On Collecting

Unfortunate though it was, I caught a few minutes of Channel Five’s, The Wright Stuff this morning. For those not in the know, The Wright Stuff a sort-of panel discussion show on which snaggletoothed tabloid journo Matthew Wright mulls over topical issues with an apathetic studio audience and a panel of three Z-List celebrities. Today’s show predictably focussed upon Gordon Brown’s suitability for the Prime Minister vacancy but they also managed to talk about ‘Open Relationships’ and ‘People who can’t throw things away’. Tabloid Television at its finest.

Loath as I am to admit it, Matthew Wright raised an interesting point about the nature of collecting. When someone suggested that there might be a difference between hoarding and collecting, he shouted, “No there’s not! Collecting is just organised Hoarding!”

Was he right? As a librarian, collecting is an issue close to my heart. As a minimalist, hoarding is something I avoid. It strikes me that collecting is far more systematic a process than hoarding so Matthew’s proposal is in some way correct but after more careful consideration, once can see that it’s a little half-baked. A Hoarder will refuse to throw away the daily flotsam and debris that gravitates into his orbit. A collector deliberately acquires items of a particular type or persuasion. Hoarding is passive. Collecting is active.

By coincidence, I helped a friend today to empty his “toy cupboard” at his parental home in Beith. His childhood toys had long been discarded, perhaps in the last clearout, but he had a huge ‘collection’ of other artifacts: candle holders, Eiffel Tower statues and literally thousands of books. I think he was a collector once upon a time, acquiring souvenirs of his travels and a systematic collector of books but his system had long been abandoned in favour of nostalgic hoarding.

As a kid, I collected everything: badges, ticket stubs, postcards, butterflies and (most oddly) ceramic owls. Today, all of that stuff is gone (unless my mother has romantically hoarded some of it) but I still collect certain things, mainly books, records, videos and those pamphlets that religious people give you in the street (mentioned late in this entry). I’m pretty sure that all of this is the result of educational inquiry and appreciation of beautiful things rather than an irrational fear of throwing stuff out.

In his recent item, The Curse of Storage, quotes Japanese architect Kiyonori Kikutake: “A Japanese room is determined by information, whereas a Western room relies on objects.” Perhaps this also helps us to define a difference between the hoarder and the collector. The collector sees things in the Eastern sense of curating information in one form or another, be it as books, records, videos, dynamic materials or specific types of objects. When Darwin curated birds and insects as evidence for his theory of evolution, he was a collector of information. As A. C. Grayling notes, collecting is the first stage of scientific inquiry. Librarians and Museum curators are, again, collectors. A man with an obsession for Kellogg’s cornflakes packets and an archive of such items is also a collector. However, the person who simply cannot throw out their tatty old clothes or birthday cards or childhood toys is a hoarder.

A collection is beautiful. The contents of a hoarder’s nest is not so.

I hope this clears things up.

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