When it comes to collecting behavior, I wouldn’t describe myself as a tried-and-true hobbyist. In fact, there isn’t one particular object or category of objects that generally fascinates me for long. And while I might go through phases in which I’m enamored by, say, watches, vintage magazines, or vinyl records, the likelihood that I would be a dedicated, lifelong collector of any single item is fairly low. (Although, it may be said that books are the singular exception. More on that below.)
I rather think of collecting, as I experience this tendency within myself, as a kind of personality trait. A propensity I have for collecting various things, in accordance with my moods and interests, at any given time. Indeed, if asked, that’s exactly how I would (and do, occasionally) describe this streak in my personality: I collect things from time to time. Here are some thoughts on the the significance of collecting behavior and what it means to be one who collects things.
Collecting expands our personalities.
There’s nothing like the thrill of discovering a new object. Or, rather, the mysterious allure of certain objects. The way they seem to inexplicably draw us in, even to the point of mesmerizing us. Whenever something like this happens to me, I not only feel I need to have the object in question. I need to become involved with it. I need to learn all about it: where it comes from, how to use it, what it signifies, and why it’s important (at least, to me).
I, for example (and I’m still not entirely sure why), got the idea a few months ago that I wanted a Swiss Army knife for Christmas, which I thankfully received. And I’ll tell you, once I took it hiking a few days later and really started messing with it, I knew I needed to have more of them in my life. I’ve since begun to research knife collecting, even looking into antique knives, and exploring different practical and related tools for everyday carry or outdoor adventure.
I am enjoying the process of learning about Swiss Army knives and knife collecting more generally. More importantly, though, I am learning how to use them, especially in the outdoors, where they’re incredibly practical. And I am excited to alter the way I do things going forward, so I can incorporate this new object into my life. So it becomes a part of who I am and how I function.
Our collections can give us an important sense of order.
I find this is true of both my vinyl collection and my most revered book collections. Leafing through them or spending time organizing them soothes me when I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or otherwise upset. Indeed, my Agatha Christie collection probably has the greatest soothing power of them all. There is something about old books (and old records) that makes me feel grounded. Rooted in the past, I suppose, whenever the world feels like it’s moving too fast, has gotten too loud, too chaotic, or unmoored. A cup of tea and a roomful of old books is often the best medicine for moments like these.
I also enjoy arranging collected objects to create a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing environment. My collection of psychology books, for example, which includes some old and rare editions, adds a great deal of warmth and, I think, character to my writing space (as do a bunch of Fleetwood Mac concert posters). The Christie collection, too, is prominently displayed and also gone through regularly for the purposes of inventory and reorganization (not to mention new acquisitions. There is, of course, something of the thrill of the hunt in all this.) First editions are a point of pride and often a conversation-starter.
Our collections tell us who we are.
I’ve mentioned previously that I’m rather finicky and obstinate when it comes to my reading habits. Specifically, I won’t read e-books. There is nothing wrong with e-books, of course, but I cannot bring myself to transition away from paper—not even in part. I absolutely and adamantly refuse, which might seem like a silly thing to some of you. But upon reflection, I’ve realized that’s because books—the objects themselves—are somehow too close to home, as the saying goes. Too intimate. Somehow, too central to who I am. It’s as if those particular objects exist in a sacred space. In a place that the outside world can never go. And if I were to give them up, I would, in effect, be giving up something of myself.
Perhaps many of us have objects like these. Those that are central to our identities, that convey something of who and how we are in the world. And in a relationship that runs so deep, they must remain off-limits to outside forces. This, of course, is what I meant in the first paragraph when I noted that books are different for me than other objects. That even for one who dabbles, who collects things from time to time, like knives, vinyl records, and old concert posters, certain objects are simply too meaningful to abandon.