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Building a Collection Without Breaking the Bank

Before I moved out of the house and into my apartment, my cousin Nick paid a visit to play board games. After some rousing Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride action, I gave him a brief tour of my geek room, which was home to my board games, science fiction novels, and comic books.

“Your comic collection is growing,” he told me.

“I know,” I said. We talked about the process of building a collection while I showed him some recent additions. “These comics cost a lot of money,” I told him, “but it was much less than if I’d bought them piece by piece.”

Comic shelf

Like me, Nick has been a collector his entire life, so he understood what I meant. But while I’ve collected comic books, he’s collected stamps and coins. We may not be able to compare notes on our specific collections, but we have a good time discussing the process of collecting itself. Nick, too, tries to collect on the cheap.

No matter what you collect, there are ways to enjoy your hobby while spending less. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to keep costs low after four decades of collecting.

Note: My examples below will involve collecting comic books, but they’re applicable to most other collections, as well.

Narrow your focus
Know what you’re collecting — and why. One problem with collecting is knowing when to stop. This topic came up recently at my favorite comic-book discussion forum. “At what point do you have to say enough is enough?” asked one member. How do you know when your collection is finished? How many Magic cards do you need? How many autographs? How many canning jars? How many Hummel figurines? If you don’t have a defined stopping point, your collection will never be finished.

When I was paying off debt and building savings, I cut back on my comics spending. Instead of buying everything I wanted, I decided to focus on my favorite niches. For several years, I almost exclusively bought collections of comic strips. Because there weren’t many of them, I could afford to buy almost all of the anthologies being released: Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Bloom County, and so on. By making my collecting more specific, I was able to indulge my hobby on a smaller budget.

Look for sales
Yes, even collectibles go on sale. When I finally found the cash to start collecting comics again in 2009, I was fortunate to discover a place that was selling back issues at 50% off their regular prices. And my favorite local comic store (Excalibur Comics in Portland — that place rocks!) regularly has 50%-off sales. I’ve been able to pick up tons of my favorite comics from the 1970s at a buck a piece. Yes, please!

Find dealers you can trust
Little LuluTry to find someone with tight grading standards. Most collectibles — including comic books — are priced based on their condition. For instance, comic book conditions can be classified as Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Near Mint, and Mint. But not everyone grades the same way. What I call Good, you might call Very Good, and somebody else might call Fair. Steer clear of dealers who claim a Good comic is Very Good (or Fine!); gravitate toward those strict graders who will sell you a Good comic for the price of one that’s only Fair.

Believe it or not, Kris collects canning jars. She and a friend share this passion, and often swap tips. They’ve also found a jar dealer they trust (though the guy is a bit of a nut). They’re willing to drive out to see him because they know he has good jars. (Here’s a story about Kris’ canning jar collecting.)

Scout unusual sources
Check out yard sales, antique stores, flea markets, and auctions. If you’re patient, you can sometimes find great deals. Once at a garage sale, I found a box of comics from the 1960s in great condition. Unfortunately, this was at the depth of my debt despair. I couldn’t afford a single one. In retrospect, I’ve always regretted not finding a way to just offer a set amount ($20? $100?) for the entire box. There would have been no harm in asking.

While Kris and her friend collect canning jars, their dealer is even more obsessed. He has a house full of them. (As I say, he’s a bit of a nut.) He goes to estate sales and asks the people if they have any home-canned food in the pantry they’d sell him. He then eats the food and adds the jars to his collection.

Settle for less
Go for the minimum condition you can live with. Some collectors want their objects to be in perfect condition. They pay a premium. If you’re willing to settle for second-best (or third-best or fourth-best), you can have highly desirable objects for cheap.

I’m willing to accept Poor quality comics, for instance. Much of my collection is simply Fair or Good. These are the comics most other collectors reject. But you know what? While they’re paying $5000 for a copy of Fantastic Four #1, I paid $500. Sure, mine is falling apart. I don’t care. I read it and enjoyed it.

My cousin Nick collects ancient coins. He’s not willing to pay top dollar for the best pieces either. In fact, he buys bags of “uncleaned coins” — basically hunks of metal caked with centuries of dirt and grime — and slowly removes the patina in order to discover what’s underneath. Most of the coins he finds this way are common, but he’s also discovered some gems. Because he’s willing to accept poorer quality, he pays far less than he otherwise might.

Buy in bulk
X-MenIf you have the cash flow, consider buying large lots just to get at a single piece. Buying large lots is generally a much better deal than buying individual pieces. The drawback, of course, is that you usually get stacks of stuff you don’t need. You either own the other pieces or you don’t want them. This can make buying a large lot to get at a single piece a bad idea, especially if the cost is high.

But if you have plenty of cash, you can actually make a profit doing this. For a while, I was targeting old Wonder Woman comics, for instance. Sometimes the only way to get the comics I was after was to buy six or eight at a time, including several I didn’t want or need. I did this, but then set the others aside to resell. (I haven’t actually resold anything yet, but I have a huge stack of stuff I’ll liquidate when I get the time. In the long-term, this should be very cost effective.)

Avoid temptation
I spend less money on comics when I stay out of comic shops and when I avoid comic blogs. I spend less on board games when I intentionally avoid learning about new games. (I went for years without buying new games, and I was perfectly happy. Now I’ve bought several in the past few months. Hanging out with Adam Baker has just made the urge to splurge grow stronger. He’s loves board games too.)

Be patient
When you find that one thing you’ve been waiting for in order to complete your collection, it can be tempting to buy it immediately. Don’t. Make sure you’re getting a good deal. As a collector, you need to know the market, you need to know what things are worth. And as a collector, you’ll spend far less if you’re willing to wait for the right item at the right price.

This can be easier said than done, of course. When you stumble upon a missing link, you can be afraid you’ll never find another one again. You want to buy it now, now, now. Train yourself to be patient. Know your price points. Be smart.

