It’s a depressing subject, giving up toy collecting, but it’s one that many have considered from time to time and even acted upon. One might be driven to the brink of surrender by finances, space, obsession, disinterest, priorities or a feeling of being overwhelmed. It can lead to feelings of liberation, or pangs of regret. As intensely personal as the collection itself, the reason to quit collecting depends on the person, the way in which that collection was built and maintained, and their circumstances or stage in life.
Just over a decade ago, I had a conversation about giving up with a well know Dutch collector. We decided to publish the conversation on a popular news group where we received both messages of understanding and disapproval. Anyone who has such a conversation about toy collecting is clearly taking it too seriously, some said. Others felt their inner thoughts had been given a voice, so it goes without saying that some of you will relate while others will find the thoughts and views repellent or alien. Let’s not judge though, and instead let our panel of esteemed contributors give an insight into what their collecting, and the potential ending of it means to them.
“I think every collector goes through phases of questioning themselves, whether it’s the amount of money they spend or if it’s that feeling of needing to ‘grow up’. There’s a lot of the ‘boys and their toys’ stigma but equally women spend a lot of money on jewellery, handbags, shoes and are essentially still playing princess. However, dedicated collectors will spend an inordinate amount of money and there are times when we all look at our collections and see only the prices we’d get on eBay for each item, but that’s normal. If someone didn’t do that then that would be far more worrying”.
Money. It doesn’t take long before the connection between money and collecting reveals itself, and there’s a degree of this in every collector that doubts the future of their involvement.
“I was asked what it would cost for me to let everything go and for the first time in my life I had a monetary answer, albeit a ridiculous one, but one nonetheless.”
“The obvious benefits would be the space and money I would save. Those would be awesome (not to mention not hearing my girlfriend complain about all my robits). The stuff I really think about is the freedom it would give me. It would be nice to able to put everything I owned in a single box and move at a moment’s notice. It would be an absolutely incredible feeling!”.
“I’ve actually been strongly considering the idea of either scaling way back or even selling everything entirely. I’ve kept track of what I’ve spent on my collection and it is over $18,000. To someone else that may not seem like much money but for me it is. My wife and I currently don’t have that much money in our savings account. Also, we’ve got a driveway, porch and sidewalk that need to be replaced. I’d like to get those things taken care of next year if possible and don’t think we’ll be able to save enough between now and then. I think that had I quit when I originally intended to I wouldn’t be feeling this way”.
The feeling of guilt and responsibility to higher priorities is also never far from the mind of the wavering collector, but what is it that makes it hard to stop when we think we should? Why do we end up in a position where such re-evaluation of our actions and situation becomes necessary?
“Diminishing marginal utility is also a factor as is usually the case with collecting. At first we collect the things that we really want. Then we keep adding because we don’t want to lose that thrill of buying. The later purchases are unable to re-capture that same fulfillment as the earlier ones. There are problems with the collection. A few of the figures are rare and have cost me more than I should have spent. I bought them because they are rare. Buying something just because it is rare doesn’t bring the same satisfaction for me as buying something that I really want. Also, I’ve been working at being a completist. That tends to be bring me diminishing satisfaction as well. Again, buying something because I feel I have to rather than because I want to”.
When a hobby goes from recreation to obligation, the results are predictable – as long as we can recognise that it’s happening.
“It was never a question of completely giving up what I had, but instead of just not adding any more to the collection. I got the bug early and wanted as many figures as I could get my hands on. As I got older I was of the mindset that I had to collect any/all things Transformer related. I amassed a huge collection, had every domestically released figure, most known variants, and almost all the non-US variants. It just becomes too much. You end up storing a lot due to the space required, let alone the money you put into them. You start to lose interest in the items you have because they’re fighting for your attention alongside so many other figures. Now I’m at the point where I have begun pruning my collection. Just when I think I’m going to stop, something comes around where I give in and buy it (looking at you Masterpiece Sideswipe), or I do something stupid like start trying to finish up Diaclones and collect prototypes”.
But it’s not just collectors who could arguably be termed “serious” or “hardcore” that find themselves so buried in their purchases and experience the appeal of letting go. Real life has a way of interrupting, no matter the scale of one’s collecting or involvement. Priorities are priorities.
“Personally I gave up collecting in 2004/2005 because I had a mortgage to pay and money was a struggle at the time. It was heartbreaking to sell my collection especially with so many prototypes and rare items I knew I’d never be able to get again, but reality prevails. Food and a roof overhead were and still are more important. Ultimately they were just things and life was no different without them. My only regret was that I never took pictures of the unassembled Mega SCF Convoy prototype I had…”
Sometimes these decisions are forced upon us, and other times we make the choices we do based on major life events, events that inevitably leave a wake and spread their influence to other areas of our lives…
“In 2008 I split from my long term girlfriend. We moved out of the house and went our separate ways and I had a big purge of my former life, selling off almost every TF I ever owned over a period of around a year. I went off and did grown-up things like spending money on trainers, dating inappropriate women and buying a house. And every time I saw a TF in a shop, I had a little feeling of regret. I’d never amassed such a large collection of anything before, or since and even though I had a really nice life with a new girl and busied myself with decorating and gardening, I always missed having a bookcase full of toy robots. Then in 2011, I was going through some old boxes and came across some Classics I’d missed – Sideswipe, Ironhide and Bluestreak. I put them on a shelf in the study. A week later, I reasoned that they looked a bit lost without a leader, so went on ebay and found a Classics Optimus to stand with them. 2 years on and that shelf is now 3 full bookcases”.
