Monday, July 6, 2009

How Does Collecting Cards Relate To Clutter?

Im posting this because I have wondered about a lot of things lately. In fact, most of it has been spurred by things my wife and I have seen on TV, mainly from the shows "Clean House" and "Obsessed." Both shows concentrate heavily on hoarding, the practice of keeping massive amounts of unneeded stuff with very little or no value. From what I have gathered, most of the time these items normally clutter the house to the point of imposing on the lifestyle of the individual, something I see a lot of in this hobby.

See, the question I have is in regards to the relationship that hoarding has to collecting as a hobby, versus collecting as a way to fill some sort of emptiness within ourselves. Ill admit, I have collected many, many different things over the course of my life. If I were asked casually, I would automatically refer to those things as hobbies, but looking back on things, it may be more complicated than that. I am now starting to realize that my obsession with accumulation may have actually been a way to fill holes left by a lack of acceptance from peers, emotional trauma caused by many years of dealing with my Diabetes, or maybe even problems stemming from other parts of my life.

The differences I see are that my collection is a source of pride that does provide me with many feelings of pride and happiness. To me, that is a sure counterpoint to this whole discussion. However, from what I have seen, pride is a pretty common thing for hoarders. That fact alone makes me question my own motives in this hobby, why I do the things I do. More importantly, how much of my collection is entertainment and how much of it is actually a way to fill the spaces in between?

Another question I have is how people relate to this if they focus more on accumulation instead of quality of the cards. You see videos on Youtube from people documenting rooms full of cards, many in large boxes, obstructing basements and cluttering houses. How much of this type of collecting is actually a good thing? Are the boxes filled with virtually worthless pieces of cardboard a matter of perpetuating a hobby or is it a matter of mental instability? What if those things are not worthless at all? Is that any different?

Because I know that set and player super collectors dominate the Card Blogger Network, Im curious to see what people have to say. Where do you fit in with this? Do you feel the sets you collect play some sort of an unconscious role in your psyche? How much has it impeded on your life?

The reason I am discussing this, is that many people dont see why we collect, something we have deal with from family and friends alike. Oddly, collectors in general are thought of as nerdy, hermit-like, socially awkward, and lonely people, and yet we still show off the hundreds of sets we own without seeing the root of the issue. Is it the chicken or the egg? Do we collect because we personify the stereotypes, or do we personify the stereotypes because we collect?

Yes, you may be proud of your collection, as I am, but how does that relate to why you feel the need to be a super collector of a certain set or player? I freely admit that after watching these shows and doing some research, my collecting is definitely a way deal with the anxiety of my life. I understand that others may feel differently, but Im sure when you actually go through it, you may know what I am talking about.

Listen, im not saying collecting is unhealthy, and I am not saying that you should stop. Im just curious if others have seen the same correlations I have.


  1. Wow, what a thought provoking post! I can definitely relate to the "clutter" aspect of what you said. That's a big reason why I've lost a lot of passion for the hobby. My house really did become too cluttered, and it's taken me a while to get it under control. That's why I now limit myself to only buying singles that I really want (mostly Longoria) instead of buying packs and boxes of cards.

    As for the psychological stuff, it's hard to say if collecting fills a void in my life. I think that my collecting now is a way to relive some of my favorite childhood memories, in the same way that I like listening to 80s music or watching reruns of old TV shows from when I was a kid. And it also gives me a feeling of accomplishment. And it's fun, and makes me feel somewhat of a connection to the sports that I like. Now, I've never been a very athletic person, even though I've always liked sports. That might be part of what led me to collecting when I was a kid - it was a way to connect with sports without playing (even though I did play little league baseball until I was 13).

    Anyway, I've discovered that I can be a happy collector by focusing specifically on what I like the most and avoiding buying too much that I don't need - like boxes of cards that'll just sit around and create clutter. As long as it's fun, I'll keep doing it.

  2. Funny you should mention the anxiety problem. Last year I went to the emergency room and they found bloodclots in my lungs. Turned out to be a genetic 4% chance of occuring thing, but with a wife a now a 7 month old boy, the stakes have been raised and anxiety kicks in occassionally. Working on a collection, hand-collating, and blogging seem to distract me and lower my stress. So yes, it is therapeutic is some regard.
    My other reasons for collecting are so that I get my feet wet and can teach my son when he gets older. I look back to what I had collected as a kid and wish I had better guidance. I always want to put any finished sets away for Jacoby (my son) when he is ready to retire WAY down the road.

  3. I think being a happy collector is a given with most of us. We wouldnt spend the time we do if things werent fun. Thats kind of where the line is drawn, though. Hoarders dont really distinguish between trash and things needed to keep, where most of us are very selective in what we do.

