Is Your Collection Too Big For You to Handle?

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This collection shows all the signs of having “Crossed the Rubicon.” Boxes upon boxes are randomly jammed and wedged into these shelves; very little is actually visible for visitors or the owner to enjoy. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

How to Know When You’ve “Crossed the Rubicon” of Collecting

Have you reached that undefined, yet anxiety-ridden point as a collector where you feel you’re no longer in control of your own collection? Has what started out as a pleasant reason to visit flea markets and garage sales become an around-the-clock, ebay-stalking obsession? How about handling, arranging, displaying, and storing your ever-growing mountain of mementos? Is all of that work (and it IS work) as much fun as it used to be? Or has it mushroomed into something beyond your control? Something you wish would just—take care of itself? 

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Stackable, plastic totes are one of the best ways to handle long-term storage of a collection. Cardboard boxes are prone to crushing and rotting, while these tubs are rigid, portable, and moisture-resistant. In a flood situation, they’ll even float, giving their owner one last chance to rescue the contents undamaged. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Take a Good Look Around You

You’ve been a collector now, for what, 10, maybe 20+ years? You’ve come a long way during that time, right? So, how’s your collection looking today? Is it as you always imagined it would be, neatly displayed inside well-lit, dust-free display cases? Or is it piled up so high that producers of A&E’s Hoarders have begun peering through your windows? If you find yourself expending more energy stepping OVER and AROUND your treasures than actively and enjoyably engaging with them—then you (and your collection)— have “Crossed the Rubicon.”

“I Know. I Have Too Much Stuff!”

Whether that’s true of yourself or not, it’s important that every collector understand the factors that can negatively impact their collecting experience; starting with:

LACK OF SPACE— For most collectors, a lack of adequate display (or storage) space is the numero-uno problem they face. Of course, the irony is, no matter how much space one has, it never seems like it’s enough. For example, frustrated collectors who are limited to just one display cabinet or even an entire bedroom are surprised when they learn other collectors—who possess much MORE space—are still complaining about the same problem. Why is that? Let’s find out…

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Stackable, plastic drawer sets are an economical and efficient way to store collections that are comprised of many small objects (such as GIjOE uniforms, helmets, boots, weapons, and accessories). Once the drawers are labeled, it takes only seconds to locate any desired part. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

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These display cases from IKEA have proven to be one of the most space-efficient and inexpensive ways to display 12″ action figure collections. With four levels and a small “footprint” of only 17″ x 17″, it’s possible to display a great number of figures while using up very little floor space. Even better, the items are kept dust-free! (Photo: Alex Yu)

Collections Abhor a Vacuum

And collectors will rush pell-mell to fill whatever available space they can find. Depending on the items in one’s collection, an appropriate display area can range from a simple set of shelves, all the way to a custom display room. One collector we spoke with recently, a “Mr. X,” described his own spatial dilemma thusly:

“My collection is wayyyyy outta control. No matter how I organize it, there just isn’t enough room to set everything up. Are there some kind of shelves or something that might help me? If not, I guess it’s time to make some hard decisions and start culling the herd, so to speak.”

Mr. X’s comments are ones we’ve all heard (or said ourselves) before. But his question about shelving and organizing options leads us to our next collecting quandaries:

STORAGE SOLUTIONS— If you don’t have enough room to adequately display your treasures, it’s important that you know how to store them properly in the interim. Cardboard boxes won’t suffice. They wear out, foster mold, and crush down upon themselves. A far better solution is to purchase a set of stackable, plastic “totes” and/or drawer sets (see photos above). They’re durable, moisture and insect resistant, and even FLOAT if caught in a flooded basement.

DISPLAY SOLUTIONS— Seriously though, what’s the point of owning a collection if you can’t display and enjoy it? To maximize whatever square-footage you do have, we recommend the use of space-efficient, built-in shelving (attached to studs in the walls), or in lieu of that, floor-standing, glass-n-metal Detolf display cases from IKEA (see photos above and below). The Detolf cases are easy to assemble, require very little real estate in your Joe Room, include a built-in light at the top, display 20+ figures easily, keep your collectibles dust-free, and look GREAT. Problem solved!

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Alex Teo of Singapore (far right), is a shining example of a collector who’s successfully managed to integrate his love of action figures and toys into his home life. With the loving support of his wife and family, Teo’s collection is spread throughout his house, yet avoids becoming “clutter” by being carefully and respectfully arranged within high-quality display cases. Outstanding! (Photo: Alex Teo)

Bottom Line: Collectors such as Alex Teo (above) are leading the way, showing the rest of us how to successfully integrate large collections into our homes and avoid crossing over the dreaded “Rubicon of Collecting.” Neatly arranged and out of everyone’s way, Teo’s amazing collection is easily seen and regularly enjoyed by all. What an inspiration! If you think your collection has gotten too big to handle, just take some “Tips from Teo.” And…Happy Collecting!

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4 thoughts on “Is Your Collection Too Big For You to Handle?

  1. Exusafsp says:

    The majority of my collection is in storage bins in a U-Haul Storage Locker.

    • Michael says:

      If you have your collection in storage its time to sell it and you have a serious problem . being a toy hoarder!

      • Exusafsp says:

        Not really, they were in my office but I needed the room for my desk etc. besides I have culled down the collection twice and everything left is what I’m keeping so my sons/grandsons can “fight” over ;).

  2. Joe Essid says:

    Try collecting 1/1 scale cars and all the stuff that they require 🙂 Seriously, the tips here are great. It’s particularly important, even in plastic tubs, to be certain of moisture control if you don’t have them in climate-controlled storage. I’ve been selling off a farm-toy collection on commission, and it’s tragic that the owner did not attend to that. The carboard boxes are often dirty or moldy, ruining the potential value of the item I’m selling.

    In short: watch for that fine line between “collector” and “hoarder.”

    I find that air circulation with a big fan in my building with the old cars helps, as does some of those little desiccant packs. I never throw them away but collect them too, to put in tubs and bins.

    Final rule for me: when I don’t enjoy an item, or it’s really in my way, I sell it or give it to another collector.

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