It turns out that just as I’ve observed in others over the years, I’m finding its true…you do start to think about “downsizing” as you get older. For me it is still in the thinking stages for sure and I’m finding it very difficult to simply divest myself of a partial lifetime of accumulation. I am a collector – plain and simple. Not a hoarder, “a collector”. I’m at the crossroad in life where I know I need to start parting with some stuff and it is truly a struggle….what is the connection?
Why is it so hard to let the things go?
Later in life I’ve tried to analyze this need to accumulate certain objects – not to the point of seeking professional help mind you, just wanted to try to sort out why I collect things…
Lots of things.
I definitely think there are genetics involved and all of my siblings “collect” to some degree. If I had to rate us, I’d say the gene became more dominant with each child, leaving me – the youngest of six with the strongest case of all. My Dad collected things – mostly of German origins; German beer steins and WWII items comprised the bulk of his collections. I don’t remember my Mom collecting anything when I was growing up. In all seriousness I don’t think she had time – she worked and tried to manage a chaotic home. I’m not talking Brady Bunch chaos here – I’m talking real serious stuff…life changing trauma was part of our upbringing. However, I’m here to focus on the positive – not to say I won’t wander off the path from time to time. So even though my Mom didn’t collect anything in the early on, she certainly made up for it as the years went by. I’d go as far as to say she was actually the carrier of the dominant collector gene. I’ve enjoyed collecting over the years and since some of these things may be moving on sooner rather than later, this seemed like a good way to revisit and share some of the stuff I’ve accumulated.
My earliest collection was stuffed toys. This started pre-school, and clearly I did not have the ability to add to it very much on my own so there were enablers here. I remember winning a pink and blue poodle a school carnival spin the wheel game. Also a bright orange long-haired being of an unknown species with giant eyes. I had a winning day the carnival that year. There was a small gray velvet elephant that dangled from a long stick that you slung over your shoulder – like a hobo pouch. So this way, if you were running away from home you could pack one of your plush toys to go. This was purchased for me during a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo – probably circa 1965 or 1966.
But then there was Donkey Dog – the name I believe came because it could not be determined if he was a donkey or a dog. I don’t remember how I got him, but he was there for as long as I can remember. I recall that he originally had a red plastic bridle and black felt eyelashes. His ears stood up and could be bent into shapes because there was a wire in them. He had a rectangular tail with a black fringe. He was my constant companion. I washed him many times and remember soaping him up in a bucket in the back yard. In those days, the plush toys were not stuffed with fiberfill or Styrofoam pellets, but rather with sawdust or a soft heavy substance my Mom said was kapok. I’ve since looked that up and it was described as a fibrous cotton-like substance that grows around the seeds of the ceiba tree and used for stuffing cushions, toys etc. At any rate, neither of these earlier types of stuffing lent themselves to being saturated. Donkey Dog would literally take weeks to completely dry. My Mom would hang him from the clothes line by his ears and he would have to be brought in if it rained. Naturally, he developed a slightly musty odor from all of this, but to me it was part of his identity. There was one incident in which one of my brothers “surgically” removed Donkey Dog’s tail. He ran around (to my horror), dangling the tail from his fingers chanting “amputation, amputation”. At the time, I didn’t know the word, but learned the meaning that day. My feeble attempt to stitch the tail back on did not last and eventually it was lost to time.
So over a period of maybe two years, I had amassed quite a collection of stuffed toys of every type. So many that I guess they began to irritate my Dad, until one day for reasons unknown to me then, and still to this day difficult to process – he threw them away. All of them…into one of those big industrial drums. I remember it spilling over with colorful limbs and tails and those familiar faces. I should point out that my Dad threw a lot of stuff away, sometimes in a dramatic fashion that has somehow stayed with me. None so rattling or devastating as the complete annihilation of my legion of stuffed toys. I sat sobbing on our back steps, next to the barrel crying for Donkey Dog. I knew he was in that pile somewhere – I wonder why I made no effort to retrieve him. I remember the barrel was tall, or maybe I was afraid – who knows, but it seems I should have made some attempt, right? My Mom slipped out and swiftly dug and flung the toys around until she found him! She handed him to me and in words unspoken seemed to indicate to keep him safe, which for over five decades, I have. And so, here he is – Donkey Dog. The only survivor of my first collection. He’s a bit worse for wear, but most of this happened in his early years – we both had survived tough early years.
Later on, my “collecting skills” had become honed to meet standards which state the coveted example is the one that is in the absolute best condition. Terms like mint in box, never removed from box, factory original all carry heavy weight among collectors. A few years ago, I had seen a perfectly preserved stuffed donkey on eBay which to the best of my recollection is how Donkey Dog originally looked except for the color. It had the red plastic bridle, exaggerated felt eyebrows, fringed tail, thick fur that was not scrubbed away in vigorous baths. I almost got it to put it alongside of Donkey Dog, so that people could see how wonderful he once was – sort of a reverse “before and after”. But what was the point? I would never love or cherish the pristine example. It did not survive my childhood right alongside me. So what if it looked better to others – it would never touch my heart like Donkey Dog.
You need to love what you collect, whether it’s perfect or not. I have loved and still love many things. I know they are things and they don’t mean as much to me as they might seem to as you read this. I appreciate them for what they are, how they make me feel, how they inspire me to learn or research new subjects. They have given me something to connect with when maybe that wasn’t always easy for me to do. I’ve been treating my need for “multiples” like it’s a shortcoming – asking why I generally can’t be happy with just one of something. (It should be noted that this has not carried over to men or cars).
I was talking with a friend recently, who advised me to embrace my collecting spirit, and to just enjoy my collections. This is awesome advice, but I know I still need to start moving some of my beloved items along. As I mentioned earlier, I think this will be a good way for me to enjoy some of my special things, remember where I was in life when I got them and maybe leave some lasting record so I can remember them once they are gone. I’ve been reading about people who have to part with their parents treasured possessions after they’ve passed away. I have this issue as well complicating my already cluttered world. Guidance says you don’t have to have the object itself since, you can always have the memories. I’m going to try to apply this logic to my personal collecting universe.