I LIKE THINGS! Or: The Stuff I Collect

Only keeping the things I need to live seems awfully boring.

Jan 10, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

I married a mad collector.

One of the first things I noticed upon entering my husband’s old apartment on our first date was that there were Star Wars toys present, meticulously arranged in places of honor, on the mantle over the non-functional fireplace, and at adult eye-level on every available surface. 

I realize many ladies might have taken one look at this and done an abrupt about-face, never to be seen again, but I am not many ladies. Indeed, I was intrigued; collecting, after all, is a pursuit that requires a fair amount of passion, single-mindedness and persistence, all of which are traits I admire. 

Fourteen years later, I am still likely to speak of my husband’s collections -- which today reach far beyond the limits of Star Wars -- with pride, even to people who clearly think this behavior is kooky at best and ridiculous at worst. Oh, I’ll admit that the scale of his collections is a little overwhelming. They occupy a significant amount of space, especially considering they don’t actually get used for anything other than to be occasionally picked up and looked at. 

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But I can’t really complain, because living with him has taught me that I am a collector, too. 

I’ve always admired people who can live simply, with a small number of possessions. I visit friends living in New York who barely have any furniture, let alone 1,000+ books, and I marvel at their austerity. HOW DO YOU LIVE WITHOUT STUFF, I wonder, and grow silent with profound respect for their ability to thrive without closets bursting with crap.

I admire them because I am so not one of them. I have a lot of stuff. I could live just fine without much of it, but I like having it around. I have a fairly epic assembly of stuffed animals I can’t seem to part with; I have enough clothes to literally tear a closet organizer out of the wall; I have so many books that our so-called dining room looks like a Barnes & Noble.

My life would probably be easier if I could adopt a more minimalist lifestyle, but in the grand scheme of things I am and have always been more of a magpie than a curator; I am drawn to the shiny things of life, even when I have no purpose, place or justifiable need for them. 

I collect Dr. Martens boots, although whether these properly count as a collection is questionable, as said boots can (and do) serve a purpose: I wear them. All of them. 

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Well, OK, I don’t often wear the vintage purple suede ones, because they’re 20 years old and in such good condition I’m afraid of stepping in a puddle and doing them harm. And I don’t wear my similarly-aged steel-toed Docs in green (Atlanta, L5P, 1996) and purple (NYC, some punk boutique in the Village, 1997) anymore, because I’m long past the point of thinking of my footwear as a defensive weapon. (Also, they are horribly battered and I lack the commitment to think of them as “rustic,” a la our own Eric.) 

But I wear all the others on a regular basis; it’s rare that I leave the house, especially this time of year, without boots on. Over the years I have sold and traded many boots, and some of these losses I regret bitterly, even of patterned Docs I never wore, but which I appreciated as aesthetic objects alone; it is the mark of the collector’s affliction when one mourns the loss of an object that served no purpose other than to be owned.

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I have other collections that are more traditional, in the respect that they have no practical use other than to amuse me. I collect old books, specifically books of outdated or wrong information, like my complete set of the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1911, or old home economics textbooks or sewing books with whole chapters dedicated to the production of dickeys. The less useful the information, the better I like it. 

I collect old postcards, especially those which relate to the seaside town in which I live, a place renowned at the turn of the century as a popular beach resort and amusement park, but from which any remaining vestiges of the rollercoasters and ballrooms were erased many years ago. 

I have other collections still that I’ve long ceased adding to: tarot cards, old hardcover editions of Leaves of Grass, pretty much anything with Hello Kitty on it. I keep them anyway, although I will occasionally look at the Hello Kitty stuff packed away in boxes on a closet shelf and think WHAT IS ALL OF THIS FOR? I suppose it made me happy, briefly, once, though that charm has since worn away.

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The accumulation of stuff will never make me truly happy; I understand this now, well into the no-man’s land of adulthood, but the knowledge doesn’t always keep me from trying. So long as our collecting doesn’t cross over into hoarding territory -- it’s a fine line, y’all -- I am willing to allow myself the base enjoyment of my piles of odd stuff. 

What do you collect, if you collect?