My Name is Erik, and I'm a Collector

I'm a completist. That's what my friend, Michelle, tells me. I thought she had made it up, but I checked, and this is a real word. A completist is someone who tries to collect an example of every item in a field or genre.

For example, a completist might try to collect every Star Wars figurine ever made, or a copy of every book about Sherlock Holmes.

When I was 10, I tried to collect the complete 1977 set of Topps baseball cards. I used to sit on the floor of my garage and sort them, after blowing a couple dollars for a few packs of cards.

It was hot, and I was sweaty after riding my bike back from the Village Pantry. The floor was cold and dusty, and had I ever thought about the resale value of my cards, I never would have sorted them on the floor, but who cares about resale value when you're 10?

The cold floor provided some relief against the heat, as I carefully tore open each pack, making sure not to drop the gum, but blowing it off and chewing it anyway if I did. I sorted each card by teams. Braves over here, Pirates over there, Yankees up there. If I was lucky, a beloved Cincinnati Reds card right there in front of me.

I was looking for a Johnny Bench or Pete Rose. I would try to psychically pick out the packs that might have them, but no luck. I must have spent 50 bucks that year on cards, yet only managed to find one of each.

The best days were when I had four packs or more and the sorting took a while. I took my time, eagerly anticipating the next card. The next card could always be a Bench or a Rose, and the waiting was the best part. Once the cards were sorted, I was always a little sad, because the anticipation was over. I would try to find odd jobs to do for 50 cents, so I could get another pack.

The worst of it is, after buying all those cards, I still never got all the cards for the 1977 series. There were still holes and gaps that would haunt me for years until I gave the entire collection to my brother, minus my Johnny Bench card, which I gave to my younger daughter a few years ago.

My completism has reared its head many other times, and I've been able to resist its call. Most of the time.

In 1994, it was plastic football helmets from the quarter machines at my local supermarket. Just like the baseball cards, the random element of the machine made each selection a nice surprise. And just like the cards, I tried to psychically cause the helmet for my favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, to fall.

Unlike the cards, I managed to complete the collection after a couple months. I always ended up with extra helmets from the crappy teams I hated — the Eagles, the Raiders, the Bills — and would sometimes pitch them, because who needs three Eagles helmets? I barely wanted the one.

I collected loose quarters and made up reasons to go to the store for another helmet run. I never made change, and I never saved dimes and nickels. It had to be quarters. That was the rule.

"We're out of deviled ham," I would say, trying to keep my secret from my wife.

"We don't eat deviled ham," she said, although I was halfway to the car by then.

Actually I did, especially on a cool fall night, when I would enjoy the seclusion and quietness of our apartment. While my wife was out with her mom, I would line up the helmets by division or that week's schedule.

I would sit at our little dining room table, a football game on TV, porch door wide open to let in the fall chill, and I would think of football. Or remember my baseball cards from 17 years ago.

Of course, the collection was completely ruined a year later when the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers joined the NFL, so I just gave up.

I rarely collect things. I recognize that I could easily become a full-blown completist, a hoarder, so I hold back. I already collect some things: books by a certain author, albums by a favorite band. Now I'm thinking about collecting a few typewriters. My current plan is to collect only the models used by three or four of my favorite authors, especially since I don't have the room for a large collection.

If they sold them in vending machines, then I'd have a problem. Because we're all out of deviled ham.

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