Borrow
Sometimes you can satisfy your urge to collect by borrowing and sharing. In my case, I was able to curb some of my craving for comics by making use of the public library. The local library system stocks some expensive hardbound compilations. Since the library owns and stores them, I don’t have to. This principle can work for other types of collections, too (though admittedly my comics situation is close to ideal).

Or maybe you have a friend with a similar interest. Maybe she collects Wedgwood pottery too. Instead of both buying the same pieces, you could build a short of shared collection, lending items to each other from time to time.

Final thoughts
Uncle ScroogeIn general, collecting is not a frugal hobby. My collecting habits have been a constant drain on my bank account. I’ve come to believe that collecting is merely a form of hoarding. It’s a socially acceptable way to acquire Stuff.

As with anything, though, it’s okay to collect in moderation. But if you find yourself being sucked into your hobby, that can lead to problems, both mentally and financially. Again, I say this as one who’s been there (and may still be there). If you’re going to collect, do it right.

I wrote the bulk of this article last June. Because I’ve made some major changes to my life since then, I’ve actually called into question my own tendency to collect. If I want to travel, and if I’m going to live in an apartment, is there really a place for building a collection? What’s the point? Why don’t I “outsource” the collecting — to the public library, for instance.)

Over the past few months, I’ve put the brakes on my own collecting habits. I’ve spent $0 on comics since September, and the only books I’ve bought have been for specific purposes (learning Spanish, our monthly book group, etc.) That’s not to say I’m ready to give up collecting completely, of course, but maybe I can finally spend some time reading all of the books I’ve bought before!

I’m actually curious how many GRS readers are collectors. What do you collect? And how do you do it? What strategies do you use to keep costs down?

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91 Comments

  1. I collect vintage glassware. Thirty years ago, my mother gave me a piece that I’d always admired. That was my only piece for the next ten years. Then I started collecting more at yard sales, a piece here and there, for pennies. My collection now numbers over 200 pieces. The money I’ve invested over the years is less than 10% of the book value of my collection. I’ve combined my collecting bug with my frugal instincts. In my opinion, any idiot with enough money can quickly amass an impressive collection, but it takes brains, luck, and patience to put together a great collection for very little money.

  2. I agree with the suggestion of selling parts of your collection to support your investment. My dad collects paper money, but by flipping pieces and/or sets he wasn’t attached to, he built his collection (and paid for my college education). Similarly, we collect stereoviews; once we bought a large box at an auction. We sold two famous baseball player stereoviews (one was Babe Ruth), and that paid for the rest of the box…and several future pieces.

  3. I’d recommend virtual collections in lieu of actual physical ones if you’re strapped for cash or space. When I started reading regularly again I decided to keep track of my books and thoughts online instead of keeping a copy of each book on a shelf to collect dust. Goodreads makes this very easy, but I’m sure there are other sites out there for most different collections as well!

    • My sister is an avid reader, but she doesn’t often buy books. Instead, she borrows them from family or friends or the library, but she keeps a notebook where she writes the date and book title/author of every book she’s read.

      • I do this! I don’t understand the concept of buying a book you haven’t read.

        The only reason to own a book, as I see it, is if you love it and will reread it. Otherwise, get it from the library.

  4. I’ve turned my collections into passions for more useful things, from the Sandman into pens.

    I actually wrote on this in my blog about a week and a half ago. I’m very glad to see your take. 🙂

  5. I don’t physically collect… I owe this to watching far too much of that A&E Hoarders show and becoming truly disgusted by keeping things I don’t use!

      • Haha, so true. I also watch it when I need motivation to get cleaning – I’ll often start by watching it 100% focused, and halfway through an episode I’m inevitably up cleaning the kitchen or tidying up some other way.

        I don’t think all collections are bad… I just live in a small place, and don’t see myself with the available space anytime soon to be able to collect. And after watching Hoarders… I’m okay with that, really. 🙂

        • Oh yes! I do this as well. Actually I usually start cleaning when I watch Hoarders. Its a great cleaning motivator. It really is! BTW I can’t eat a meal or snack when watching that show. I’m usually too grossed out.

    • ^THIS

      Collections collect dust, are liable to get stolen or lost, are are the epitome of excess. Some gain value over time; most do not. If “Stuff” is what really brings you joy in life, then go for it. My joy comes from collecting money, helping others with a portion of it, and living freely.

    • I know! I’m horrified by all of the “collectors” on that show. I now cringe every time someone says they collect something.

  6. A few years ago I started collecting Academy Award Best Picture winner DVDs as a way to give my two kids easy gifting opportunities for me for birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas. Movie doesn’t have to be new. One of the best parts is a big 24×36 poster I made with all the covers laid out with each decade in the row. Had it printed in 2004 and now I just print out the cover from each new winner and paste it onto the year square. I laid it out till 2020 and will consider myself complete if I make it that far (I’m 60). When I get a movie I put a green dot in the square. Find myself excited at each occasion for what ones I’ll get. Now have the collection in a simple app for easy emailing of the list but that wall poster is a thing of beauty and admired by all who see it for the memories invoked of great movies through the decades. Aa medias change to digital it will become more challenging to complete the collection, but that’s the fun. I try to resist buying any myself although I’m often tempted.

    • That’s a lovely idea, Sandra. And at least your collection isn’t just a bunch of physical objects, since you can actually enjoy the movies. I would, however, encourage you to embrace digital copies of movies, especially as they may become the dominant format in the future. Get someone to set it up for you if you’re not confident about the technology. I converted all my DVD collection to iTunes format (the highest quality, so it looks pretty much the same as the original DVD) and buy movies from the iTunes store. I find myself rewatching and enjoying my collection a lot more than when they were taking up shelf space in physical form.

