September 2018 – “Things We Collect”

People like collecting things … from simple inexpensive things like postcards to more precious items like Faberge eggs or rare coins. There seems to be an innate part of us that likes to find, keep, and collect things we like. Small children pick up pretty stones, leaves, or pinecones  almost instinctively to take home and put on a shelf.  On trips to the beach kids love to collect shells, which I still like to find and bring home even now. As children grow older they often begin to collect other small items and toys they can purchase inexpensively like stickers, stamps, coins, bracelets, small cars, or stuffed animals. Amateur versus serious collectors may collect items of all different kinds simply because the subjects interest them. They may not care about the monetary value of the things they collect at all.

I’m not sure of all the reasons why people collect things but I seem to remember nearly everyone in my family collecting something at one time or another. My mother collected pitchers; she liked pretty colored glassware – and she collected Fiestaware, which I inherited. She also collected buttons because she liked to sew. I remember loving to get out the metal tin boxes filled with the buttons she’d collected to play with them. My father collected tools because he liked to fix and make things. I remember he collected National Geographic Magazines, too. As an engineer, they appealed to him and he enjoyed them. Dad also had a few carved birds. He liked to whittle. I inherited two of his birds and I later picked up a few beautifully carved and painted birds over time that I love, too.

My husband J.L’s mother had many collections. She collected baskets, roosters, dolls, Depression glassware, and quilts, among many other things. I inherited one of her butterfly quilts, which I really cherish. As a boy J.L. loved baseball and collected baseball cards. I know he wishes he still had some of those cards now.

Because I played outdoors so much, I’m sure I collected many outdoor treasures in my romps around the countryside. I remember making a “leaves” book with all the different leaves I collected one summer. I collected Betsy McCall paperdolls, too, from the back of Mother’s McCall’s magazines every month. Neither of these collections cost me anything but they were fun. I also collected small character dolls I received for birthdays and Christmas over the years…. Madame Alexander dolls, Ginny dolls, Betsy McCall dolls, a Miss Revlon and a Bob doll, and some Skipper dolls. I never really got into Barbies as my daughter Kate did later. But I created a fine fantasy family with my big collection of dolls. Dad built me a dollhouse for them and I spent many happy hours decorating and making furniture for that house and inventing play stories about that family.

I soon started other collections, as did most of my school friends. I collected Nancy Drew books and, along with my friend Paula, started a collection of glass and porcelain horses. Both of us were very “horse crazy” in those schoolgirl years. Like most teens, I collected records and Teen magazines and charms for my charm bracelets. The Nancy Drew books, records, and magazines are long gone but I still have many of the horses and my old charm bracelets.

One collection I inherited was of small teacups and saucers, which were my mother’s. She’d received them from the minister and his wife she lived with during her college years at Elon College. I kept these to honor the memory of that pastor and his wife who put my mother through school and let her live with them—very special in her time, when from a family of twelve children.

As an author and avid reader, I admittedly have always collected and still collect books. Many I treasure and re-read again and again. I like the idea of collecting books because you can enjoy them over and over, and I learn from them every time I re-read them … unlike so many items I collected but have now let go. I have many old books in my collection, passed down from others, many reference and academic books, novels by favorite authors, spiritual and devotional books. I’ve also started collecting a few glass paperweights. I admit I’m drawn to them when we’re traveling or when I see special ones at a crafts fair.

J.L. and my daughter Kate are not very avid collectors but my son Max likes to collect things. He has taken many of the old collections of his youth home with him to New Orleans from our house. Some he’s sold on eBay; some he’s kept. He likes comic books and always has. He also collects vinyl records and displays old toys, action figures, and Matchbox cars in his office.

There are a lot of interesting studies about why people collect and why people collect the things they do. Although collecting can have a dark side and can become obsessive and unhealthy, for most people collecting is normal and fun—like an adventurous hobby. One of my friends, Jayne, collected small bells all her life; she enjoyed finding new ones when she traveled, and she could tell special stories about each one she had. A lot of people say they don’t collect anything and yet their closet is filled with forty pairs of shoes, their hobby room overflows with fabrics or art supplies, or their garage is piled high with sports equipment. So, probably all of us collect one thing or another whether we realize it or not.

I am not the buyer and collector I once was in my youth. Today I look around and realize I need to get rid of excess things in my home rather than adding more. Although I recognize the personal value of the small things I’ve collected and kept over the years, they will probably have little sentimental value to my children someday.Now I am more of a collector of experiences, adventures, and stories. I tend to collect “moments” now more than things. … However, I think collections tell a lot about the individuals who have them. I also think homes with collections are always more interesting than homes without them. So, should people collect? My answer is yes, and I love this quote about collecting to close: “Collect things you love, that are authentic to you, and your house becomes your story.”