    I just think there is a mental correlation between collectors and the OCD that leads to hoarding. Not everyone collects things, yet we focus a good portion of time on it. Why?

  4. As for the memories thing, that is also a common idea among the research I have done. Really, people fail to see that the memories are in our heads rather than in the piece we are holding or looking at. We assign the memories or try to relive memories through the items as a way to deal with anxiety, a kind of mini-compulsion thing.

    Think about it, do you remember the times with your Dad because the cards were there or because your Dad was there? The emotions are assigned, not natural. Not that its bad, just a thing I get out of this.

  5. I'm with Dave on the anti-box buying train as a way to reduce the clutter. There are other players I would love to pull other than Carl Crawford, but for every one of those guys there are fifteen other cards that are trade bait. On top of that, I can't really afford boxes and boxes of wax to bust, either.

    I can see how it would be an anxiety reducer, through I'm not sure where the "hobby" would leave off and he "coping mechanism" would begin. I mean, in addition to Crawford I dig vintage sets and pre-WII cards. I read books on turn-of-the-century players and enjoy researching their lives. I also watch baseball on TV almost every night. Baseball cards are part of my larger fandom, which I enjoy and, yes, watching a game with or without a few beers is always pretty relaxing.

    That said, none of that prevents me from getting things done around the house, spending time with my wife, etc., so even if one were to say it's "just a coping mechanism" the counter-argument is that it is certainly better for one's health and mental stability than a number of more socially acceptable ones out there (booze, pills, etc.), and doesn't control my life.

    Anyway, my two cents! Great post.

  6. I recently decided to do an SF Giants collection. I bought some team sets and I'm having a good time looking at the cards and remembering the players. I saw a lot of the Giants play for AAA Phoenix back in the 70s and 80s. A lot of the 70s and early 80s cards have pictures taken at Phoenix Municipal Stadium--a place full of good memories for me.

  7. To answer your question "Im just curious if others have seen the same correlations I have"

    Is yes in more ways than you can imagine. Back almost a year ago I wrote a post titled "Collecting vs. Accumulating"

    When we moved from a town home to a single family I made the concious decision to throw away about 20-30x the material I did in my now infamous "Junk Wax How To" video.

    I started collecing again as a way to "conciously" fill the time and energy I used to spend on smoking pot, selling pot, buying pot, thinking about pot etc. I have always had a very addictive personality and I knew that I was going to need something to fill some of the wasted time I had spent involved with drugs for years. A friend had recently asked me when the last time I had been in a card shop or seen a baseball card. It had been awhile and when I saw jersey pieces, and autos, I was hooked.

    I went through an unhealthy period of collecting with spending WAY too much money including a mid-life crisis that unbeknownst to my wife I got a PayPal credit card and said, "Fuck it, I'm not waiting till I retire to have and enjoy the things I really want in my collection." and then proceeded to rack up $4k before my wife busted me with the bill.

    I'd like to think I have found a balance although I probably spend too much time reading and writing about the hobby. But I try to do this on my own time. Lunch at work, after the kids are in bed, etc.

    I look in the closet in my office and go, "What am I going to do with all this stuff." (The dozones of realease I bought monthly for my first several years back "into" collecting).

    When you have OCD, and an addictive personality you have to be careful, at least I know I do.

  8. I feel ya, for sure. I think its interesting, first off. We spend all this time on photobuckets and show offs and mailday posts to impress people who we have never met and never will meet. Its all a matter of trying to gain acceptance in a real world where maybe we dont fit right. Not necessarily a square peg in a round hole, but instead finding companionship from people online where we may have lacked in our offline lives.

    I see a lot of people try to fill up their emptiness with cards under the auspices that its just a hobby, but it can cost as much as a drug habit or drinking problem, though the health concerns are not there. However, when it comes to collections, hoarding always plays a part, and im not sure if people really see that.

  9. Um, I just give everything away.

    Who REALLY needs 10,000+ cards with no meaning to you? It's a waste to keep them hid in some closet or watch them take over my home.

  10. I've often wondered how wide the gap is between the devoted collector and the obsessive hoarder. I have a friend that has closets full of cards in several rooms in his house and is always jonesing for more packs to open. I do think cards are one of those things that "gets in your blood" after a certain level.
    As for me personally, I joke about being addicted, and read about, talk about, trade, or sort cards pretty much daily. I enjoy the sorting and list-making almost as much as getting the cards themselves. Exercises my organizational and analytical skills, I guess.
    I would admit that being a part of the online card community (blogs and trade groups) does compensate somewhat for my lack or socializing otherwise. Most of my friends are fully domesticated - homebound with multiple offspring.
    My collection only takes a room and a half so far. I've seen a lot of fellow collectors liquidating their bulk stuff lately (giving it away, not burning it!).