  7. I found myself collecting fabric. See, a while ago I wanted to learn how to sew because we moved into a house and curtains can get expensive plus I was tired of hemming pants and skirts by hand. I bought a cheap sewing machine- so cheap that it’s useless. I started taking sewing lessons (which is how I found out the machine is useless and a killjoy because of its problems). And I started buying fabric for various projects that I’ll get to ‘someday’. My fabric stash is nowhere near as large as some other people’s stashes, but there’s enough fabric for a dozen projects at least, and it takes up two bins in the closet and one underbed bin. I’ve figured out that what I really like is looking at the colors, and imagining the process of making the project. I can get my color fix by looking online at fabric-selling websites. If I actually WORK on a project instead of just imagining it, I get better at sewing and also have stuff made by me. When I figured this out, I decided to only buy fabric for specific projects that I know I really really want to make, and also started working on the older projects.

    • As someone who has more UFOs (Un-Finished Objects) than she’d like to admit, I agree about having to limit what I buy for new projects.

      Have you thought about finding a local Rent-A-Table group? Our local quilt shop hosts them a few times a week – you bring whatever you want to work on (knitting, sewing, quilting, etc). I find being around others helps me stay motivated and finish things so I can show them off 🙂

      Quilt shows are also great for getting ideas (and a color fix) without the temptation of buying materials.

      • “UFO” Days are a great idea 🙂

        The quilt store in my home town used to have charity quilt days too. All you had to do was bring a machine and the materials were there to make projects for children in need. If you’ve got skills, you can often find someone willing to put them to work!

  8. I used to collect baseball cards back in my day. Boy are they sure expensive these days!

    Not so sure I could afford to keep up the collection. Baseball cards have plummeted in value, and I don’t even watch the sport like I used to.

    You know, I’m starting to think the best way to build a collection is to…not build one? One of these days I’ll have to part with my collection. I can’t even begin to tell you how much these cards have cost me in dollars, cents, time, and storage!

    • I was a HUGE baseball card collector. I even put on my own baseball card convention in the hay day, back in 1981 when I was 16. I rented tables to other card collector/dealers to sell their wares. I even had a table for my neighbor, and former 1960s Cincinnati Reds pitching ace Jim O’Toole to sign autographs for free.

      The hobby changed that year. Topps’ monopoly went away. Other card manufacturers came in, but I limited my collecting to Topps. One cannot collect everything. That way lies madness!

  9. I’ve been teaching a class that addresses collecting, so this is something that I’ve been interested in lately. To paraphrase the French theorist Jean Baudrillard, through collecting, it is invariably oneself that one collects. Meaning that our collections reflect who we are. So it is more than just an accumulation of Stuff.

    I don’t really have a collection at the moment, so I don’t really know what this says about myself 😉

    I have some old film cameras and have wanted to pursue that as a hobby and collection, I’m also interested in numismatics. But so far time and money have prevented me from pursuing either.

    • I should add, sometimes just letting people know you collect something is a good way to get stuff for your collection, since people might be wanting to get rid their stuff.

      One time I said in a status update on Facebook that I wanted to start collecting old cameras. Both my uncle and an old friend responded that they had old cameras that they would give to me if I was interested. One is a Canon ca. 1980 with a great selection of lenses, while the other is a Super 8 in amazing condition. In both cases the cameras were just sitting in storage not being used.

      • Yea, but then you get ‘gifts’ from people with strings attached. They don’t want to dispose of the item – donate or throw out – so they give it to you – since you collect it – and then whatever the quality, whether it fits into your collection or not – you’re expected to ‘care’ for the item like the treasure they think it is…

  10. When I was about 16 (c.1999) I started getting into stamp collecting and came upon idea to get free stamps.

    I used our lovely dialup connection to search for countries tourist bureaus and asked them for tourist and travel information.

    I was soon getting foot-high stacks of travel brochures, envelopes and packets from around the world! Not all of them had stamps, but they did give my collection a good jump start (and I got some cool maps too).

    To this day travel junk mail still shows up at their house for “Miguel”.

    • What a great idea! I collect used stamps and have a very extensive collection now. My family is from the Netherlands (I’m Canadian) so they all give me their Dutch stamps whenever they get mail. My interest started to wane a bit when I was younger until my Dad brought me home a small collection of USSR stamps from Russia. Things picked right up again then and I started giong online and trading my doubles with other collectors. Used stamps don’t cost anything so I’ve been able to build a very impressive collection for very little (sometimes I buy a large lot on Ebay but they are very inexpensive). My collection isn’t worth a lot of money or anything but I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. It’s tiny little art!

  11. I collect electronic items (ebooks, music, videos etc) that way it doesn’t clutter my physical space.

  12. We have a lot of gift-giving and gift-getting occasions in our culture and it’s really hard to know what to buy for adults. The good thing about having a known collecting personality is that people know exactly what to buy you. In a way, it’s almost helpful to family/friends/significant others. If you collect bird figurines, and they see one, they buy it for you for Christmas. I’d like to start a collection of old botanical prints (I have a few). Old maps, too. I’d probably like to collect art, but that seems more expensive. I did read recently that most museums have a policy where they can sell art to buy new art — sounds like a wise idea for collectors of any sort.

    • “De-accessioning” (where museums sell off works in their collection) is actually a contentious issue and not something done casually or on a regular basis. And I would imagine that any works sold off would be out of reach for most people.

      For people interested in collecting art, I’d recommend the following for keeping it affordable:

      1. Consider collecting things like prints, drawings and photographs, rather than painting or sculpture. These tend to cost less. And when I say prints, I really mean lithographs, screen prints, intaglio/etching, and wood/lino cut prints. I do not mean “glicee prints” which IMO are worthless and not worth the money or effort in collecting.

