Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ask JKM a Question #26: Collecting or Hoarding?

 A reader named David asks:

“How do you find the space to maintain your incredible toy collection and do you ever start to worry about your collecting habit turning into a hoarding habit?”

All right, David, have you been secretly listening in on my conversations with my wife?

Just kidding. 

That’s a great question, and we haven’t had any questions here on the blog yet about my toys, so it’s a good change of pace.  

Frankly, my wife often takes a look at my office -- especially after Joel and I have been playing in it -- and voices concerns that I am teaching him hoarding.

But I have a few rules regarding my toy collection at this point:

1.) The toys don’t spill out beyond my home office.  My wife insists on this, and I see her point. For one thing, if you are constantly picking up and putting down a lot of these old items, they get destroyed.  It’s best to leave them in the office. If Joel wants to play with some of my toys, I have no problem with that, so long as we do so in the office and not carting them up and down the stairs.

2.) I only purchase “new” items on occasion since my home office is rapidly filling up. It has to be a great deal, or a rare item, or some combination thereof, for me to buy new toys at this point.  And if I can, I try to sell something for every new thing I add.  This is what my wife calls my “balance of terror,” although I prefer to see it, like Carousel, as “one for one.”

3.) My collecting days are coming to an end.  When I turn fifty (in seven years), I’m going to begin liquidating my collection, and keep only those items and objecti I really have a serious attachment to (like the stuff from Space: 1999 and Buck Rogers for example). 

In short, it’s pretty cool to have some Star Trek Voyager, Stargate and Alien Resurrection toys, but I don’t know that I’ll feel a deep loss if I no longer possess them. 

Why start liquidating at age fifty? 

Well, none of us knows how long we have left on this Earth, and right now I possess a legitimately gargantuan collection.  I don’t want my wife and son to have to contend with this albatross upon my passing.  They don’t know what any of the items are worth, and they have no attachment to most of the stuff.  My wife will be upset enough if something happens to me without having to learn about how to sell on E-Bay.  I don’t want her to be forced to deal with it.

I am leaving items in my collection to Joel, if he’s interested, but anything he’s not interested by the time I’m fifty (and he’s thirteen)…it’s gone with the wind.

Secondly, this toy collection is part of my retirement plan.  The way things are going Social Security and Medicare may not be around when I’m 67, so I’ll need another income stream if I hope to retire.  (But don’t worry: even at retirement I’m not going to stop blogging…).

Speaking of the blog, actually, I’ve learned that I enjoy my collection most when I write about it.  And I assume that -- writing about it once or twice a week until I’m fifty -- I’ll have gone through most of it.  That’s a lot of “collectibles of the week.” 

At that point, I’ll have photos of everything, have really thought a lot about everything -- thus enjoying it -- and the necessity to keep it around will be less.

So, to answer your question: I hope I’m not hoarding, and I have some rules to prevent hoarding, and I even have a built-in “sell by” date to avoid hoarding.

That said, on the days my office is messy, I do feel like I’m hoarding…

Don’t forget, send your questions to me at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com


  1. Knowing how to part with possessions as important a part of one's growth as knowing when to buy (or not buy) something.

    I'm struggling hard with selling the Old Man. When I was 15, I bought a 1950 Ford F1 pickup. I've kept it all original this whole time, but I only drove it the first three years I've had it. It's basically been parked since then. (To be fair, had I been driving it year 4, it would have been totaled, but that's no excuse....)

    The truck desperately needs to be fixed up and driven regularly, but I have a 16 year old and a 13 year old. I won't have money for at least 10 years. After the kids leave college, we are considering selling the house and traveling a lot. That isn't compatible with a project truck either.

    The buyer wants to fix it up, and has the means to do so. I know I need to sell, and want to sell, but I still have that little brat screaming "My truck. MY TRUCK!" stuck in my head.

    I aspire to a Christian Bohemian lifestyle. It's discerning to being hung up on parting with a possession....

