Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Pie safes and stoneware and tools...oh my!

Jul 6, 2005 2:49 am
Pie safes and stoneware and tools...oh my!

What is it that makes a person a collector? A recessive gene? A childhood lack or longing? An obsessive personality? I’ve often pondered this question, and I’ve decided it’s probably all of those plus other reasons I’ll never understand. My grandmother was a collector. Oh my goodness. The precious lady never threw away so much as a scrap of fabric, piece of paper or a bread wrapper I think her frugality and saving nature was a product of her time, however. From her I inherited the ability to stretch a meal that would feed four to making do for twelve in the blink of an eye and without a trip to the grocery store.

I have learned to force myself to throw away cards and papers and magazines--however I keep notebooks filled with the articles and pictures I will use. Eventually. Someday. My mother’s nothing like my grandmother. She saves cards, books, mementos and letters, but has never had a problem getting rid of old toys, dishes or clothing. However I have a couple of aunts who are collectors. I have learned to weed through clothing and books and the kids’ old school papers, and I have only one remaining box of cards and letters--okay, maybe two.

When we moved from the house where we raised our kids, I made them go through the boxes of school papers and drawings and look at them all, and I gave them all their report cards, etc. Recently I did an office makeover, with all new furniture, cabinets and desks. It was a huge job and I spent days going through filing cabinets, throwing away papers I’d moved twice and didn’t need. In the past year I’ve even reduced bookcases from fifteen to nine--and have given away all of the books that were on them!

Now, if collecting is a gene, does that mean my children and grandchildren have it? If it’s a compulsion, that does mean they’ll have seen enough in me and go another direction? My oldest two daughters are minimalists, and it’s an amazement to me. When they’re finished with something, out it goes--furniture, wall d├ęcor, kitchen things--you name it. Their homes are beautifully decorated and welcoming, with no excess clutter or displays of unnecessary items. My youngest daughter was the most like me. Her bedroom at home was full, and anything the other girls or I were getting rid of, she wanted to keep it. And she did. But after having her own child and making several moves, it was easy for her to start pitching.

My daughter-in-law is an extreme minimalist. She likes things plain. She says it calms her. Last year when we moved to a new home, I was in the middle of deadlines and didn’t have time to do all the painting I wanted or hang things and get out all my stuff. I was getting depressed because I didn’t have my “stuff” around me. When I mentioned that to my daughter-in-law, she glanced around and said, “I like it. It’s peaceful.” Just watching HGTV and seeing new paint colors being rolled onto walls gives me a thrill and the urge to redecorate.

Now mind you, I love new paint and I adore and must have color, but I don’t actually do the “work” myself, oh no. My darling husband is the best painter in the world. He has been known to balk at faux techniques or anything fancy, so I have to help out there, but I’m basically the packer, advisor and gopher.

I’m not alone in my love for “stuff”. Recently two of my writers friends and I traveled to antique weekend in Walnut, Iowa. Oh my goodness! Vendors and sellers from all over the Midwest come together for this yearly occasion. The streets of the town are lined with campers and canopies and tents--business area, as well as the shady tree-lined neighborhoods. The homeowners either set out their own wares or they sell food or drinks. Kids pull wagons selling water and pop. The legion hall and the school are filled with booths and tables. We walked and browsed from early morning to late afternoon and didn’t see it all.

It was interesting to see what other people were buying. One man bought a “four holer”. It was a long old board with four holes that had once been the seat in an outhouse! That was the topic of conversation everywhere he dragged that thing. Why he wanted it or what he planned to do with it, I have no idea. I guess I do draw the line somewhere.

My friend Chris collects anything Snoopy, as well as wood handled cookie cutters, kitchen things, and red, white and blue, as well as German dollhouses and furniture. My other friend, Carol, picked up doilies and fell in love with a pitcher and bowl set--she likes bells and Victorian things. I found a cup and saucer with red roses, a teapot made in Japan, a doily edged with pansies and a red and white potholder to add to my collection. Also bought a floral teapot and a cup with no saucer. I have extra saucers--you can pick up the pieces really cheap and then mix and match. Now, obviously I didn’t need any of those things.

Part of the thrill of shopping flea markets and antique stores is “the hunt”. Only die hards, like the breed we saw in throngs that day, will drive out of town, park in a field with parking attendants on horseback, and fight crowds in the blazing sun to look at every last thing to make sure they didn’t miss something wonderful. And that’s the thing--once I’m there, I have to see it all. Every last thing--every nook and cranny--every piece of glassware and each pie safe and all the old dolls and stoneware and--okay, I do skip over the vintage tools. Hey! There is something I don’t collect! If I left without seeing it all, there would be a nagging question in my mind that I’d missed the one thing I couldn’t live without.

Some of you just don’t get it, I know. You’re in the category with my daughters. But I know there are some of you nodding your heads and thinking, yep, that’s it, right on the nose. That’s me. And if there’s someone reading this who has decided they don’t want all their good stuff anymore, call me. I’ll be right over.


  1. We must discuss this "collector" issue you currently have. I see you have swallowed the hype---hook, line and sinker. Just because somebody on HGTV comes up with 100 ways to "purge a house to the bare minimum" doesn't make "collectors" wrong. You sound puzzled and confused about being a collector. Embrace the idea---besides, who do the non-collectors always come crying to when they lose important things--like papers?? Us collectors.

    However, my husband says my obession has moved too far when my "store room" (ok, and my basement and my crawl space) look like Sam's Club threw up in there....but, I got some great deals along the way. I don't think 30 boxes of cereal is too much. We eat them at about 1.5 per week and if you only pay $0.50 per box, why not stock up?? The sugar kinds are good until the end of time.

    So I also work to declutter some and downsize a little. Oh, and I gave some surplus sugar cereal to the food bank. In the meantime, those non-collectors come to my house and tell me ways to "open up my living space". However, these same folks complain when I do get rid of stuff---I loved that picture best, etc. And, they all spend hours pouring over my scrapbooks. I try to rush to the page I want to show, but they have to read and hang on every word and photo. I think the non-collectors have actually tried to repress the human collector gene. They are in denial. :-)

    Again, I ask you to embrace your collector gene.

  2. Thank you for your wise counsel, Robyn. I am embracing my collector gene.

    When I cleared out a guest room a few months ago, I was frustrated and my husband said, "Put all the stuff you don't know what to do with in the dining room, and then we'll figure out what to do with it." That sounded logical.

    Problem was everytime I started in on the stuff, "we" disappeared.

    I was forced to deal with it this week, because we're having a birthday party here and it's a hundred degrees outside. So I hid and stuffed and Freecycled and stacked more in the garage--hey, I can park my car inside, it's Mr. We who's parking in the driveway--and I even took a few gifts to my critique partners last night.