The collector’s burden

Living in ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus infection made me think twice before posting a blog on something frivolous. Then I decided that people might benefit from a short break from newspaper and TV news that focuses almost exclusively on the illness. Plus, I have a cold and don’t want to be reminded in every email I now receive from the city, county, state, my medical provider and church that age sixty is the number one risk factor. Here goes.

A recent visit to Seattle’s Burke Museum, with a mission to care for and share collections, inspired me to think about the role collections play in our ordinary lives. Many museums, including the world-renowned British Museum, started with someone’s collections. They’re just lucky the early collectors didn’t have access to troll dolls, back scratchers, umbrella sleeves, Star Wars memorabilia or coke cans.

Starting with the legendary Noah, people have been collectors. Most of us began as children and usually grew out of the collecting bug or out of collecting bugs. As a child, I bought spoons at gift shops when we went on road trips. Either the road trips ended or little spoons lost their charm, because my collection ended at three or four spoons.

People are more likely to start a collection if they have two of the same items, which is frightening when I consider the pairs of things I now own, besides shoes and reading glasses: combs, broken pencils, Spanish dictionaries, and gardening gloves to name a few.

Psychologists say we collect for fun, prestige and nostalgia.  Recently someone bought the car driven in a chase scene by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, providing that buyer with $3.4 million of all three things. The list of nostalgia picks includes: matchboxes, erasers, miniature chairs and napkins.

For a while, my husband and I collected Mexican masks. We still have two we display. The rest are in a bin in the garage. We also have a box of my husband’s grandmother’s shell collection. My grandfather gave me his stamps, which sit in the box they came in. My husband reminded me that years ago, after three or four trips to Copenhagen we acquired a collection of Royal Dutch Christmas plates. For the first time in many years, we found these in a box in a closet. Boxes of things in someone’s garage are examples of what happens to collections after the collectors have died.  Their kids and grandkids get them and store them in their garages. Generations later, garages are too full to house cars.

Also, younger generations often inherit china and silverware, knickknacks and unidentified photos of their ancestors’ friends.  Something to think about before one starts a collection or draws up a will. The trick is to get rid of stuff while you can, a challenge most of us can’t face.



About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
This entry was posted in aging, friends and family, intergenerational, personal reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The collector’s burden

  1. Evelyn says:

    Sometimes collections simply happen without forethought. You buy a piece because you like it and then you purchase another and the next thing you know . . . . Then too, sometimes a collection happens because someone, possibly a relative or friend, needs a plan for giving you gifts at birthdays and holidays. Either way, I plan to enjoy the things while I am alive, and hope they will not cause a problem for others when I’m not. My mother had this attitude and it worked.

  2. stillalife says:

    Thanks for your comment. Your collection is different. People will want it.
    I just remembered a different pitfall of collecting. Someone I knew started out collecting frogs. At some point she stopped, but for every holiday and birthday, she continued to receive frog gifts. She’d never told her friends or perhaps didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings that she didn’t want any more so they kept coming.

  3. Darlene says:

    Well said, Ann. I did enjoy reading about something other than the Coronavirus and the fact that no women are in the presidential race—all too depressing. Keep up the great blogs…I definitely will look forward to your next one.

  4. Eleanor Owen says:

    Oh, the joy and bliss this collecting urge provides. Is it related to hoarding? Simply contained?. What about 312 wine glasses and a collection of dead roses? Do they qualify?

  5. Eleanor Owen says:

    Oh, this collector’s lament warms my heart. The humor made my day, and it took me home. I come from a large family of collectors — various types of collectors. The gene has been passed down to children and grandchildren. One successful collector has half a dozen antique cars, some housed, a few rusting outdoors. Another scrounges the ads for Estate Sales. She elbows to the door in order to enter before anyone else. Several of the clan can’t resist a Bargain. We can be found at the end of the day at estate or yard sales. We’re motivated not only by the treasure hunt, we love to haggle; And that fleeting high of victory when we lug a sink to the car because we bought it for three dollars instead of four. It’s been in the basement for nine years. Eleanor

    Etill Life
    Sent: Friday, March 6, 2020 11:18 AM
    Subject: [New post] The collector’s burden

    stillalife posted: “Living in ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus infection made we think twice before posting a blog on something frivolous. Then I decided that people might benefit from a short break from newspaper and TV news that focuses almost exclusively on the illness”

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