Thinking about Our Collections

I grew up collecting hockey and baseball cards. I had thousands upon thousands of them. A bunch of them are still in my basement, rotting away, worthless to me. I’ve collected other things in my lifetime and still collect some things, such as magazines, music, books or stickers. Lately though, I’m starting to find the entire fascination with collecting things sort of odd. What is it in these items that we collect that holds such an unbreakable power over our lives? People have collections of everything from Harvey’s trays to coins to circumcised skin. Other people’s collections always seem odd to us and it’s hard to make sense of, but whatever we collect of course if completely normal and justified.

I realized about 3 years ago that I cared way too much about my books. My books were a source of pride for me and if someone came over, it was my book collection that I wanted to show off. I realized in myself that I was looking for some sort of value from my books to be imparted to me every time someone saw what type of knowledge I had stored. It became less about actually appreciating what was in the book (after all I only read them once) and more about having them on my shelf. I knew this was true because I would have had no problem buying a book and then having it sit on my shelf for a year before I even had time to pick it up. So I tried an experiment and brought all my books to theStory and allowed anyone to take what they wanted at anytime. I tried to treat my books like I would have a case of pop; handing them out to whoever seemed interested. After doing this I felt released quite a bit from any odd collector’s pride that I used to have.

What is it inside of us that make us collect things for no other reason than to have it? Very few of us have collections of things that we use on a regular basis. Most of our collections are either on display just to look at or sit off in a corner somewhere only to be referred to when explaining that you have a collection. I wonder if collections are sort of a last ditch effort that we use to justify to ourselves that our addictions to material goods are validated. Realistically, a private collection, of any sort is pretty selfish. What on earth are they good for besides to boost our ego and make us feel better about ourselves? I wonder sometimes if we actually take Jesus seriously when he tells us not to store up for ourselves treasure on earth. What else could we call a collection besides storing up treasure?

Simplicity seems to be the opposing virtue in this example. How else to fend off against the temptation of collecting material goods than to live a simple life? To live simply is to find your value somewhere else rather that what you can achieve or own on your own accord. Kingdom living is wrapped in the idea that God provides. Even the Israelites when trying to horde what was good and healthy for them (manna) and something that God provided were only to collect what they needed for that day. We see example after example in the Hebrew Scriptures of people’s collections being a poor and careless way to live. Saul tried to keep collections of the materials that he collected from war. Solomon had many collections, women included.

I think our collections today can tell us two things. One, it reminds us how blessed we are. Only in a rich and wealthy country could people afford to have things on their shelves just to look at and admire for no other purpose that for its presence. Collections are probably very rare in homes of people that have no money. We wealthy people are obsessed with storing things just because it’s fun. Secondly, I think our collections point to a problem much deeper, and that is our dependence on material goods to sustain us. The mass amounts of shit that we store up are obviously filling in some sort of gap that we have left open. We now live in a culture where can and will collect anything, because we have so much stuff, while the other side of the world can and will receive anything because they have so little. Maybe before you start another collection of yet another item that benefits nobody but yourself you’ll thing twice, I know I will.

One Comment

  • Very good points you raised here. I especially like the way you compare how we collect things in our prosperous societies, and how little is collected when you are just trying to survive. There is so much junk (and good stuff that is not being used by us) in our collective basements!

    This is why I often wish we could live more communally, sharing what we have with others in our network, when they need it. Freecycle on the web is one way to redistribute junk.

Join the Discussion