Collector syndrome

  • 15 June 2018
  • jewishfamily

I always seem to collect things…..and I have a difficult time getting rid of things that I collect. My children are always telling me to clean out the house, to get rid of old clothes, old trinkets, old toys…throw them away, they tell me.  It is junk.  Nobody needs them.  But something within me cannot do it. Even erev Pesach I have a hard time doing that.  
Not because I am materially oriented and cannot part with those things.  
But because my motherly/grandmotherly instinct is always looking at those “things” as being potentially useful to someone…now or in future.  It has become almost a creative effort. 
How can I throw away a nice dress, even if it is five sizes too small for my children, when one day one of my granddaughters could possibly wear that dress? Maybe she will visit my house and will need a change of clothing and I would have one on hand!   My imagination works constantly. 
Or how could I throw away a toy? My grandson would enjoy it one day.  
And that is besides the sentimental value it has as I recall my children playing with that toy.

Now flash back to fifteen years ago….we were moving….my husband was already in our new location/country and I was back home packing up and finalizing things. Should I throw out or give away that huge roll of plastic wrap?  Or pack it up to come later with our furniture? My children said to me “Mummy, where we are going you could buy another roll.  Why shlep it? Just leave it here” 
But in my innate motherly wisdom, a little voice told me “No, take it with you. You never know…”
Should I throw out our broom? Our big roll of tin foil? Those old plastic plates and cups? Those old clothes that are beginning to look a bit like rags? 
No, something told me to bring everything. I even collected all the dreidels my children had over the years, lovingly wrapped them up in a special box and took them with me. Those I would carry myself. My special treasure.
Sure enough when we arrived at our new destination, every single thing came in  handy. The children did not stop marveling at my wisdom. Even my husband looked favorably impressed. Instead of having to run like crazy people in a foreign country where we had no idea where to try to buy plastic wrap, tin foil, paper goods, this thing or that thing, I had it all with me and we could slowly unpack in peace and get accustomed to our new surroundings, without feeling desperately in need of things. Even the old clothing came in handy…some as clothes and some, believe it or not,  as much needed rags when we had water leaking and flooding the house and we had nothing to clean it up with. My rag collection came in very useful over the years! Everything saved us time, energy and even money.  Even the old broom came in handy! 
And what about the dreidels you might ask? Well, erev Chanukah, in a foreign country , everyone began to wonder where we would find dreidels. There was no Judaica store around the corner in this place. 
I whipped out my trusty box of dreidels and to the delight of my children spilled the contents on the floor. They squealed with happiness and surprise  as they ran around picking up all the different sizes of dreidels: the big fat wooden one, the small wooden one, the different colored plastic ones (fighting over who would get the purple color or the gold one), the musical dreidel that sang a song as it spun, the dreidel that flashed its lights as it turned round and round….the children could not believe that I actually had saved all those dreidels.   I could not either. 
And at the end of Chanukah I lovingly gathered all those dreidels up again. I forced each child to “hand them over” and I packed them up again for the next year…you never know where you will be or when you will need them, I told them with a smile. 
(And, you know what? recently my grandson who lives in a different country lost one of the dreidels I gave him. My daughter told him she has to go out and buy a new one. He looked at her and said "no Mummy, let's go to Bubbie's house. She has dreidels. We have to shop at Bubbie's house." My heart swelled with happiness to hear that and I was grateful that I still had my dreidel collection.) 
I also collected leftover bees wax candles…I knew they would come in handy the next year. Those are hard to find.  You know those candles you get in the mail when you donate to certain organizations? well, I collected them. And sure enough next Chanukah they all got used. Everyone forgot to plan in advance for those candles and dreidels but that little collector voice within me had not forgotten…
I once received  in the mail, as a “reward” for a charitable donation, a wooden spoon and a feather to be used for bedikat Chametz on Pesach. Do you think I tossed it in the garbage? No, it went into a special cupboard and erev Pesach when we all realized we had forgotten to order from the rabbi a bedikat Chametz set, I whipped out my little package and we were all smiling from ear to ear.
One year I really had no feather…and G-d, in His infinite wisdom saw my plight and sent me one…a bird’s feather actually flew into my house!   Do you think I swept it up and threw it away? No, I hid it in a safe place and I used it for erev Pesach.  
So am I eccentric? Too extreme?  Maybe…but I have learned to value things and my children have learned to value thing too. If you have an old one, why throw it out to get a new one? Use the old one until you cannot use it anymore. If you were given something, consider it something that G-d wants you to use for kedusha  or to elevate. 
If a dress is clean, good quality and nice, why should I throw it away? One of my grandchildren will wear it! And if they don’t, someone else’s child will.

