I can’t figure out what it is about collecting that leads many of us to such excess. My sister, the Amazing Mary, collects dolls — has maybe a thousand of them — from high end collectibles to little hand-sewn sock dolls and nearly everything in between. She was always into dolls. Always. My baby dolls were long ago lost in basement floods and clean-outs — hers now grace her dolls’ shelves mingling with later finds. My Barbie’s hair was blond — and the coiffure lasted only days before she was dragged by her hair into the Amazon jungles, into skydiving, shooting the rapids in the bathroom sink, and dozens of other adventures that left her looking like she had a few miles on her. Mary’s — while played with constantly — always kept her curly black bangs and smooth sides.

I held off on collecting things for a long time — mostly collected things one used — too much yarn, lots of fabric, every herb and spice I might ever need. I stayed away from gathering large numbers of the same or related objects in order to what — let’s be real here — in order to PLAY with them. Arrange and rearrange, categorize, compartmentalize, compare, and become attached to.

But these days I’m an unrepentant collector (okay, I do try to re-sell most of these things at a profit, but…) of pocketbooks, buttons, beads, a variety of glassware, coin banks, silk scarves, vintage rhinestone jewelry, stones and crystals, and I’m sure there are more things. Oh yes, bird-themes — note paper, statues, paintings, little neat things with birds.

What do we gain, internally, from this urge to brings like things together — and into our possession? Part of it is certainly the aesthetic experience — the colors and textures, shapes, lines, form and function. It’s BEAUTIFUL.  Some of it remains acquisitiveness. It’s MINE.  Others want it and value it. I outbid 8 people for this X — therefore I won the tangible prize of the object and the less tangible warmth of the win.

The solidness of an object comforts. Here’s something that takes space in your mind, and in your home. There’s a parallel in-out thing going on. A place where the reflection of self is somewhat accurate. A mirror of my tastes and desires, as well as my expertise and good judgment. Am I collecting only the best? Am I collecting some esoteric side line on a common theme? Am I getting great bargains because I KNOW more than you?

I’d love to know what others are thinking about why they collect — or don’t.


3 thoughts on “Collecting

  1. When I began collecting dolls I had no sense of focus other than to get as many dolls in as short a time as possible. To have them all around me, to dress, arrange into tea parties and cover as many surfaces as possible. In the 30 years or so that have passed I have become very specific in my collecting and am prone now to intense serial passions for one kind of doll or another. When I am in the initial throws one of these passions I have to have ALL THERE IS to have and know about the dolls. I crave articles, books if possible, ads and all print materials. I start a notebook of my finds and this research is part of the joy of the whole thing. I need to know EVERYTHING about the current passion and become comfortable in my ability to recognize one of them across a crowded salesroom at a Doll Show. I am not entirely sure why I collect, but if you don’t, why the heck not?

  2. I don’t consider myself a collector in the same sense as Mary—owning many items for the sake of owning them because they are fun, beautiful, etc. I consider myself more of a hoarder who secures and hangs onto raw materials. Cloth, yarn, cooking supplies, beads—–there are just so many possibilities that each bead or fabric piece holds. And who knows when one might actually use that bottle of rose water in some exotic dish? They allrepresent the dream that someday I will make beautiful or yummy things. That someday I will manage my time to include all that I enjoy. At some point, I stopped collecting these raw materials, as they rarely seemed as glorious once I got them home. It was only in the “imagination of the act” that the creating seemed appealing. However, I am not yet up to letting the raw materials go. “I’m never going to use that” seems to me to be an admission of defeat and an acceptance of a life of merely surviving to the next day. So, I hang on to the pieces of cloth and skeins of yarn that connect me to the hope of a different way of life.

    • Great post, Carolyn. I really connected with the idea that letting go of some of the things we hold represents letting go of the hope of change to that idealized life…Thanks.

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