“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a collector. And, I’m not in the minority, as it seems that collecting is a natural pastime for us human beings. According to Randy O. Frost, professor of psychology at Smith College and author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, ”A passion for collecting is a healthy outlet and an activity that keeps people connected to the world around them. But it can become a deadly enterprise when it crosses the line into hoarding.”
The numbers are a bit staggering, as according to research reported in a piece in TIME Magazine by Kayla Wembley, “There are between 6 and 15 million hoarders living in the U.S., and some 75 cities now have task forces dedicated specifically toward working with hoarders in their community.”
So what are the differences between being a collector vs. being a hoarder? Some people jokingly have referred to my kind of collecting as hoarding, but there are in fact very distinct differences. Both hoarding and collecting involve assigning special value to your possessions, often value that goes beyond the physical characteristics of the object. To remain a healthy collector, however, your collection must not impede or interfere with your ability to function, or the use of the active living areas of your home, according to TLC.
In Passionate Possession: The Formation of Private Collections, University of California anthropologist Marjorie Akin explores why we collect, and reveals that people crave a connection to past memories. Remember those old baseball card collections or marbles you cherished as a kid?
Akin says that another reason people collect is to satisfy personal tastes, show individualism through weird or unusual collections, and to fulfill the need to complete something. The desire to amass wealth and sell items for profit is another reason for collecting.
The thing I’ve personally discovered about collecting is that a collection is technically never complete.
Take for example my collection of more than 400 elephants, which I talked about in my piece on saving the Toronto Zoo elephants. To me, this has become an incredible aesthetic collection, which I started back in the mid-1970s. Definitely no hoarding here, yet this collection appears to have no end in sight. Others are equally amazed by its beauty and keep wanting to contribute to it by bringing me more. Elephants have arrived from all over the world, in all shapes and sizes, made out of every material imaginable. All well placed and displayed, they add character to my home. I’ve never tripped over even one.
To be honest, I have collections of all kinds. I like to keep things that have sentimental value to me. Kind of like a human pack rat accumulating memories. Most recently, I put all my 1960s, ’70s and ’80s fashion magazines up for sale and had one very serious collector show up, only to be disappointed that the magazines were somewhat water damaged and therefore not collectible by his standards. He was kind, but strongly suggested I throw them out. Immediately. Collector that I am, I couldn’t bear to recycle them after all these years! Believing that they were valuable to someone, I reworded the ad and voilà, I found a writer/photographer who was delighted to buy these slightly soiled magazines to further her research and feed her lifelong passion, which she was turning into a book on style. I was thrilled they were going to someone who would admire and use them.
Before that, my antique bedroom set sold to a lovely Mennonite couple who are woodworkers and saw the workmanship in the sturdy old, almost impeccable set. The 1970s vintage leather couch and chair went to a great couple who were creating a spare room decorated retro style and were excited to see the solid construction and truly loved its well-worn charm. Maybe it really is true that everything old is new again.
My years of designing jewelry using recycled antique watch parts left me with thousands — I do mean thousands — of individual parts that I wanted to go to someone who would appreciate them and actually put them to use. Enter a man studying the lost art of watch repair who got some of the collection, with the rest going to an enthusiastic art teacher who was struck by the incredible beauty of the pieces. She had already bought the thousands of buttons I’d amassed, also during my designing days, to create Native button art with her high school students. Her delight and excitement reminded me of how I always felt when I found new additions to any of my collections.
We do live in a disposable world, but I have always loved the idea of reusing, and recycling as much as possible, reducing my need to always be buying something new. With Earth Day this April 22, the idea of reducing, reusing and recycling becomes top of mind again. As we all are becoming more aware of the need to green our lifestyles, it’s now less about talk and more about putting these principles into action. Another way old things find new uses again.
My basement is filled with lots more stuff, I admit it. My friend told me that old-fashioned typewriters are making a comeback and that a store in New York that has been selling and servicing them for 52 years is experiencing a boom. It’s the younger generation who are rediscovering the typewriter though, with “type-ins” becoming a new kind of social event. Hmm, come to think of it, I believe I still have my old Smith Corona portable typewriter from the 1970s in its original box and I’m wondering if maybe it’s worth something to someone, too. The list probably will never end here. Some things I know I may never give up, like my collection of playbills that goes back to the original Broadway production of Funny Girl with Barbara Streisand.
The bottom line is it’s possible to find someone who wants the something that you have. I’m always delighted to find new homes for these items and I’ve met some incredible people in the process. It’s great hearing what my collections are going to be used for in the future. My treasures, are now their treasures, making it just a little bit easier to let go at my end. Could I be making room for something new, some unknown collections of my future? Once a collector always a collector, I guess.
It’s always fascinating to hear about other people’s collections. What do you or someone you know collect?
Visit me at: beverleygolden.com