Collections: how to avoid a hobby becoming a problem

A few tips on what to do if your geek merchandise and DVD/Blu-ray collections run the risk of getting out of hand...

How do you cope when your prized memorabilia turns from a healthy collection of a few hundred items into an obsession of Guinness Book of Records proportions? With Star Wars and Doctor Who collections now making said Guinness Book of Records, by nature of their perceived uniqueness and sheer range, we look at what constitutes a collection which is of some merit, as opposed to just a few hundred things many people may have. And how do you spot when that innocent set of artefacts has outgrown its purpose and threatens to overtake your home and your life?

So, you’ve grown up with a TV series or film franchise and for many years you’ve collected the related merchandise. Not that you’ve needed much encouragement, indeed sci-fi fans in general are super-served, by stores like Forbidden Planet, to indulge their hobby. Not only can we watch our favourite film or TV show but we can collect every possible item under the sun, within reason. That last proviso: ‘within reason’, suggests we are only too aware that our collections may rapidly get out of control, due to either space issues, financial issues, relationship issues or a mixture of all three.

I have always subscribed to the view that an incomplete collection is always far more interesting than a complete one. Though it is fair to say that the nature of science fiction dictates no collection, no matter what the subject matter, is ever likely to be truly complete. There will always be a new improved special edition around the corner. It’s what you haven’t got that makes things sweet. It’s what you may never get but you keep hoping one day you might just spy, that adds spice to collecting. Everyone has that ‘holy grail’ item, the one thing that above all else would make the collection worthwhile and give it a tangible reason its existence.

Spotting the signs of a problem

We’re are familiar with “hoarder next-door” type documentaries, programmes of varying sensitivity about a serious mental health disorder. One measure is if the collection fills a box room and you can still at least sleep in the room (or put someone else up) then it’s not likely to be an issue. If it is encroaching every available space in the house, however, things might be getting desperate. If you literally cannot get through the door to any room and struggle to even get through the front door, it’s likely that there’s a problem. Here’s a useful link if you want to understand more about Obsessive-Compulsive behaviour.

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Try to step back (if you can!) from your collection. Examine its full extent. Just how far does it overtake your living space? Is it manageable or is it out of hand? If you find yourself moving a model of the Millennium Falcon just to boil the kettle, there’s a problem. If you have to remove an army of Sea Devils and Silurians to take a bath, there’s a problem. If you can’t get into bed for an array of cos-play costumes, there’s a problem. Such things should be obvious but sadly, for complex reasons, some people are unable to see that. The point for collectors to watch is when you become less discerning and everything ends up in “the collection”, the whole house becomes a collection to an extent. As long as you can disseminate “collection” items from household items, you’re probably on safe ground.

Relationship issues?

If you live alone you get the final say on how big the collection should be, though remember that houseroom is finite. If you’re in a relationship, does your partner condone or even indulge your collection? Does he or she have one of their own? Or do they actively take against the collection and has it become a source of friction? That’s when it’s worth thinking about how important the relationship is to you. I don’t mean to be flippant but if you truly believe your collection is more important to you than a potentially worthwhile relationship, you should perhaps question your values. Compromise is part of sharing your life with someone. It might be that you need to take (potentially drastic) action to appease their objections to a collection that’s growing out of hand. No one should be in a relationship where one partner makes all the decisions or demands a collection is broken up to try and ‘reform’ the collector. If you’re as passionate about your collection as you are about your other half, they should be aware of that and accommodate (within reason) your interests in the same way you would accommodate theirs.

You shouldn’t try to change someone too fundamentally when entering a relationship but equally there needs to be give and take on both sides. If your collection is deemed too excessive or to be a potential stumbling block, consider paring things down. If it is a relatively small and discerning collection then you may need to stand your ground a bit more. Maybe as a token gesture, get rid of a few non-essential items to show willing? If a collection takes up a small box room intended for such a venture then that is fine, as long as space isn’t at a premium. If the box room needs to become a nursery, you may need to think again!

Best way forward?

One extreme solution is to throw it all away. It’s certainly a cathartic and healthy-seeming approach on the surface, but one that could be quite damaging emotionally. It is a huge step and unless you are suddenly forced to relinquish the collection as a last resort, a complete clear-out should probably be avoided. Even if you are made of very strong stuff and have truly mentally prepared – it is better to gradually reduce the collection. You should attempt to sell most of it on, remember, the majority of a decent collection will be saleable, not least because serious collectors obsess about the “mint condition” of items.

