Approach collecting in a way that strengthens family communication and connection.

  • Actively involving your children and grandchildren in building a collection that interests them can be a way to unify a family.
  • Collecting as a family can enhance communication, teach valuable skills, and create stronger bonds.
  • The ultimate goal is to build a solid, positive, and successful family that becomes a unique collection in itself.

Collecting is often viewed as a personal passion but it can be much more than that. Whether your collection has monetary or simply sentimental value, collecting as a family—when approached thoughtfully—can enhance communication, teach valuable skills, and create stronger bonds.

The secret is in building the “family collection” first. That is, make sure your first priority is to build communication and strong relationships within your family. Actively involving your children and grandchildren in building a collection that interests them can be a way to unify a family.

Many parents strive to raise independent children,believing that they will remain a cohesive unit simply because they are a family. That is turning out not to be true, particularly as families become more geographically dispersed. Promoting independence is an essential first step, but successful families also need to encourage “interdependence,” a state in which family members are able to make unique contributions toward the pursuit of a common goal.

True interdependence can only be achieved when there is trust, communication, and transparency among family members. Research conducted by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that a single shared activity—such as collecting—can go a long way toward building all three. Gladwell found that shared activities were more important at
building a cohesive group than even shared values or attitudes.

Types of collections
If you want your collection to serve as such a unifying force, what you choose to collect is less important than whether other family members are equally interested and as engaged as you are. You may choose to collect something of monetary value, such as art, wine, horses, or cars. Alternatively, your family might decide that it is interested in
something with purely sentimental value, like the family that collects duck decoys and passes them down to younger generations as a family heirloom. 

Other types of collections include things you might never have considered. For example, some families “collect” entrepreneurial or charitable ventures. Consider world-famous designer and entrepreneur Ralph Lauren, whose three grown children have launched a candy empire, a production company, and a magazine. The family also has a philanthropic foundation focused on multiple initiatives, including cancer care, children’s literacy, and historic preservation.

Getting started
How you begin your family collection will depend on whether you already have a collection of your own. If you do, you might start by gauging the level of interest family members have in your collection. Younger adult children may be more interested in your mid-century modern furniture or baseball cards than your Meissen porcelain or antique paperweights, for example. If children and grandchildren are interested in what you are collecting, consider including them in activities to build your collection, such as visiting auction houses or antique shops together. Or perhaps, children share your love of art but prefer post-modern works to Old Masters. Stretching to share their interests can go a long way toward strengthening bonds with them.

If no one is interested in what you are collecting, it might be best to keep that as a personal passion and work to find something completely different that you are all interested in collecting together. Always keep in mind that you do not have to make a decision on either establishing and enjoying a private collection or having a family collection. You can have both. And, by working on the collection together, the family will learn what is needed to become good stewards of the collection over time.

Managing the collection
Successfully building a family collection is, in many ways, like building a family business. For example, you must figure out who is interested in it, determine how to involve everyone, and be intentional about building it. Therefore, many of the strategies that help businesses to grow work equally well when applied to a family passion.

Some families choose to hold regular meetings at which they conduct team building and values exercises and even draft a mission statement for the collection. A mission statement can guide current family members as they collect and might also encourage future generations to become involved.

In many cases, it can be helpful to have a third party run meetings and exercises. This allows the family’s matriarch and patriarch to step out of the leadership role and act as participants, along with other family members. Many families find that this levels the playing field and encourages younger family members to be more assertive, which can help them develop leadership skills.

However they are structured, these activities can help family members learn valuable communication skills as well as more about each other’s strengths, interests, and decision-making styles. And you will fully succeed by remembering the importance of shared experiences—these are not experiences that you direct. Many times rules can overpower roles. The family members should focus on the roles they take in the collecting, not on the rules that may surface.

Other considerations
An added bonus of collecting as a family is that it is generally a low consequence activity that teaches younger generations important skills they can use when they engage in higher consequence activities such as eventually managing the family wealth. Of course, building the “family collection” is just one consideration when you are collecting. For valuable collections, there are many financial considerations as well. It is important to make sure your collection is
appropriately insured and is included in your overall estate planning and investment strategy.

Working on collections can be a way to help build better communication within your family and, therefore, to build stronger and more productive relationships. The ultimate goal is to build a solid, positive, and successful family that becomes a unique collection in itself.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service. This article is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. If professional advice is needed, the services of a professional advisor should be sought.

Download Article Contact an Expert