All my life I have been collecting things. Some of my earliest memories of what it felt like to be me are of gathering and pondering families of similar stuff. I felt, somehow, and still do, truth be told, that in collections of similar things, even in the act of collecting them, there was something true to be found. And it wasn’t materialism, far from it; mine was not nearly so sterile a practice, and I didn’t covet, although I have certainly fallen ill to that green affliction from time to time.
The commonplace things I gathered were not for wealth or status, not for show, and I had a hard time explaining to people, when they noticed, why I had a pocketful of stones. Or an arsenal of carefully carved wooden staves that had been covertly harvested from neighbors’ yards. Or a varied display of locks I had picked up here and there when they had come within reach. I once found a large ring of tarnished and corroded keys mislaid in the woods around my childhood home. There were dozens of them. I felt I had struck it rich.
My father, an architect, once brought home an impressive collection of outdated Formica samples. Hundreds of them. Magical tiles, already arranged by color or texture on a silver beaded chain. “No one – no one in the world has this!” I thought.
It was like praying. The youthful devotion of a secular acolyte to worldly phenomena. I hunted the value latent in everyday things.
I see the same affinity in my own children, though the expression of it is quite naturally individualized in each of them. My son, in particular, likes to collect special things in his pockets. Rocks, significant Lego pieces, at one time Pokemon characters, but he has grown beyond those now. I sense he is not so fickle as I, a quality that will serve him well in life. Whereas I remember gathering a new category almost daily, he likes to hold on to things over time. He is slow to change and quick to appreciate and understand the essential worth of a worthless thing.
His bedroom is perpetually a mess, as you might imagine, but it is nearly impossible to dispose of any clutter. Because it is not clutter. Everything is special, magical, of incalculable worth – and sometimes of hidden, perhaps ineffable value, which I find frustrating beyond end. I confess I fantasize of one day stripping the place when he isn’t looking, though I know it will never happen. I could never do it. It would be like pulling a hermit crab from its shell.
He knows as well as I, there is truth to be found in collections of everyday things and in keeping what you find.