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Collecting Things and Why Do We Do It

Updated on December 12, 2011

Collecting and Why Do We Do It

Why Can’t We Throw Them Away?

Should we keep them? We all have them, a tacky ornament from a long forgotten holiday, a chipped broken vase given to us by an elderly relative. Things that clutter our homes that we cannot or will not get rid of.

Collecting and Memories

Are we frightened that some awful fate will become us if we put them in the bin? If I do pluck up enough courage to throw something away that’s broken or chipped or just plain ugly I go through a sort of ceremony, looking at it, stroking it and then lovingly wrapping it in old newspaper and putting it into the bin very carefully. WHAT AM I DOING, it’s a bit of old tat from the past that no one in their right mind would give pride of place to on their mantle piece.

I recently started to rummage in my mum’s wardrobe and found a box of six liqueur glasses still in the original box. I remember when I brought them for her. I was in the school assembly and the headmaster read out the date. I knew that date what did it mean? I wracked my brains and realised it was my mum’s birthday the next day. Oh no dad was at work and would not be home until the shops shut and my brother was only 4 so he was no use to me. What was I going to do; she could not get up in the morning without a card or presents. I was 7 years old and as soon as I got home at 3.30pm I raided my money box. I had nearly two pounds. I had been saving for ages to get this together and really wanted to buy myself a doll that had hair that grew.

I put the assortment of change into my coat pocket and tried to get out of the back door without mum asking where I was going. I got to the garage opened the door very carefully and pulled my old blue bicycle into the garden. It was the 60’s and kids still went out to play and rode around the streets on their bikes playing street games like knock down ginger, chase or hide and seek. I peddled as fast as I could to a parade of shops nearby to where I lived. We called it the ‘back shops’ because they were behind our house, sort of...

On this parade of shops was a grocers, butcher, hairdressers, betting shop and the haberdashery shop. I loved to look in the window of the haberdashers because placed on a bit of ruffled red velvet would be an array of small gifts, slippers, shawls, and glass ashtrays, pipes and pretty buttons. I got off my bike and leant it against the wall, not the window of the shop because the moany shop keeper would be shouting at me to move it as I could break his window. I saw the liquor glasses, they were out of the box and shining in the light, they looked beautiful to me, really pretty. I then saw a pair of pink slippers with fake fur around the bit where the foot slips in. Could I possible buy them and the glasses. I worked it out in my head and I had enough almost to the penny. I cannot tell you how proud I was the day I brought those special glasses and slippers. I had no money for a card so had to make one of those.

I carefully rode my bike home and sneaked into the house, ran up the stairs and hid my treasures under the bed. I was so excited, what would mum think of her lovely presents. Dad came home and I broke the news that he had forgotten mum birthday. But I told him it was Ok because I had brought her something. He was not convinced and in hind sight she did make him suffer the next day.

I looked at the dusty old box in my hands and opened it up. Six glasses tulip shaped with thin stems, tiny not enough to hold a mouthful of anything. Who these days uses such useless items, shot glasses yes, but liquor glasses, I don’t think so. These ones had not been used for over forty years so the chance of them being any use now was probably minimal. I know?? I had a use for them, they where the just the right size to use a pill pots. Every morning and every evening I have to dispense tablets to my mum and they would be perfect to hold them together.

They served a purpose but being fragile they kept breaking I threw the last one away today, the tulip top broke off the stem. I threw the box away as well. I was sad because of the memory these little glasses held for me. I was sad because my mum would not even know what they are now. She put them away and treasured them for most of my life and now I was using them up and throwing the last broken one away.

Why do we keep things, I suppose I have just answered my own question, but what a waste of my pocket money, I should have only brought the slippers.

I look after my mother now and she has so many things stuffed into her wardrobes, old puppets and knitting that I did as a child, letters from the first world war, medals from long lost relatives , photographs she does not even recognise the people in them and I don’t know who they are either. She even has old baby teeth, presumably me and my brothers, my first shoe and a lock of my baby hair wrapped up in a bit of tissue. She has my grandmothers little tin of paperwork taken for safekeeping from her flat when she died. The stuff in this tin in from the 1800’s....

It got me thinking about why we do this. I have some stuff, an old musical box with some treasures in from my past, but nothing else. I have nothing from my children when they where babies or children at school only my memories. This may have been because I have moved house seven times and each time I have had a clear out. I hate doing it but have had to be brutal with myself and not give into sentiment. If I hadn’t I would now be living under a mound of rubbish and would be classed as a hoarder.

What happens to all our treasures when be pass on and are no longer here? Does most of it end up in an old second had shop poured over by strangers. The saddest thing I see is old family photos of smiling people with all their hopes and aspirations still to come, now they are peering into the contents of a second hand store.

Nearing the later part of my life I wonder what will happen to my home and my things when I am gone, who will want them, my tatty ornaments that hold a memory in each one. They are my memories, no one else’s and they mean something to me, no one else. Maybe some of the better pieces will be sold and the money used for something my children want, a holiday, a new car or just to add to savings. The rest I presume will end up in the bin, just like my mum’s stuff will when she passes on. I will save some pieces laden with memories but the rest will go.

We perform these rituals all through our lives and they give us so much pleasure. Some people make a life time hobby out of collecting things. What is it that drives us to search high and low and spend our hard earned money on something that is only beautiful and interesting to the individual collecting it? I love miniatures things but fight myself not to get involved in such a hobby because I have an addictive personality and I don’t want it to overtake my life.

I was a collector as a child and beads where my passion, then Wade figures, then coloured fluff pulled from blankets and put into a match box, yes a weird hobby but all the kids at school where doing it. Pushing different coloured fluff into a tight space does make a very pretty patterns, it does believe me.

All I collect now is my memories. I have found as I have aged that I often spend time just thinking about the past and trying to bring back happy memories. I am getting good at it; I can almost imagine the smells, the voices, the feel of the weather on my face. It’s very therapeutic, you should try it.

Of course some collections are of historical value and become very lucrative if you know what you are doing or just hit on something that others want. For most of us it’s not going to turn out like that it’s just going to pass some time and give us a sense of pride and excitement and something to tell our family and friends about. We can learn from collecting and enjoy interaction with like minded people therefore enhancing our social well being. One thing for sure is we will be remembered for it by our family when we are gone. They are the ones that have to get rid of it all....


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