      2. Collect works by contemporary artists. Contemporary art can be uber expensive, but there is a lot of work that is affordable. And there is the benefit of knowing that your work is actually supporting someone’s career 🙂

      3. Go to student exhibitions. If there is an art school or a university with a good art program nearby, than you may be able to find really good student work. It’s not only motivating to the student to sell a piece but you may end up with a work by the next Picasso 😀

      4. In Canada we have a system of galleries run by artists called “Artist-run centres”. They usually have annual fundraisers where they sell works by artists involved with the gallery. In the US you may have similar types of galleries or co-ops. This can be a good way to get works by emerging or mid-career artists who don’t yet have gallery representation.

      5. Museums often have art sales and rental galleries. Depending on the gallery, the works may be affordable, although they will also have expensive works as they often cater to corporate clients.

      Art collecting is often regarded as something only for the wealthy. But after years of studying art, and working in the arts I have seen enough good affordable art to know that it is out there. Most people though just don’t know where to look, or have a hard time telling what is good from what is worthless.

      • Excellent advice! Thank you.

        I would only add that you should only collect art that you love. Collect it if it’s beautiful, if it speaks to you, if it stirs your emotions and your soul. That, not financial gain, is the true purpose of art.

      • All great tips 🙂 I second the point about visiting local universities and colleges. In addition to student exhibitions, the university in my city has annual fundraisers with a silent auction and miniature sale. (Usually part of the proceeds go to the artist, and part goes to the program — it’s win-win.)

        One thing I would like to add is studio tours. (They seem to be big in Ontario). They’re often held once or twice a year and they’re essentially like open houses — you pick up a map and off you go! They’re a fun way to spend the day, plus a chance to see some really great work in your community.

  13. It’s kind of funny. Just last week I bought a comic book poster for $20 on Ebay that I had coveted when it came out retailing for $30 (in 1994.) I came to the realization I had waited 18 years to save a whopping $10!

    • Actually, you got it for free if you handled the saved $30 wisely. $30 in 1994, invested for 18 years at 4.5% return would be $66 now. You spent $20 on the poster and have $46 left!

  14. I used to collect all things “happy face” (you know – those yellow happy faces with black eyes and mouth). Lucky for me, most of the items I got for my collection were from the dollar store – but the collection did get OUT OF CONTROL before I had to nip it in the bud and be done with it. I got a happy face tattoo to symbolize the end of my collection… and I haven’t purchased a happy face item since!

    • This made me smile (you know a little happy face). When I was younger i had a ton of happy face stuff. Even a set of six different earring (since i had my ears pierced 3 times). And then one day – i just stopped. But I liek oyur idea of a tattoo.

  15. My mother was a collector and put me off the endeavor. She displayed her finds, I had to dust them. As well as being frugal, I dislike spending time to care for a collection and think that time should be factored into the cost of the hobby.

  16. I collect(ed?) records. I worked in a record store in high school and for a local college radio station so I got tons of stuff. Three years ago when I got my finances in order I ripped all the CDs and records and liquidated everything I didn’t love. I made a pretty good amount of $$$ and I’ve decided the only stuff worth keeping or buying is the stuff I absolutely love.

    With music there are usually a lot of ways to get free previews. Also, services like Spotify and Pandora help with the outsourcing that JD discussed. The bands / music I really love I try to buy directly from and see live when they come close.

  17. I halfway collect glass coke bottles. My caveat on them was that I had to drink the coke to get the bottle – no scouring of the internet to buy them. So that limits me to the editions at the store (1-3$ a bottle), or what I can find travelling. A few friends have given me ones as well – I got one from Iceland that a friend found rolling around on the floor of a bus, and one from Morocco from when a friend visited, and so on. Of course, the last time I packed to move, I was –><– close to chucking the whole thing, but didn't quite. Also not quite a collection, when I travel to highly touristy places, to sate my desire to buy some sort of souvenir, I use those rolled penny machines – that is, you pay 50c to get a penny rolled out with a picture from the area. I've got 40 or so of these now. My rule on *these* is that I, personally, have to get them. So I've spent 20-30$ on all these, they fit in one small can, and I actually have a great time flipping through them every couple of months to remember the places 🙂

    • Many years ago, on a trip to Italy, my wife decided to collect the Coke cans depicting Italian soccer teams. She had a week’s collection and I wondered how we would pack them to bring them home.

      Problem solved: On our last day in Rome, the hotel maid threw them all out.

      • Heh. Makes perfect sense! I think I would just try and shrug and deal if that happened. One time, however, I was at a cafe in France, and wanted to bring my glass coke bottle. But they actually recycle them there for the deposit, so I had to surreptitiously snatch it. “Oh well”.

  18. Personally, I wonder if there is a link between collections and addictions. I have had numerous collections over the years and love the process whereby one needs to acquire the detailed knowledge in order to collect, but then I start obsessing when I make a find, over-analyze whether the price is right, etc. If I acquire a piece at a great price, I almost get a “high” off of that and this great deal will then spur my desire to look to find my next acquisition even more.

  19. I realized collecting was taking over our space and finances (I knit and sew – both notorious for building up a huge stash of fabric and yarn). I decided to just one project at a time and that has helped us tremendously.

    We also started collecting sterling silver flatware in a pattern we love for our own use. Since our first purchases, the price has doubled. I think this is one collection that makes sense all around!!

  20. I collect duck decoys. I love the craftsmanship that goes into the best ones, but they are way out of my price range. Frustrating!

  21. Collecting can be a fun hobby, I love old classic books and whenever I visit a new town I seek out their used book stores. It’s been a great way to explore new areas and have met some interesting people. But I haven’t let it consume me, no room full of old books, just one bookcase. I have a list of specific books I will buy (at the right price) and don’t deviate from it, so the thrill of finding what I want is the best part of collecting.

  22. I do not collect anything. Maybe I will one day, but for now I do not see any reason to be a collector. I had started buying a jewellery piece/set from each different country I visited, but that started piling up and I stopped.

  23. This is a phenomenon I’ve never understood: owning things solely for the sake of owning them, not to use them, and often not even to show them off (or they wouldn’t be in boxes in the garage). Once you’ve read your $500 comic book, you could sell it again for basically what you paid for it, and now you know the story. But people keep these things just to have them, even though they’ll probably never open them again. Heck, if more people read them once and resold them, the price would drop as most examples wouldn’t be tied up in collections. Many more people could enjoy them.