    1. Hi Kentucky Packrat,

      It sounds like you are really and truly grappling with this decision. In moments like this, I think, it's best to go with the heart. If there's a voice telling you to keep the truck, you should probably keep it...until that voice goes away, or you feel you can answer it.

      But you get at, quite beautifully, the essence of the problem. We take these things along with us because the objects, in some sense, come to symbolize something about our lives; something meaningful. It's not always easy to divest oneself of that meaning.

      I'm taking the easy way out and keeping the sentimental stuff and ditching the interesting but non sentimental stuff.

      Let us know what you decide. I'd love to know how you work this out (so I can apply your philosophy in my life...)!


    2. Parting with the truck was easy: the fellow had a flatbed tow trunk in my driveway when I got home yesterday, and a check for the full amount. He didn't give me enough chance to start crying or to change my mind. He didn't even answer his cell phone 15 minutes later when I called him to see if he was close enough to stop back by and get the shop manual I forgot to put in the truck.

      However, I'm glad he has it. His grandfather bought a 1951 F1 too, so they'll be working on a matching pair when its done. Now I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the trucks.

      That said, I've listened to The Eagles "Get Over It" a couple of times ("I'd like to find your inner child and kick its little ***"). That intimidates the inner brat a bit... :)

  2. Anonymous3:20 PM

    John I think your collection is awesome! Your home office is a wonderful environment to think in while you write, much the way at the beginning of Ray Bradbury Theater we would see his office environment was his catalyst for writing. I have probably a fourth the size of your collection, mine consists exclusively of the ‘70s and early ’80s science-fiction era that I experienced as a boy. Your posted photos have a lot of what I have from Space:1999, Star Trek, Star Wars, Buck Rogers, et.al. of my boyhood ‘70s into ‘80s era. Your display methods are great, I love it that they are grouped by subject, no chaos there. Like you, I even have all of my favorite lunchboxes of that era: Space:1999, Lost In Space, UFO, Planet Of The Apes(tv series), Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek(original series), Star Trek:TMP, Flash Gordon(1979 animated series), Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century too. I think your wife is right about corralling your collection in your home office. This room is like a museum of your boyhood and not boxed up stored items like at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but instead properly displayed for all to see. “Balance Of Terror” is simply brilliant because consider the “one for one” like the beginning scene in Raiders Of The Lost Ark when Indy trades the weighted bag for the gold idol. I agree with reducing back to your boyhood favorites of Space:1999, Buck Rogers, et.al. that is why I never delved into collecting the post ‘70s and ‘80s science-fiction to keep my collections subjects limited. I view my collect as a investment too, e.g., in 1998 I purchased at low prices three each of the original Lost In Space series[not the 1998 movie] newly issued toys. I do not ever consider it hoarding as long as your collection size is manageable as you have explained here, like the Domed-City of Logan’s Run controlled population of toys. I also think it is a collection, not hoarding because you have them properly displayed in only your office. Most important, John I hope that at fifty it will be the midpoint of your life and you will have another fifty years to go with your wife and son.


    1. SGB,

      Thank you for a wonderful comment, and for the kind sentiment about my life. Seriously, I want to live to 95, but plan for the eventuality (for Joel and Kathryn) that I may not make it. I would be happy with seventy five. My mission in life is to meet Joel's children. I had him late, when I was thirty seven, so I don't know how likely this is. But I'm eating better (lots of yogurts and grapefruits, no frozen hot pocket lunches anymore) and beginning to exercise more. My Dad has built me a lectern so I can write and stand at the same time, so that I don't damage myself by always sitting.

      Your collection sounds great. I think your idea to limit what you collect is a wise one. Just get the things that really mean a lot to you, instead of sort of a more diffuse focus. It's a good idea.

      Great comment, my friend.


  3. I have a several of friends that have insanely large and equally cool collections. I think the difference between hoarding and collecting is the maintenance factor.
    My own horror related collection is actually small. Mostly art oriented. My weaknesses are elsewhere. Vintage clothing. Hats, handbags, scarves in particular. At some point soon, I am going to do a similar weeding and selling.
    Vintage ceramics is another one. State plates, California pottery, and redware. Those are much harder to part with. I do have a moratorium on acquiring anymore of that though, we don't have the room. I also collect Hawaiiana. I have several Tikis and some killer vintage shirts. Sigh, see? Me too:) Some things are just to cool to pass up, and the hunt is so much fun. I will be happy to send much of it on to good homes in the future. At a certain point, if it's just stored, not displayed and enjoyed, it's time to pass it on.

    1. Jane,

      I loved reading your comment, and I think there are some real nuggets of wisdom in it.

      1.) The hunt IS so much damn fun. I love it. It's just a tremendous thrill, and I must admit I love this aspect of collecting.

      2.) Display and enjoy, don't store. Wow, that's important isn't it? I agree with your philosophy. If you're just storing nd not looking at something, it's time to pass it on.

      Excellent thoughts, my friend. I'd love to see your pottery collection. My parents actually collect pottery too (see, I come by it honestly...) and it's a fascinating (and sometimes expensive...) hobby.


  4. I'm a film student, but I found your excellent blog thanks to your toy collection spotlights. As a fledgling collector myself (I have an unfocused mess of Transformers and Star Wars figures), I've really enjoyed reading about how your collection fits into your life, and about your ultimate plan for it. I know exactly what you mean about how you enjoy your collection now, and how your enjoyment is kept for posterity on the internet; it seems like the grown up way to play with toys!

    This can be an untidy hobby, but it seems doable with a solid plan; which you appear to have. Thank you for the insight!

    1. Joe,

      Thank you so much for your comment, and for your great thoughts here.

      I absolutely love your formulation about my collectible writing on the Internet: "it seems like the grown up way to play with toys."

      Boy, you are absolutely right! That's exactly what it is!!! Your really hit the nail on the head. I love to play, but I'm 42, so this is my way of playing. It might be crazy...but it's me, and in some sense, it makes sense for me. I also feel that once I write about objects in my collection, I no longer feel that burning itch to own them. Suddenly, I'm at peace about the whole thing.

      All my best,

  5. "Balance of Terror"? That's awesome! Does she realize that she used the name of a Star Trek episode? :) I have a similar policy, but only because that's what I usually have to do to get money to buy more stuff!

    I definitely would not consider that "hoarding". (Maybe it could be considered "hording"? Do you have Vikings or Mongols there?) My first question to collectors is usually "Do you know what you have?" Clearly you do. If you have so much stuff that you don't remember what you have, where you got it, or where it is, then you're probably a hoarder.

    Now, that's about where our agreement ends. I plan to START collecting when I turn 50! I may still sell stuff, but I'm not planning on liquidating. Remember the saying: "He who dies with the most toys, wins." On the flip side of that, I don't want my wife and kids to have to deal with Ebay either. However I don't worry about that because I don't want my stuff sold. If my family doesn't want it, I would rather see it given away to collectors who will appreciate it rather than sold for profit. (My stuff isn't worth enough to be a retirement plan anyway.) I may even write up something of a contest to be orchestrated to award my stuff to lucky winners.

    So let me know when you start liquidating any of those, Starbirds, Micronauts, Black Hole or other gems!

    1. Hi Brad,

      Yes, my wife knew exactly what she was saying when she called my office a "balance of terror." She knows enough about all of my science fiction passions to use it against me, which is brilliant. She's amazing, and I love her because she can turn a phrase like that, and puncture my air of pretension.

      I agree with you that part of hoarding is the purchasing and forgetting; accumulating so much "stuff" that you can't even keep track. For one thing, I don't have the money to do that. For another, I have a really great memory! :)

      Good for you for deciding to dive into collecting at 50. I love that idea, and say, to each his own. For me, I've carried some of this stuff around, literally, since I was six years old (my Space:1999 eagle...) and it has moved with me from New Jersey to Virginia to Monroe, NC, to Mint Hill NC. I just don't know that I can haul this all off to the retirement or nursing home when it's time...

      I will definitely keep you in mind when I start liquidating the items you mentioned! :)

      Thanks for a great comment!