“All I can share is that I’ve thought about it many times and have re-adjusted my collection many times. It becomes a huge chore at some point. I’ve persevered though and been committed to my resolve even after 4 years of a flooded basement and running out of space. Something always brings me back.”
Regret is a common theme that rears its head in almost all of the accounts where collectors have at one point gone through with the process of selling large parts (if not all) of their collection. If we’ve taken so much time to put these mini-museums together, and then agonised over letting them go, if the decision is correct then why should there be regret?
“Collecting is an addiction…I think the reason we collect, is to fill a void in our life or to fill a gap. It’s an exciting feeling getting something you really want or turning the corner at your favourite toy store and seeing that one rare item sitting on the shelf. My opinion? I don’t think you can ever stop. You can stop smoking for a while but you always end up going back to it”.
Not all of those who think about giving up do so because of money and responsibilities.
“Back then there was also the thrill of the unknown, the collector base was a fraction of what it is today and the internet and knowledge hubs to Transformers weren’t very well developed. As a result you had to do a lot of the uncovering yourself in terms of what actually existed, what didn’t, so there was the thrill of mystery in the game. Today most all vintage TF toys have video reviews, glamour shot photography, scans of all the packaging artwork and hundreds of posts in forums uncovering every detail of a figure. A lot of the fun in the hunt back then was just figuring out what exactly exists and finding new information on your own. Other than the black Diaclone Sideswipe discovery, I’m not sure how many big finds there are anymore for vintage pieces”.
So money and space are not the only external motivators for giving up, a great deal of it can be internal as well, demons we grapple with regularly.
“I find it sometimes difficult to maintain a healthy balance between collecting and family life, and frankly hate myself for it”.
And what of those who have gone through with it and left collecting? How have things worked out for them?
“Quitting is really tough. I sold off most of my collection to put a down payment on a house and clear out space. But you get used to checking TF web sites for new products, and browsing eBay, and those habits don’t stop after the collection goes away. So a couple years later, here I am collecting again.
“If anyone is thinking about quitting, I will give this advice: Don’t sell off anything you may not be able to find again. Some Transformers are literally irreplaceable: prototypes, vintage campaign toys, Series 2 Joustra Diaclones, etc. If you think there’s even a 1% chance that you’ll be collecting again in a couple years, DON’T sell these off, because you may never get a second chance at them!”.
So it seems that even once you walk away, you should still consider making plans for your inevitable return. An initially frustrating but, later, quietly comforting contradiction. Is the pull of the hobby so strong? So inbuilt in us from the earliest days of our lives and our treasured memories? What if we really don’t come back?
“I love my robits. I am obsessed with my robits. I could never bring myself to get rid of them at this point. However! If they were taken away from me by some force (theft, earthquake, fire) I think it would bother me, but I wouldn’t let it define my life. I think I would be able to detach myself and move on. This happened to me once before when my entire loose G1 collection and Star Wars vintage collection was destroyed around 2004/2005. It still brings pangs of pain every now and then, but I let it go a long time ago”.
So there’s hope for those who find themselves at a crossroads, where their hobby has either become more or less than what it was originally. Whether the decision is ours or is thrust upon us, as with everything else, there are positives.
But what if you can’t or won’t give up, even when maybe you should and could benefit from it? Can we still line that with silver?
“Everyone has flaws, no one is perfect. You must not let this fact disturb your life so much that it cripples you. I understand that I could probably do much better things with my money, space, and time, but I am not perfect. I am not Buddha”.
And what of those who have never considered it at all?
“I myself started collecting again just find a way to get out of a very deep and dark depression I fell victim to because of severe neurological problems and extreme headaches and other bodily aches from surviving a car crash at work that wasn’t my fault. The feeling of nostalgia that I got from being able to hold and own the toys in the same boxes I saw in shops and toy folders and owned or couldn’t own when I was a little boy, happy and without aches and problems, was my salvation.
“So there is no reason in the world I would ever give up this hobby and would rather sell my car than my collection if needed as every vintage Transformer I own represents a special moment and feeling in my life”.
Of course, those who have always been able to maintain healthy degrees of moderation in their collecting may find all of the above wildly extreme and not at all representative of how they enjoy their hobby, but the wild extremes of Transformers collecting are every bit as fascinating as doing it ‘right’, and often it’s the hardcore extremists that push the boundaries – for better or for worse.
Even if none of what has been said here strikes a chord with you, or interests you – or if none of it helps you reach a decision or find peace with one that you have made, there are still a couple of key things that we would all do well to remember…
“The friends I’ve made and times we share together are what matters most to me now. Collecting Transformers is just an excuse to get together once a year and raise some hell”.
A huge thank you to those that heeded the last-minute call this week and provided their wisdom and experience on tap: Justin Shannon, Vance McLennan, Shanti Seigel, Ben Munn, Jack Hurwitz from TFormers, Paul Friemel, Imre Struys, Themdukeboys, Rich Schulze, Ben Munn, David Duca, PandaGash, Jeff Stein, Morgan Evans from Masterforce, Curt from TFSource, Paul Hitchens from The Spacebridge, JB Martin and Immo de Maar, and to Grandum for approaching me with this idea originally.
Thanks also to Morgan Evans, Francesco Ristori, Eric Warren, Martin Lund, Jon Krause, Marco Salerno, Marco Van Leeuwen, Brandon Yap, Ben Munn, Paul Friemel, Mike Castaneda, Chuck Liu, Bryce Rutledge and David Buenaño Hochman for pictures contributed.
All the best