Copyright © Harry Rinker, LLC 2019

Oil and Water - Collectors, Spouses/Partners, and the Joys of Living Together

My wife Linda has commented on multiple occasions that collectors should never get married or involved with a partner. She claims collectors are better off living alone. I hate to admit it, but she has a point.

Blending collecting with a spouse or partner is not easy. It is frustrating at best and disruptive at its worse. Although collectors are loath to share their collector vs. spouse/partner stories, I have heard plenty. I also have personal experience in regard to this issue.

Collectors are by nature addicted, dedicated, independent, insensitive, obsessive, organized (but in ways few understand), possessive, secretive, and show a distinct lack of financial concern when it comes to how much money they spend. No wonder I love them so much. As Linda keeps reminding me: “It takes one to know one.”

Collecting is an addiction. Once hooked, a collector is a collector for life. Collectors who claim they have kicked the habit are in denial. No one kicks the collecting habit. I have lost count of the number of times I have sworn I was done. As I approach my 78th birthday, an evil voice in the back of my mind keeps whispering “it is time to stop, it is time to stop.” It is the devil at work. He/she is trying to destroy me. If I give in, I will die. Collecting is a life force, as important to collectors’ existence as the blood that flows through their veins. The thought of not collecting is unfathomable.

“Dedicated accumulator” is one of the buzz words at the top of my bio-sheet. I have long passed saver, hoarder, and collector. I am a collector of collections. I live inside a cabinet of curiosities. Our home in Kentwood, Michigan and our condo in Altamonte Springs, Florida is filled with wonders. Each is a stimulant. Each takes me down pathways to new adventures. I know I cannot own it all, but I can try. Not all collectors are this advanced (spouses/partners will argue the correct term is sick). However, all collectors are dedicated; committed to assembling a unique collection that speaks to them in ways that it speaks to no one else.

Collectors are highly independent. This independence takes many forms. First, they enjoy being alone with their collection(s). They understand that there is a mystic aura the flows between collector and object. Any interruption to the aura’s flow is equivalent to an electric shock. Second, collectors are not happy when someone questions what they are doing. They know what they are doing is right. No argument can reasonably prevail against their decision process. Right is right, and what they do is right no matter what anyone else says or asserts. Criticism of any kind is unwelcome. Third, collectors need to be able to go when and where they please. The hunt, whether in the field or on the computer, comes before everything else. Collectors expect their partner/spouse to understand this. When they do not, collectors are surprised.

Collectors' insensitivity is legendary. When on the hunt or working with their collection(s), collectors shut out the rest of the world. They become focused. They hear selectively or not at all, see only what they want to see, touch objects in a loving way that allows a sense of euphoria to develop, and forget time and the need for sustenance. Collectors create an ideal world in which they are the sole occupant. Individuals who try to enter that world often are briskly brushed aside. “All you care about is your things” is a common lament heard from partners/spouses. Much to their surprise, collectors take this as a compliment.

Collectors are obsessive. Habit is a blessing and not a disorder. Collectors develop collecting approaches and routines that become mandatory if rightness is to prevail. Collectors feel most comfortable with fixed routines and repetitive patterns. When collectors visit an antiques mall, flea market or show, they follow the same route each time they attend. There is an expectation that once something is learned, it will always be that way. If the pattern is broken, the collector becomes disorientated.

Collectors do not welcome change. Once they have learned the ins and outs of their collecting category or categories, they reach a comfort level they assume will sustain them throughout their collecting journey. Any change, whether it be a shift in pricing or scarcity, creates a disturbance in the collector’s force. Collectors’ obsessiveness locks them in time. While “as it was in the beginning is now and every shall be, world without end” may work in a religious benediction, it does not apply to the antiques and collecting field.

The collectors’ approach to organization almost defies definition. It is a combination of create piles, pack the shelves, fill boxes, and stack the stuff. It does not include creating any catalog and storage system documentation. Doing so diverts valuable time from collecting.

Collectors take an “I know where everything is” approach. This explains why they spend so much time hunting for something they know they own but cannot find. Like most collectors, I maintain a “missing things” list. The list continually changes as I find some of the things and realize I cannot find others.

Order to collectors is individualized. No two collectors of the same material order it the same way. There is no standardization in collecting. Order is what one makes of it.

Collectors are possessive. They share but do so selectively. They allow others to see some of the things they collect, albeit carefully editing stories of how the objects were collected. They do not share where they acquired things and most certainly not what they paid.

Most collectors cringe when someone attempts to pick up one of their objects. Collectors are extremely sensitive when it comes to handing objects. If an individual is given permission to handle something (a request always should be made in advance) and does not handle it with the reverence the collector feels the object deserves, permission to touch is quickly denied.

Collectors are secretive by nature. They prefer others do not know what they own. This especially applies to partners/spouses. Partner/spousal knowledge leads to questions such as what did you pay, why did you buy it, and where are you going to put it. “I wanted it so I bought it” is all that needs to be stated. Collectors are immune from any need to justify their actions.

Collectors’ desire for secretiveness is seen in where they display, store, and work with their collections. Although a few objects may be displayed in the main living section of a home, most collectors interact with their collections in the basement, a separate room, or even a separate building. Although collectors tell their partners/spouses they are always welcome to visit, those partners/spouses committed to sustaining the relationship know full well that the best approach is to stay away.

Finally, collectors do not take a monetary view toward their collections. They do not buy for investment purpose. They are driven by the joy of ownerships. Selling is an anathema. It is equivalent to selling a piece of a collector’s soul. In theory, once an object is collected, the bond between it and the collector is inviolable. Although collectors realize that such an approach is unrealistic, they still have trouble accepting this. The caveat is that as collectors grow older, their belief in this concept diminishes.

In the past, the one way collectors could prove that their collecting was not driven my monetary concerns was to die with their collection intact. Today, collectors are faced with the growing prospect that selling their collections will result in less than was paid to assemble it. No collector wants to face this. Meanwhile partners/spouses, children, and friends are constantly pressing collectors to sell before they die. It may not be about the money to the collector, but it is to the others.

The old adage “to know a person is to understand him/her” motivated this column. It was not meant to disparage collectors. The good news for spouses/partners of collectors is that few collectors exhibit all the traits described above.

If you are a collector and your reaction to this column is “I am not like this and/or I do not know any collectors like this,” I have but one response. Look in a mirror and think twice.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  Selected letters will be answered in this column.  Harry cannot provide personal answers.  Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned.  Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI  49512.  You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered.

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