As I sit in Starbucks to try and escape the heat, I contemplate what collecting means to me. Even before the art and vintage that I collected during my adult years, I was always collecting. When I was a child it was different flavours of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers balm. I would spend hours going to different stores trying to find the flavours I did not have. Some were very “rare”! (Eight- and nine-years olds had a bit more freedom in the 70s). I remember going to Denmark to visit relatives and coming back with a “collection” of candy wrappers because it blew my mind that a Milky Way was called a Mars Bar. I just had to have a collection of these crazy wrappers to show my friends in the US. I think this was about both about my love of candy and my need to stand out. And no, I never collected Beanie Babies, even I could see this was nonsense!
As a teenager I started collecting vintage everything and would wear unflattering polyester dresses from the 50s and 60s. I was not doing myself any favours there, but I could not bear the idea of going to a place (Miller’s Outpost was the shop of choice in the 80s) and buying something because someone else had it. This would make me cringe. Collecting gave me the identity I so craved, and I could become anyone I wanted because I was picking the items from the past that I felt an affinity with, so they were a true reflection of me inside. Therefore, I don’t think you would call me popular but rather a bit anarchic. My friends from Ventura High School might remember differently! No one ever really sees themselves clearly, but I feel that I through my collecting journey I have always known who I was. Collecting gave me something external to focus on even when I was crippled with insecurity.
"So take your kids to the V & A, please!"
Now I have many collections from handbags, Chinese textiles and porcelain to contemporary art, vintage jewellery, Egyptian Revival, vintage souvenirs and amber. I just hope that the collecting spirit is trickling down to Millennials and Generation-Zs. I suppose people collect Followers and Likes now. Young people need to connect to the tangible to craftsmanship and history as this is where they will find their identity - not via selfies and pictures of food. Thanks to social media, young people see themselves through everyone else’s eyes and are validated by others feedback. Collecting offers a real-world hobby that promotes self-confidence, passion and satisfaction that will seep into all areas of life. So take your kids to the V & A, please!