Breaking Bad, buying local, and old books all have one thing in common…something we are all searching for.
When I was in my early teens, I’d stop by the gas station with my dad every few weeks and buy a box of baseball cards. Afterward, I’d go home, find a spot on the living floor where I could really spread out, and tear through the packages of cards.
At some point in my late teens I lost interest in baseball cards, but the general impulse to collect never left me. I’ve come to realize the desire to collect things knows no age. In fact, the root of our desire for collecting seems to point to something that needs reclaiming in our cities and communities – namely, familiarity.
It seems people have long liked collecting. As for myself, a few years back, I decided to collect and read all the books of my favorite spiritual writer. Later, I wanted to collect all the albums of a few artists I really liked. Most recently, my wife and I have desired to collect jigsaw puzzles.
For years, I remember, my grandfather collected porcelain animals and set them out on display throughout his home. My grandmother chose to collect dolls. My dad collected coins. A friend, who thought my working a 2,000-piece puzzle was “a recipe for insanity,” collected and read the biographies of all the U.S. presidents.
Many psychological motives have been attributed to collecting, some hearkening to Freudian theories even. But what I’ve found, mostly from my own experience, is that collecting simply provides a sense of familiarity. In a world in which we are bombarded daily with massive amounts of information and choices, familiarity with something – anything – is comforting.
Collecting provides a sense of familiarity. In a world in which we are bombarded daily with massive amounts of information and choices, familiarity with something – anything – is comforting.
As we seek the familiar, some of us watch every episode of our favorite show, or we seek out all the movies in which our favorite actor starred. In these instances, we get to know our favorite show or actor more intimately, in much the same way we get to know a great deal about stamps by collecting stamps, or a lot about wine by collecting various wines.
For those of us who like music, we don’t simply want to purchase our favorite band’s greatest hits album. We want to track their musical development by listening to all the records they ever made, each recorded at different moments in time. And collecting vinyl – especially vinyl from when the music was originally recorded and preferably with a little crackle to it when played – seems even better for helping us experience the band’s music as people experienced it decades ago.
Those of us who like to collect antiques and old books also desire to be on familiar terms with the past. Collecting these helps transport us back in time in much the same way as vinyl records. Such nostalgia is not surprising in an age that often abandons traditions for the newest fads, and forsakes the local for the global.
Think about it: our desire to shop for and eat locally sourced products is partly rooted in the same impulse that drives us to collect. What’s more, we want to be on familiar terms with the social, political, historical and natural environment around us. It’s one of the reasons why the thought of traveling to or living in a quaint town appeals to us. Or, if we don’t like a small town because of a lack of things to do, it’s why we like unique areas of a city. The city is just too big for us to get minds and hearts around.
Remember the line from the Cheers theme song: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”? The sitcom revolved exclusively around a bar and the same people who frequented it episode after episode – and people loved it. The same psychology, I believe, applies to our basic drive to collect. Sometimes we want to go to a place where we can know particular slices of life more comprehensively.
The desire for the familiar, the desire to be connected to traditions or the past, the desire to know things on a more intimate level – these are what we long for and that our modern cities and communities often fail to provide. It’s not surprising that collecting things helps satisfy our desire to find greater familiarity in a world often too big to be familiar.
And if collecting things helps fill that void, we could intentionally channel this drive in other ways to help avoid feeling so isolated, lonely and lost in anonymity. We could start collecting more business cards of local merchants and becoming their patrons. We could also start collecting more friendships – in our neighborhoods, churches, clubs, coffee houses, or wherever people like to gather to find a greater sense of familiarity.
Now those would be collections definitely worth pursuing.
Bart Price lives in St. Augustine, Florida, with his wife, Angie. A Six Sigma Black Belt, he works in the Six Sigma department of a financial firm. He has published a poetry book entitled The Wild Woods Edge and creates and sells what he calls Photo Poems, combining his original poetry and photography on 8×10 mats. His art can be found at www.bartprice.com.