My brother recently introduced me to the television show American Pickers on the History channel. For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the program like I was, the series focuses on two men, Mike and Frank, who travel across the U.S. hunting for antiques from junk piles, storage sheds, barns, basements, attics, and even along the side of the road. They restore what they find (if restoration is necessary or appropriate) and sell it to antique dealers. Part of each show focuses on the historical relevance of the pieces that are picked out of the piles of stuff, which is how the show ties into the overall theme of the History channel.
Mike and Frank visit three or more “collectors” each episode. I put the word collectors in quotes in the previous sentence because many of the people they pick from are pack rats (or hoarders) instead of collectors. This is obvious in a few ways:
Being a collector means that you respect the items you are collecting. Tossing an object haphazardly into an old barn or rickety storage shed, where it will be exposed to cold/rain/heat/humidity, can’t be accessed by anyone other than the truly daring, and having no regard for its maintenance or upkeep is not respecting a collection. Stuffing objects into a cardboard box at the bottom of your closet or into an attic is also not respecting or protecting a collection.
Collectors know what is in their collection without a visual reminder or other cue. Pieces are carefully chosen for a collection and collectors can discuss the entire contents of their collection without any prompting.
There is a level of pride, goodwill, and sport surrounding the collection. Collectors are eager to talk about their items, show them to others, discuss trades and sales with other collectors, and may even brag a little if the mood strikes. People aren’t embarrassed and don’t feel shame about their collections.
Conversely, pack rats don’t have this type of relationship with the items they possess. Objects are not respected, at least not using methods traditionally accepted as being respectful. Pack rats are often unaware of what is in their stockpile of stuff (especially in cases of hoarding), and most feel a level of embarrassment and won’t let others see their complete collections or collecting spaces.
Watching the show leaves me with an unnerving feeling because the pickers praise pack rat (or hoarding) tendencies, and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Many of us — myself included — may find ourselves walking the fine line between collector and pack rat from time-to-time. A good way to stay out of the pack rat category and in the realm of a real collector is to ask yourself the following questions about your collected items:
How do you store your collection? Are you storing all of your items in a way that clearly and traditionally expresses this respect to yourself and others?
Do you know exactly what is in your collection without a reminder or cue?
Do you eagerly talk about your collection and show it off to friends?
Would you be willing to discuss a trade or sale of some of your items to other collectors? (If this is common practice with the items you’re collecting.)
Based on your answers to the questions above, it may be time to assess and evaluate your items and take steps to move back into the realm of the collector. Be honest with yourself — are you a pack rat or a true collector?