Collecting…and Being a Collector

My ever growing Lorna's Laces collection
My ever growing Lorna’s Laces collection

A week or two ago, I realized as I was sorting through my yarn stash, that I have always been a collector. The object of my collections has changed over the years, but I’ve never lost my tendency to collect. I suspect this is an issue for most knitters and crocheters, as well as craftspeople in general. Our tendency to collect yarns and notions is necessary, at least in part, because our materials and inspirations are central to our work. Just as fine artists need to have their materials and inspirations on hand, so do we. Grocery lists are very cut and dry, but I’ve found shopping for materials to do creative work is different. If you see yarn that speaks to you, you MUST buy it when you see it, and in enough quantity to complete whatever you’re making with it, as you might not be able to match the dye lot later if you run out.

Necessity aside, I realized I do just like to collect. I like having complete series of things, or for instance, as with Lorna’s Laces, I like seeing the collection together. She does such gorgeous colors, I don’t want to miss any. Of course, this is the downside of collecting, and if you’re not careful, you will start feeling like a hoarder, even if your friends are gracious enough not to accuse you of being one. Since this is an issue for most of us creative sorts, I decided to put together a little list of things to consider when it comes to collecting. This list is based on what I’ve learned over the years in trying to manage my collecting tendencies.

Know What’s Special

My first collection started when I was 8 or 9 and became fascinated with stamps. I had a few penpals in different countries. We exchanged letters regularly, and the stamps from their countries fascinated me because they were so different from ours. It started small enough, but when my dad told people in our church what I was doing, the next thing I knew, my bedroom had an avalanche of stamps from kind, well-meaning people who just wanted to encourage a little kid. I started soaking them all off the envelopes and putting them into books. I gave up about 1/10 of the way through however, when I realized I had about 500 of the same, exact, US Flag stamp. And all these stamps didn’t excite me! I didn’t realize what made me quit at the time, but now I do: I didn’t want a collection of stamps. I wanted a collection of UNIQUE stamps that were all different and inspiring! The truth about collecting is that it’s very easy to get a huge collection, but it’s not so easy to build a collection that excites and inspires you every time you look at it.

Curate, Curate, Curate

Knowing what’s special leads to the very important skill of curation. My next phase of collecting was with fashion magazines. Honestly, I still struggle with this one. I love to read them, and I love having some sitting around the house to page through when I need a break or inspiration. However, before I had my kids, I didn’t realize how out of control my habit of keeping all the old issues was until we had to convert my studio/office into a nursery. Let’s just say the 6-foot high piles of fashion magazines had to go, and it was the family joke for a long time. Aside from a few particularly memorable issues, I didn’t miss most of them, and I learned lesson number two about collecting: to have a good collection, you MUST curate! I have put this into full practice when I’m buying yarn.  For instance, I really love Lorna’s Laces, and I buy alot of her stuff. However, I do NOT buy everything of hers, even if it’s limited edition. I only buy the colors that I fall completely in love with. Whatever you add to a collection, make sure it is something you really love, and if something no longer excites you, don’t be afraid to eliminate it, even if it “belongs”.

Ask Yourself What You Want

A collection is supposed to be a grouping of items around a theme that you find particularly interesting or inspiring. It is meant to be something you use, and more importantly, enjoy. It should not take more money than you can afford or stress you out. Another of my collections started when I was in high school and got obsessed with a few celebrities. I bought every magazine with their photo (bonus if it was on the front cover!), poster, and any other items I could find. And then I started getting stressed. I was living at home, and really, how many huge posters can a girl put up in her bedroom? It frustrated me to have all these things and then not be able to use them. When I got older and wiser, I realized that I was collecting all these images because I had a fantasy of what the celebrities’ lives were like, and I wasn’t very fulfilled in my own life at the time. If you find that your collection is stressing you out or frustrating you, reevaluate what you’re expecting from it, especially if it’s something that’s taking up alot of space and money.

Don’t Be Afraid to Edit

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like to be wasteful, and throwing things away makes me feel wasteful. However, a truly great collection only stays that way if you keep it that way. When something is no longer useful or no longer inspires you, then it no longer belongs in your collection. Don’t be afraid to edit. You can always donate things you don’t want, or if you have friends with similar interests, do some swapping. Most collectors do trading with each other, and this is a great way to avoid feeling wasteful but still keep yourself surrounded only by things that truly inspire. However, as in the case of my magazines, sometimes you really do need to just throw things out. You will be glad you did!

And one last thing: when you are truly passionate about what it is you’re collecting, you don’t need to worry about time. You can build it very slowly and carefully, and will probably enjoy the process much more than say, having an avalanche in your living room overnight!  Whatever it is, however long it takes, enjoy the process!

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