.

4. Collecting has changed because so much is easy to find with a computer. Search engines and sites can immediately tell you when and where someone is going to sell a Sheraton sofa or Shaker pin cushion. I like the thrill of the search in shops and shows.

5. If the family that inherits doesn’t want anything, don’t “purge the collection.” Mother’s things can be turned into money gifts for her heirs. The non-collectors should consider the cash value, the charitable contributions to museums, schools, or non-profit shops and causes that might be tax deductible. And if you have a “thing” that is rare and historic, even if it is an old class picture or an ornament from a famous local building, there is a place that wants to display it, label it with the donor’s name. With that act, the family name becomes a part of history.

There were famous collectors among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and before. The collecting gene has a long history, and with new ways to collect and discoveries to be found, be assured there will be new collectors in the future.