Living Articles

Totally addicted to… plates: the joy of collecting junk

Have you been to a car boot sale this morning? Or flipped through Etsy?

I have just bought another decorative china plate. This one is a little turn-of-the-century ribboned number. It says SCARBOROUGH FROM ABOVE and has a grainy printed picture of a shoreline. There’s a wall of these plates, carefully cultivated from when we moved in to this house. It’s spreading, disease-like, up the chimney breast in a rash of pink and white and pale green china. I don’t know where it will end. I can never stop collecting things.

I think I know when my problem started. In the late 1980s it was A Thing at my primary school to collect novelty erasers. I had a plastic bag of precious rubbers I would carry around with me; souvenirs of holidays, trips to the zoo or good old WH Smith. Some of them were lemon or strawberry scented. Some of them were shaped like animals; rainbow-striped; glittery. I liked to hoard them and jumble them about in their bag, feeling the edges of them and sniffing their rubbery-sweetie smell. They were never to be used to rub things out. Once I took my precious collection into class with me, and a girl took some of the rubbers and scribbled all over them in biro, ruining them irrevocably. It didn’t stop me collecting things.

Over the years I have collected to greater or lesser degrees: novelty salt and pepper shakers, orange Penguin paperbacks, sad-eyed children/animal prints, snowglobes, tea sets, fridge magnets, figurines of animals, Sylvac vegetable pottery, Murano glass, shells, plants, enamel cookware, leather bookmarks, Coronation mugs and steam train tickets. Each of these collections has reached its own sort of peak, before being replaced by some new passion and relegated to the loft. (Or edited down to the best bits and passed to the charity shop. Circle of life, that.)

The rush of finding something on eBay going for a song, or coming across an unexpected thing in a random charity shop, or getting up at 7am on a Sunday to trudge through a rain-soaked car bootsale field and maybe, just maybe, finding something to add to my growing hoard is what feeds my addiction. Displaying the things on a wall or artfully arranged in a cabinet is nice, yes. But it’s the thrill of the chase. It’s the excitement of acquisition. That’s what keeps me in thrall to these truly unnecessary and really quite pointless objects.

When we moved to our new place, I thought I would go for a clean slate. I would not condemn my boyfriend to living in a glorified junk shop. So I banished the snow globes, the kitschy prints and the frilly tea cups, excising them with a hitherto-unknown ruthlessness, while only keeping a few token things scattered around. A large china dog I got as a birthday present. A pretty vase. A little picture of a wonky-faced cat. But then a sad, stark-looking empty wall began calling to me in the night and soon I was on Etsy searching ANTIQUE LACE PLATE and VICTORIAN CHINA SOUVENIR and delightful little parcels were arriving in the post and I was hammering them up on the wall overcome by a feeling of great satisfaction, and I am back to where I started: in thrall to THINGS. Now when I’m in the shower I gaze at the plate wall through the misted glass, sigh with satisfaction, and think: “there’s definitely room for one more.”

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