Confessions of a Former Collector

There comes a point in every relationship when it just has to change.  A tipping point.  The point when things just absolutely cannot go on any longer in the same way that they had gone on before.  You finally tell them that you are in love with them, because you just can’t hold it in any more.  You finally tell them that you are leaving them, because you just can’t take it anymore.  You quit your job.  You move out of your parents’ house.  You tell that person what you have really been thinking.  A tipping point.  Things change and you can’t go back.  And I am at that place with my stuff.

Stuff and I have had a long and unhealthy relationship, and I now realize that we need to break up.  This thing that we’ve had going has been very one sided.  I go out of my way for stuff all the time, and all it does it sit around the house, staring at me like I’m an idiot.  And as I look back at it, I realize that it was sort of an addiction, fueled and encouraged by my lowlife friends, television and society.  I’m not too happy with either of those guys right now, although I do have hope in the long term for society.  Each new item I added to my collection gave me a quick thrill.  I was checking it off of my list.  I would own the DVD of every movie that I had ever enjoyed.  I would buy every book that I had ever loved.  I would give my children everything, at least materially.  And it felt good for that one moment of purchase.  And what I ended up with was shelves full of stuff that I had no time to enjoy, and mountains of debt, with snow capped peaks and treacherous passes ensuring that I could never climb them.

The first step on my road to recovery was realizing that my domicile was overflowing with stuff to the point of catastrophe.  My wife was miserable, my children were learning to step around piles of junk, and I couldn’t find anything when I needed it.  Part of what a stuff addiction does to you is it gives you withdrawal symptoms when you try to purge any of this suffocating mass that you have acquired, but I have been able to fight through it and am happy to report that bags and boxes of emotional baggage and hidden pain made manifest have been regularly leaving my house over the past few years.  Some goes to the Goodwill, some to the dumpster, and some to friends and family who might actually want or use some of this stuff that I was never able to.

But getting rid of the stuff you have is only a small step in dealing with this problematic relationship.  The far harder thing to accomplish is to not want any more stuff to come in.  And I am finally there.  I would love to go through my life without buying anything else.  That would make me happy.  There is nothing on my Christmas list.  I have everything I need.  And even if there are a few things that ought to be replaced (I think our couch is on its last legs), the key word is replaced.  I don’t want anything coming in without something similar going out.  And the less I buy, the happier I am.

I won’t say I am not tempted, because I clearly am.  I can’t walk through a store without seeing ten things that my old, weak self would have loved.  But the trick, like with any addict, is to avoid temptation and remove myself from those old familiar situations that might lure me back in.  I try not to go to stores now, unless I actually need something.  I used to go to Target or the mall, just for fun.  Those days are mostly behind me now.  But the funny thing is, even when I do go to the stores, I don’t feel the desire to buy everything anymore.  Whereas I used to see the $1 bins at Target as hidden treasure troves, I now look at them and see cheaply made crap that I am going to have to pick up off of my floor later.  I know, I know, if we all stop buying stuff the economy will tank, but honestly, having a thriving economy has never made me particularly happy. 

But what will I do with all of my money if I don’t buy stuff with it?  Well, first of all I am a musician, which means that I do not have any money, so that solves that problem.  But of course I still have to buy things.  I still need to eat and wear clothes.  My kids need new shoes, even though I am totally done with buying new shoes.  But with my actual, very small amount of, disposable income, I have decided to remain a collector.  I can’t change that part of my personality just because I have broken up with stuff.  Instead, I have started a new relationship with experiences.  It is still in its early stages, so I don’t know how it will all end, but from now on, instead of collecting stuff, I will be collecting good times and memories.  I will spend time with my children, riding bikes and going to the playground.  I will travel.  I will take them to baseball games.  We will go bowling.  I will go on vacations with my wife, and the souvenirs that I bring back will be digitally stored on my camera.  I will collect states that I have visited, and countries that I have been to.  I will collect time with my friends.  And in the end, I hope I will collect the actual happiness that I have been looking for and never finding in my relationship with stuff.

Posted in Money, Stuff.


  1. Great article! My wife and I have been going through a similar transformation and the less stuff we have, the happier we are. In addition to Goodwill, the dumpster, and “gifts” to friends, we have active Ebay and Amazon accounts, which actually generate a little extra cash. Good luck in your collecting of experiences – I know that we will all be happier – even the economy 🙂 !

  2. This exactly what I have been going through these past few months. I have been a collector since I was a child and now I look at everything I have and realized that I use or look at almost none of it. Video games, figurines, books, magazines – hell, even clothes. I have been quickly over the past few months throwing out, selling on eBay or giving to my nephew the things I no longer need – even if I might still want it just a little.

    My friend recently started renting a new townhouse and when I come over and visit, I notice how few things he has. How open and clutter free it is. I want that as well and I’m well on my way to getting it.

    You mentioned how you would rather collect memories than stuff. I always thought that my stuff “contained” my memories and that’s why I kept so much. Now I realize that I don’t need that stuff to remind me of my childhood or good times. A picture will do just fine 🙂

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