I’ve had a number of collections over the years: baseball cards, action figures, Beanie Babies. Call me a child of the 80’s – everything was a collectors item back then.
The one I’m most known for, however, is a Pez collection that was nearing 500 pieces in its prime.
As an aspiring minimalist, I have been coming to terms with that collection over the past few years. It isn’t going to be able to be a big part of my life anymore. But at the same time, it isn’t easy to get rid of something I’ve invested time and energy into for over 20 years.
Here are some tips I picked up on how to get rid of a collection in the least jarring way. Some I’ve learned from past collections that were easier to part with, and some I’m learning now. If you have come to the place where you are ready to move on from a collection, perhaps these tips can help you.
Tip 0: Define Why You Have The Collection
Despite the fact that I’ll often refer to myself as a ‘minimalist’, I actually think there are plenty of cases where a collection can be justifiable.
If it is something that brings you joy to look at often, if it is something that is truly valuable and building it is an for-profit activity for you or if you really enjoy the hobby of collecting – perhaps a collection is fine. There might even be a case for you being the historian – the sole archive of artifacts about a specific context. This will by nature not be true of any sort of toy, plate, etc. collection that is mass produced.
I found that none of those was really true for me anymore. When I did collect, the first and last items were. Now, a Pez collection, as beautiful as it is, isn’t really what I prefer to focus my attention on visually. My collection wasn’t particularly valuable and I was never really building it for business reasons. Finally, I’m no longer in a stage of life where I want to devote free time to collecting.
If you aren’t sure if you are ready to get rid of your collection or not, spend some time reflecting on why you have it and what it means to you.
Tip 1: Take A Few Good Pictures
Before I took my Pez collection down I took the photo above and a few other close ups. I wish I had a better camera at the time, but even that blurry picture is fine.
A photo is a great and small way to remember a collection in its full glory. Take time to clean everything off, organize it properly and set it up for maximum visual appeal. Then make sure to get some good lighting and snap your photos.
Tip 2: Get Real About The Value
It is highly unlikely that anyone thinks your collection is as valuable as you think it is. Your emotional connection to the process of collecting inflates the value of the objects in your mind. You are going to have to get real with yourself.
Do your homework and figure out what the real price is any what realistic possibilities are for the near future.
If you are having a hard time reconciling the fact that you have spent a lot of money on the collection that you viewed as an investment and will likely never see again, consider these two things.
First, the sunk cost fallacy – look it up.
Second, hack your brain by telling yourself that they money you spent on the collection was the cost of entertainment. Have you ever spent $10-20 to see a movie that lasted two hours? Did you feel bad that you left with nothing physical, only a memory? No, of course not, because you were paying for entertainment. Consider the good times you spend collecting as entertainment where the amount you paid was the cost of admission. If it totals to less than $5 an hour, you’re doing better than movie tickets.
Tip 3: If It Is An Investment, Treat It Like One
I often hear about people keeping things in some awkward middle state between enjoyable collection and investment. The two are very different.
Some collectors items do in fact make great investments, like certain Lego collections. If you believe your collection will be valuable in the future, treat it like an investment. Everything should be kept in pristine collection, likely in an oxygen & UV free storage container. It should likely not be handled, which would only harm or risk harm to the investment.
If it is an investment, you should likely be managing it in some sort of professional manner. If you believed a certain Lego set was going to be worth 600% more in a few years, you would not buy just one, you would buy as many as you could, store them somewhere safe and monitor the market for the right time to sell them.
What is more likely is that you have a bunch of random items in a box (or boxes) on a long shot that they will be worth a ton some day. Stories of such things happening to others has fueled this skewed perception. The cases where this is true are very rare, and statistically not worth the cost of the bet you are making. It might seem like a free bet, but in reality you are paying for that box, the square footage it takes up, the time it takes to move them periodically when you need to access something else or relocate altogether. What is most likely is that you are just burdening yourself with a box that is, from an investment perspective, not worth anything now nor later.
