I recently had a conversation with a friend that seemed pretty anti-toy collecting. At one point she had said something along the lines of, “those better be worth money if your draining your bank account.” This made me a bit defensive. Why is it such a negative that I buy toys when I could waste my money on any number of stupid things? While I’m not always in a collecting toys mood, at my core I am a toy collector. The conversation motivated me to revisit an old article that I wrote for the blog Toy Bender where I went into detail about my motivations of why I collected. The following is the article which at one point made a big splash on the internets. I’ve recovered it and am reposting it here, though I did tweak it a bit so if you read it before, read it again!
Why I Collect Toys
I hate to bring down the rocking all night party here, but it’s time to get serious for a moment. Recently I decided to be a little introspective and I asked myself, “Why I am a toy collector?” Why is there a drive in me to collect items meant primarily for children? More importantly, why don’t I feel bad about it? Even if you are a mild collector of all things toy related, have you ever stopped and asked yourself why you do it? After asking myself these questions, I decided to write this to further explore my own feelings and to see if anyone else out there has similar reasons. In short, I decided to write an essay.
My desire to own and display various pieces of plastic primary intended for kids all began with a bizarre recurring dream I had starting in the early nineties where I was in a huge discount warehouse store. As I walked down the aisles full of plumbing supplies and gigantic boxes of cereal, I would stumble upon aisles full of toys. Not just any toys either. These toys were vintage 70s and 80s Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures and vehicles all at super low prices. In the dream I’d find the biggest cart I could and go nuts, loading it up with toys and figures as I possibly could. I would pick out all the ones I always wanted and never got or the toys that had been broken or lost during childhood. The Death Star play set would make it in the cart along with a Storm Shadow and maybe something Captain Power related. Somehow though, I could never quite make it to the checkout line. I would always wake up before that point pissed that I it wasn’t real. I then realized I had an annoying itch that needed to be scratched.
The toy shopping dream is what actually inspired me to become a toy collector. Hey, Martin Luther King Jr. I’m not. I was still in my early teens, had no job, there was no eBay, and I lived far away from any areas where there were fan conventions of any sort, so things were a little harder back then for someone like me. Still, I did my best and gathered all the Star Wars items I had and put them in a shelf in my closet. As time moved on and more and more Star Wars items came out. As months went on, the small closet shelf became a drawer, and then two drawers. New Star Wars items would trickle into stores and I’d pick them up. Still there was something missing; something crucial. There were no new Star Wars toys. The closest thing I had to actually collecting Star Wars figures at one point were some Star Wars Bend-Ems . I collected every one of those things and it helped quench the thirst for figures slightly, but it wasn’t enough.
Kenner answered my prayers in 1996 with the re-launch of a Star Wars toy line and my hobby became an obsession. But I never really asked myself why I wanted these figures. What was really driving my urge to collect these figures? Was it because I was a nerd? That may be, but that’s an almost chicken and egg scenario. Is it the nerd that collects the toy or does the toy collecting make you a nerd? I’d have to say the latter is true, the label of nerd is applied on hobbies like toy collecting where other hobbies, say gardening, aren’t considered nerdy. Simply being a nerd doesn’t make me want to collect toys. This is proven by the fact that there are “computer geeks” or pen and paper gamers that don’t give two craps about toys, while they certainly would be considered nerds by society in general. I’m also not some loser whose only outlet is collecting toys either, I have my own apartment, a decent job, and I’ve had sex at least one time in my life with a human being of the opposite sex (I even got married for a time after writing this article). The answer, at least in my case, is far deeper than a label.
I think the most obvious reason for my toy collecting habit is that the hobby brings me back to the good times of my youth. When you’re a child and you’re playing with toys there is nothing else like it. You’re innocent, you don’t have to pay any bills, no one has ever cheated on you and broke your heart, and you’ve never had your car stolen or anything terrible like that (hopefully). I think this is why I like keeping a lot of figures in the package, especially ones of the Star Wars variety. In a way, I’m preserving good memories from my youth that don’t exist in any tangible way. In my case, I associate Star Wars toys with the best Christmases of my life and with the ideal childhood two parent, middle class home of my youth. As I grew up and was exposed to hardships, I could at least subconsciously turn back to a time that was better. Star Wars toys had always been a part of that ideal time, so a need to still associate myself with them grew.
Over time I found myself opening more and more figures and displaying them. While I believe my desire for such figures still relates the the physiological reasoning above, I think the reason why I began to open so many of them is that just plain look cool. It’s the same reason why people want to dispaly anything they purchase. A He-Man figure looking all bad ass is aesthetically pleasing.
The second biggest aspect for collecting is the thrill of the hunt. I post articles talking about my toy hunts, because that’s exactly what they are. Sometimes you want a particular item so badly its drives you crazy to the point of making you go to the same few stores every day in the hopes of getting it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you walk into that same store one day, walk down the aisle, and find what you’ve been looking for. Hey, some people get off killing varieties of animals, so I don’t think it’s a weird thing at all.
So while there is no one simple answer as to why I collect toys, and unless I go to a physchologist to try and dig any deeper into this issue, I think the main answer to my question is that a part of me never “grew up”. Personally, I don’t think this is all that bad of a thing, especially as it seems to be more common than it ever used to be. Out of all the ways I could have developed mentally, I’m thankful that I still like buying toys rather than doing drugs or storing a hooker’s body parts in my fridge.
Now it’s that time again where I turn to you, valued Robot’s Pajama reader. If you collect toys what got you started on the road to collecting figures or toys in general? And try to dig a little deeper than, “because they look cool.” If they didn’t look cool then you wouldn’t have them at all would you? I want some good answers here. Now comment away!