    • i did this with my old anime collection from high school 🙂 it was a bunch of silly items, not worth anything to me now, but a lot of people still want that stuff so i am usually able to get what i paid for it (my only regret is selling soon after high school, now that it’s many years later the ebay prices are a lot higher!)
      i was gifted a collection of rare cds, i ended up selling most of them and creating a pandora station for that band. i’m not really fetishistic about cds, they take up too much space. we have about 5 records in the household, mostly for the novelty and one hasn’t been released on cd yet.
      for other books, movies or video games, if my husband or i don’t like them, i put them up for sale and if they’re a popular item i can usually get the purchase price back, minus a few dollars. i can dig it.

    • Not all collections are items not in use. I have always been attracted buying items that will retain their value because somebody will want to buy them used as they are collector items. For example, I bought each of daughters an American Girl doll and they bought clothing for them, and furniture. When they tire of their dolls, they can sell them for more than they purchased them for, especially as the dolls get retired. And my girls learn how to take care of their toys. Other things that can be collected AND used include used cars, crystal, china, and train sets. There was one point where I collected children’s clothing–clothing that I used on my children, simply because if I purchased those clothes used, the resale value very high as opposed to typical used children’s clothing. I could sell them for the price I purchased them for, if not higher. (I consider it a collection because I purchased certain lines in a particular brand and then e-bay-ed the matching line together with all accessories).

    • It’s that personality thing again. INTJ’s see no purpose in collecting – too practical and unsentimental for that kind of thing. Unless it’s books maybe.

  24. In my media room I have a wall dedicated only to “Stargate” stuff, a “pictures with celebrities” wall and sections on another wall for autographs, art, etc for Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Star Trek, Quantum Leap, Boondock Saints, Teen Wolf & others.

    I limit my costs by attending mostly local Cons. My biggest expenditures are the pictures with the actors/celebrities (usually $35-$75 each). But I try to limit those to two or three per convention. Next up in May (Dallas Comic Con)- Sir Patrick Stewart, Val Kilmer, Adam West & Burt Ward.

    I save money each month to pay for my Geek collections. But…if something more important comes up (such as medical expenses)…I will not hesitate to use that money (instead of going into the Emergency Fund).

  25. I collect belt buckles. Not the ones you can buy, but the ones you get awarded at the finish line of a 100 mile footrace (or some of the 50M or 100k races). I have to pay an entry fee to run a race, and tickets/accommodation to get there. But most of all, I collect experiences that I get while running those races in most beautiful places where many people’s feet don’t step, as well as self-confidence that comes along with those finishes and projects into my everyday life.

  26. Collections are a tough one…. for a while I had a HUGE CD library, movie library, and academic library. Then after moving them to a new residence for the third time I realized it was dead weight and lost income. so, I began to sell items. and sell items. and sell items. soon, my collection was down to the essentials, my house was cleaner, and I had extra money in the bank. Now, my hobbies are online and involve learning new skills that bring me additional income and experiences.

  27. I collect nail polish and I have about 200. They fit into a drawer set that is around 3 feet tall and has about a 1’x1′ footprint. I don’t really buy anything rare or hard to find (they are out there), but just stuff you can find in stores. Some months I will buy 5-10 and sometimes I will go months and months and not buy any. The prices are anywhere from 50 cents to $20. Probably average $5 each.

    • I used to collect nail polish too, when I was much younger! I loved having tons of different colors and would often repaint my nails twice a week. Now I only wear boring colors because anything else would be highly unprofessional for my particular career, so I stopped collecting them and only own a few carefully curated colors.

      The key to any collection – or hobby for that matter – is being able to let go of it when it no longer holds your interest or suits your lifestyle. I think the fallacy of sunk costs is especially common in the realm of collecting and hobbies.

  28. I tend to think that it’s great to pursue hobbies that we really enjoy. However, we must not let our hobbies interfere with more important, pressing issues: such as paying down debt, saving for retirement, etc. To the extent that people can put real priorities first, and then put hobbies in their proper perspective, then why not enjoy collecting? In that case, collecting can be quite fun and rewarding.

    Also, one thing to keep in mind is that collectibles often have disproportionate value to the owner, compared to others. In other words, value is subjective and you might not get back what you paid if you try to sell. Just something to think about with certain collectibles, in terms of remembering the distinction between hobby and investment.

  29. I don’t agree about the hoarding comment. It’s true that collectors by nature can tilt towards the hoarding end. But hoarding is something extreme and unhealthy.

    There’s nothing socially unacceptable about having things. Collecting is pretty normal and common. What’s socially unacceptable is a MESS. So an avid cook may have a large fancy kitchen with all the bells or whistles OR a few good knives and a cutting board. As long as their space is clean and all the tools can be found, there’s really no stigma either way. It’s when you can’t open a cupboard or enjoy the things you have that the stuff in your life becomes unacceptable.

    A well displayed or cared for collection carries no more a stigma than bird watching. It’s when that collection gets away from you that you need to deal with the issue.

    I think messiness is what carries the stigma, not the stuff.

    Personally, I buy pieces at full market price. For me, deal hunting only leads to wanting more pieces. If I pay a fair but full price, I know I bought it because I wanted it, not because it was a good deal.

    Also, not everything I like to do I consider a collection. I like to read, but I don’t consider myself to have a book collection. It’s more of a personal library. It’s not like my posters or other collections. I keep them because I think I will read or re-read them. I have the room. When I start to think the shelves look full, I start purging and giving away books.

    • Actually bird watching is collecting too. You keep a life list of the different species you have ID’d; you “collect” them. Even birders can get carried away, either by single-minded chasing of elusive species or by competitively comparing their expensive binoculars.

