Like many ’80s babies, I was a huge card collector when I was kid. I bought, sold, and traded baseball, basketball, football, and even some hockey cards with my friends. We’d have card collecting parties where everyone would bring boxes of the cards with which they were willing to part and we’d act like we were in an adolescent version of Boiler Room.
It was definitely fun, but there was always a serious undercurrent to it all because the industry had exploded into an empire. There were four card shops within a fifteen-minute drive of my home and card shows and conventions were big events. We were 10-year-olds that were deciding what cards to keep and what ones to trade not based on our personal preference of the players or the aesthetics of the cards, but as an investment. We pored over our copies of Beckett and Sports Card Trader like Warren Buffett studying a stock to see the latest values of the pieces of our precious portfolios – 1983 Topps Dan Marino and John Elway, 1988 – ’89 Fleer Michael Jordan, 1985 Topps Mark McGwire Olympic, and, of course, 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. – and told each other how we were building a collection that would be worth a mint in the future. I had more than a few conversations with kids who believed their cards would pay their way through college.
This was a new phenomenon. We’ve all read or heard the stories like the one about the guy that found a Honus Wagner card in his grandfather’s attic. Every kid I knew had a dad with a story about putting a Joe DiMaggio card in the spokes of a bike or, in my own father’s experience, growing up poor in Philly, he and his friends used Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays cards to play a game that was a variation of 52 Pickup. We couldn’t believe it, but back then cards weren’t seen as assets to be leveraged, but simply as pieces of cardboard with pictures of them that came with a stick of gum.
That change in attitudes between generations is how something meant to be fun for children became a classic financial bubble. And, like all bubbles, it popped. Cards that once fetched thousands of dollars can be had today for a couple of twenties, but only if you buy it on eBay, because it’s nearly impossible to find a card store in 2016.
I was thinking about this the other day when I realized that throughout my life, I have always been a collector. I’ve long struggled with moderation in most aspects of my life, so it really isn’t a surprise that when I choose to acquire something, I go all out.
It’s more than collecting, though. I need to have it even if I don’t necessarily want it. I’m the ultimate completionist.
This is one way my OCD manifests itself.
Before cards, my obsession was toys, first He-Man and Masters of the Universe, then Micro Machines, then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As a child, I must have been the biggest asshole (every child is a dick, but I probably went above and beyond), because I wasn’t content with some of the actions figures or even most of the cars, I wanted all of them. And not just when I was four-years-old, an age in which that behavior is frustrating but understandable. No, I was old enough to know better.
After cards, it was music. I wanted to own every decent hip-hop CD on the rack at Sam Goody and The Wall, but especially those by artists and labels that I liked, even if I knew that those projects weren’t worth my money or time. That’s how I came to spend $18.99 on Christmas on Death Row. If I had the money, I would’ve spent thousands of dollars on music I had littler interest in listening to, just so I could have that artist’s entire discography. My days of collecting something as an investment were long gone.
The ironic thing is that now that I can own every song and album, I spend far more time chasing down music than I do actually listening to it. I’ll make sure I find the CDQ of a song, download it, add it to iTunes, upload it to my iPod, and…never listen to it. Instead, I’m still listening to music from 1995. But in some small, weird way I still feel better knowing that I have it.
There are womanizers out there that say they get enjoyment out of the pursuit of the woman (“the hunt”) more than actually being with her and it is something that I’ve never understood. But then I realized that I do the same thing, only with the items I collect.
It’s all about accumulation.
I’m not a pack rat. Once I’m done with something, I have no problem getting rid of the entire collection. I sold my cards near the height of the market. I sold all my CD’s and went digital. I’ve sold video games and DVD’s. I even sold hundreds of books when I was buying my first house. When it’s time to cut loose, I have no problem walking away.
But when I’m in the middle of the collecting storm, I’m almost myopic about it.
Even this past Christmas, I felt some minuscule sense of accomplishment because I finally completed my DVD collection of Quentin Tarantino films. But then I immediately went to Amazon and put Four Rooms on my wishlist, not because I love that movie and need to own it – I’ve never seen it and the reviews are pretty dreadful – but because Tarantino directed a segment of the flick, so I need to have it.
My newest obsession is books. I’ve had to stop myself from going on a spree and ordering ten at a clip. I have stacks of books I’m dying to read, so why do I keep buying more? It’s my neurosis.
There are worse habits to have – I could be blowing my cash on heroin and hookers – and books have the ability to change your life. It’s not like I miss a mortgage payment because I bought too many books and I do my best to share what I get out of each book I read, but the needing actually takes some of the fun out of it. I look at my Amazon wishlist of books all the time, rearranging the order, thinking about what one I’m going to buy next. This is a far different experience than going to a local bookstore and browsing aimlessly until something catches your eye, you pull it off the shelf, read the synopsis, and decide in that instant to buy it. In that case, it’s like unearthing a fossil or discovering a buried treasure. The other way is almost a letdown because the buildup has been so intense.
When I was a kid, I felt guilty whenever I took my 1992 Donruss Diamond Kings Frank Thomas out of its protective sleeve because I was sacrilegiously devaluing the card by having the audacity to touch it. My fingerprints would devalue it, so I put back in the box. It made the experience more sterile and cold than it should have been. Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way with books, like I am once again am stockpiling and hoarding rather than happily collecting.
It’s not as much fun and I’m determined to rediscover the joy.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.