Be a Curator, Not a Collector

Avoiding the amassing of stuff for the sake of having more stuff

I loved collecting things. Books, games, comics. I idolized shelves growing up. It was about showing taste. It was as if the things I bought somehow defined me.

I still fall into my collecting habits, like a squirrel gathering nuts before winter. But there will never be a lack of books to read or games to play or TV shows to watch. I once calculated how long it would take to finish all of the games I own – it was longer than the average human lifetime. That’s absurd. That’s way too many games, and I’m unlikely to actually play any of them.

Wolfie skeleton holding a video game controller

I go through cycles of collecting and then discarding. I’m still trying to find my balance with physical goods – particularly entertainment. The mantra I repeat to myself is “Be a curator, not a collector.”

That means being intentional with what I bring into my life. If I want to buy a physical book, it better be a book I’m going to read many, many times. Because I’ll have to store it, look at it, and move it. If it’s not a book I will truly revisit throughout my life, then it’s time for it to go. I can always use the library.

I’d rather have a curated set of books, let’s say 10, that I absolutely find value in reading over and over than having 200 books with 75% of them unread. I’ve gotten rid of and then rebuilt collections so many times, and it’s exhausting.

I try not to idolize collections these days, which seem so pervasive in the world of records, books, and games. Leave collecting to libraries and museums. I’ve found it to be incredibly freeing to let go of my collections.

I do my best to avoid places that sell things I have a tendency to collect. That means I try not to enter comic shops, book stores, and electronic stores unless I’ve got a specific list of what I’m looking for. Even on a recent trip where I wanted to travel as light as possible, I ended up buying three books. If I hadn’t entered the book store, I wouldn’t have bought those books.

"Completionist" comic showing Wolfie buying a bunch of books and not reading them

Watch out for sales. They’re designed to make you want to spend your money. But think twice (or thrice) before dropping the cash. Unsubscribe from newsletters from organizations. Don’t follow along with deals and steals. It’s a slippery slope.

As the world has transitioned to digital media, it’s still possible to collect digital goods. They may not take up physical space, but they still cost money, time, and attention. Whether that’s an ebook collection or music library or digital games. Buying digital has its benefits, but it doesn’t do much good to have thousands of comics you’ll never read sitting on your computer.

If you’ve got a collection of stuff already and want to enjoy it, great. Enjoy it. If it ever starts to feel like a burden, let go.

The best part of not collecting is the money saved. I’ve spent thousands of dollars throughout my life on stuff I no longer own like records, books, games, etc. I know enjoyed some of them, but not most of them. Definitely not all of them.

Be a curator, not a collector. Don’t get caught in the trap of needing to have the latest book, game, record, or gadget. Enjoy what you’ve got. Make use of the library. Take it slow.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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