    • Actually bird watching is collecting too. You keep a life list of the different species you have ID’d; you “collect” them. Even birders can get carried away, either by single-minded chasing of elusive species or by competitively comparing their expensive binoculars

  30. I’ve been a quilter for decades but I donated ALL of my fabrics and supplies about six months ago to a group that makes quilts for kids. I simply had too much and it had become a burden and not a pleasure. I kept my expensive sewing machine and sewing/quilting tools as I may get the urge to quilt in the future but for now the empty space feels wonderful!

  31. I collect Alice in Wonderland items. Books, figurines, stuffed animals, whatever, as long as it’s Alice in Wonderland. I’m able to control my spending on it with two rules: it has to come out of my (very small) entertainment budget, and I have to have room for it in my display case. I haven’t bought anything for it in a very long time, since I lost my job and took a 50% pay cut, and I don’t expect to at least until my car is paid off. More likely, not until my student loans are paid off.

  32. I believe stuff needs to be “returned to the ecosystem”. My family does acquire lots of stuff (oh well), but after we use it and don’t need/want it anymore, we give it away or sell it so someone else wants it & can use it. The idea of deliberately accumulating stuff just to “have” it–well, it’s extremely unappealing to me.

    I personally feel that our home is more serene and functional if we only have in it the things that we need and use to make our lives better. I want to live my life, not spend time being a curator for stuff.

  33. @JD – have you thought about donating your collection(s) to a museum? There are lots of niche-type museums that cater to particular things (like comics I am imagining). There is a possible tax write-off that way, plus the knowledge that your collection will be stored appropriately and appreciated by lots of people over time.

  34. I collect Mid Century Norwegian Jewellery. A lot of it is enamelled in lovely bright colours. I have about 80 things… brooches(pins), earrings, bracelet, pendants. I buy mainly off Ebay but also thrift shops (charity shops in the UK). Those who bought the items new are now selling or leaving as inheritance to those who may not like the items so they are not that expensive. I make it s rule never to buy something I would not wear. And I do wear it (and so occasionally lose it)But i always get compliments on the pieces , and I am now known for always appearing with earrings and a brooch..

  35. For those of us who are not collectors, it is sometimes a trial to have a partner who is a collector. My husband is very sentimental and emotionally attached to gifts (that he displays) which were given to him by former clients. He also has collections of Christmas villages, Cubs memorabilia, model cars and miniature farm equipment. All of this stuff attracts dust, is a real pain to keep clean and it takes up space. To me this stuff is junk, to him it is his treasures.

    • every time my mother-in-law boasts about her boxes and boxes of various kinds of decorations, I just cringe thinking of the future date when we have to sort through them.

    • People should dust their own treasures. If you love them, you will probably enjoy lovingly dusting them. If you don’t enjoy dusting them, maybe that’s a sign. Of course, there are also closed display cases that can keep the dust down.

      • Hi Debbie;
        I couldn’t agree more. My husband is older than I and old-school. He takes care of the grounds and I take care of the house. Some of his stuff is behind glass in a wall unit but most of it is exposed and I ignore it usually and let the cleaners deal with it when they come in periodically.
        You’re right, if he had to care for this stuff, would he keep it?

  36. I collect comic books and I have been shrinking my overall collection during the past 5 years. I started with 16,000 and now down to about 3000 comics. Some I have decided to get in TPB for so I can reread the story and not really have to worry about condition. So while the number of comics have decreased the number of book format comics has increased but not anywhere near the amount I have gotten rid of.

    I should also metion the proceeds from selling the comics have allowed us to go on vacation over the last 5 years at no out of pocket cost!!!!

  37. I don’t collect things anymore. I used to collect tea cups & saucers, until I came to the realization that I’d stored them and moved them for 10+ years and NEVER EVER used them. One trip to Goodwill and that habit was over.

    Now I collect the experience of sitting in a rotating restaurant – over the last 10-12 years I’ve done it in Honolulu, Vancouver BC, New Orleans, and Auckland NZ. It’s more silly fun than anything really serious!

    I like the idea of the commenter above who picked something that would make for gift-giving opportunities for her kids. Genius!

    • Oh Bethh, do not remind me about revolving restaurants. I had lunch a couple of years ago at the one in Durban, South Africa. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had!

  38. I collect wool processing equipment (combs, looms, felting tools, pickers, carders, spinning wheels) when and if I run across it at garage sales or flea markets. I have sheep and fleeces but, with my full-time job, haven’t had time to do much with my fleeces. I purchased what I needed to have a viable fiber business over the years “just in case” I ever needed to make a living out of my home.

    One of my hobbies is woodcarving. I’ve whittled flower and animal shapes with nothing but a pocket knife, but one Christmas my husband gifted me with a basic but very expensive collection of German carving tools. Again, I do not have much time for my hobbies with my full time job and livestock responsibilities but, over the years, I’ve been slowly collecting European carving tools from garage and estate sales. One woman whose husband had recently passed away, upon my admiring his collection but regretfully telling her that her husband’s several thousand dollar collection of carving tools was WAAAAAY out of my price range, gifted me with the entire bunch, several cases full, for nobody else had been interested, and she needed/wanted to clear the garage. I put them away carefully for when I start carving, I have a tendency to lose track of time and when I come back to myself, it is 4:00 a.m. and time to get ready for work. I figured that they would be a good thing to have in case I needed to make a living out of my home one day.

    A woman near us had a kickwheel and a kiln for sale. She asked me if I wanted to buy them as she was moving across country and couldn’t transport them. $300 was pretty dear to me at the time, but we have lots of clay deposits on our property, and I figured what the heck. I might need to make a living out of my home one day.

    Over the years, I’ve taken painting classes, gardening classes, livestock and horse training classes, and learned decorative concrete techniques. Indeed, I can (and do) acid stain floors, make tables and countertops, and make decorative pots and bowls because you never know, I might have to make a living out of my home one day.

