Do you collect anything?  Maybe you collect beach stones or shells, or maybe it’s imported beer cans.  Or maybe your collectors items can be found in hobby shops or car dealerships.  Whatever it is, think about the reasons for maintaining this collection.  What are the benefits, what the challenges?  Better yet, maybe you have no collections and you are wondering why other people bother with them.

I have a somewhat unusual collection and would like to share a piece of it with you.  The items in it can be found nearly everywhere, yet they are rare enough that I find only about two to three per year.  When I do find one I am verging on elation.  I find myself mid conversation with someone, either walking or driving down the street and I see one out of the corner of my eye.  I squeak, yelp or make a similarly ridiculous exclamation and run over to pick it up.  After inspecting it briefly I hold it up in the air triumphantly.  Struggling through their perplexity, my conversation partner will ask, “Why would you want that?”. 

“It’s for my collection, isn’t it cute!?!”

“Yeah, it is kinda… that’s a weird collection, how many do you have?”

“Ten or fifteen…  I’ve been collecting them since I was about 15.”

“Why would you collect that?”, they ask.  Thus I have had to justify the effort spent on this frivolous activity and hence the story you are reading now. 

I’ll begin by explaining why it is fun to collect things and second, what

makes a good collection.

Humans, being social animals, do many things for social reasons and I think that collections are no exceptions.  They are great conversation topics, allowing the collector to show off different pieces, and telling their stories.  The visitor gets to know the collector this way and can express their feelings about the collections, thus reciprocating.  It doesn’t take a psychologist to realize that devices which help us find common ground with others can be very useful to our social lives.

We should also consider, however, the joy brought to the collector.  There are three aspects that make collections enjoyable in this respect.  The Hunt, The Find and The Story.  I will let these first two speak for themselves.  As for The Story, recall the last time you worked for something and were proud of the result.  For example, you might have taken a creative photograph or cooked a meal for a special occasion.  Let me burst your bubble for a moment, by saying, chances are it was not very good on a world scale.  You probably enjoyed it, however, because of the story behind it.  In the case of a collection, each item tells the story of The Hunt and The Find.  Each time you see or use an item, you are reminded of its story.

There are a few criteria for a collection to bring the enjoyment I have talked about, especially for people who have less money, space or time.

1.  The Hunt should be challenging, but not take over your life.  The effort put into finding each item adds to The Story, so things you can easily buy from a store at any time are not ideal.  There are good collections that you need to buy, but often they involve rare items or things only sold abroad.  In my opinion that waiting until a company produces certain collector’s items is not a good Hunt.  It usually just makes the collector look like a sucker.

On the other hand, things like trading cards consume more energy than they may be worth.  The key reason for my dislike of these and official collectors item product lines is that the collection is completed before it begins.  Instead of discovering new items, the collector is simply trying to obtain all of the existing ones.  Instead of being excited by what you might find, you are motivated by specific things that you do not have.  I call these Consumer Collections and they should usually be avoided because they become an unpleasant fixation.

2.  In most cases, The Find is a momentary thing.  You may want to consider  that it may be fun to find an item in the company of a friend.  If they are only found when you are alone, you will miss out on this.  Sometimes The Find is a longer process, especially for large or expensive items.  It is my preference that The Find be simple and may occur anywhere so that it can  be a spontaneous thing to share with a friend.

3.  Of the three, The Story carries the most weight.  If your collection brings you unequaled joy and conversation time and again then it is likely a good collection.  The Story is not independent, however, because The Hunt and The Find tell much of The Story.

To summarize, a good collection consists of an enjoyable Hunt, and exciting

Find and a Story you have an emotional connection to.  Better yet, The Story’s connection might extend to your friends.

Without further ado, here is a photo of my latest piece, found at Broadway and Ash in Vancouver on July 5th, 2010.  I was crossing the street with my mom when I spotted the flamboyant pink water shoe in the crosswalk.  “Shoe!” I cried inwardly, and ran to pick it up, bringing it back to show my mom.  Having not found any recently, I was reminded that Found Baby Shoes make a wonderful collection, satisfying all of the above.  On top of being fun to keep an eye out for and a surprise every time, they are small, somewhat rare and totally free!

There is no question that it is an odd thing to collect, but this only adds to the amusement when my friends ask me why I have them.  It’s a fun moment in conversation and the perfect opportunity to preach my collection philosophy :)

I would love to hear about your own oddball collections in the comments below!

Lastly, if you find a baby shoe and want to send it to me I would be very happy to add it to the collection, so please contact me.  I do not collect pairs of shoes, nor do I collect shoes that were not at one point lost and later found.