Always be honest and realistic. When did you last read a particular book or magazine or watch a Blu-ray, DVD or video? Or listen to an audio? Big Finish – a fine company don’t get me wrong – have produced nearly 1,500 audio dramas across a range of sci-fi franchises, arguably at a rate where it is almost impossible to keep up, yet it remains tantalising to know there is so much out there but you need a serious amount of shelving to accommodate them all. Is your collection of action figures for show or for your kids, nephews and nieces or grandchildren to play with? Perhap’s it’s a way to encourage the younger generation who don’t yet possess the (not inconsiderable) disposable income required to put a serious collection together.

Paring things down

Try not to be overly sentimental. Take photographs of larger items in the context of your home – prove you had them. Then move on. Remember, by paring things down, you not only get space back you might stand to make a pretty tidy sum too. A win/win situation. Keep a positive attitude, see the process as a chance to rearrange the room. Invest in new shelving if you can afford it, with the intention of accommodating the collection more efficiently, in a way that shows off some of your most prized items. You are cutting down the collection for good reasons but it is very tough to have to part with so many treasured items. Always think of the future and how you can approach the collection from a different angle. I had to sell many of my DVDs to make ends meet a few years ago. Cathartic on one level, yet gripped by necessity, I couldn’t afford to be over-sentimental and realising most DVDs can be bought again, I chose to make my collection smaller and different.

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What’s it worth? Be honest!

Many collectors have a slightly deluded idea that one day their collection “will be worth thousands”. Well, unless you have literally thousands of items, keep dreaming. Hundreds? Maybe, if the items are sufficiently unique, or interesting. Bear in mind, major TV or film franchises – most especially Star Wars, Doctor Who and Star Trek, are hugely popular and therefore very little in your collection is likely to be either unique or irreplaceable. Autographs and genuine props being the most obvious exceptions. With autographs, realistically speaking, don’t expect too much but if the star in question has passed away, the autograph will probably become more collectable and consequently be worth considerably higher prices. If you are able to get a collection of names together – maybe in a nice frame – say the original cast of Star Wars; or all the living former Doctors from Doctor Who, together with the incumbent Doctor and genuine signatures from those who’ve passed away; or perhaps all the Star Trek captains  – then you can probably name your price. Rare prop items can sometimes be a quirky addition to a collection and they don’t always have to be that large: Gerald Harper, who played Adam Adamant wore false eyebrows and a fake widow’s peak. A collector put Harper’s signature together with the eyebrows in a frame, an unusual item that would be worth far more than the autograph alone.

So where are the best places to cash in? Places such as CEX on the high street and the likes of Music Magpie online will give you anything from 10p to 10 quid (occasionally more) for most items. Be aware that many CDs produced in the last ten years and of a particularly mainstream interest, especially teen bands and talent show singers are worth next to nothing (for the moment at least). If you know an organisation that could give you a better deal then approach them. There is always the convention circuit for trading cards and smaller merchandise and for larger prop items, there’s auction houses.

Always bear in mind, ‘specialist’ material will not be worth much to high street retailers who deal with comparatively mainstream product. Try places like the The Vintage Magazine Company (Vin Mag) to offload rare magazines or The Who Shop, which will take Doctor Who items in good condition. Forbidden Planet don’t tend to deal with buying up collections, regardless of their “mint” condition. Many large towns have TV and Film collectors shops or market stalls, which (if they can’t help you directly) may be able to put you in touch with someone who can.

Future purchases

So, you have pared down your hallowed collection. What happens next? Simple rule: Don’t keep buying! Replacing one item for a new one doesn’t break down the collection. Always consider how much you really need new items, decide if you can afford them and if you genuinely love them. If the item you desire is truly a ‘now or never’ purchase then get rid of at least three other artefacts. If it is large then consider releasing five to ten items from your collection. So, do you still want it? Can you borrow it? If it’s a DVD can you watch it online? If it’s a book, can you borrow it from library? If not, why not ask the library to stock it? Just how big do you really want or need the collection to be? A smaller, more discerning collection is the best way forward. You know what you have, you know roughly what its worth and most importantly, you know that you can keep it in check!

In short, be a realistic and discerning collector. Enjoy what you already have but give plenty of consideration to any new purchase and hopefully you will avoid the pitfalls.

Happy collecting!

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