I bought a Beanie Baby the other day. Really.
For those of you who are too young, Beanie Babies were a fad that emerged in the 1990s. Each Beanie Baby is designed to look like an real animal, but filled with polyethylene pellets. Most are extremely cutified versions of those animals, which include everything from hedgehogs to ladybugs. Several of the significant, “limited-edition” Beanie Babies are shaped to look like teddy bears.
I started buying Beanie Babies around 1997. You could only buy them at independent gift-type stores, and they cost like 8 bucks. When I was in my mom’s hometown, I could usually buy one, because there weren’t enough people around to buy the few Beanie Babies that arrived there. I probably own about 50 of them. Really. I think Mark has several too, but not as many as I do. I was more dedicated.
So, like most useless toys, my Beanie Babies sit in my room without moving. All 50 of them are hanging in a canvas Beanie Baby bag on the back of my bedroom door. Their lifeless eyes stare at me while I sleep.
On a delivery the other day, we were taking a recliner into someone’s family room, and I noticed a glass case of stale Beanie Babies. I had several of the same ones, but there was another one that caught my eye. It was a white bear with several large confetti-like blocks all over it. I was intrigued and decided that I was not yet done wasting money on Beanie Babies.
I went online and looked up the Beanie Baby. After a bit of searching, I found the bear, which is called “Ty2K.” It came out in 1999, and I was able to buy it on amazon.com for only $4.97, with free shipping. I guess that’s a bargain when you’re buying Beanie Babies. Soon it will lurk in my room with the other inert bears full of beans. Well, pellets.
I started thinking about the philosophy of collecting. Of course, the main thing I collect is dust (BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA). I used to collect Beanie Babies, but really I just keep them now because I can’t admit I wasted that much money on useless stuffed animals. But that’s what collecting is, the accrual of useless stuff. Once you use something, it no longer counts as “collected.” You can read comics or collect them. You can mail stamps or collect them. You can play with action figures or collect them. And so on.
Don’t get me wrong, I own plenty of useless stuff. I can’t say I’m better than a guy who owns thousands of stamps, or PEZ dispensers, or Pokemon cards, or used panties. Those people just have one category of things they love, but there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind it. I think collection is a primal process that human beings have reinterpreted. In other words, there is some kind of innate need fulfilled by ownership. How else can you explain it?
I’m trying to imagine having a shed full of 5000 Cabbage Patch Kids or a climate-controlled basement stocked with hermetically sealed GI Joes. Do the owners just wander through every week and fondle them one by one? Probably not, because those fingerprints impart the damaging natural oils found in human skin. Better to just look around and feel safe and secure, surrounded by those blank, soulless toys.
I think that hoarding (er, collecting) is more than a simple hobby. It is an unbelievable attachment to things. Where does it come from? I don’t know.
Of course, hoarding runs in my family. Everyone on my father’s side has that powerful attachment. My dad owns 35 coats. He has 14 camping chairs and 7 tents, although he only camps about 5 times per year. He hates throwing things out, so our entire house is full of items that are not exactly useless, but are definitely never used. There are many things I have tried to throw out or donate that have mysteriously reappeared. In order to properly throw away something he might want to keep, I have been forced to throw it away somewhere else, because he goes through every trash bag that even tries to leave our house. My parents also collect Christmas ornaments. Sigh.
Our home is a museum of things that are never used, yet it is impossible to do anything about it. My father is attached to those things. I wish I could break down that attachment and just fucking destroy it. But I want to bring this back to me. I am not exempt from my family’s congenital materialism. In fact, I am actually worse than my father in some ways. I am … a kleptomaniac. Now, before you start calling me a shoplifter, let me explain myself.
Kleptomania is mostly an obsession with items of “trivial” value. In some cases, kleptomaniacs will steal those things, but they are usually small and useless. Sound familiar? For me, it rarely takes the form of shoplifting, but is more of a random attachment to those things. I feel like I have to own them, although I can suppress it. In other words, I’m not going to rob your house. Really.
For some reason, I randomly develop an attachment to small items made of glass, metal, or stone. I have a couple dozen little things like tiny metal puzzles, marbles, metal hearts, a couple of crosses and rosaries, a napkin ring, a brass piece from a desk, and a tuning fork. I don’t know why, but I do like to have them. I often play around with them, because I like the way they look and feel, etc. I sometimes buy these things when I come across them, but I always have enough conscious control to not steal them. Almost always.
One thing that intrigues me is that although I started out materialistic (I blame Dad), I do think it has gotten a bit worse in the past few years. I was reading Wikipedia, and it cited an article which said that kleptomania can be caused or exacerbated by carbon monoxide poisoning and cyanide poisoning. Now I have an excuse! The Wikipedia article linked to a paper which basically says that carbon monoxide and cyanide seem to do damage to the part of your brain that makes you not a kleptomaniac.
Anyway, I decided to clean my room today. It was looking kind of gross, mostly due to dust and general disorganization. I want to take a stand, so I’m trying to throw out several crappy things I don’t need (or want). I also piled up a bunch of shirts I want to give away, because I don’t need them and they don’t even fit my fat ass anymore.
So beside the possessions normal people hang onto, like diplomas and lava lamps, I kept my trinkets. I now have a shelf covered with glass and metal junk, with the occasional rock to mix things up. I also have a shelf of sentimental stuff that I should hang onto, just in case my ancestral spirits check up on their mortal possessions from time to time.
The line between collecting, hoarding, and kleptomania is pretty thin, but I try to be careful. Of course, the rest of the shelves in my room are covered with books, but I read those. Really.