I Miss the Thrill of Childhood Collections

Remember sticker books? Who hasn’t sat down with friends and compared sticker collections?

I don’t remember the last time I did laundry and didn’t pull rocks out of the machine. Why rocks, what’s with the rocks, do we really need the rocks? My house is overrun with (exceptionally clean) rocks. There are rocks in my son’s underwear drawer, and the drawers in his bed. They line his pockets, dot the skyline of his dresser, and litter his bedroom floor. Rocks as far as the eye can see.

To me, they are a nuisance. But to him, they are individual treasures, each with a classification and a story. He knows where he got them, what type they are, and what makes each one unique.

I admit, in my quest for minimalism (read: my efforts to avoid being featured on “Hoarders”), I have occasionally gathered the rocks and tossed them. I shouldn’t have. While it’s true that my son needs to adopt a better rock organization system, the rocks are important to him, and I should have respected that.

Beyond the rocks themselves being of interest to him, there is something to be said for encouraging collections in general. It seems to be a lost art in our new streamlined and clutter-free homes. There’s no room for kitsch anymore.

Growing up, we all had an aunt or a family friend who collected pigs. You know you did; don’t even try to deny it. Anytime you went on vacation or hit a gift store and saw a pig in any form, you know your mom said, “Oh, we’ll need to get this for Theresa.” If it wasn’t pigs, it was something else. Everyone collected something, and it was fun to keep our eyes open for things to add to their collection.

And we collected things. Sure, there were the mainstream things like Pogs and the many varieties of cards, but we had our own individual collections too. My friend collected Garfield stuff. My sister collected dog-related things. I collected bunny figurines. It started with a hospital gift shop ceramic bunny given to me by my grandmother after I broke my arm, and it grew from there. I got them for Christmas, I got them in truck stops, I got them in weird hotel gift shops. I was always on the look out for bunny figures. And like my son and his rocks, I knew where I got every single one of them and what they meant. I also collected novelty spoons and thimbles, but admittedly that was weird for a kid, even in the 80s.

Most kids of our generation collected something. Remember sticker books? Who hasn’t sat down with friends and compared sticker collections, maybe even making strategic trades, two shiny for one fuzzy and a scratch and sniff. Remember the thrill of buying a new pack and adding them to the highly organized book?

Our kids are being robbed of this experience. No one wants 100 pigs all over their kitchen anymore, so no more keeping your eyes out for Theresa or joy at finding that perfect little magnet for her fridge.

Collections have become much more commercialized and mainstream. Pokémon cards, Lego Minifigures, Shopkins, and the like have become what our children collect… at least until they lose interest and move on to the next popular thing. Collecting used to mean so much more than going to the store and picking something up.

There used to be a hunt involved. An element of surprise. You didn’t decide to go out and buy something for your collection; you happened upon it. Your collection found you, and it was an unexpected thrill. Your collection was yours alone – part of your identity. I was Heather, age 10, collector of bunnies.

Collections taught us patience and delayed gratification. They taught us about the value of objects, including sentimental. They helped us gain an appreciation for long term projects and commitment.

I regret not fostering the desire for unique collections in my children. I wish it would become “cool” again so they could experience their own little treasure hunts, too.

In the meantime, I guess I will start with tolerating the rocks. The endless rocks. The quarry that is his bedroom. Perhaps I will get him started on a collection of boxes and solve both problems at once.



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Heather M. Jones is a mom of 2 from Toronto. When not writing, she can be found reading, worrying, and spending way too much time on Facebook.