Tip 4: Figure Out The Best Marketplace
If you have decided to part ways with your collection, you’ll need to figure out what the best way to move them to their next destination. If you spent a lot of time buying or trading items with other collectors, you probably have some idea of the going rate and best marketplaces. For Pez it was easy, ebay is a great marketplace that for a long time claimed it was invented thanks to Pez (whether or not that story is true is contested.) If you collect some sort of specialty item, like dinosaur bones, you might need to use private auctions. Finally, some things have no market, in which case the trash can might be your best option.
Tip 5: Get Rid of the Whole Collection
If you are emotionally able to do so, just do this right now. It will be the fastest option. Go for speed, even if it means you leave something on the table. Sell it, donate it or trash it – whichever one makes the most sense based on the items.
I suspect you’re reading this because you’re having some trouble with the emotional aspect of things and the process around it. So I have come up with a series of steps to help you.
Tip 6: Follow These Steps
If at any point in the process, you are able to get rid of the whole collection, opt for that. In lieu of that, these steps are helpful ways to make progress over time in smaller, more easily digestible steps.
Step 1: Stop the Bleeding
Your first step is to stop adding to the collection – it is hard to get rid of something if it keeps getting bigger.
If you’re having a hard time going cold turkey, I found one easy way was to focus on a subset of the collection that I would limit my purchasing to. With Pez, the dispensers come in the shapes of various characters – my favorites were superheroes, so when I hit this point, I limited my purchases to those ones. If I saw something non-superhero I was able to pass it up. Try to think about a segment of your collection that you like the most – remember this because we’ll use it later on too.
Once you stop adding to your collection, you will likely still have other people adding to it for you. If you’ve collected for any length of time, and depending on what it is you collect, you probably have friends that get things up for you as gifts. Pez are a really common and inexpensive thing, usually found in check out lines for ~$1. During the years where it was well known by people in my life that I collected Pez, all sorts of people brought them to me when they saw them – often cool ones from different countries or limited regional releases. It was great then, but once I decided to stop collecting, it was something I had to slowly wean.
I found time helped – right after someone got you a gift isn’t the most tactical time to let them know you aren’t interested in that thing anymore. With Pez they are inexpensive enough that it wasn’t a big deal, so my usual reaction was gratitude and a casual comment that I had put the collection away. Over time the message disseminated.
It can take a while though. I haven’t bought a Pez dispenser in about five years and just recently my friend Gretchen got one for me that she saw while checking out from a grocery store while we were in New York running the NYC Marathon.
Step 2: Out of Sight
I’m not actually sure of the best place to put this step. Perhaps you would find it easier to do this first. Perhaps it is the last thing you will do.
For me I had an advantage that I had moved a few hours away from home where my collection lived. It was far enough away from me that it wasn’t in my face every day, but it was still set up when I went home for holidays.
Eventually home shifted from where I grew up to where I lived and I packed it up into storage.
Looking at a collection and thinking about it every day will not help you move past it.
You will also want to stop frequenting collector sites, put away the collectors price books, avoid conferences, etc. The more you expose yourself to people and ideas that place that type of collection in high value, the harder it will be to move past it.
Step 3: Get Rid Of Duplicates
When I was collecting, I had a decent supply of duplicates sitting around. Sometimes I would find an old Pez dispenser in decent condition but later find one in like-new condition. I wouldn’t throw out the decent one, but it didn’t sit on display. Sometimes I would trade these for something I didn’t have, but essentially they were just building up.
You can get rid of duplicates by whatever marketplace you identified as best from tip 4.
I sold my duplicates on ebay as one big collection of ~50-100 pieces because I didn’t want to deal with listing them one by one. If any of them were particularly valuable, I might have singled them out, but overall I was ok with the market valuing the whole set, knowing it would save me time individually wrapping, coordinating shipping addresses and communicating with hundreds of buyers. Again, Pez dispensers go for an average of $1 new, and the most valuable duplicates I had were in the $5-10 range. The story might have been different if I collected dinosaur bones.
This step won’t seem that hard because, your collection count isn’t going down. At the same time, it is a great way to practice the motion of getting rid of things while also tuning up your selling skills.
