Why do we own the things we own?
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I bought a house and, having moved into it, I am confronted with the vast collection of stuff that I own. Books. Video games. Toys. Clothes I never wear. Glasses I never drink from. DVDs I never watch. Why do I own them? Why do I possess them?
This becomes an especially curious habit in the age of streaming services and digitization. Why own all of Star Trek the Next Generation on DVD when it is consistently available on Netflix (or CBS OnDemand, or some other service)? Excepting movies and shows coming and going monthly, odds are that I can find the show I want to watch for a fraction of the cost of buying the DVDs. Sure, over the course of a lifetime, I might end up paying more that way, but not by an overwhelming amount I would imagine. And likely only for a handful of titles. I might watch Empire Strikes Back fairly often, but I think I’ve thrown Jedi into the DVD player once since buying it.
So why own them? Let’s focus just on Star Trek the Next Generation. I say this because, well, I’m not sure I’ve watched any of the DVDs in the past five years (at least!). Oh, I’ve watched Star Trek in that time, but it was almost always in the context of finding a random episode on TV (why is finding an episode on TV somehow more enjoyable than selecting said episode from one’s collection?). So why own the DVDs? As an anime fan and frequenter of anime conventions, I see boxset after boxset sold in the dealer’s room. Often, these are boxsets of series that are available on stream services. So why buy the physical object?
One reason worth mentioning but that I’m not going to count is that one wishes to support the artist. This is the case of buying the t-shirts or albums of local bands, buying artwork from local graphic artists, etc. This seems a different question because this is more about supporting the arts than collecting and owning.
Back to said question as to why we buy and own items which we rarely ‘use’, I know the answer in some cases is sheer momentum. You’ve owned this comic book for all your life, there is a nostalgia not to the comic itself, but to the owning it. You have it because you’ve gotten used to having it.
In other cases, it’s the idea of the thing that you like. Home improvement manuals, disaster survival manuals, and the like, often fall into this category. You don’t really LIKE the book (and statistically speaking, it’s likely to you little good), but you like the idea of having it. Perhaps it even brings you comfort knowing that if zombies ever do become real, you’ve got multiple manuals on what to do.
Yet I think in many cases it ultimately boils down to the individual item not mattering nearly so much as the collection itself. A person’s book collection, movie collection, music collection, game collection, toy collection, any collection, speaks volumes about who they are. Not just to visitors and guests but to the collector themselves. A person can look over their DVDs and say ‘this is who I am’. To look at the sum of one’s art and see it as a reflection of self is not a trivial or unimportant benefit.
I think we carry too much clutter in our lives. As we enter a golden age of arts and entertainment (as well as portability; seriously, you can watch pretty much any show ever made ever in the history of television on your damn phone), it would be easy to dismiss tangible, physical objects as simply obsolete. And in some cases and for some people, they are. But don’t dismiss the benefits and delights of the tangible. And don’t mistake function for purpose. A book you’ve only read once but loved can still speak to you as it sits on a shelf, reminding you of the experience you had reading it.
And who knows? One day, you might decide to dive back into it again. After all, you have to have something to do while you avoid the zombies.