Collection Control: 10 Tips to Tame Your Hoard

Action figures aplenty. Photo courtesy of Flickr user prodigeek
Action figures aplenty. Photo courtesy of Flickr user prodigeek

In our consumer driven culture where “buy all the things!” is constantly encouraged in all forms of media, it can be difficult to rein in our desires. In geek culture, it seems doubly hard. Everywhere we look we’re confronted with tempting merchandise that not only enshrines something we love such as our favorite movie, television show, or game, but often times we feel the need to buy those things to project who we are by showing others what we like.

Sometimes what starts out as an innocent desire to collect things we like can turn into the feeling of being suffocated by that same stuff. Other times, the need to obtain more is a thirst that can’t be quenched no matter how much you drink. Speaking as a recovered obsessive collector, I can tell you there is a way to tame your collecting habits and still find joy. Here’s ten tips to control your collection and hopefully rekindle your joy.

1. Stop thinking of your collection as an investment

As a comic-collecting kid in the ’90s, my mom would happily take me to the comic book store and let me spend my allowance on the latest chromium-embossed or polybagged issues of Valiant and Image comics. Surely, this would be an investment into my future and help me pay for college, right? Wrong. Before I actually left for college, I took hundreds of comics in several long boxes to sell them to the local the comic shop and was offered a total of $300. Pennies on the dollar for what I paid, and a far cry from even a semester’s tuition.

That was a hard lesson to learn. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed reading many of the books I bought, but some I bought just because they were “hot” in the market (Remember Lady Death, Creed, or Gen 13?) and have long forgotten their stories. Speculation is a tough game, and unless you’re actively dealing in the current “it” collectible, it can be hard to turn a profit. Markets are fickle, tastes change, and what’s hot one day can be cold the next. In fact, most of the time, the things that do actually turn out to be valuable in the long run are things that were never on people’s radar to begin with (take the Stadium Events video game worth thousands of dollars for instance). That said, buy what you like because you like it and want to enjoy it NOW, and not as some form of insurance that probably won’t ever meet your hopes down the road.

2. Set limits for yourself

As parents, we have to set boundaries for our children for their own good. It can be hard for us to realize that often times we need to set boundaries for ourselves. One of the most common ways to limit your collection is to set a spending limit and stick to it. First, figure out how much you’ve been spending on your collecting habits within a set time period (monthly, yearly, etc). Many times, just seeing the total hit your wallet has taken is enough to curb your enthusiasm with a harsh dose of reality alone. Otherwise, a fixed allotment of funds can curb your spending and prevent your collection from taking over.

There are other limits you can set for yourself such as space, quantities, or time. Like spending, before you set any boundaries, take stock of how many of your current resources you’re utilizing for your collection. You could limit your collection to filling a single book case instead of an entire closet. Maybe instead of getting the entire collection of Game of Thrones Funko Pop! figures, just limit yourself to your four favorite characters. How much time are you devoting to searching for deals, going to flea markets, and posting on forums? Accepting your current state will help you decide how to limit yourself, but once you make that bargain, you have to stick to it!

3. Quality can be better than quantity

Hobbies can be expensive, as you undoubtedly know. When I first started collecting action figures as a teen, I bought what I could afford, which wasn’t much. However, as an adult, I realized I had a ton of lower cost figures. Sticking to my budget, I could never afford the stuff I really wanted, but here I was stuck with a multitude of cheaper figures. It was a big collection, but it was pretty lackluster. Sure, I could have saved my money, but I was an impulsive teen and didn’t have the patience. However, I was able to turn my numerous low-level collectibles into a few key pieces that are highlights of my collection. Would I rather have a handful of loose figures, or that dream mint-on-card collectible? I may have downsized, but I also upgraded.

4. Avoid triggers

If you know you have a problem, then why do you insist on torturing yourself? Don’t have any more room or any more expendable funds, then why do you constantly go to stores, online or physical, where you’ll be tempted? Do you think alcoholics in AA meetings are advised to go hang out in bars? Take away that temptation!

It’s not just having access to buy the things you want, stop frequenting places that give you the urge to want more than you have. If you have a problem, avoid visiting your favorite online collector forum. Do you follow other collectors on social media? Close your browser and stop following them so you won’t hear that inner voice telling you you’re less than and feel the need to buy more. Distract yourself with other hobbies, activities, and friend or family. This is one of the few times a self-imposed bubble is a good thing.

5. Migrate toward the meaningful, completion isn’t mandatory

If you’re a fan of Dr. Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek, there’s so much stuff out there it would be nearly impossible for you to complete a collection. Do you find yourself buying nearly every little key chain, t-shirt, and coffee mug you see because it has “your” fandom on it? Narrow your focus to the things that are truly meaningful for you. Did you have a favorite object from your childhood that your mom sold in a garage sale that you repurchased? Own something to commemorate a special family event? Intrinsic value can be worth more to you than monetary value.

