It starts with one toy elephant


By Janice Lindsay, Contributing Writer

Janice Lindsay reflects on how she became a collector, starting with the gift of one toy elephant.
Janice Lindsay

In a recent conversation with acquaintances, the subject of collecting things arose. Someone suggested that the urge to create collections might be a mental disorder. I found this an odd observation coming from a history professor. We know much about life in the past because objects were saved back then by avid collectors. And museum directors: Aren’t they passionate collectors?

Forty percent of United States households engage in some form of collecting behavior, says an article in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia about the psychology of collecting.

I am not a collector.

Except for elephants. Here’s how it started. A friend discovered that I love elephants. She gave me a toy elephant. Another friend asked, “What’s with the elephant?” And others caught on, and now I have elephant figurines, more toy elephants, elephant coffee mugs, measuring cups, tote bags, a scarf, greeting cards, stationery, earrings, a pendant, a pin, key chains, a flower pot, paper clips, cellphone holder, bedspread. I love them all. In my defense, I bought only a few of these wonderful elephants.

That’s my collection.

Except, of course, for the owls. A friend and I volunteer for a non-profit whose mascot is the great horned owl in a donated painting. She loves owls in general; I love our owl in particular. She started sending me owl greeting cards and figurines, I reciprocated, which encouraged her to send more so now I have an owl collection.

But that’s all, just elephants and owls.

Except for little bird figurines. My husband and I used to go on hiking trips, and, as memento of each trip, I bought a bird. I have a road-runner from Arizona, a shamrock-decorated swan from Ireland, a toucan from Peru. When people saw that I had bird figurines, they gave me others.

But that’s it, just the elephants and the owls and the birds.

Oops, the post cards. When I was a little girl, my grandparents traveled and sent post cards to everyone in the family. I kept the post cards they sent me. When relatives found out I liked the post cards, they gave me theirs. I still have them. People don’t send post cards very often now, but when I get one I add it to my, um ….

Bookmark collection. Many interesting places offer attractive bookmarks as souvenirs. Bookmarks are nice gifts for people who love books. Post cards also make good bookmarks.

How many objects constitute a collection? A friend once told me, “Two are a pair. Three are a collection.” 

So I must confess to having seven ukuleles, four rubber duckies, and more than three books in several different categories.

Okay, so maybe I am a collector. But it’s totally by accident. I didn’t set out to collect. Collections happened. I acquired one something, I didn’t un-acquire it, another arrived, then another. Collection.

A friend collects small heart-shaped stones and another collects horses, both live and figurines. Birders have life lists. Travelers collect visits to national parks. A friend’s friend collects antique airplanes. When my son was 10, we collected words with five consecutive consonants (“lengths,” “nightshade”). A couple I once met had visited European castles and carefully collected and labeled a square of toilet paper from each castle’s restroom. 

Why collect? Every collector has a personal reason. For me, reason enough is enjoying the company of these beloved items and remembering the people who gave them to me or the places where I acquired them.

That seems perfectly normal to me.





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