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Collecting Dust


So my in-laws backed up their car and unloaded a boatload of boxes – “Do you have room?”

They were cleaning out, my mother-in-law said. They were clearing out the clutter in the basement. This stuff, it seems, was “ours.”

This came as a surprise, since I’ve tackled that urge to accumulate. I wondered how it was that I’d accumulated so much clutter that I’d spilled over into my in-laws space.

“It’s all that Thomas stuff,” my mother-in-law said.

Ahh! Now it begins to gel.

The Heirs were absolutely besotted by Thomas the Tank Engine, during the railroad show’s first incarnation that featured – bizarrely – Ringo Starr or George Carlin as “Mr. Conductor.” For several years you couldn’t navigate our living room without stepping on Annie or Clarabell, Thomas’s passenger cars, or James or Gordon, Thomas’ train friends.

The boys’ Thomas trains, die-cast replicas of each character, have been packed away. The die-cast version was discontinued in favor of larger wooden toys that ran on tracks. But by the time the new toys were out, the Heirs were outgrowing the series.

But what my in-laws were now unloading were not the toys with which the Heirs played, but the newer versions. They’d never been taken out of their packaging. They were never to be taken out of their packaging. From what I could tell, my in-laws had saved them for the Heirs so they could cart them around in a box for all eternity.

But first I had to store them until the Heirs had somewhere of their own to cart them to.

My mother-in-law, I should explain, is a collectible person. We all know at least one. Spurred by the high prices being paid for the flotsam and jetsam that floated through the Baby Boomer’s childhood, a collectible person tries to spot the trend of the current generation that will yield the $3,000 price tag that a boxed mint-condition original Barbie yields in today’s market.

I might add that I refer to “collectibles” by another name: Clutter.

While there were some anal-retentive Baby Boomers out there who actually kept their Barbie doll box, most of us didn’t because, being children, we shoved Barbie in her official Barbie carrying case and pitched the box. Hence the boxed mint-conditioned Barbie yields a huge price tag because the bulk of us children treated the doll as she was meant to be treated – as a toy.

It’s not just dolls. My brother horrified a roomful of friends and family recently by buying a year’s full series of baseball cards and then opening the box to look at them. There was an audible gasp from everyone in the room and my brother looked up, bewildered. For the past 48 years, he’s been buying baseball cards, memorizing the statistics on the backs of the cards, crunching the numbers and coming up with his own mind-numbing trivia. To him, that’s what baseball cards are for.

“In that case,” a friend advised, “you buy two sets, one to look at and one to keep.”

“Why would I keep an unopened box of baseball cards?”

“They’ll be worth money one day.”

Ah ! There’s the key: one day that box of junk you’ve been carting around will become valuable, just like my brother’s old Matchbox cars, which are worth some money in their beat up, played-heavy condition.

I had a friend who spent the 90s pursuing Beanie Babies, bean bag toys in the shapes of various animals. She’d miss lunch to track down particularly rare versions she was sure would pay for a luxurious retirement in 20 years or so.

Now far be it from me to denigrate someone else’s passion. If decorating your house in every version of tuna can known to man makes you happy, by all means have at it. And had my friend wanted to have garish furry road kill draped over her curtain rods that was okay with me. Only she didn’t.

I don’t think she even liked Beanie Babies. So she boxed them up and put them away.

Ten years later they’re still in the box and she’s still working because everybody bought Beanie Babies to keep as collectibles. Someday Beanie Babies may be worth something, but probably not in our lifetime. She would have been better off researching a prospectus on her lunch hour.

Then again, so would I.

Oh, and the Thomas Trains slated for the Heirs’ future posterity? They took one look at them and said in unison, “E-bay!”

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 12:23 PM | Permalink

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