When I was a young girl, I had a small pink Care Bear tote bag that, for some reason or another, I decided to fill with rubber bouncy balls. You know the ones - the kind you used to get for a quarter from the machines in supermarkets and strip malls. I'm sure it started out innocently enough, but it quickly became an obsession from which no bouncy ball was safe. I didn't play with most of them; I just kept them neatly stored in my Care Bear bag, secure in the knowledge that should the world suddenly fall into a bouncy ball shortage, I was well stocked. Yup... I was born a collector.
As an adult, my collections are slightly more sophisticated and definitely more selective, but the desire to gather, to curate, to stockpile something that resonates on some deeper, sometimes subconscious level is still there. We all collect something, whether it's stamps, rare currencies, art, family recipes, or baseball cards. Collecting, in fact, is such a part of the human experience that we even have names for people who collect certain things: a bestiarist collects Medieval books about animals; a helixophile is a collector of corkscrews; and someone who collects bear figures is an arctophile.
I've been thinking about collections a lot lately. As the fiery autumnal trees dramatically disrobe to become the stark, bare sentinels of winter, I watch as the natural world begins to do its own sort of collecting - squirrels frantically gather nuts for the long, bitter haul ahead, birds flock together in undulating masses to begin their southern pilgrimage, and Mother Nature herself seems to momentarily settle into a silent stillness as she amasses all her formidable power later to be released in a white fury.
As the shadows grow longer and the temperatures begin to dip, I, too, find myself desiring to collect, gather, stockpile for the winter hibernation. For me, it happens much like I imagine it does for others - loading up on soul-feeding comfort foods, piling ultra thick and extra cozy blankets and pillows on my bed and sofa, beckoning to loved ones (furry and otherwise) to huddle together in front of the fireplace, and surrounding myself with the warm glow of flickering candlelight.
But it also manifests in more material ways: I feel the unmistakable urge to cleanse, purge myself of those objects that no longer make my soul happy, and focus more intently on the ones that do. Right now, for example, I'm finding a renewed focus on my handmade spoon collection, a desire to hoard fabrics and fibers of all kind (some of which I use to make things, many of which I don't), and, surprisingly, a strange interest in vintage wooden mashers. While I have a vague idea as to why I collect these things in particular - whether it's a fascination with history, a harkening back to my childhood, or a love of a specific tactile sensation - I still wonder, why collect at all?
Collecting, for me, comes down to two things: a desire to see and feel a physical manifestation of a long-term focus; to know that I'm not as easily distracted as I often think I am. The other is the need to feel rooted, home, unmovable. Nomads, people who don't intend to stay long, only own what they can carry and only carry what they need. They don't amass simply for the sake of amassing. Beauty and sentiment have no place in their lifestyle. But people with roots, people with a stake in where they live and with a home that feels stable both figuratively and literally... they collect. They gather. They nest. They create piles of things that would be unreasonable to pack and move someplace else, because they have no intentions of moving on.
In my world, home is everything. Having a place where I feel like I belong, where I can breathe deeply and live unabashedly without fear of judgment, where I can indulge in all the little particularities and idiosyncrasies that make me, me - quirky, odd, eccentric, emotional, hard-headed, unpredictable me - well that's just about all there ever was and will be. This desire to come home, to my home, and be surrounded by all the things I love most, that excite my senses and conjure memories and emotions that are otherwise unreachable... I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't feel that. And so maybe, just maybe, my urge to collect is my way of telling myself what we all so desperately long to hear: "It's all ok... you're home now."
Why do you collect?