    The day has come. I’ve had a pay cut this year after three years of raises that did not keep up with inflation, and the commuting costs are now a quarter of my take home pay. I’ve realized that my salary is going mostly to pay the increased taxes for a higher tax bracket, convenience food because of my being gone a lot, and my feed costs would be halved, at least, if I had the time to grow more. My last day is June 1.

    I have a considerable physical collection, true, but the majority of my collection is mental, the knowledge gained from classes taken and hobbies pursued.

  39. I am not a collector, and I don’t understand my husband’s collections (right now, N scale trains and guns for target shooting). I think they are both a waste of space and money.

    I do, however, like how my husband works his train hobby. He buys lots from Craigslist and estate sales, keeps the pieces he likes, and sells the rest on eBay. This works because of the time factor. The people with lots are typically selling because someone in their lives collected trains and they don’t. They don’t have the time or expertise to know how to value and sell each piece. My husband offers several hundred to several thousand to take it all away, which is very attractive to the sellers. This has also helped him learn a lot. He bundles them together and sells off 1, 2, or 3 at a time on eBay, where people are willing to spend more per piece, especially internationally.

  40. I’m a historian so I have a book collection, but since it is a working collection, it is relatively easy to keep in order. If I check a book out from the library on more than five separate occasions (e.g. for five different projects or reasons), then I buy a copy because it is something I know I will use regularly. That said, I am not attached to books as objects, but as tools, so I don’t fuss over the quality – I generally buy paperbacks and don’t worry if they get bent corners or (gasp!) written in. If a book wears out, I just get another copy. I’m a big fan of libraries – I don’t need to own a book if I have easy access to it.

    That said, I’ve moved every couple years for the last ten, which has really cut down on my book-buying interests – who wants to move those boxes?

  41. Great article. Really made me think. I collect dragons–I have all kinds in different shapes, sizes, materials. Easy for other people to buy for me, if they know me at all. I usually don’t buy those myself unless I stumble across one, ie, I don’t go looking for dragons.

    Now, my other collections involve books but they have to be by certain authors. Those I do go looking for, and I keep running lists of which ones I “need”. I find them at secondhand stores and antique stores when I travel, ebay, Amazon, and I usually try to spend as far under $10 as I can. To me the game is to acquire these at the lowest possible price. That said, if it’s a rare find I will spend more. I spend less than $200 a year, as a guesstimate. I have a small home office, with 4 bookshelves stuffed full. I re-read them over and over, and have gotten endless hours of pleasure. The annual Friends of the Library book sale is one of my most favorite days of the year. I’ve picked up a lot of treasures there.

  42. I’ve bought thousands of comics over the years, but I’ve been reducing my physical collection recently. I now read most issues in digital format: I make individual purchases from Comixology and I have a yearly subscription to Marvel’s “Digital Comics Unlimited” website. If there are stories that I particularly want to re-read then I’ll buy them as paperback/hardback collections, then I’ll get rid of the physical copies (if applicable). I’ve sold some comics at marketplaces in the past, but nowadays I tend to give them away on Freegle. Comixology often have 3-day sales, where they’ll sell several issues at $0.99 each (about 70p), e.g. the entire run of “52”. So, that’s a good way to get stuff cheaply, if you don’t mind waiting a while.

  43. I’ve never collected anything in my entire life except for books. These days I usually buy e-books. I sold my old books that I bought as an adult and bought their digital versions. I have very very few physical books like less than 50. In the past I used to say that collecting anything but books was a waste of time and I used to see collections as dust collectors.

    Now I realize people find happiness through different ways, and sometimes that can be through collecting. Who am I to say what makes other people happy in life?

    I was born in the 80s and when I was a kid in the 90s I used to love reading The Sweet Valley Twins series, The Baby-Sitters Club series, Nancy Drew, and Little House on the Prairie. Even today I still love to read a lot.

    Now that I’m in my 20s, I’ve been trying to buy the entire collection of Sweet Valley Twins which is about 200 books and same with the Baby-Sitters Club.

    I’m trying to buy the sweet valley twins and baby-sitters club books that were out in the 90s and not the reissues that were updated for the 21st century and came out in the 2000s.

    The nice thing is that the Nancy Drew and Little House on the Prairie is still in print so I don’t have to worry about those. They were a huge part of my child hood. I’m the type of person that loves re-reading books. The Sweet Valley Twins and the Baby-Sitters Club sell for less than $20 each.

    A lot of times they sell for $2-3 dollars on Amazon. My plan is to scan the sweet valley twins and the baby-sitters club books into my computer and back them up on a disk or USB stick, so I’ll have them forever to enjoy.

    Then I plan on selling the physical books back into the used market so other adults who used to love them can read them. When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money, so I used to get books from the library.

    Nowadays I can buy my own books anytime I want, although I usually buy
    e-books since they’re so convenient. People might think its juvenile and cheesy to be re-reading childhood books but I honestly don’t care. I’m not trying to impress anyone.

    I love to read and its fun to look back at the different stages of my life and see what books I’ve read. Yes I will be re-reading the entire SVT and BSC series. There’s no point in buying something unless you’re going to enjoy it again 😉

    P.S. As for how much is enough. That’s easy for SVT and BSC books, because they’ve only published about 200 in each series I believe. Both series have spin offs but I’m not interested in those since I didn’t enjoy the spin-offs as a kid.

  44. As a kid, I collected stamps and coins. I did actually buy some stamps, but finally gave that whole collection to a friend. The coins I just got from traveling grown-ups (and occasionally finding something in my change). I still collect coins (and occasionally bank notes) when I travel. I did start collecting the 50 state quarters, but they keep adding more, so that just makes me feel like a sucker. I haven’t decided what do about the ones I have, but I’m not going to fall for that again–maybe just save the prettiest ones.