I do admit that giving those old things to charity or to needy people is also tremendously satisfying and I have started doing that with the things I am quite sure will not be used anytime soon by my family.  I like to teach my children to give to others as well. It is an important part of education and it is a mitzvah. After all, Hashem gives to us constantly and we have to reciprocate and give to others with a good heart and a good eye.  So to give away your old things to charity is definitely an acceptable alternative to constantly keeping all of them. I would highly recommend that as well.  And i do put that into practice. In fact, it is a good feeling when I learn to let go of things and I give them away. I start realizing that things are not so important....after 120 years we dont take our things with us. They might as well be used by others. 

But I still do some of my collections, constantly with an eye for what my children or grandchildren would like and could enjoy. 
I remember grabbing shoe boxes away before they went into the garbage….only to turn them into beautiful houses that my children spent hours decorating and making into palaces for their paper dolls. 

If G-d in His infinite wisdom gave me a certain thing, I want to use it for something and to make my life easier or more enjoyable.  After all, we are taught not to waste things.  

I am not greedy or selfish. If I find someone that I can help, I give them what I collect. I actually get a lot of happiness knowing someone can use something that I no longer need or want.  And if my children or grandchildren can find happiness in something that I have kept for years, why not? My grandchildren are still playing with the same doll my married daughter used to play with. Yes, I admit that I kept it for 27 years. And it has a lot of sentimental value.  But I derive nachas seeing my grandchildren playing with the same doll my baby played with.  I even kept my own baby clothes and my grandchildren used them.  Those days the quality of clothing was exceptional. 

So many times my family tells me to throw out this or that…what do you need it for, they ask me. I smile and tell them “you never know. “ And later, sometimes years later, they find out what it could be used for.  I refused to throw out an old baby carriage, even when my babies were grown up and married. Sure enough it came in handy for two reasons: to rock my grandchildren to sleep when their parents drop them off at my house, and to use for shopping when I need something sturdy to put the grocery bags into and push home!

That does not mean I don’t buy new things. I do. When something is needed, I spend and I buy. But when something is old and can be used, why not use it? Why waste what we are given? Society puts constant pressure on people to buy new, to throw out old things and to discard everything. But that is not really such a Jewish idea. We Jews are not wasteful. We recognize value. We recognize potential. 

 And it is the same with our experiences in life. We collect experiences and use them throughout our lives. Nothing is a mistake. Nothing is for nothing. Everything we learn we can use at some point in time. 

The same with middot: we collect middot as we go along. We learn from others and we integrate what we learn and incorporate that into our lives. 

And doesn’t G-d collect our mitzvhas, our teshuvah, our prayers? He also collects and uses everything, even at a “later date”. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is lost.  Everything comes in handy one day, when we are perhaps in need of extra merits or additional rachamim….Hashem takes out those mitzvoth He collected throughout the years.  Certainly we would not want Hashem to discard our good deeds because they are outdated!  
Perhaps that is why we Jews are collectors….because so is G-d. We are created in His image. 
The fact that we have been given a particular material thing is because we have to elevate it: it contains sparks connected to our souls and we have to elevate that thing.  Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to throw it out…….we elevate it and elevate ourselves as well and when we throw something away it is like throwing out a part of ourselves, something that we have made holy.   
I always tell my children that if you go shopping and you buy a certain dress, that is because you have to elevate that dress. If you want something very much and do not get it, that is because perhaps it is not your task to elevate that particular thing. Every soul is different. 
So my job as a collector continues…..but I pray that I should use the things I acquire for the good; for holy purposes. 

A concluding thought: next time you are tempted to throw something into the garbage, pay attention to that inner voice or inner instinct that says “wait, you never know, it could come in handy one day”. And it really could. After all, as mentioned before, whatever we have contains sparks that are connected to our individual souls and that are in need of elevation.  So our “collectors” mode is not necessarily an obsessive disorder. It is rather a spiritual need to use what we are given in life and to elevate whatever we have and make it holy.