Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Collecting Dust & Other Great Hobbies

My husband likes to think that he is reincarnated from a librarian at the ancient Library of Alexandria. He says that the trauma of watching that great repository burn down, and trying to save all the precious documents there, left an indelible impression on him—and that is why he collects things.

If that is the case, then I must have been part of the lowly clean-up crew that came afterwards as I have a predilection for bundling things up and donating them to charity or the local dump so there will be less “things” in our small house.

Many people like to collect. My husband collects comics, vintage paperbacks, action figures, nonsports trading cards, videotapes, DVDs and CDs. They are meticulously kept in alphabetical order by genre. According to several websites I’ve viewed, what he does is defined as a “hobby.”

The U.S. Library of Congress is pictured here.
Their collection is slightly larger than ours.

His hobby takes up our most of our basement. According to the website,, “Those who view collecting as trivial or a waste of time, miss the connections that it has to life skills and occupations. Scientists also collect things; they gather information, data and samples. Museums and libraries are collections. Many people make their livelihoods by collecting and disposing items. In fact, all of us go through our lives collecting and discarding things around us.”

That got me to thinking. What do I, someone who likes discarding things, collect? Well, I have more than 90 cookbooks. I have more than a dozen pairs of shoes. And I have a closet full of more clothes than I need. So, okay, guilty.

So why do we collect? One website I read rationalized that it may be a basic human instinct. Cavepeople who collected food and tools may have had a greater likelihood of surviving and bearing offspring. Thus, natural selection kicked in and gave us more collectors today. Yep, that sounds like a rationalization, all right. Fine, but if collecting plays less of a role in survival today, why do we still do it? Here are some of the reasons I've seen listed:

1. Opens avenues to learning and knowledge
2. Helps us to relax and reduce stress
3. Provides personal pleasure (such as appreciation of beauty or pride of ownership)
4. Facilitates social interaction with fellow collectors and others
5. Creates a competitive challenge
6. Earns recognition by fellow collectors and others
7. Enables altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums)
8. Feeds the desire to control, possess and bring order to a small part of the world
9. Taps into nostalgia and/or a connection to history
10. Offers accumulation and diversification of wealth (a measure of security and freedom)

Also, as stated earlier, people can collect as a foundation or as an extension of their line of work. That would certainly be the case with my husband. He is a floor manager in an independent bookstore and has often been referred to as “The Answer Man.” Ask him anything about books, music or movies and he knows the answer in excruciating detail. He is like a walking encyclopedia of literature and pop culture, and his customers love him and seek him out for advice whenever they come to his bookstore.

Yes, all those reasons for collecting make sense. They range from natural curiosity to obsession to wealth management. So collectors are enlightened, mentally deranged, financially shrewd or all three, depending upon how you look at it.

The same accumulation of stuff that makes my husband's toes wiggle with delight gives me a sense of anxiety and a desire to engage in spring cleaning. Maybe I need to get in touch with a past life that involved less mess. In the meantime, the only recourse I have when I venture into the basement is to stoically avert my eyes.


  1. My husband collects everything and I collect nothing so I understand! I just can't wait till we have a house so I will be able to give his a basement, and these "hobbies" will no longer be in my living room and dining room table.

  2. When that happens, we can start a support group.