Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Collecting and My Death

I'm such a delightfully chipper person to read, aren't I?

I've been collecting as long as I can remember. I don't know what animal compulsion causes me to decide I want to amass a large selection of some particular type of item, but it's sure as hell strong. In my early childhood I collected paper cups. The little ones that one might see in a dispenser next to a water cooler. At the tender age of seven or eight I would actually go to the grocery store and buy packs of them for ~$3. Which was quite an investment at the time.

The money was worth it, though, because I loved to stack them.


The sad thing is that, even though I don't have the cups anymore, I still do precisely that same thing. Only now, it's with bottle caps:


That's my bottle cap collection after 2 or 3 months. I collected them for five years. The only reason I stopped collecting them is because the soda producers changed the style of bottle cap which is used these days, so they could no longer stack. I still have them all, they fill an entire drawer in one of my filing cabinets. I keep saying that one day I'm going to stack them all up, then melt them into some kind of odd sculpture...but we'll see if that actually happens before I just decide I'm sick of storing them, and toss them out.

In fairness to me, these are easily my most creepy, OCD, hoarder type collections. Most of the things I collect are items like books, video games, Lego bricks, Star Wars memorabilia, role playing books and paraphernalia, and of course, funny images from the internet. Fortunately for me, the 60k I have of that last one don't take up any more space than a hard drive.

And despite any self deprecation on the subject, I'm quite happy with my collecting. It doesn't get out of hand, and I almost never spend much money on it. All the various items in my collections are things which I've happened upon by chance, or been given as gifts. As tempting as it is to go online and buy Chrono Trigger still in the box, I'm not so far gone that I don't realize it ain't worth it.


But here's where the grim part of the title comes into play: what happens when I die?

I can't help but feel as though the satisfaction of collecting is a defense mechanism that our brains come up with to keep us from realizing that we're not actually doing anything useful with our lives. Because, in the end, any collection we have will probably go unused during our lifetimes, and eventually become a nuisance for our children as they clean out our homes after our deaths. Seventy years from now, the books I've carefully acquired may be rotting away in a dump, rather than being cherished by anyone who appreciates them.

Which isn't to say I condemn, or even dislike collecting. When I pull an NES game off the lawn of someone who clearly doesn't appreciate what they have during a garage sale, I feel a little bit like a hero. I'm saving a piece of history which, to me, is valuable. I'll be able to restore it to good working order, store it safely, and even enjoy it as it was originally intended to be enjoyed. Granted, I don't have nearly enough time to really enjoy all the great old games I have. Some may never even be played between now and my death! Forever on a shelf, or perhaps even a box tucked away in an attic.

This thought isn't exactly new to me, either. I've pondered this on and off for as long as I've been collecting. That's not hyperbole either--I made a Last Will and Testament which bestowed my paper cups upon my then best friend Blake. I was a dark child. But, the fact that my collections may someday end up in a dumpster after my demise has not thusfar dissuaded me from the act of collecting. Maybe it's just that defense mechanism overriding my reasoning for my own good.

I suppose there are ways I could prevent my death meaning the loss of my collection. I'm sure than within 50 years time, original video game carts from the 80s will be worthy of archival by some museums, or at least something which I could donate to some place which would preserve them. If libraries still exist in the sense we now know them, they might want my books.

None the less, I will always wonder on occasion whether I'm just an animal, carrying unnecessary loads of eventual junk from one home to another for the duration of my life.

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