Am I a Collector? Does it matter?

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Introduction

Ask me if I’m a Collector and, without hesitation, I resolutely reply “No”. I don’t perceive myself as a Collector. In my knee-jerk definition, Collectors are wealthy individuals with large homes-- or multiple homes-- in which to display their collections.  Otherwise, they are subject-matter experts with extraordinary knowledge about an art or craft form or a topic (like Disney or the Civil War). If not, they are people fascinated by a particular type of object-- it could be anything, PEZ dispensers, fountain pens, salt cellars. Obviously, each of these kinds of Collectors also owns a number of examples (dozens, hundreds, or even thousands) of the types of objects in their named Collections. In my definition, I was certainly not a Collector.  I even carried a slight but perceptible bias against the term “Collector” as only a half-tone variation on the less discriminating ‘Hoarder’. Incidentally, my husband may tell you I’m more like a Hoarder!

Recently, though, I’ve become increasingly aware of my own mini-collections which evade definition as ‘Collections’ in my narrow scope, or with my stubborn bias. With this new awareness, I’ve re-examined my thinking about Collectors and, while I may not expand my definition of a Collector to include people like me-- individuals of lesser means, with shallow knowledge of the items they own, and certainly not obsessed with any one object type-- I learned an important lesson from a Collector friend. Namely, adopt and embrace the documentation habit of a serious Collector, and you’ll be glad you did.  Here’s a short summary of my journey:

Chapter 1: the Situation

Previously, I did not even perceive my own ‘collections’. I was aware that I admire hand-made pottery. I also love plants and gardening. Over the years, I have curated combinations of plants in precise, aesthetic pairings (like fine wine and gourmet food) with beautifully crafted, hand-made ceramic planting vessels.  At least one, if not multiple, planted pairings adorn each room in our home.

Chapter 2: the Coincidental Introduction

Late last year, a friend introduced me to CatalogIt, a Collection Management app (www.catalogit.app). My friend had created a catalog of his superb Native American basket collection and showed it to me in the CatalogIt mobile app on the screen of his smartphone. His collection was captured in beautiful visuals, displayed in a compelling, easy-to-navigate interface, and documented with expert, taxonomic accuracy. Thumbing through and viewing his beautiful collection in CatalogIt was super cool-- and useful for a Collector or fellow collecting enthusiast. I couldn’t perceive the value or need for me. I discounted the utility of cataloging (and the CatalogIt app) since I didn’t self-define as a Collector. I shrugged it off and forgot about it, concluding I didn’t have a compelling personal use (I’m not a Collector, what do have to catalog?)

Chapter 3: Meanwhile, back at the Ranch...Eureka!?

A few weeks later, walking from one room to another, I momentarily stopped to register the beauty of my aforementioned plants in their beautiful hand-hewn pots. I stopped in my tracks.  Retracing my steps, I counted my paired plants and pottery. I counted over 40 hand-made pots containing-- I was astounded to confront-- “collections” of the plants species with which I have become most fascinated (I’ve developed an intense interest in Tillandsia and carnivores).  Whoa! Am I a Collector? Could it be that I’ve just been denying it, or couldn’t see it because I accumulated my pieces slowly, without intentionally declaring them a Collection?

Like most humans, I resisted being corrected, even by myself. I could acknowledge that I have noticeable ‘likes’ but, still, does that truly mean, by definition, that I’m a Collector, just because I’ve come to own a few dozen of the things that I like? 

Chapter 4: a Novel Thought

Then, another thought-- more important-- occurred to me. It doesn’t matter if I call myself a Collector-- what if I could simply use of the tool of the serious Collector, CatalogIt, to document my eclectic possessions, whether or not they officially constitute a Collection?  What if I could have my plants, my pottery, my husband’s California landscape paintings, the extensive library inherited from my father-in-law, and many family heirlooms digitally documented, easily organized, and securely stored in a format like CatalogIt, the Web and mobile app that my friend had shown me? I don’t have one focused Collection, like my friend, but I have a pretty extensive accumulation of precious objects, of value to me and my family, that should be documented and secured.

Chapter 5: Testing the hypothesis

I figured it was worth a try. I downloaded the CatalogIt app and created a CatalogIt Free account to assess the value and utility CatalogIt might have for me, an inveterate “non-Collector”.  A month later, experimenting with a CatalogIt Free account, I cataloged over 100 personally meaningful items-- the handmade pottery, the California landscape paintings my husband loves, part of the poetry, philosophy and art library inherited from my father-in-law, and many family heirlooms (Christmas ornaments, grandparents’ jewelry, a seder plate).  After cataloging 100 items, I became a CatalogIt subscriber. It became clear to me that, whether or not I ever consider myself a Collector, it is worthwhile to develop the documentation habits of a Collector-- becoming a cataloger, rather than a Collector. Incidentally, CatalogIt made it very easy to document my valuable possessions, photographs, and archival documents. Cataloging gives me peace-of-mind in case of disaster and the documentation to support an insurance claim or provide to an auction house if our estate needed to be liquidated.

Chapter 6: Residual benefits

Furthermore, and taking me by surprise, my personal cataloging journey has been one of increasing self-awareness, self-discovery and pleasure. Cataloging allows me to reconnect with the things I love, our family history, cherished memories of special occasions, and establish a digital record of everything significant that we own--  from my plants and planting vessels to our grandmothers’ sterling silver, to our kids’ Lego sets and Thomas the Tank Engine locomotive characters, to the few sculpture pieces, textile art, and hand-blown glass which have been gifted or bequeathed to us over the years.

Chapter 7: the Upshot and a Recommendation

Take an observant stroll around your rooms-- you may or may not discover that you are a Collector, by your own definition. However, regardless of whether or not you are comfortable adopting that moniker, it’s important to have a secure electronic record of your important possessions and take pleasure in documenting the things that populate your life. It’s not just the things themselves, but the stories, memories, and historical knowledge that go along with them which contribute to their value, or make them invaluable. You may also see those vases, paintings, historic comic books, vintage postcards or heirloom toys with a more curious and open mind.

Take care and don’t forget to CatalogIt!


Update: I’ve now cataloged over 400 significant items, family christening gowns, handmade needlepointed Christmas stockings, first edition books inherited from our parents, my grandfather’s military decorations, digitized birth and marriage certificates, deeds, titles, and citizenship papers. And while I’m not nearly finished, I’m enjoying the process. I thanked my friend, the serious Collector, primarily for introducing me to this beneficial habit and, secondarily, for introducing me to the CatalogIt app which makes it easy to track, record, locate, appraise, document, insure, and cherish the memories embedded in our possessions.

Hope SalzerCatalogIt