Hi. I’m Aspie / autistic, and I collect things…

According to the diagnostic criteria, we Aspie/autists seem to have quite the fascination with specific topics, objects, or subject matter.  Specifically, the criteria say:

B – Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

1 – Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).

2 – Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).

3 – Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).

4 – Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Yep, note the bolded part, especially the “strong attachment to or preoccupation with…” phrase.

But then the authors of these criteria have to go and add the word “unusual” in front of the word “objects”.  Well, damn.  Personally, I don’t consider rainbows, full-text research studies, or MP3 music files to be “unusual” but hell–what do I know? 🙂

Anyway, about this whole “preoccupation” thing…

This often results in collections of various items, whether physical or virtual/technological (as a child, mine consisted of the former, primarily because technology hadn’t advanced this far yet, whereas in adulthood, they’ve tended to favor the latter).

Childhood collections included rocks, Legos, and rainbows–stickers, notebooks, blankets, rugs, etc.  It wasn’t a case of needing to have every rainbow thing that I saw; it was more along the lines of, if there was something to be had, and it came in rainbow, it was mine.  And of course, I collected books.

It wasn’t just about collecting these items.  I looked at them–and used them–every day.  I built entire garage-sale-table-size Lego cities.  I read all my books countless times.  You can’t really use rocks for too much; needless to say, that collection was shorter-lived.

Adolescent collections included earrings, CDs, magazines, creative writings, and those cheapie computer games that came on 5 1/4″ floppy disks (you know–the ones that actually “flopped”–remember those??) and cost five bucks.  I also collected desktop backgrounds – the little low-resolution abstract squares from 1998 that you could set to “repeat” across your computer desktop to create a “background”?  Yeah, those.  And of course, I collected books.

As an adult, I now collect very specific movies and TV series on DVD.  I my collections have otherwise taken a very virtual and intangible form – MP3 music files (almost seven terabytes now!  Over a half-million songs), computer graphics (although these days, they’re the crystal clear, infinite-color, high-resolution (HD) type, that could fill a movie screen), and of course, individual research studies in PDF form off of PubMed.gov (if you’ve ever wanted to know if herbal remedies, acupuncture, meditation/mindfulness, positive thinking, laughter, breathing, intermittent fasting, Paleo diets, homeopathy, or nutritional supplements really work for anything, here it is!)  I also collect ebooks, website bookmarks, and a few select magazines every once in a while (such as “Wired” and the like).  And–you guessed it–I collect books.

Why do we collect things?  What do these collections do for us?  What benefit do they provide?

As always, I can’t speak for anyone but myself. I’m not entirely sure why I do this. But after some contemplation, I came up with a few ideas.

First, I can tell you what it’s not.  It’s not greed.  It’s not some form of extreme materialism.  It’s not the desire to surround myself with Stuff.  And even though it might appear (to some) to be a hoarding tendency, it’s not that, either (even the TV show, as contrived as it might have evolved to be, makes me cringe at my core).  I also don’t think that my collecting things is any kind of obsessive or compulsive tendency.

I think it does bring a sense of satisfaction.  I think it might bring some anxiety relief.  I think it does provide a kind of fulfillment.  I think it might involve a “thrill of the hunt”, a love of exploration.  Everything I collect does seem to bring me some sort of pleasure, a needed scratching of an itch.  For me, it’s more akin to a complex “stim” activity.

My surroundings might be messier than I’d like, but my collections are always extremely organized.  CDs, DVDs, books, music files, etc, are all neatly alphabetized and/or categorized–according to genre or style, etc.  It’s the only way I can keep my head together.

I do like to limit my number of collections at any given time.  They do take some time and energy to pursue and then, once I’ve obtained these items, they take additional time and energy to organize, and in some cases they require investment and/or physical space (although in recent years, most have not required any tangible resources, other than perhaps computer drive space).

I can’t explain this phenomenon entirely, nor the satisfaction that it can bring.  But I do know that the fulfillment is there–not that I felt empty before.  It’s just something that’s always been pervasive throughout my life and those of many others I’ve talked to or read about.  The only differences are in the details. 🙂

***

(Image Credit: r0pyns)

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10 Comments

  1. Again a “me too!” moment. As a child it was postcards. Started off innocently enough as I asked my mom for a cheap, lightweight souvenir of her many work trips. I stuck them on my bedroom wall as decoration. In a perfect grid. By the end I had 6000 of them! I believe they’re in shoeboxes in her attic.
    And rocks. My dad was a geologist so again a cheap way to remember him and bond with him.
    I forced an elephant collection on my mom, as Genesh is the god of poets. I’d buy them for her – birthdays, Christmas, whatever. But they were really for me. Again to show my love.
    But also, with all of the above, was ‘the thrill of the hunt’.
    Now my daughter has a flamingo collection. And a moustache collection. (And finding her a toy flamingo with a moustache is winning the bingo!)
    And books. Books. Books. Books. Well, you know how that is!
    So nice to read of other people’s collections.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. D’oh. Collections. Um….yeah. Plenty of them. Now it is a particular brand of clothing, Guess belts and shoes, and perfumes. Perfumes are my absolute joy.

    It is really hard to articulate what the collections mean and bring. Just pure happiness. Perfumes are simply a part of who I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The question that arises for me here is “What is a collection?” and “What constitutes collecting?” I buy books all the time and don’t throw them out or give them away when I’ve read them, so does that mean I collect books? Of course I have my favourite TV series on DVD, so I can watch them whenever I want, but that’s just practical, isn’t it? I now have a thick ringbinder of printed-out blogposts and articles relating to Asperger’s – is that a collection? I also have a ton of newspaper clippings going back to my teens and still being added to every week. Collection? It’s just that I never thought to describe it on those terms, but yeah, they are probably collections. In which case I have loads…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent question! 😊 I think that for many of us, our collections are quite practical, yes 😊 Some of us collect things out of a compulsion (which isn’t a bad thing!), whereas for others, it’s more pragmatic. Either way, as long as we’re happy, that’s what counts 😊❤️ It’s perfectly fine to have loads of collections, too 💙💜

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  4. This was very comforting to read. I hate to think I’m being materialistic or shallow – but I somehow find such a deep satisfaction, comfort, pleasure, and excitement in my collections! I realize now I collected in many ways, including the virtual ones you have mentioned. But lately it has definitely been tangible objects – and yes, of course, books have been, and always will be, one of my prized collections! You’ve described so well how I feel about this – how it scratches some itch. For me, when I realized that I actually was collecting, not just buying, not just hoarding, was when I realized that I actually curate my collections just as meticulously as I organize them. I may feel an itch to add to my collection – but the sensation I have when I decide I must remove it from my collection is like I can’t rest until I’ve found it a new home. I think collection is a form of self-expression for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally!! 👏🏼👏🏼👍🏼. Yep, I wouldn’t say that you’re materialistic at all 😊. I think you expressed it very well – “it scratches an itch” – the pleasure and excitement! 💓. It doesn’t mean we’re hoarders or attached to things, I don’t think. I think it’s more of a stress reliever, a fun pastime. I’m so glad you found comfort in the post 😊💙💜

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