Are you a Collector or a Hoarder?
In this post, I'll look at the phrase "I'm a collector" and consider whether this is something we say when we want to cover up a bad buying habit or a hoarding problem, or whether we are indeed a bona fide collector. I'm not saying that everyone should become a full-on collector. I'm not saying that everyone should be a full-on collector, it's simply food for thought, a prompt to get you thinking about your relationship with the stuff you buy.
Let's set the scene. It's a beautiful sunny day in January and my mind is turning to spring cleaning. I've started by rearranging and cleaning my DVD/Blu Ray collection.
I'm not under any doubt that I have a collection of DVDs and Blu Rays. They are there on the shelf in front of me. But am I a collector?
This topic also came up last week when I was chatting with my pal. He's trying to slim down his board game collection from 250+ games to something approaching 100. He'd watched a video to help him do this and one of the things the video suggested is to consider whether you are a collector or not. I wondered whether the term collector is often bandied about to mask a bad buying habit or even a hoarding problem.
"I'm a collector."
I've said it in the past myself. I had over 300 VHS videos in my collection. Looking back now, I had no control over what I was buying and I spent money purely to alleviate the stress caused by my teaching job. Yet, I continually justified this problem with the phrase "I'm a collector". To read more about my story you can have a look at my interpretation of my painting Simplicity's Warmth. I'll put a link at the end of this post.
So who or what is a collector?
a person who collects things of a specified type, professionally or as a hobby.
Well, that doesn't help us a lot does it? Technically speaking, I am a collector, as are people who have 5000 pairs of shoes in the bottom of their cupboards, as are people who have rare first editions of obscure books, as are people who virtually can't get into their houses due to the sheer amount of stuff they have collected.
So technically speaking, the phrase "I'm a collector" is a get out of jail free card that can be used to cover up a range of issues. But let's look into collectors in a bit more detail and try to get some guidelines that are more helpful when deciding whether we are collectors, we're fine with the way we buy and collect stuff, or whether we have a problem we don't want to admit.
This will be a general guide for you to use when you ponder this issue. I'll witter on about the stuff that I buy, but you can substitute examples that fit your own buying preferences if that helps you to get the idea.
It would be very easy to have a collection of mainstream DVDs, such as The Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games. It certainly would be a collection and they may all be films that you enjoy to watch. But would it make you a collector? I would say probably not. Many people could have this same collection and it would be very easy to accumulate the exact same collection if you wanted to. It would be a collection that professional film collectors would not be interested in. But now imagine that this theoretical film collection had a copy of The Beyond signed by Catriona MacColl and David Warbeck, the VHS version of Monolith, and the Powerhouse Indicator Blu Ray version of Jason and the Argonauts amongst other such rarities. Rare items in a collection of any objects help that collection to become of more interest to yourself and others. I can imagine other collectors clamouring to get their hands on these items. In my mind, collectors are people who get a kick out of finding rare items to add to their collections.
I have a few Hitchcock films in my collection. I love North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Dial M for Murder. But I'm not a Hitchcock completist. I don't own every film he ever made. This is something that I can imagine a collector doing. Completists also crop up in the board game hobby. Some people buy every single game in a series, plus all of the expansions, and all of the promo cards, and every miniature etc. This can cause issues in itself as completism can be a very expensive thing to get into. Unscrupulous board game companies exploit this too when they release a game that is exactly the same as the previous version except it's got four new cards in it. Completists just have to buy it again to get the extra content. I think that having a complete collection will be something that will appeal to collectors though. I once tried to be a collector and put together a collection of every book that F. Paul Wilson had written. It turned out to be trickier and more expensive than I thought and I gave up. I can't see a collector giving up if they want a complete collection.
For me, collectors take care of their collections. Every item may not be pristine, especially when it is old or rare, but even so, the items will be kept in as good a condition as possible. Vinyl records would be sleeved and kept in a dark, temperature-controlled, and humidity-controlled room in a collector's record collection. Collectors take the preservation of their collection as a serious issue. It's time for a minor rant. One of my pet hates is finding greasy fingerprints on a record or Blu-ray. How hard is it to pick up a disc by the edge? Not very hard at all. I can't see that collectors would ever have a big sticky doughnut smear on their rare Metropolis laserdisc.
Another aspect of a collector is that they should know exactly what they've got in their collection. I can't imagine a situation where a book collector opens up their wardrobe, pokes around in a mound of stuff for a while and then says, "Well, I didn't know I had this rare edition of The Hobbit handwritten by J.R.R. Tolkein." Record keeping will be a collector's best friend as it allows him or her to know the contents of the collection, to state the value of the collection for insurance purposes, and to spot gaps. If this all sounds like hard work and far too serious, well, I see a collector as someone serious about his or her hobby/profession.
Following on from the last point, a sure sign of a collector is someone who knows exactly what they are looking for next. They will hunt items down. That is part of the fun. Think of a collector as a sniper, they know their target and they go after it with precision. Compare this with the scattergun approach of someone who buys something just because it is a bargain. They didn't want it before they went into the shop. But it is a bargain! As is that! And that! Etc...
A collector is proud of their collection and is happy to show it to people and talk about individual items. They are proud to show how well they take care of their collection and how they can talk about each item with clarity. There is not a single dot of guilt or shame.
Now all of the above is my idea of what a collector is. You may disagree. I think a collector fits into the category of "you know one when you see one". Imagine walking into a room in someone's house. They are proud to show you their collection of books. The room has the curtains closed and a dehumidifier chugs away quietly in the corner. Every book has a protective plastic cover and is stored vertically in a glass-fronted cabinet. The collector almost has a complete collection of every different edition of the books of H.P. Lovecraft. There are many rare editions within the collection. The collector talks about the books they are currently hunting down to complete the collection. You ask how much a certain book is worth. The collector pulls up a spreadsheet and quickly finds the exact cost. There is a high level of professionalism despite it being a hobby for the person.
That to me is a collector.
I am not a collector. Yes, I have some rare items. Yes, I take care of my items. But the above description is not me.
Collector or hoarder?
Don't panic! If you're sitting there thinking, "I'm not a collector, I must be a hoarder!", relax. This is not a black and white topic. There are definitely shades of grey. You may fit into every section above but your collection is small and fits into a box. You are a collector too. Maybe you are in some sections, but not others. That's okay too.
The above post is simply to get you thinking. Are you in control of your collection? Does your collection cause you guilt or shame? Is your collection giving you a debt problem? Do you struggle cleaning your house because you have collections everywhere on every surface? Can you bear to part with things that are no longer useful to you or do you keep them because they may come in handy one of these days?
I'm not a collector and certainly, in the past, I've had a problem with buying and hoarding too much stuff. I used to feel guilt that I didn't use the things I had bought and shame that my purchasing habit was pretty extreme. But now I have collections that I feel in control of. And I'm still not a collector.
I'm not letting collectors off the hook either. You can be a collector and still have issues that could be making your mental health worse. You may not feed yourself as well as you should because you are funding your collection. This is a problem. You may not be able to get into bed easily because your collection takes up most of the bedroom. Again, this is a problem.
This post has been to allow you time to pause for thought and assess your relationship with stuff. There is no inherent rightness in being a collector.
But the next time you justify your collections with the phrase "I'm a collector", think, are you really a collector or do you have some issues with buying and keeping things? If you recognise that you may have a problem with buying too much stuff then a good starting point would be to read the book Stuffocation by James Wallman. I'll also put links to a couple of useful websites.
Next time, I'll look at ways to help yourself control your collections. See you then!
To read my interpretation of my painting Simplicity's Warmth that deals with the above subject, click the link below: