I Collect, Therefore I Am

I love stuff. It’s genetic. My grandparents lived through the Depression. My mother was a Renaissance woman who cooked, wallpapered, refinished furniture, sewed all our clothes, and gardened. BTW, she actually did walk miles to school, sometimes sans footwear. My dad was a WWII vet who liked his cars, fishing and hunting gear, and a fine set of barware for the martini hour.

When I was a kid we went to auctions a lot. In fact I had relatives who were auctioneers. I saw first hand the thrill of getting something for pennies on the dollar. At one auction, I craved this huge cardboard box of sewing trims – lace fragments wound around scraps of paper, seam binding, tins of buttons, 1920’s embroidery transfer books, embroidery floss and needles, beads, doilies, and rusted crochet hooks. Mom bought it for me… she was the only one who bid, and everybody at the auction laughed when this scrawny, bespectacled little kid (me) rushed up to claim it, but I was in heaven. You could keep me entertained for hours with a pile of ribbon, fabric scraps and thread.

Since we were outside a lot, I collected rocks, milkweed pods, minnows, and plants. I made a little wildflower habitat in a corner of our backyard. I sunk a galvanized tin tub into the soil, filled it with water and made a pond, which I then carefully landscaped with woods violets, bluebells, trillium, mayapples, dutchman’s britches and jack-in-the-pulpit. Unfortunately, what I ended up with was a really pretty mosquito breeding facility, but still. That “pond” gave me hours of pleasure. And while digging the hole for the tub, I found a rusted iron trivet. This is known as foreshadowing. A hint of things to come. Maybe I was predestined for archaeology.

As I got older, I collected little glass animals, books, and Nancy Ann Storybook dolls. Every time I went somewhere I brought back rocks. We went fishing in reclaimed strip mine pits, so I had a pile of quartzite and agates amassed from the back dirt fill. My folks’ friends started bringing me back rocks from trips, so I had petrified wood, and crystals and a bunch of minerals from other states, to add to the collection.

In my teens, I started collecting vintage mesh purses, little enameled gems from the early 1900s. And children’s picture books from the twenties and thirties.

In my twenties I added vintage clothing, but only the stuff I could wear. If it was a little worn, I still had tons of vintage trim to repair it with. I began picking up pieces of vintage embroidery I found – I loved the stuff women made to embellish their kitchens and bedrooms. I started acquiring the gazillion embroidered, tinted pillows made from kits in the 1920s and 30s that still clutter my house today. I developed a thing for Crackerjack prizes. And Bakelite jewelry. And anything Arts and Crafts. Gustav Stickley was my god. Show me a piece of fumed oak, and I WANT IT.

As I set up housekeeping, I found I needed (and by this I mean emotionally craved) vintage silverplate, and a variety of art nouveau and deco dishware, and old lithographed fruit crate labels to frame and hang in my kitchen. In my personal pantheon of deities, eBay is right near the top. You can get anything. I did. And I expanded my pile of vintage needlework magazines, art deco silverware, Japanese puzzle boxes, and millinery flowers, too.

Having stuff around me makes me happy. I can look around my house and see a snapshot of where I’ve been and what was important to me as I collected my way through life. But, in the natural ebb and flow, some stuff gets lost in the shuffle, or loses its’ luster. So periodically, I try to reevaluate what I still love. I want to have only the stuff I truly love around, so that means I may need to get rid of some of the second and third tier items. That is hard. But do I really need to hang on to a pile of vintage kimonos that I no longer wear? I think not. But they still linger in a closet.

I am trying to enter a declutter period of life. I intend to do some careful editing and curating, and fine tune my collections. Which means I have to get rid of things. And this is pitiful, really, really, pitiful, but part of me thinks that I can sell the unwanted items on eBay, and use the money to get more of the good stuff!

Anyway, it seems I have always defined myself by artifacts and objects. Somehow, there is something off about this, but I don’t really care. Stuff makes me happy. I like being happy. But should you ever come to my house, please give me a little notice. Because I may have to… um… you know, pick up some stuff, and cram a few things in closets, and do a little rearranging. Because I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with the totality of my complex personality at first glance. I would explain this in more detail, but it is sale day at the thrift store, and I have some errands to run. Later.

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