Here’s the thing about hobbies. They’re supposed to be a diversion. Something to get your mind off a crummy day at work. A way to calm down from whatever’s got your blood boiling. Yet all it takes is a gander at the angst in some message boards, blog posts and Facebook comments and you might swear that no one really wants to collect. It’s just something you have to do.
Some of that consternation is coming from ourselves. We’re not living up to being the kind of collector we know we could be if we a) had more time b) ran a card company c) had a lot more money or d) could be named Czar of Sports Collecting. Come on. Our hobbies shouldn’t be a source of our stress. Even if it’s not that bad, it’s always good to take a little personal inventory once in a while.
With that, we offer ten keys to taking control and being a happier collector.
1) Stop trying to collect everything. You’ll never do it. You’ll spend way too much. You might wind up obsessed. That’s not collecting. That’s compulsion. We’ve had people on our Facebook page lamenting the arrival of Score and Upper Deck in the late 80s because it soon became too cost prohibitive to own every card from every set, ever year. Guess what. You never had a chance at building a complete Old Judge set either. It was a less complicated time, yes. Now it’s time to let it go.
2) Embrace Variety. Someone knew what they were talking about when called it the ‘spice of life’. It’s not just some dumb cliché. We preach not spreading yourself top thin and the importance of having a meaningful collection rather than a bunch of stuff tossed into boxes but it’s also important not to get bored with collecting. Don’t overdo it, but own a few things outside your normal comfort zone.
3) Buy What You Like, Not What You Feel Like You Have To. Forget your compulsion to build set after set, year after year or your devotion to a certain player. Much of the time, the stack of boxes that house your sets and ‘completist’ collections will never be opened until the day you finally decide to sell them.
Spend a half hour devouring an auction catalog and actually buy something, even if you have to save for a few months. When you read about something historic, type a few words into an eBay search and chances are you’ll find something that is just flat-out cool to own. The things you never thought you’d buy often wind up being the most fun items in your collection—the stuff you could show friends and post online because you know other people who see them will be blown away too.
4) Time manage. Because sometimes it’s just not worth sorting 5,000 commons into numerical order. Dump them at a garage sale– your own or a charitable organization’s affair. Take them to Goodwill and let them decide.
Don’t get too bogged down with reading online message boards. They can be a valuable source of information. They can also be a giant time suck if you get caught up in the negativity and silliness that often permeates some discussions.
5) Keep house. My office is a mess. I hate cleaning. I have better things to do than organize stuff or put it away. I always think I’ll get to it later. A month later, it’s still there and I’m mad at myself. A stack of cards. A bunch of reference books. An auction catalog. A stack of papers. Yuck.
I feel so much better when there isn’t dust everywhere and things are where they’re supposed to be—or thrown away. Take a weekend morning—get up an hour earlier if you have to—and clean up after yourself. Find a half hour and list that little stack of cards you’ve been meaning to sell on eBay. Now you’ll feel better and you’ll have more money in your Paypal account.
6) Trade. It’s the foundation of collecting but amazingly, it’s become almost a lost art. Years ago, collectors posted ‘trade’ ads in hobby publications. I remember sending out three or four packages a week back then—at least—that were strictly trades. We used to get together with other collectors in the area once every couple of months and trade.
These days, there are trading areas inside some of those forums. Jump in there and try to work some deals. Post your own ‘trade’ ad. These days it’s free and faster. You might have to work a little harder to find a workable deal or two but it might be worth the effort. There’s nothing better than adding cards or other items you need and not having to pay to get them.
7) Go to a show. No show beats the selection, comfort and convenience of buying online but it’s still fun to find a show (even if you have to drive an hour or two) and buy something you can own right now. It’s also good to get out and, you know, talk to real people face to face once in a while.
8) Go to a shop. If there is one near you, patronize them once in a while. Not every town has one, so feel lucky. If you don’t have one nearby, find one the next time you go to a different city. You might be surprised at what they have and/or what they know.
9) Collect at least some vintage. Even if you’re all about new products, great pulls, autograph and relic cards and case breaks…buy something that’s at least 40 years old. Save for a Babe Ruth card. Buy an original Jackie Robinson for what he represents. Buy some Hall of Fame rookie cards. Football and basketball are, in many cases, way underpriced compared to their baseball counterparts.
Besides, old cards tell the best stories and as you get older, you’ll appreciate them more. Trust me on that one.
10) Don’t hate the new stuff. On the other side of the coin, you sound like great gramps at a hip hop concert when you ridicule those who collect ‘shiny stuff’. Love vintage? Guess what. Vintage means different things to different people. It all depends on when you were born. You don’t own the nostalgia market. To some, Griffey rookies are vintage.
Just because you think old cards hold their value more or represent ‘real collecting’ doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with you. Collecting is about owning what speaks to you. Anyone under 50 has no memory of Mickey Mantle’s prime years as a player. You can’t judge someone who’s 25 and would rather collect Mike Trout. For many people, it’s more fun to collect the guys who you can watch play right now. And no matter what you think of the current card market, you have to admit that some of the cards being produced today are mind-blowing.