The nature of collecting things remains something of a mystery to me. Over the years, I’ve gathered my fair share of random stuff loosely grouped by type, though it seems to be less a compulsion and more a comfort. I can’t put a finger on why this is so, at least not logically—for me, at least, it has something to do with the feeling behind the act (the art?) of accumulation, not in a purely materialistic sense, but in material as an indicator of life lived.
A sample list of my previous collections, presented chronologically: heads of Lego people, Beanie Babies, wristbands and tie-dye t-shirts, and music CDs (and books are a given, right?). These might otherwise be grouped according to my incentive for collecting. Some are just weird quirks, like the Lego heads that I’d stack one on top of the other like some sorely misinformed totem pole. Others were markers of status, like which CDs your eighth-grade self boasted. And others were fads—here’s looking at you, Beanie Babies. (Maybe you, dear reader, would share a collection or two of your own.)
Whatever is the motive behind a certain collection, the tendency to collect seems entrenched in one’s psyche. You can learn a lot about individuals by what they collect and how: their personality types, their upbringing, their values. I’m sure many theories and explanations float around the Internet, the collection of collections. Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory,” Marxism’s fetishized object, and psychoanalytic object cathexis can each point to a different factor of collecting, but the basic feelings behind it all are a sense of familiarity, a dose of joy, and maybe a realization that “this too shall pass.” There’s an ephemerality to collecting. Our passions change. Our bank accounts wane. But as we invest in any given smattering, what we methodically arrange and label and polish, we capture an instant of life and reflect on it fondly. And if you’re like me, you tuck that instant away under the bed with the material signs of its happening.
It’s strange to recall these phases of collecting because it seems so easy to conjure memories not only of the things but also the significance and associations attached to them. I remember weeping—okay, an outright gnashing of teeth—when I was a wee tyke and brought my favorite Lego head with me to the potty and knocked the tiny plastic bit down the sink’s drain. To this day, my folks have nestled away a five-gallon bucket filled with 1920s wheat pennies courtesy of my coin-collecting grandpa. The Beanie Babies were mainly gifts from my great-grandma, who shared my affinity for the cozy critters/wretched investment prospects. In high school, I acquiesced to my mother’s suggestion that we donate a few of the bean-filled animals, eventually most of them, and as I packed them up I surprised myself by how much I wanted to hold on to them and return them to their proper (hidden) spot in my room.
But away they went. I’m okay with it, really (*sniffles).
It’s this kind of felt connection that leads me to admire and marvel at those hobbyists who can sustain a collection over an entire lifetime. Y’know, those people with folders of baseball cards or boxes of agates or postage stamps or Star Wars memorabilia. And, sure, sometimes there can be money in such things, making collectors amateur appraisers with savvy foresight, but I would wager that most collectors stick with it because of the pleasure in doing so. Maybe I’m just not committed enough. Perhaps collections are meant to be kept. In my experience, though, collections are the things that come and go, and as they do we learn to let them do just that.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.