    Depending on your definition, I also collect books, music, movies, and clothes. I don’t ever think a collection is finished, but I can think it is big enough. Once it gets to a certain size, I just get a lot more picky both about what I acquire and what I keep. My coins fit in one notebook (and a couple of booklets). My books, games, and movies fit in two giant bookcases. And my clothes fit in two small closets and a large dresser (plus some boxes in the garage of things that don’t currently match anything or aren’t my current size).

    Maybe I also collect hobbies. I sure do have supplies for way more hobbies than I have time for at any given time, but I do keep going back and forth between the hobbies, so I do like keeping the supplies. For example, I hadn’t knitted anything in over a year, but it was nice that when I figured out a perfect present (after my friend complimented my hat for the millionth time and insisted on trying it on–I’m a little slow), I had my fabulous bamboo circular knitting needles and the pattern still there in my knitting supplies box.

    There’s a Girl Scout badge on collecting (at least there was back in the 1970s) and one of the things you had to do is to find a good way to display or store your collection. I think this is an important part of using, sharing, or enjoying your collection. And if you don’t want to go through the trouble of properly storing and caring for your collection, that’s a sign that it’s not that important to you. (Or maybe real life is intruding a lot right now–could mean a lot of things!)

  45. I tend to collect books and comics in digital format. They don’t take up much hard drive space. I have one small bookshelf for only my favorite books and comics.

  46. I have a collection of hardback books, but my goal is not to acquire the largest number possible – instead it is to have a collection that means something to me.

    As such I do not horde what I buy, but instead maintain a constant state of flux. I pass on books to friends if I think they will enjoy them and sell on or donate things I no longer value.

    This keeps my collection manageable and actually makes it nicer to own as it serves a purpose and the average value (emotional, not monetary) value of the items remains high.

    Using the author as an example, think which is more special – 500 comic books stored away or 50 on display, each of which has been chosen and kept for a reason.

  47. Several years ago I decided to re-create the children’s book collection I had as a little girl. I decided I would only buy books that I remembered, and only the cheapest prices.

    Through Ebay I was able to purchase many of them, but most came in collections with other books.

    My best source was estate sales and thrift shops (the creepy kind in old churches), followed by garage sales and library sales. I would haunt the local used bookstore, but no way was I paying $25 for a 1950s Golden Book.

    The only problem was, I had grown this inexpensive collection into a monster that filled many large plastic tubs.

    I finally broke down and spent several evenings going through the books. I found doubles and triples and quadruples of many. I found a lot were current reprints of older ones I already had.

    It took me several trips to drop them off at a donation center where I hope they went to good use (the place was later flooded in the recent East Coast storms).

    I still look, I still buy and I’ll suppose I’ll still be redonating them later.

    Now, who wants to buy some fabulous dolls made specially for me by Diana Effner?

  48. I don’t collect anything really fancy, like antique glassware, or comic books, etc. But I do have large “collections” of books, DVDs, and my husband loves to collect music (right now CDs, but he’s working on vinyl, too).

    In order to save money in the course of collecting, I created rules for myself. I couldn’t buy a DVD for myself if it cost more than $10. I couldn’t buy a book unless I’d already read it and knew I wanted to re-read it. And so on and so forth. These rules have helped me maintain my budget while still satisfying my inner materialist.

  49. I “collect” bikes to work on in my garage workshop… but I sell most of them once I’m done fixing them or building them up. I keep a few around, but the mix does shift.

    The good thing about “collecting” this way is that I actually make enough off doing this so that my hobby is (more than) self-funded. The rules about purchasing prices still apply though – I hardly ever pay retail for anything (even parts), and tend to get my best buys at garage/yard sales.

    Another good rule, when buying anything used: know the value (at least roughly) before you buy. I spend a few minutes each day perusing Craigslist and online bike shops – partially to hunt for good deals on stuff I know I need, and partially to develop/maintain an awareness of value.

  50. I collect antique kimono. I got interested when living in Japan. I really enjoyed the hunt. Collecting was a wonderful way to explore new neighborhoods, and talk with people who shared my interest. I could practice my Japanese with many kind store owners who would patiently answer my questions. I photographed my collection, and printed a photobook, which I would take to stores and flea markets to share my collection with dealers and other buyers.

    I intertionally kept my collection to one particular (and relatively inexpensive) kind of kimono, and also required that it be wearable by me, so that u could enjoy them as fashion as well.

    I’ve built a respectable collection and have spent a relatively modest amount over ten years. Ive gained a tremendous knowledge of kimono, and also japanese culture and aesthetics.

    The connections that collecting allowed me to make were the most precious, but as a result of my collection, I’ve taught a couple university courses, and curated a show of my collection at a museum.

    I’m not sure If I could recoup my money or not, but my collection has been a wonderful experience.

  51. I don’t collect anything, although I would argue that my partner collects lots of different things. Not actual collections, and not really junk, per se, but things that may have a use, you know, “someday”. Drives me bonkers!

  52. No collections here. A bit of me is tempted to say my kids take the place (time and moneywise) of any collection but I didn’t collect anything before they were born either so that probably isn’t fair.

  53. I’m cleaning out a house and several garages of a collector who thought all this stuff would be worth something. But he held onto stuff too long and nobody collects those things anymore. Now, we’re paying for dumpsters and trash removal for items of little or no worth.

    My advice only collect what you love and don’t think about ever recouping a cent from it.

  54. I collect vinyl records, and more nebulously music. At somewhere around 3k records and 100’s of CD, and 1000’s of purely digital music, I’m probably in the problematic collector zone.

    I digitize all the CDs. I do not then sell them, as the CD *is* my legal ownership of that music, ripping cds and then selling them is not okay. I’m more than happy to rip and store.

    With the vinyl, I’m trying to let go of as much as I bring in. My early collecting was DJ focused, and quite scattershot. I’m trying to focus on specific labels, styles, and media types. Things that don’t fit into one of two buckets: I love and will listen to over and over, or specific to my current interest.