I used to constantly feel beaten down by the reality that I could not responsibly afford to collect every single mint-on-card G.I. Joe action figure (my favorite as a kid). Then, one day I made the conscious choice to sell the handful I did have, save one, and just keep my absolute favorite carded figure along with my original childhood toys I still had in storage. By placing it on my shelf, I essentially elected that carded figure to be an ambassador for that entire collection —the best of my best. That allowed me to look at my other interests and be happy with just having a favorite representative from each toy line, rather than a futile attempt to own everything I ever wanted.

Tiny and tempting Amiibos. Photo courtesy of Flickr user dcmaster.
Tiny and tempting Amiibos. Photo courtesy of Flickr user dcmaster.

6. Purge

This one seems obvious, but can also be the hardest to do. You worked hard for what you have, and most of it holds at least some value, so why would you want to get rid of it? I used to (OK, let’s be honest…still) have so many things that sometimes I’ll go through boxes in the garage and find stuff I completely forgot I owned. Why do I even bother holding on to something so forgettable? Time to get rid of it.

Whether you’re slimming down your collection because of space, to raise money, or to just not seem like an absolute crazy person, the important thing is to act when motivated, and move fast. Lingering, and hemming and hawing over each piece will ensure you never get control of your out-of-control collection. Donate to a reputable charity, give to another appreciative collector, or take a haul up to the local swap meet or flea market.

It could be tempting to tell yourself you’re going to sell things one at a time to gain the maximum value for your item, but let’s be honest, if you have a ton of stuff, that could take a long time and you may never actually see it through. Selling or purging in bulk may not give you the full “worth” of your collection, but freeing yourself of that burden and time commitment is often worth what little extra profit you might have made otherwise.

7. Move to digital

Obviously, this won’t work for most collections, but if you’re a big fan of physical media and your collection is out of control, maybe it’s time you gave digital a try. Trust me, I collect obscure VHS tapes, so I totally appreciate physical media, but there’s so many options out there, it’s worth a shot.  I’m not saying get rid of everything you already have and replace, but if you’re thinking of trying out that new thing, maybe buy a digital copy of it this time.

From Audible for audiobooks, Marvel Now for comic books, iTunes for music, and Amazon for ebooks and movies, there are plenty of options to go digital. I used to feel the need to own DVD’s, but since I can typically find what I want to watch on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, I don’t feel the need to own them anymore. Plus, most of the time, digital copies are much cheaper than the physical version so you can save space and money at the same time.

8. Showcase your stuff

Is your collection a jumbled mess? Do you have stacks and stacks or boxes and boxes of stuff? Well, quit hiding that stuff away and let it shine! Find a suitable place to really highlight some of your best pieces. Whether that’s a dedicated shelf, bookcase, or an entire room is up to you, but showcasing some of your most prized possessions in a clean and clutter-free environment can really rejuvenate you. Check places like Reddit, Pinterest, or collector forums for fun and unique ways of displaying your stuff or do something unique and share it with the world to humblebrag about your stuff and maybe provide someone else with their own inspiration.

9. Ask the tough questions

Let’s get serious here, sometimes collecting can become an addiction. We’ve all seen an episode of Hoarders, and nobody wants to be those people, but even if it’s not extreme enough for camera crews to come calling, it can still get pretty bad. Have you asked yourself why you’re collecting? Are you collecting because you want to, or is it for the sake of collecting? Is there a void you’re trying to fill? Talk to friends and family if you think you have a problem, and don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.

arcade games
Part of my personal arcade collection with a shelf for some of my other collectibles above.

10. Shift your focus and find your joy

Like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, sometimes you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. That’s OK. It happens. Now, you just need to find a new avenue to reclaim that excitement you first had in your collecting experience. Sometimes that doesn’t even involve collecting at all.

When I first started collecting arcade games, I fell for it hard. I wanted any game I could find, but over the years my interests shifted entirely. First, I really became interested in repairing and restoring the machines, teaching myself useful skills like electronics repair and woodworking. After that, I really became involved in the collecting community by starting Atlanta’s first pinball league. Friendly competition introduced me to a new aspect to games I already loved and new friends I never would have met from entirely different walks of life. I learned I really enjoyed bringing people together to share in the joy of something I loved so I eventually co-founded the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo, which is now one of the largest gaming conventions in the Southeast!

Your mileage may vary, but I suspect you can find something related to your collecting hobby that can give you a new spark. Know how to repair and restore bicycles? Start a class to share your skills and give back to the community. Like tools or electronics? Start a maker space to share tools and meet new people. Work with a local museum to talk about the historical significance of your collection with school groups. The options are endless.

Remember, collecting should be fun. If it isn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

Preston is a writer and graphic designer. He lives outside Atlanta, GA with his awesome wife and two amazing daughters (8 and 12). The host of the Gameroom Junkies Podcast, he has an affinity for VHS tapes and an obsession with arcade games and pinball machines. He has written for Paste and RETRO Magazines and is a founder of the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.