Thursday, October 30, 2008

Collecting: A Hobby or a Problem?

"Hello. My name is Kim and I am a collector."

Okay, I've got that off my chest.

In fact, my husband is an avid collector and over the years I've gotten addicted to it too.

We collect books. We collect rocks, particularly fluorescent rocks. We collect Disneyland history stuff. We collect train stuff. We collect art work related to books. I have a lot of little boxes around which if I were being honest, might also be considered a collection. We collect (or, at least, collected) David Winter cottages (you know, the cutesy "tudor" cottage statues). We collect books. Oh, did I say that before? Well, we really, really collect books!

Mostly we have children's books, particularly series books, because that is what my husband studies and writes about most of the time. However, we are both avid readers so our collections include books which Disney made into films, time travel books, scifi and fantasy books, Clive Cussler, Douglas Adams, plus books on historical topics (including the stuff for my dissertation and field of study).

Our book collection takes up a great deal of space. We joke that you can never have enough books, just not enough bookcases, and our home certainly reflects that. It is a three bedroom place for two people and one bedroom is the "library" (not only wall to wall bookcases, but even bookcases in the middle of the room). The other rooms also have multiple bookcases in them (even the dining room). There are stacks of books on the floor. There are boxes of books in the closet and garage. There is a bookcase in the hallway. Our living room has a clock which is also a bookcase.

Books...Not All That We Collect

Obviously, I love collecting. I know that we will never be one of those people with modern, minimalist homes. We don't have empty spaces, blank walls, or clear surface tops to tables or counters. There are "things" placed everywhere. Mostly, it not only doesn't bother me, but it seems right.

However, I will admit that this collecting causes problems. When you collect as much as we do, you collect more than cool things. You also collect dust. You collect crowded spaces. You collect debt.

I know that we give up having a lot of clear space in our house by collecting. We have to worry about damaging our things. We have to worry about insurance and loss. There is some "psychic energy" which is given up by having so much stuff.

There is certainly cost involved. There is the cost in buying the stuff. Then some of this has to be framed or otherwise displayed--so there is the cost to display it properly. Some stuff has had to be restored or cleaned, so then there is more cost. Then there is the time to dust and clean and take care of the stuff. Not to mention the time to find it (I've spent lots of time on eBay looking for stuff, plus time in bookstores, antique stores, and using Google to find other venues).

Do We Own the Stuff or Does the Stuff Own Us?

I read a lot of sites which suggest that by collecting, we let the stuff own us. Perhaps we do. However, it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

If the "stuff" we have is something we truly love and spend time on (our hobby, our obsession, and--in my husband's case--a second profession) is it bad to be surrounded by it? Everywhere I turn there is something which has a story for me. There is nothing here which we don't love and cherish. Our home feels warm and loved. It is not clean, cold, and sterile. Okay, I hope it is clean (if sometimes a bit dusty), but it is certainly not the other two.

I long for a bit more space, but mostly so that we have room to display things with more space around them and put out things which have been boxed up or moved to less important spots in the house. I'd like to have more space, but just for the sake of having more room for our stuff and allowing us to honor the things we love. We get compliments on how our stuff is arranged in our current home and we try to keep up with it and the money we spend on it so that we don't get overwhelmed. As long as it isn't dragging us down, why should we get rid of it?

The collectors out there know what I mean. Our homes are not the typical showcases you see in magazines, but as long as you can keep it reasonably orderly and not cross the line to pack rat city (where you can't have anyone in and you don't have room to move) and the stuff you keep is truly loved (not just stacks of newspapers you think you might need someday), then I don't see why a little obsessive collecting is a terrible thing.

True, people do joke that we are the Addams family (because "their house is a museum, when people come to see them") but since I love a good museum, I take that as a compliment. I can say proudly, "Hello, my name is Kim and I am a collector!"

In the past few years, I've been interested in a number of blogs, some of which encourage readers to get rid of clutter. While I'm not getting rid of the collections, I do recommend these two sites for a good read: with many topics, including clutter)

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