Are all collectors people with strange passions, cluttered homes and long-suffering spouses?
Often appearing to be merely grown-ups with too much money to waste on childish pursuits, they seem somewhat kooky compared to us reasonable, non-collecting, normal people. Right?

Well, you might say that you don’t collect anything – except, for those less inclined to regularly pick up a vacuum cleaner, maybe dust bunnies. But how about those interesting euro coins you like to put aside? Or that not-so great album you reluctantly bought to complete the discography of your favourite band? Why exactly do you have more cute mugs than you can possibly find use for?

Oh dear…are you sure you aren’t a collector, after all?

“Everything about indians, but no canoes or teepees – I’ve got no room.”

Just about everyone has collected something at some stage during their life – many of us still do. Collecting is not simply accumulating any random old stuff, however; it is a more organised and purposeful act. Essentially, even collecting dust bunnies could be classified as a hobby if you can somehow categorise, organise and display them. Otherwise, you’re just a lazy housekeeper.

Even if you can spend a lot of money on collectibles, collecting does not have to be expensive, nor concern objects generally perceived as valuable. According to a definition shared by many theorists, a collector is interested in the collected object itself, not its value. Thus someone buying Picasso’s works for profit or prestige is not a true collector, in contrast to someone who buys them simply because they enjoy Picasso’s art regardless of their value.

While most of us would baulk at the price of a Picasso, as it is a tad on the steep side, the principle remains the same: collecting is defined by the collector’s interest in the collected object. A collector of all things nautical finding a clumsy amateur painting of a sailing ship from a dumpster may be just as happy as the owner of a Picasso collection – perhaps even more so.

Indeed, apart from specially manufactured collectible series, collectors operate somewhere on the fringes of consumerism, picking its leftovers rather than fuelling it. Quite literally, one man’s waste can be another one’s treasure. Napkins, bottle caps, candy wrappers, matchboxes or labels – even obsolete mobile phones and computer parts interest certain collectors.

Since collectibles can be inexpensive or even free, there aren’t many things to hold the zeal of collecting in check. One such restriction is the amount of space available for storage. While collections of such items as stamps and coins will fold neatly away and need not quarrel with your feng shui, an urban collector of typewriters may soon be in trouble. Steam engines, meanwhile, are probably a no-no at a downtown bedsit.

“I knew that my husband was a hamster, but...”

The other major factor that might restrain a spaced-out collector is social or spousal pressure. There are, of course, harmonious households in which the hobby is shared, but sometimes wives feel the need to point out that although home may be one’s castle, it most definitely isn’t supposed to be one’s warehouse or showroom; and that an armoury works so much better in a real castle.

It does seem that although girls and boys are equally interested in collecting and many women retain or rediscover that interest, at least the most zealous grown-up collectors tend to be men. (Wait a second; children – men, toys – collecting. Hmm, it would be tempting to draw conclusions here, but let’s not go there!) Thus it is usually men who are the instigators of spatial warfare at home.

How women generally deal with the problem is unknown, but an often recommended tactic on discussions forums is to point out a well-defined space in which the collection must be kept – everything that is out of bounds is free game and will be thrown out. This is not seen to be cruel, but fair, with the claim being that most of the time men don’t even realise that any items have been ejected at all.

Sometimes a collection grows so out-of-bounds that it becomes one of Finland’s copious museums. Apart from well-known art museums based on private collections, there are multitudes of smaller, lesser-known private museums housing more mundane objects such as dolls, packages and bottles. Some museums are destined to keep growing: the entrance fee for a plastic bag museum is, of course, one plastic bag.

A museum – now there is something worthy and respectable about the word. What might have been called a freakishly large collection is somehow elevated into an establishment of sanity. For let’s face it, many people find it strange that grown-ups collect teddy bears or Kinder Surprise Toys, or large numbers of anything (although art seems to be an exception).

“Collectors are happy and can only be understood by other collectors.”

Yet many collectors can be said to share some rather museal ideals: they wish to save some everyday history for future generations, to learn about the era and the objects they are collecting and pass that knowledge to others. Yes, even Kinder Surprise toys can tell a lot about our time, if you think about it.

It is not the only motivation, of course, to be recognised by other collectors. In order to explain the fascination of collecting, theorists have several explanations, including aesthetic pleasure and expressing one’s personality. What they all agree upon and what would best seem to strike home is simply joy.

Collectors say as much themselves: collecting is fun, it keeps your spirits up and it is about “expectation, discovery and joy of success!” Looking after the collection, admiring and rearranging it gives them pleasure. It is a neat, well-ordered world that exists purely for the owner of the collector, to give him or her pleasure.

You could even say it is a safe haven from the unpredictable outside world and its pressures, a place to fulfil yourself. There is certainly nothing crazy about that. Perhaps we could all do worse than rediscover the happiness of collecting.

The author would like to express the wish that Pink Floyd will never again record a new album (or at least not publish one on vinyl).

*All quotes retrieved from various forums

Tuula Ruskeeniemi