Behind the Glass: Is there anything wrong with collections?

The heart of my home is my kitchen, a spacious and open area with cherry wood custom cabinetry. But there are no dishes or fine china behind the glass cabinet doors. Instead, I’ve lined the shelves with Star Wars figures, vintage toys, and rare collectibles.

Guests have pointed out that my Star Wars collection seems to have dominated my home, or at least taken over the kitchen. But how do we know when we have too much stuff? When does a collection become a problem? And by whose standards? 

The show Collection Intervention, which debuted this week on SyFy, takes viewers into the homes of individuals who have extensive collections that may impact some aspect of their lives.  Perhaps a spouse or loved one believes the collection is “out of control.” Perhaps their unrelenting acquisition of items has had an effect on the collector’s financial,  interpersonal, or emotional functioning. The show’s host and narrator Elyse Luray is an appraiser, historian, and auctioneer with a vast amount of knowledge surrounding pop culture memorabilia and geeky collections. The series premiere, “A Disturbance In the Force,” features collector Consetta Parker’s impressive arrangement of Star Wars toys, art, and decor. Parker shares several affective moments during the episode, confessing that she has developed very strong attachments to her Star Wars items.  When she has had to part with something from her collection, she experienced an intense and personal emptiness. Her sense of self was dismantled. “It felt like a part of me was lost.” 

Attachments. We all have them. And we all feel anxious, scared, or hopeless if they’re broken.

Without sensationalizing or pathologizing, the show gives us an in-depth look at the lives of collectors and the people impacted by their collections. We’ve seen similar shows present fans of comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy with a hint of condescension or derision. We’ve seen shows that document individuals at their worst, when what they need is immediate psychiatric or medical attention, not cameras. But this show is not “Hoarders,” in any shape or form.  Despite the word “intervention” in its title, this show makes the distinction that collectors are, for the most part, psychologically resilient and high functioning. Their goal is to stay balanced and stay connected to their loved ones, not get lost in their things.

Luray, a self-proclaimed Star Wars fan, celebrates and respects her clients’ treasures, advising collectors to treat their items gently, to store them carefully, and to help them make meaning out of their belongings. She does not tell them their passions are useless or valueless. She does not advise discarding items simply to “get rid of the stuff.” Rather, she discusses the benefits of making change: Having a more organized presentation, creating more space–figuratively–for people in your life, and giving others the same joy you felt when you owned those items. Parker states that she’s never put monetary value on the things she loves– and Luray does not force (choke) her to price-tag all her belongings. I’d like to clarify, too, that the emotional distress exhibited by Parker and her counterpart collector on the show, Mark, is a common reaction when individuals are faced with the decision to part with something very meaningful to them.

So whether it’s about Hot Wheels, Barbie, Catwoman, or Ewoks, Collection Intervention reminds us that an obsession with all of the stuff does not have to be seen as a pattern of senselessness or disorganization.  No one can doubt that collections are fantastic, unusual, and perhaps eccentric. But we have to delve thoughtfully before we consider them harmful.

A few years ago, I found this delightful arrangement of vintage and current Star Wars action figures at Blast from the Past, a specialty store in Burbank that was featured in the premiere episode of SyFy’s Collection Intervention.  I plan to pick them off and give them a good home, one by one.

6 Responses to “Behind the Glass: Is there anything wrong with collections?”

  1. Sounds like an interesting show, one that might get too close to touching a nerve but I’m glad you pointed out it wasn’t just out to make fun and get people to throw stuff away.
    Maybe in the future they’ll delve into ways to bring discernment into one’s collecting habits and other healthy way of trimming some fat.
    Cheers! Please keep up the thoughtful posts.

  2. aboynamedart says:

    There seems to be a class factor in play with these shows, too. Whereas Hoarders focuses on lower-middle class people with collections framed (and cared for) as bric-a-brac, this show deals with higher-end (or at least, more valuable) collectibles, and people who have the means to spend that money are framed as “lovable eccentrics” without many of the negative connotations attached to “hoarding.” If there is a positive to be gleaned here, it’s the treatment of a Star Wars-themed wedding as being just as “legit” as a more traditional production.

  3. The Jerd says:

    You know, when I saw the ads for that show I immediately got angry thinking it was going to be about shaming people into “growing up.” Glad to her that isn’t the case, thanks for the heads up.

    I will check it out I think!

  4. Agreed Luray, how knowledgeable she is about the collections, and how much she celebrates the prize pieces of the collections, are the best parts of the show. For any collector, though, it’s hard to watch an episode and not have to re-think your own collection — how much have I spent on my collection? Have I taken good care of it? How much space is it taking up now? How much space will it take up in twenty years? I find myself considering the entire phenomenon of “collecting” as I watch.

  5. tavia. says:

    I feel like a home isn’t a home if you’re restricted to just dressing it up in standard dishes and drapes. If you prefer figures over saucers (who uses saucers any way?), then more power to you.

    I think what I saw on Collection Intervention was people sacrificing living well for collecting. Sacrificing the happiness of those they share their lives with for collecting. And sacrificing the actual collectibles just to collect them.

    The guy with the miserable wife and the poorly kept catwoman collection was especially upsetting because there was no upside. there was not pride or joy or anything it was like Hungry Hungry Hippos. Just get to get and have.

    To me, you should embrace your passions and even collect and display them but that should be a part of your life, not consume it like the blob.

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