I realized something was wrong about 2 years after I got into toy collecting.
This movie came out that sucked me in like a black hole, reminding me of all these happy childhood memories I had of playing with action figures. I got involved in fandom, where there was this unspoken rule that your goal should always be to acquire more toys and grow your collection. So I set out to re-purchase all of my favorite figures from my kid years and do some catching up with what was coming out at the time.
I was just starting college when this habit started. I lived in pretty cramped conditions for the next 5 years, always with at least 2 other people (and with 5 others at one point). Fortunately, I at least had my own tiny room for 4 of those years, but it was still hard. My rent was accounted for, but other than that I was living off about $150 per month while going to school and it was pretty miserable. There were plenty of days when I couldn’t even afford the $2.35 subway fare. But somehow I always had it in my budget to afford the occasional $10 or $20 toy. I had to– it was one of the few pleasures I had to look forward to. Eventually, though, I started to notice that once I bought a new figure and messed around with it for 15 minutes, it would go on the shelf and barely even get looked at again. As soon as I’d acquired the thing, it ceased to give me real pleasure. It did in the abstract, though– there was some kind of vague satisfaction from knowing that I owned the thing, but that was it.
This came as a more concrete realization when I moved back home, putting my collection in a box for the ride, and then not opening it again when it got to its destination. I put the box in the garage while I moved in, and it never found its way back inside. And yet, I still found myself craving more toys?
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot. What few toys I had were extremely precious to me, and I grew very attached to them during the years I spent running around the neighborhood, using them as actors in my fantastical kid stories. Why was I trying to recreate that in my adult years? Something was wrong; something was lacking.
It’s taken me 2 more years of hard self-analysis, carefully studying my buying habits and cravings, to figure out why I was doing this. In retrospect, it’s not all that huge of a revelation I don’t think– I’d wager that most people suffer from this sort of thinking. But what I found out with me is that I wasn’t craving the object, I was craving an experience I was associating with the object. (That’s marketing 101.) I didn’t actually want a collection of plastic figurines lining my shelves, I wanted to relive the simplistic, idealistic fantasies of childhood that I didn’t quite get to have, what with being ripped in two by two abusive families and step-parents (and a manipulative grandmother in the middle trying to turn me against both of them). I didn’t want an entire wardrobe covered in corporate logos and franchise mascots, I wanted a sense of belonging and community since I didn’t feel at home in the city I went to school in, and no longer felt connected to where I grew up. I didn’t want the stuff; I wanted what it all represented.
I was wanting a sense of ownership over something. I was living in a tiny room, in a tiny apartment, in a huge, cramped city. I was broke. Almost all of my furniture and possessions were plastic and I found myself having to get rid of half of it before each of my 5 moves. Emotionally, I had nothing to my name but the toys and the bed I slept on.
Was everything else I owned just covering up a deeper wound and not actually things that I liked for what they were?
That’s a question that I’m still asking every time I pick something out of the closet to decide whether or not to donate it. That’s a question that I ask every time I find myself wanting to window shop or browse Amazon or Etsy. That’s a question that I’ve asked myself several times a day since I’ve become committed to this zero waste thing. Is this purging just another way for me to cover something up? Will I really be able to live this way indefinitely? If I struggle on an emotional level, will this be a way to help to keep me headed somewhere I can be proud of? Will I ever be able to overcome this compulsion, or will it always be such a hard thing to fight?