Monday, November 10, 2014


It's an instinctual urge in me, to collect things. Or maybe it's just because I'm a Bowers (see Bowerbird). I love things that match or have a common theme.  As a child, I cut out pages from the Sears catalog and lined up the pictures of the same object shown in different colors. I also love little things, whether they have any commonality or not. Growing up, I had a small blue velvet-covered watch box in which I collected tiny things: rocks, shells, kitten teeth, a tiny blue jay feather, a blue marble that looked like the earth. 

There's something about collecting that just sucks me in. The enumeration, the visual grouping, the treasure hunt for the next member of the set, whatever it is that connects with my brain hardware, it's an addiction. One item is interesting, two items has potential, but three items is a collection. The growth trajectory of a collection is dependent on the type of item. Most things are open-ended, there is an infinite number of things that could be added to the collection. Shells are a perfect example, one could collect shells forever, the collection could be as big as external constraints (time, money, space) allow.

Open-ended collections give the collector the opportunity for curation. Curation is defined as organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. This is where the fun comes in. One of the collections I had in the past was doll furniture. Scouring yard sales, antique shops and eBay for just the right piece makes part of my brain just plain happy. I still look for pieces, but I don't buy. Looking is just as much fun as it always was. I have a large watching list on eBay most of the time, but haven't bought anything there in years. Etsy also figured this out and offers a Treasury tool in which one can pick 12 items to create a curated collection of object images for any theme one can imagine: color, function, season, or any other random idea, just for the fun of it.

Finite collections come in two types, open and closed. An example of an open collection is US postage stamps, the passion of my middle school years. The list of all stamps produced is known, so the collection is finite, but more members are added every year. This gives the collector a framework for the collection. For stamps, we had paper books with a place for every stamp to be mounted. One could even complete full pages of stamps in the book. This type of collection gives the collector a defined goal and a progress indicator. 

A closed collection is one in which the members are defined, but no new members are being produced, such as artwork created by a deceased artist. I encountered this type of collection during my recent hunt for used apartment furnishings. I found a fascinating shop of 20th century pieces and asked about a certain vase that I instantly loved. I don't need any vases and it was totally out of my price range, but I went home to research the artist anyway. The shop owner had done his homework and this was a fair market price. The artist died in 1964, she won't be making any more vases.

Ok, so all this about my fascination with collections and collecting things: it's deep, it's ingrained, it's compulsive. But wait. I'm also a minimalist. I try to keep the things I own to a small set of useful items. How can I indulge my bent for collecting things while still keeping my possessions minimal? 

One way I've found to satisfy my urge to collect is by creating virtual collections. Virtual collection methods can involve pictures, research, lists, and experiences. For example, I have a collection of cute trailer pictures on Pinterest. I certainly can't collect trailers (although that would be so much fun!). I also like to learn all I can about decorative arts, so in a sense, my knowledge about furniture, ceramics and textile styles is a type of collection. Research doesn't take up much space, keeps me interested and dusting is not required. Lists and experiences are probably overlapping forms of virtual collecting, but examples are the list of books I've read on GoodReads, the countries I've visited and the microbrews I've consumed. 

Another collections strategy is to keep things tiny. Sometimes the urge to collect physical objects is hard to combat, so I indulge in a few. These all live in a mason jar.