Collecting is a curse
I think I've always been a collector. At least as far back as I can reliably remember. When I was a kid I'd collect books or comics or toys or whatever. I'd spend hours organizing my collection; doing inventories of what I had and what I wanted in spiral-bound notebooks.
In high school, I began collecting DVDs (I currently own more than 2000). During quarantine, I spent time organizing my physical media collection and I am in deep regret of how much I've spent on DVDs and Blu-rays over the years. Why do I own SUPER SIZE ME? Why do I own TOMB RAIDER 2? Why do I own MY DATE WITH DREW? As I alphabetize my copies of LORD OF ILLUSIONS, LORD OF THE RINGS and LORDS OF DOGTOWN, I can't help but feel physical media collecting is a shackle. Watching people post pictures of their Barnes and Noble Criterion sale hauls is the equivalent of me watching people smoke cigarettes out of a hole in their neck.
About ten years ago, I started collecting 35mm prints or random movie memorabilia. I have a Ghana movie poster of DEMON KNIGHT, an original piece of artwork from the comic book adaptation of WAXWORK, a life-size replica from John Carpenter's THE THING and over 50 35mm prints. I'm also mostly broke - existing from paycheck to paycheck in an attempt to pay my bills, cover my rent and, when I can, add to my collection.
Over the years I've had several moments of clarity - breaking free of the fog and asking myself "why do I do this?" Why do I buy a $90 hardcover collection of a bunch of comic books I'm never going to read again? Why do I fool myself into thinking it's important to own a hardcover first edition of a Stephen King novel I'll never get around to revisiting? Blu-rays, toys, soundtracks - why do I need it all? And then Scream Factory announces a bunch of titles that will soon go out of print and my palms get sweaty, wondering how I can afford to buy all the movies I don't already own. What if I need that Special Edition Blu-ray of CARRIE later? I'll have to pay $100 for a copy, better to just buy it now - just in case.
And it's true - sometimes I do regret not having something a part of my collection. For years, I've wanted to revisit Jeff Rovin's novel RETURN OF THE WOLFMAN but I sold my copy years ago and the book fetches around $50 on eBay currently. Here's the thing, though, there are plenty of other books I want to/should read. Is it really essential to my life that I spend a week rereading a novel that serves as a sequel to the golden age of Universal horror? No, but it'd be fun. So would finally finishing the Stray Bullets omnibus I bought a few months back or reading a historical account of the Mormon religion in America or any number of books I have on my shelf but haven't dug into yet. Reading is fun, period - I don't NEED to read a certain book to enjoy the pleasure that comes with being told a story.
Same with movies - why do I buy a copy of a film? It used to be because I'd treat a DVD like a Native American treated a buffalo. I'd dive deep into the disc's special features and absorb everything - every commentary, every deleted scene, and every 15-minute documentary about the type of wood that they used while building the set. I don't have the time to do that anymore - I can barely watch the movies I want to watch, let alone dig into their special features.
If I'm being honest, I think I collect because it helps me define myself. I'm the guy who's into horror movies so I have a life-size replica of Freddy Krueger's glove. I'm the guy who champions weird stuff so that's why I have a VHS copy of RALPH THE MOTORCYCLE MOUSE. I'm the guy who has read Marvel Comics since he was a kid - that's why I own a complete run of Jack Kirby's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY comic book. But I am those things and more - why do I need the junk to prove it? Is it to prove it to others? I hardly have guests over - I don't have the constitution to entertain (or the desire to clean my bathroom and vacuum the carpet frequently enough).
I think I collect to prove something to others as much as I try to prove something to myself. I want to define who I am and the easiest way to do so is by buying stuff. For some people that means buying a wardrobe. For others, it's owning an expensive watch or a fast car. For me, it's always been about what's on my bookshelf. Here's the thing, though, FIGHT CLUB wasn't lying - the things you own really do end up owning you. I'm in debt, I hate moving because it involves carting around a ton of unnecessary shit and, most importantly, I don't have the freedom to actually enjoy life spontaneously. It's because I bought those three action figures on eBay last week that I don't have the cash to drop everything and take a spontaneous road trip because I feel like it. I have to plan, I have to skimp and I have to save if I want to do anything fun. And I don't even have anybody that depends on me - if I was to get a woman pregnant or actually manage to stay in a long term relationship I'd be screwed.
I am screwed, though. I have accumulated a lifetime of junk and while I may have a well-defined collection of evidence that shows the type of person I am and what my interests are, I don't have much else. It's never too late to change, though. I guess. I can stop buying shit. I can sell off the stuff I don't need/want. I can choose to not buy that special edition PLANET OF THE APES DVD set housed in a replica bust of Caesar and instead put that money towards discovering new stuff, experiencing new places, and meeting new people.
With that in mind, here are five new rules I'm going to try and live by:
1) Buy to enjoy, not to remind myself of what I enjoy. I'm not going to buy a $120 action figure (really, it's a doll) of Snake Plissken. I love ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. I don't need an eerily realistic plastic reminder of my love for the movie sitting on my desk.
2) Spend to experience now, not later. I just watched BIRDS OF PREY a few months back - I don't need to own the Blu-ray right now. If I'm in such a hurry to revisit the movie, I can rent it on Amazon or Redbox. I should wait 10 or 20 years to own the film - the special features are going to be a lot more interesting with the passage of time, when people can really share the juicy gossip it's not polite to talk about the year the film was released. If I want to enjoy a book or a movie immediately (either because (I've never experienced it or it has been too long since I last enjoyed it), go for it. I just need to stop buying something because I think I might need or want it in a few years.
3) Don't buy to impress others, own to satisfy my own needs or desire. Is a DVD collection that includes 2000 titles impressive? Yes, to some people. To others, it's just weird. I used to buy DVDs and Blu-rays compulsively because I liked the way they looked lined up on a bookshelf. Eight bookshelves later, though, and I realize I didn't have any more room to display my collection so I put the DVDs in binders. Guess what happened? I stopped buying so many DVDs and Blu-rays. I was buying them as a status symbol - to show off my knowledge and love of films to all who visited my apartment, not because I actually watched them on a regular occasion. If I really feel that buying the complete BATMAN '66 series is going to improve my life, by all means, splurge. But if I'm buying it so I can brag to my friends that I own such a cool, nerdy collectible - I'm doing it for the wrong reasons.
4) Pay it forward. Read a book, watched a movie? Give it to somebody else who might enjoy it. Or better yet - sell it. I shouldn't be afraid to let things go, the stuff I truly love has had a funny way of finding its way back into my life.
5) Support the truly rare. If there's something so insanely rare and unique that owning it is, in a lot of ways, akin to protecting it, spend the money. I'm going to use my time, funds, and effort into cultivating a collection of truly cool treasures. That's the stuff that's going to matter in the end (if it matters at all when the time comes).
I'm always going to be a collector, I fear. It's in my blood. But if the Hulk can control his impulses and find a balance, so can this guy.