Sunday, April 6, 2014

Collections Done Well Are Not Clutter

Dr. Abraham Chachoua with his elephant collection; photo by Kate Bornstein
Abraham Chachoua, oncologist, NYU Langone Medical Center. Photo by Kate Bornstein, used with her permission. Kate says: Real good guy, beloved by patients, nurses, docs.

I don't have the collecting instinct myself, but a lot of people do. In her book Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need, written in 2004, Pamela Danziger says that “collecting is a passion for over 40 percent of U.S. households” — and that “the typical collecting household maintains more than three separate collections.”

She says the most popular collections include:
  • Coins, collected by an estimated 27 million Americans
  • Figurines and sculpture, 20 million
  • Trading cards, 18 million
  • Dolls, 16 million
  • Christmas items, 15 million
  • Plush/bean bag toys, 14 million
  • Crystal figurines, 12 million
  • Die-cast cars and models, 12 million
  • Art prints and lithographs, 10 million
  • Miniatures, 10 million
The joys of collecting

Allan Gurganus tells of meeting a woman who collected ancient shoe buckles. He was 16; she was much older.
She whispered, “Care to know the secret of happiness, young man?”

Born acquisitive, I nodded.

“Collect something,” she said.
Some people obviously get a lot of pleasure from their collections. For example, there’s a story in The New York Times about Bonnie Mackay and her collection of 3,000 or so Christmas ornaments. And each ornament has a story.
That Raggedy Andy on the tree is the first ornament a friend gave her; she had lost tracks of the friend, but the ornament kept his memory alive, and a few years ago, using the Internet, she was able to find him in Hawaii. 
It’s interesting, she says: no friend has ever given her an ornament she has not loved. She has a great feeling of peace looking at her tree.
And when asked about the coolest things in their homes, people will mention their collections. One person noted the wall of mugs collected from her family’s travels. Mike in Brooklyn has a very personal collection:
Figurines of characters I have performed on stage. They run a gambit from Charlie Brown to Papageno to Old Deuteronomy … just to name a few.

The cautions about collecting

If you enjoy collecting, take a look at Jacki Hollywood Brown’s post on Unclutterer about what makes for a good collection. For example:
Your collection does not take up so much space that it impairs the normal functioning of your home. Because your collection reflects your life, you’ve taken the time to arrange the pieces to complement the beauty of your home.

You might be able to sell a few pieces for a profit but you’re not counting on it for your retirement savings plan.

The story behind the elephant collection

Curious about Dr. Chachoua’s elephants? I certainly was, and I found the answer in the The Forest and the Trees: The Cancer Institute at NYU Langone, 2012/2103 Report (PDF):

Dr. Chachoua’s office was once sparse, he explains, until years ago when a patient placed a small elephant statuette on his desk, assuring him it would bring good luck. Another patient showed up later with an elephant to put next to the first. A third patient who noticed the first two brought one back from a trip. Patients kept bringing more elephants, crowding Dr. Chachoua’s desk and shelves so that he had to build a new set of shelves to contain the spillover, followed by yet another set.  
Today, Dr. Chachoua explains, the elephants are an element of the care his patients receive, however small. “It gives them a chance to talk about something other than cancer for a few minutes,” he says.
Now there’s a benefit from collecting that’s unlike any other.

Related Posts:
Reader Question: Controlling and Displaying the Collection
Collections on Display: Shells and More
Organizing and Displaying the Collection: Thimbles

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