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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ireland

One Man's Trash

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

Sorry Marie Kondo fanatics, I like junk. Correction, I love junk like an ancient dragon loves the mountains of gold that make his nest. Would be bargain hunters beware, I am on the hunt for another board game for my collection and I’ve got a coupon! Apologies to my wife, but I’m sure I can make room for a few more. But what drives this compulsion? Why do I have shelves full of various items that I do not really need, but absolutely must have. Is this a hobby or an obsession?

Front view of a vintage/antique store with antique dishes in the foreground

The things we collect are an extension of ourselves, a manifestation of desire. Collecting is a joyous experience. For many, building and maintaining a collection is a welcome escape from the expectations of daily life. For fun or profit, for the shelf space it holds or the thrill of the hunt, collecting stuff is one of humanity’s oldest hobbies. This is by no means an anti-minimalist manifesto, nor an endorsement of hoarding. Rather, consider this post a celebration of our infinite creativity and its products. In short, this post will take a very brief look into what motivates collectors and then highlight some of the many objects that interest them. And if any of these objects interest you, you will find links to related materials in our catalog.

Records displayed in a records store

Why do people collect? There is a certain satisfaction that comes from having things. A primal response from the dark corners of our Sapien brains that relishes not in the abstract concept of ownership, but the hard facts of weight and matter in hand. Shirley Mueller, MD, in her brief article “The Psychology of Collecting” outlines several motivations. Pride in the object, its subject, or in its acquisition can be a driving factor. The history of the object or its historical significance or context may entice some collectors. For others, the discipline and expertise of acquiring and maintaining a collection provides an intellectual satisfaction. However, Mueller speculates that anticipation may be the experience that unites most collectors. Like a child on Christmas morning, “the collector’s desire allows her or him to imagine anything she or he wants to about the desired returns the object will bring”.

Obviously, there are overlaps with bargain hunters and shopaholics in this assessment of a collector’s reasoning and impulse. Those of you that have found yourself on an online shopping spree can agree. But there are some clear differences. Collections are often assessed by their value or rarity. Although those quantifiers can be useful, they cannot be applied universally. Many would say their collections are invaluable, even if they are primarily composed of things society at large would deem junk. I for one refuse to part with my antiquated CDs. In fact, I continue to purchase them used.

World Stamp Collection - top view

Which brings us to what people collect. While the list of things that are not sought by some type of collector might be more concise, we must start somewhere. When the subject of hobby collecting is raised stamps come to mind immediately. While not as popular as it once was, there is still a thriving community with the American Philatelic Association boasting more than thirty thousand members! Coins, marbles, glassware, plates, fossils, and books are other extremely popular and sought after by collectors. If you know what to look for, antique stores, junk shops, and thrift stores house hidden treasure in every aisle.

While stamps, plates, and the like remain popular for collectors, they represent a somewhat antiquated or cliched view of the hobby. As trends and interests change collectibles do as well. Many of us remember the Beanie Baby craze, and anyone who went to school in the 90’s and early 00’s can tell you exactly where the phrase “gotta catch ‘em all” originated. Toys are an extremely popular item to collect and there is no shortage of merchandise and intellectual properties to choose from. Toys from the ’80s are in vogue with television programs like The Toys that Made Us and many long-running toy franchises like Star Wars are often sought after by collectors.

Brown dog and dalmatian dog beanie babies with American flags on their upper forearms

I swear this post was not solely to justify my spending habits. But framing purchases with my interests and hobbies in mind has made me more aware of why I seek out the things I do. My collections feel modest and I’m by no means an expert or completist. However, I know what objects I want to add to them and why. When you begin to appreciate an object beyond its practicality, raw value, or perceived status, and really try to define what attracts you to it, you learn more about the circumstances of its being. A collection isn’t merely a grouping of purchases, it’s a statement of individuality and an exercise in self-discovery. I know I don’t need every old Avalon Hill game I come across, but I know what space they fill in my house and in my heart.

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