Tuesday, June 21, 2011

To Collect or To Simplify?

I have always had an inclination to collect things. As a young kid it was action figures (especially Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), as a teen it was rock albums, and throughout my life I've been known as "a penguin collector" by my friends and family. So... as many of my readers can totally relate, my growing tea obsession triggered a major teapot and puer tea cake collecting phase of my life. I now share my home with around 40 teapots and approximately 20 kilos of puer tea. Some of you might think that's a lot, while others will think that it's "barely anything."

I'm proud of my teapots and my puer. Even the puer cakes that I know are not very good have a place on my tea shelf. I'm sure every puer collector must, for one reason or another, purchase bad tea. I've even heard the venerable MarshalN refer to this concept as the collector's "tuition." Looking at, and organizing, my teapots and my puer brings me pleasure and I feel they are worth every penny.

That being said, I've really put on the breaks lately when it comes to collecting tea and teaware. Inspired in part by books such as Radical Homemakers, The Urban Homestead, and Simplicity Parenting, my wife and I have been on our own journey towards self reliance, simplification, and community building. Mainly we are doing little things like getting to know our neighbors, producing more of our own food, and limiting (sometimes easier said than done) our own and our children's screen time. We're not interested in living entirely "off the grid," instead we're just trying to be more conscious of where our money is going and focus most of our efforts on building a happy and fulfilling home life. Buying "stuff," especially when we can make it ourselves, barter for it, or simply "do without," no longer seems to fit with our lifestyle.

This doesn't mean I'll ever stop buying new tea and teaware. I'll still occasionally treat myself to small quantities of seasonal tea when money allows. It just means that I won't be impulsive (also easier said than done), and I'll only buy new or used things when I need to replace something else and I can't figure out a free way to acquire them.

My tea friend J. (first mentioned in my 2009 Gratitude post) once told me, "You know you've made it when you don't have to buy your own tea anymore." He alluded to his father in Taiwan whose friends and family give him more than enough great tea. He can drink all he wishes and re-gift any surplus. I want to be more like J's father in that respect. I hope that the more I write about tea, share homegrown produce, and help out my friends and neighbors the more great tea and teaware will come my way.


FamilyAndTea said...

I can really relate to the childhood thing. We are indoctrinated with the tenets of materialism by either our parents or society from a young age. I used to collect all sorts of knives, swords, cola bottles, pins, cards, etc. Though the number of your teapots might be a little over the top, I think that is a healthy amount of tea to grow old with. I have over 100 pots, but most of them are left from an unsuccessful business attempt. Luckily I only bought pots that I would want to own myself, so it isn't so tragic. Really, that was probably the problem :P I have never weighed my tea stores, but I imagine there to be quite a bit. Brett, you should come over sometime and maybe we can trade around some pots and tea? This has always been a solid way for me to enhance, but not necessarily enlarge, my collection in the past. Reduce, reuse, recycle: it isn't only for plastic bags :) Aaron

David said...

I think having one or two collections can be a part of simplification, especially if it is something that is meaningful to you. Then there is the plus of having collection, such as your teapots, that add to the decor and character of your home. It all depends on what you love and if it's important enough to keep around and to add more. Also, simplification (at least for me) is in part the removal of the clutter of life (physical or mental) but not what brings you joy and happiness whether that be teapots or bottle caps.

Alex Zorach said...

I also relate to this an uncanny amount; I used to collect coins, bottle caps, and a bunch of other things.

I think moving repeatedly, however, has convinced me that having fewer worldly possessions has many benefits.

That said, simplifying is tricky. There are many material posessions we have that actually play simplifying roles in our lives (or can play those roles, if used properly). The key is to find the right balance, including things that simplify our lives but not falling into the use of technology in such a way that makes things more complicated. I'm still figuring this out and probably always will be...

Mrs. Wright said...

You are totally aware of the possibilities of "over collecting" if there is such a thing. When I had my tea room and Victorian collectible shop in Columbia City I was able to observe other collectors of items in every area you can imagine. I focused on art and tea pots...I thought they would be with me forever. Well, I moved on and savored the time those pots and most are shared a special place in my home. Now they are in my heart and memory/pictures. I have three pots displayed in my parlor and one in kitchen. I use my pots often and often think of the joy the other pots are bringing to their new owners. Glad you are thinking ahead. Happy week to you and your family!