Why I Don't Collect Things

Posted on September 27, 2010


The members of my family were always avid collectors.  My grandfather, in addition to collecting wives, used to bring discarded items home from abandoned properties that were undergoing renovation.  He was a paperhanger, and he never saw an old item (or a young woman) he didn’t like.  My grandmother (actually my step-grandmother and his second wife) usually made him throw the items out.  Among the junk, there were valuable antiques and large vintage architectural details like marble slabs.  My grandfather had no discretion and my grandmother had no vision.

My Uncle George, like his father, was an avid collector.  But unlike my grandfather, who collected both useful and useless items that he never paid for, George specialized only in useless items that he always paid a premium for, intending to resell them and make a fortune.  One of his early collections was old taxi cabs.  And, as he lived with my grandparents, he stored them all over the lawn, until my grandfather ordered him one day to make them disappear.  From then on, George’s collections consisted of much smaller items that could be stored in my parents’ basement.  One day, I opened a closet in the basement and saw that it was filled with mens’ underwear and socks.  Dozens and dozens of boxes of them.  After that, really ugly paintings started appearing on our walls.  George told us he was waiting for the artists to die so he could cash in.  I hoped it wasn’t the same for the people who made the underwear.  After my mom died, George specialized in collecting items that didn’t need to be stored anywhere, mainly stocks whose value went in only one direction.  And that wasn’t up.


My Uncle Sid collected girlie magazines and pin up calendars. No stashing this stuff away in closets or under beds for Sid.  He was proud of his collections and displayed them prominently.  For some reason, my aunt was oblivious to the fact that their apartment looked like the back room of a video store, the one with the sign that says “Adults Only Beyond This Point.”  My parents were oblivious as well.  I think it was because Sid was such a good, innocent soul, no one associated his “collections” as anything but harmless.  The result was that from age six on, Playboy was my reading material of choice. For those of you skeptics out there (“Ha ha! Nobody READS Playboy!”) I will tell you that I thought the cartoons were funny.


My Aunt Gert, Sid’s wife, collected clothing and household items she purchased from catalogues.  I use the word “collected” in its true sense.  These were items never intended to be worn or used.  There is, as I write this, 26 jumbo-sized lawn and leaf bags filled with brand new clothing, stored neatly away in her attic.  Come to think of it, she collected the catalogs as well.  Huge towers of them, all over the living room.


My dad collected stamps and coins and paper goods.  Lest you think there was nothing odd about that, I will say that he had his own made up language and numerical system that he used to identify everything with.  Everything he purchased had a secret code on it, so that, try as you might, you could never figure out the date he bought the toilet paper.


At various times in my adult life, I collected antique furniture, dishes, and home décor.  I’ve also bought and sold Oriental rugs.  I never collected anything that I didn’t use, and I loved everything I collected.  But a funny thing happened to me after age 50 or so.  Not only did I lose my desire to bring my car to a screeching halt at every garage sale and estate sale I saw, I began to sell off what I had.  Little by little, my prized possessions  disappeared.  I’ve got just a few pieces left.  It’s liberating to just love what I have without lusting for that next conquest.  It’s even more liberating to know that, at least in this sense, I’ve managed to avoid my family’s quirks.