12.26.2008

collecting

collecting and collections are things i have become ambivalent about in the last few years. as a child and well into my teenage years i was an avid collector of many things including:

-rocks and minerals
-foreign money, mostly coins
-shells
-fairy tale and victorian paper dolls
-dolls
-stamps (sort of)
-porcelain figurines (mostly disney)
-books (ongoing, especially children's chapter and picture books)
-pennies
-embroidered vegetables (ongoing)
-vintage dresses (possibly ongoing)
-stickers
-voices/sounds (on pause, but ongoing)
-pez dispensers
-beads
-marbles
-fall leaves
-old bottles
-old keys (never succeeded. just really wanted to)
-christmas tree ends (the part you slice off before putting the tree in water. smells so good!)
-maps/inserts from national geographic
-3-D puzzles (not as much, but i'd still like the Eiffel tower and the tower bridge)

for awhile, especially between the ages of about 11 and maybe 16, or through the end of high school, i was an enthusiastic thrifter and a lover of all things old. when amanda and i went to england at the ages of 15 and 13 respectively, going to antique stores to look for old keys was high on my list of priorities (along with riding on a train, which we did plenty of). i'm pretty sure that this inclination towards old culture and old fashions stemmed partly from my insecurity with fitting in to the mainstream, popular trends my peers enjoyed. there was safety (and also nerdiness) in being knowledgeable about and aware of something nobody else was. deliberately not fitting in was easier.

but it went deeper than that, as i am still a lover of many things old. it's interesting to see how that bent has played out in my life today (studied history, now work in archives repairing old books, love of old movies and old popular culture). but somewhere in there i stopped collecting. strangely (and happily), i didn't become the aimless, lifetime packrat i was well on my way to becoming. i became more interested and secure in bringing myself up to date and being more aware of the present. i also became interested in simplifying life and my surroundings. i have by and large stopped accumulating things, even books, but i still constantly battle with myself about what's important to own or not.

eight years ago i began working in libraries and also pursued museum work for awhile through classes and volunteering. my personal ambivalence about collecting transferred over to these institutions and their collections and collection development policies. right away i caught on to the conflict between missions to preserve and too much collecting; this conflict fueled my own ambivalence. i began to see how collecting could get so out of control and so aimless that things could not longer be preserved and stored properly.

having recently returned to thrift and antique stores as well as the library book sales, i feel i have run into my past self. and yes, for those of you who have met her before, it is largely my 8th-grade self. i don't know if it's because i've stopped being a ridiculously poor and insanely busy bookbinding student or because i've renewed friendships with collectors and others who love old things or because as a bookbinder i can find tools in antique stores now. don't know.

what i do know is that my love-hate relationship with the stuff that makes up our collective and individual pasts persists and intensifies. i also know that collections with clear focus and the intent to teach and shed light on past and present people, ideas, and cultures are the most relevant and ones i want to support and even build for myself.

i'm not sure what the fate of my old collections will be. i wonder if a time will come when i just want to throw it all out. the "love" and nostalgia kind of hope not--it's always fun to dig through those boxes, and it would be fun to show my kids. the "hate" and desire for simplicity hope otherwise.

we shall see....

8 comments:

Nancy said...

I think the Christmas tree stubs certainly can go.

christina q thomas said...

don't worry, they went long, long ago. :)

Amanda, Curtis, Ellis, Hugh said...

Don't worry, Bid. In my house there will be a secret tower room just full of people's old collections. The kids who are lucky enough to find the room can peruse and play with the stuff. It will be its own dimension--the old collection dimension.

I'll let you know when we get that house built...

Pinto said...

Happy New Year!

Pear said...

um...i can't believe that you convinced me not to throw away my old toothbrush collection the other day on the ground that it might make a good art project someday. i'm pretty sure i'm going to throw it away tomorrow.

christina q thomas said...

p, i wasn't trying to convince you. had i been you in that situation, i undoubtedly would have thrown the toothbrushes away right then and there. truly! i was just considering all the possibilities. out loud. probably the one-time through reminiscence about your toothbrushes was enough nostalgia on that point. you are probably the only person in the world who has reminisced about their old toothbrushes. heh.

arly said...

I sort of remember those Disney figurines. Ah, stuff. What to do with it? What to keep, what to remember but get rid of...sometimes it seems so easy and sometimes not.

Wendy said...

I have never been a collector, but becoming a bookbinder has made me think about this so much more. This is probably partly because it seems like everyone attracted to bookbinding tends to be an insane collector, with the exception of me, and so I have always wondered if this makes me not a true bookbinder. But becoming a bookbinder has also made me think more about the value of collections. I am so glad there are people and institutions who do collect so that people like me with no desire to can still appreciate the stuff from a distance. As an aside, I did just find an awesome set of 1955 DIY encyclopedias published by Popular Mechanics at the library (only $2.50 for the whole 12 volume set!). The endsheets are incredible. I may have to scan them to show you. Maybe I have a collector in me after all...