Monday, October 7, 2013

On obsessive collecting. . .

I hope you'll enjoy this reprint of my column 
- Sincerely Vintage
from the October issue of the New Century Collector. . .

I’ll admit it from the get-go, I see a therapist.  Have done so for over 20 years.  My kids’ pediatrician (who was the one who convinced me it was a good idea) calls them “paid friends.”  Hey, I’ll take my friends any way I can get them.  (BTW – best investment ever when you’ve got three kids with special needs. . . .)  I knew I was in trouble the day I admitted to my paid friend that I collected string.  It made perfect sense to me. . . but somehow it sounded pretty strange when I said it out loud to her.  I could see the look of alarm in her eyes and knew we were in for a long session.

“But. . . but. . . it’s vintage string,” I muttered.  Different kinds.  And colors.  And sizes.

She wasn’t buying it.­­

That’s okay, I realized, many months later.  I’m now at peace with collecting string.  And whisk brooms.  And drawer pulls.  And hot pads, old keys, step stools, bookcases, suitcases, and bar stools.  Things with numbers.  Things with drawers.  Things made of enamel.  Things made of metal.  Buttons, books, balls, and more buttons.  LOTS of buttons.  Chairs, clocks, cameras, quilts.  Even paper cutters.  And so on. . . and on.  My house runneth over.


Now – hold the phone.  Before passing judgment, answer me this. . . what do you collect?  And how many of them do you have?  Has someone close to you ever suggested that you really didn’t need yet another one?  I recently picked up another scale to add to my collection.  My sweet husband protested before the transaction was complete, saying that it was just like the other red one I already have.  “But, the tops are different,” I pleaded.  It came home with us, making it a baker’s dozen of scales we now own, not including the ones that are for sale.  Oops, forgot about the one on the porch.  Make that 14.

I was a Girl Scout.  I earned my “Collector” badge.  The 1963 Junior Girl Scout Handbook told me I should collect stuff, and, because I was an obedient child, I did.

“Make a collection of things you like.  Pick up shells from the beach or leaves on a hike.  Collect buttons or bells or many-colored rocks.  Or menus or maps or puppets made from socks.  Put snapshots in an album, arrange dolls on a shelf.  Share your hobby with others, work on it yourself.  Arrange your collection, put it on view.  Display it at a hobby show or to friends who visit you.”

Hmm, instead of rocks I wish I would’ve collected menus from the 1960s.  Those would be worth something these days.

So. . . why do we collect?  For me, as an antique dealer, I kinda have to collect items if I am going to have items to sell.  The gravy is that while gathering merchandise I get to keep the things I love best.  It’s just that I love a LOT of things best.  Meryl Starr, an organization expert, says, “If you’re climbing over your collection to get into bed or if you’re ordering take-out food because your collections leave you no counter space on which to cook a meal, that’s a problem and you need to do something about it.”  Hmm.  Obviously she just doesn’t get it.  I mean, aren’t antiques more important than cooking?  Sheesh.

Here’s another thought on why we collect, this from Kim A. Herzinger, an English professor at University of Houston-Victoria in Victoria, Texas.  He says, “Collecting is a means by which one relieves a basic sense of incompletion brought on by unfulfilled childhood needs.  It functions as a form of wish fulfillment, which eases deep-rooted uncertainties and existential dread.”  I think I like this guy.  I’m relieving my incompleteness!!  Need to discuss this with my therapist. . . .  

And here’s another good one from him:  “[The collector] is experiencing the kind of sensory transcendence that we most closely associate with religion or love.  And, like religion or love, his collection is a kind of security against uncertainty and loss.”  Aha!  Now I know why I have 38 kitchen canisters, 18 tool boxes, 24 wind-up clocks and 79 vintage metal zippers. 

Or – maybe we collect just for the fun of it.

Or – maybe it’s just that I listened to my dad.  He firmly believed that having inventory was critical to one’s well-being.  For him, inventory consisted of things such as nails, legal pads, golf balls, sweaters, and wine.  I just have a slightly different idea of what’s critical to my well-being.  So I’ll leave the TP inventory to my husband.  (BTW, honey, we need more.  I’m going to the estate sale. . . .)


Postscript. . . since this article was published I've acquired four more scales, 
bringing my total to 18   

** grin ** 


  1. Oh Cathy you are so fun! **smile**

  2. Cathie, so happy you let me know that this article is incomplete as it appeared in this month's New Century Collector! Loved reading the "complete" treatise! I am touched and inspired by your personal musings....and I am proudly on the prowl to increase my "inventory". Love, Linda

  3. Rose and Linda. . . thank you for your sweet comments! Isn't it fun to collect? hugs to you both. . . . cathie