Many people begin by collecting everything worldwide. The countries of the world issue a total of about 10,000 postage stamps each year! Unless you have a lot of money, space, and time, at some point trying to collect every stamp ever issued is probably unrealistic.
Traditionally, collectors specialize by choosing a single country to collect, most often their home country, the country where they spent a memorable vacation, or a country whose stamps just look interesting. For a few countries obtaining every stamp issued is possible without having to spend a fortune. However for most countries, there will probably be at least a few stamps that most of us cannot afford. Thus some collectors will narrow their specialty even further, perhaps limiting themselves to stamps issued since they were born.
Another increasingly popular method of collecting is by topic. Topicals give you an opportunity to explore all types of stamps from all over the world. Most are relatively inexpensive and allow you to customize and organize your collection however you want. Think of any topic and someone probably collects it. Animals, birds, flowers, ships, space, scouts, Disney, and sports are some of the most popular topics. However, exhibits have been put together on far less common topics such as rainbows and even outhouses on stamps. Topicals are also great because you can choose what types of material to include. Most topical collectors look for special postmarks that relate to their topic. First day covers and postal stationery also offer great opportunities for topical collections.
Mint or Used
Most people come to prefer either mint stamps or used stamps. Mint stamps have never been used and look the way they did when they were sold at the post office. Used stamps have served their intended purpose of carrying the mail. There are several advantages to collecting used rather than mint stamps. Most stamps cost less used than mint, although there are exceptions. You do not have to worry about preserving the gum on use stamps and can use inexpensive stamp hinges to mount your stamps on album pages. Sometimes the cancellations on used stamps are of interest. The choice to collect mint, used, or even a mixture of the two is your decision alone.
Collecting by Type
Some individuals collect stamps based on the type of stamp, such as airmail stamps or coil stamps. This category may appeal to you if you are interested in stamps used to pay special services such as special delivery or postage due. However the majority of philatelists collect stamps of all types.
Souviner or Miniature Sheet
A souvenir sheet or miniature sheet is a small group of postage stamps still attached to the sheet on which they were printed. They may be either regular issues that just happen to be printed in small groups (typical of many early stamps), or special issues often commemorating some event, such as a national anniversary, philatelic exhibition, or government program. The number of stamps ranges from one to about 25; larger sheets of stamps are simply called “sheets” with no qualifier.
Both the stamps and the entire sheet are valid for mailing, although they are almost always sold above face value and kept in mint collection by collectors; a handful of usages may be found as philatelic covers.
Some collectors prefer to collect stamps of a certain shape or color. Be creative! If you see colorful stamps coming in the mail that interest you, collect them! One individual may choose to collect only yellow stamps, another stamps issued on their birthday, and aa third may be building a collection with cancels numbered one to one million. The important thing about stamp collecting is not the value of your collection or how many other people collect the same thing, but rather personal enjoyment.