Collecting​—A Hobby That Requires Balance


DO YOU sometimes find yourself accumulating items that you say “one day” just might be useful? Well, if that day fails to materialize, in time you will likely discard things that serve no practical purpose. Interestingly, though, many take delight in collecting things that may never be useful in a practical way. These are individuals who have made a hobby of collecting.

Some hobbyists work along traditional lines, collecting such items as rocks, stamps, or old coins. Others have a passion for collecting dolls, stuffed animals, spoons, medals, postcards, antiques, music recordings, or vacation memorabilia. The possibilities are endless! One U.S. attorney, for example, has a collection of some 200,000 railroad nails! He is one of hundreds of hobbyists who scour the countryside looking for old railroad nails that have a date stamped on the head.

Harper’s Magazine observes: “It is amazing the things people collect​—teeth and toupees, skulls and cookie jars, trolley-car tickets, hair and fans and kites and forceps, dogs and coins, canes, canaries and shoes, . . . buttons and bones, hatpins and forged signatures and first editions and gas masks.”

Then there are collectors who have a taste for the bizarre. Take the case of a Russian  countess who collected bedpans that had belonged to the rich and famous. A Japanese regent had a collection of 5,000 dogs​—housing them in lavishly appointed kennels. According to Harper’s Magazine, one wealthy collector gathered thousands of fleas “preserved in spirits in individual vials, marked with the place of origin and with the name of the host, animal or human, on which the flea had been found.”

Extreme cases notwithstanding, the idea of collecting things is hardly peculiar to modern times. Amassing large collections of books and manuscripts, for example, is a very ancient pursuit. The book Light From the Ancient Past tells of how Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (seventh century B.C.E.) sent his scribes far and wide to collect copies of early records and documents for his royal library at Nineveh. Ashurbanipal’s palace containing this amazing library was unearthed in 1853.

The Greek and Roman aristocracy were likewise well-known for collecting art. The book Collecting​—An Unruly Passion states: “At the time of Cicero and Caesar, Rome epitomized victorious extravagance and conspicuous consumption. . . . Art dealers occupied entire city blocks. Some of the richest citizens even had their own private museums.”

What Is the Fascination of Collecting?

Why do people today make a hobby of collecting things? The Encyclopedia Americana says: “People pursue hobbies for many reasons but mainly for fun. Hobbies are relaxing and offer a change from daily routines.” Yes, many simply find that spending time perusing their collection of cherished items is enjoyable.

An article in Australia’s Canberra Times newspaper further suggests that a hobbyist’s collection “can bring back memories of places and people that the mind had consigned to some almost lost region. When the collection is of antiques, a bridge is built between the skill and aspirations of previous generations and the appreciation of our own.” Yes, collecting things can be enlightening and educational. Rex Nan Kivell, for instance, was a well-known collector in Australia. He amassed an extraordinary collection of some 15,000 items related to the earliest history of Australia and New Zealand.

Another reason for the popularity of collecting may simply be that many people believe collectibles are a sound financial investment. Says the Utne Reader: “Why else would people pay $80 for a set of ‘original 1969 Woodstock [rock concert] tickets,’ complete with letter of authenticity, when they didn’t even attend the concert? . . . Pop culture collecting has become big business.”

A word of caution, however. The article in The Canberra Times warns: “Collecting is not all pleasure. There are pitfalls. Not all sellers are scrupulous and there are many fakes and forgeries parading as something valuable, with scant regard for propriety or morals.” How disappointing it would be to discover that one’s “investment” is a  worthless fake! The words of Proverbs 14:15 are thus quite practical for collectors: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”

A Need for Balance

Collecting can also occupy too much time, energy, and money. One woman collector described her habit as “an unbearable restlessness.” Alastair Martin, a lifelong collector, even admitted that some collectors “are on the eccentric side.”

In his book Collecting​—An Unruly Passion, Werner Muensterberger said: “Observing collectors, one soon discovers an unrelenting need, even hunger, for acquisitions. . . . It is not even the phenomenon of collecting as such which may seem strange to the outsider, but rather the spectacle many collectors make of themselves, their emotional involvement in the pursuit of objects, their excitement or distress in finding or losing them, and their at times peculiar attitudes and behavior.”

Should a Christian allow his fascination with any hobby to become so consuming that he goes to unwise or embarrassing extremes? No, for the Bible exhorts us to “keep balanced.” (1 Peter 1:13, footnote) And while a hobby can be enjoyable, it is simply not one of “the more important things” that should concern a godly person. (Philippians 1:10) Take a lesson from King Solomon. Using his vast resources, he had an impressive collection of homes, vineyards, trees, and livestock. “Anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them,” confessed Solomon. But did devoting his life to such things bring him deep satisfaction? Solomon answers: “I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind.”​—Ecclesiastes 2:3-11.

How can you prevent your interest in collecting from overshadowing more important concerns? You might ask yourself, ‘How much time can I reasonably invest in this hobby or pastime?’ Remember that the time involved does not end with just acquiring the desirable object. Looking after your collectibles, cleaning them regularly, displaying them, admiring them, and securing them​—all of that takes time. And what about money? Will the hobby drain you of resources that you need to use in caring for your family responsibilities? (1 Timothy 5:8) Do you have the self-control to say no to making a purchase when you really cannot afford it? For that matter, try as you may, you simply cannot collect everything there is to own. What Solomon said about books is true of other collectibles: “To the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is wearisome to the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) So Christian balance is needed.

As noted earlier, collecting has been called “an unruly passion.” But it does not have to be. If collecting is kept in its place and done with balance and moderation, it can be a relaxing, enjoyable, and perhaps even educational pastime.

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It is wise to count the cost of pursuing a hobby, considering both the time and the expense involved