As an only child for seven years, I collected imaginary and inanimate friends. Barbie dolls, stuffed animals—I surrounded myself with anything I could use as a stand-in for a human being. I even tried making them opponents. What else is an only child to do with all the board games she’s been given? But winning looses its luster when you’re playing against versions of yourself most of the time.
I used to be a collector—a saver. I’ve collected Barbies, rocks, stuffed animals, porcelain figurines, and (in my adult years) the US Mint’s state quarters. As a child, my most prized collection was my family of Barbie dolls—though, given the male to female ratio, perhaps it was more of a harem.
When I saw an article in Parents magazine about a little black girl with a sizeable Barbie collection, I immediately made it my goal to usurp her status. And so, spurred on by my desire to outmatch this stranger and her collection, I set out to amass as many Barbie dolls as I could—but at least one hundred. (I’ve always liked having goals that are round numbers.)
I never acquired one hundred Barbies. I think I got as far as thirty-five. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The thing with Barbie-doll collecting is that it’s an expensive hobby for a child. I didn’t want to ask my parents for something I didn’t need. We weren’t rich. I received the occasional monetary gift for my birthday or Christmas, but I was never given a consistent allowance. It took me months to save up enough for one doll, and in all that time of saving, I was also aging.
I never consciously decided to stop playing with and collecting Barbies. It just happened. One day I must have simply (unceremoniously and unwittingly) played with them for the last time. My once prized collection of dolls became just a duffel bag in my closet that I’d forgot about until a major room cleaning and reorganization episode. Once my younger siblings found them, Barbie heads and limbs were separated from Barbie bodies, and that duffel bag of dolls became a duffel bag of doll parts.
Somewhere along the line I stopped being collector (or saver) all together and became more of a purger. Whereas once I kept the gift, the wrapping paper, the card, and the ribbon, now I only save things that are deeply meaningful and sentimental—or useful to me.
Now I mostly collect intangible things—things that can’t clutter a desk or mantle—good friendships and conversations, time with family, laughter, love, and words.