Growing up I remember my mother having a collection of wooden cheese boxes and silver spoons. This made souvenir buying particularly easy. On my first trips away from home, when souvenir shops were still a novelty, I got excited about buying her a silver spoon with the crest of Cambridge or another with the Fleur de lis. These novelty items have long been tucked away and the cheese boxes that hung on our kitchen walls in the eighties disappeared decades ago. That is not to say however that she has given up on collecting entirely. Piles of quilting fabric aside, her latest novelty is Scottish shortbread tins, a collection that no doubt manifested out of her love her Islay Malt whiskies and all things Scottish.
While I myself border on the side of a minimalist or at least aspire to shelves free of knick knacks and sparsely furnished rooms, I admire the sophisticated consumers in my life. Russell W. Belk author of Collecting in a Consumer Society explains that collecting is unique from ordinary consumerism in that the items being collected are most significant as part of a whole. A record is just a record – a selection of limited print Julie London album covers makes a collection.
At first glance it seems that collectors are unnecessarily polluting the world by buying items that are essentially meant to be seen and not used. Idealistically we may argue that the only items one should own are those that which we use on a daily basis a vehicle that gets us from point A to point B rather than a collection of 1960s Chevys that only come out in the summer or a single set of dishes, which are used at every meal, rather than one that we remove once per year, but only as part of our Spring cleaning. Yet, is it really all that wasteful to hold on to something rather than throw it out.
I’m not suggesting that we start a collection of DVDs or of newly manufactured handbags; nor am I suggesting that we fill our cupboards with shortbread tins that never get used. Instead I propose that as consumers, which the majority of us in our contemporary society are, we make our purchases count. Collecting isn’t necessarily about having a lot of stuff, about hoarding, or about spending oodles of cash, it’s about appreciating and finding joy in the things we buy. If the stuff is already out there why not make it last. It’s like my grandmother always said when we were out garage saling on a Saturday morning “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”
I have to admit that as much as I shy away from a crowded house and get anxious when I’m given gifts that I feel I don’t particularly need, I love going to flea markets, and perusing second hand book, clothing and furniture stores. I love my primary coloured Pyrex mixing bowls circa 1940, which I use on a regular basis, and I love my book cases full of weird and wonderful reads.