Step 4: Get Rid Of Periphery Items
If you collect for long enough, you eventually get dragged into non-core periphery items. For Pez, the classic dispenser is what I consider core. Somewhere along the lines they introduced giant dispensers & mini dispensers. They eventually came out with bubble blowers in the shape of dispensers – if I recall correctly, the bubbles were edible and flavored. Then came stuffed animal-like dispensers. At one point there was a flashlight with the Pez brand on it – really stretching there. I even once found soft drinks with Pez branded characters heads as bottle tops – that I of course bought them and kept the tops. (I don’t think I even drank the drink.)
To me, these things weren’t the real deal, but they were there, added something extra to hunt for during dry spells and were enjoyable enough.
If found that getting rid of these next was achievable once I got rid of duplicates.
This would be the first time the collection itself took a hit. I found that this was a critical step for me, I quantified my collection by count of items (as opposed to quality or value) so taking a hit here was a big deal. I knew it was reversible, and I knew that technically the items I was getting rid of weren’t core, so I could tell myself that even if I changed my mind and wanted to collect again, my new count was really a truer one. This is important, as I make progress, I find I have to make deals with myself or sometimes trick myself. I always tell myself there is a reverse course if I change my mind. In this case the thing I am telling myself is that if I decide to collect again, I will still have my core collection and can collect only core items – which would probably be better anyhow.
This is how far I’ve gotten with my Pez collection currently, the future tips are based on some other collections I’ve successfully gotten rid of.
Step 5: Start Breaking Up The Collection
I found that ‘the collection’ was a big immovable thing, but individual items were not. What I mean is that if on any day, one of my Pez had fallen and broken, I would have been ok – most of them were quickly replaceable minus a few special or rare ones. But the collection as a whole was this thing I couldn’t move, like a giant rock.
I solved this by breaking it into pieces. Start with some of the items that are easiest to replace. You can tell yourself that you are going to pass them along to see how it feels and that if you need to, you can repurchase them again. You might even want to favor newer items, since you have the least attachment to them.
I found that with each part of a collection I get rid of, the gravity of the whole collection gets smaller. It becomes easier to process the items as individual items rather than as some sacred & monolithic ‘collection’.
Step 6: Whittle Down To Your Favorite Sub Collection
As you reduce your collection you will begin to mentally draw a smaller and smaller circle to define what it is that you want to keep. Back in step 1 we talked about finding a subset of the collection that you particularly liked. As you whittle it down, your circle might eventually include just these items.
Thinking back to my comment in step 4 about tricking myself or making deals, the reverse option at this point is that you could always decide to keep collecting, but to only collect this specific subset. That will probably seem nice to you since this is your favorite subset and it is going to be smaller and less unruly than the world you collected in before.
Along with your defined subset, you might keep a few favorites. Maybe your first item, some that were particularly rare or special items with significance. That is fine, you can define your circle, how you shape it doesn’t matter, what it important in this step is that it is getting smaller.
Step 7: The Final Item
As you continue to pare down your collection, defining a smaller circle and getting rid of items from outside of it, the next major milestone will be to get down to just one item.
Your goal will be to pick one item that for you can represent the whole collection. What one item personifies everything? Or what item is the most special to you?
If the collection made up a significant part of your life, that one item will now carry the significance of all of that with it.
This is a fine place to finish in my opinion. One item, depending of course on what it is, won’t take up a lot of space, but is nice to have if you ever want to re-experience the tactile aspects of your collection. In the future, you can look back at this one item and the photos you took and remember the full joy the collection brought you.
Step 8: One Last Goodbye
If you decide that you don’t want to keep even that item, or logistics necessitate getting rid of it, this is your final step.
My advice is to verbally thank the item for the enjoyment you and the collection experienced together. It is silly, since the item is inanimate (hopefully), but the verbal acknowledgement can do a lot to help you mentally process getting rid of the last item. There is something more significant to words said out loud than words that are only thought, they are more real by the fact that they are externally observable.
For all of the fun and future possibility that collecting once presented us, the mental and emotional connections created often make it hard to part with the physical items of the collection. I hope these tips and steps can be helpful to someone else, I will certainly be referencing again, I still have some work left to do.