There's a difference between accumulated things because of a hobby or job or as a by-product of another at least semi-practical use, and a whimsical collection that just makes the owner happy. For example, a professional musician might have a ton of guitars and loads of music gear, but may or may not be a true guitar 'collector.' Similarly, people might crave tons of fancy lenses and the latest digital camera bodies because they are a giant photography geek and gearhead.
I don't consider this true collecting. True, you are collecting bits of kit, but there's a purpose to it - to have an ever more awesome sound studio, camera system, computer rig, a bad ass muscle car, or whatever. That sort of how I think of my books. I often say I collect books, but that's not precisely true. I only buy certain kinds, and I read them, while I might cotton to certain topics or others and stay away from others, the process of accumulating books is certainly as much a product of the desire to learn the knowledge within them as it is to just have them: To arrange and display them, enjoy them as existential objects apart from the meaning of the words within.
It's true, were I only interested in learning from books (or entertaining myself, or both), I'd borrow them from the library, or I'd buy them but hand them on to someone else when I'm finished. The fact that I dislike doing that ("give it back?!?") and that I like to group my books, take care of them, collect certain sets or editions, and so on shows that the flip side to my practical love of books is the irrational but clear (and fun) sign of the true collector. I can give away or sell or lend many books I don't care much about. Some parts of my book inventory would be out of the question for that sort of thing, though.
So, what I'm wondering in my long-winded way is: What do you collect? Not because of your business or because there's a good practical reason, but just out of whimsy or because of some memory another irrational but perfectly plausible reason. I'll tell you what I collect, or have collected.
I used to collect trading cards (but the movie kind much more than the sports kind), action figures and toys tied into a theme (ahem... Star Wars, GI Joe, He-Man...), comic books - but only The Flash and The Green Lantern - and then as I got older I began to collect coins. International coins to an extent (they seemed exotic, but I didn't make a systematic effort to obtain sets of them), but mostly US coins, and mostly old ones (the older the better, though it was much easier to collect relatively complete sets of the newer mints).
I had a lot of board games, a lot of sports equipment, lots of video games... but I never felt I collected that stuff, just played with it. It sucked if something broke or got lost but it wasn't like I felt a hole in my life until I replaced it with one just like it. And I never tried to catalogue or display those kinds of things in my room in any organized way to show I was proud to own them.
As I've gotten older I've lost interest in the movie cards, though my brother still has a lot of the ones we had as kids, my coin collection pretty much stopped growing once I got into college and has only occasionally been added to since, I've lost many of my old comic books and while it would be fun to see them again, I feel no desire to purchase comics of any sort, nor action figures or other toys. I collected Beanie Babies for a few years when my daughter was really into them (yes I admit it), but it was really more something to do with her that we could both relate to and get excited about. Once she lost interest, so did I. I had a few big sacks full at one time but I don't have them any more.
I've never been a collector of VHS or DVD films, CDs (though I had a large CD "collection" - again, it was for a rational reason: Because I love music and wanted those CDs to listen to. I didn't take some kind of completist pride in the corpus of my collection or seek to add missing singles and EPs just for the sake of owning them). I love music and films but unlike many people I've never properly collected either, or made a fuss over their organization. I come close with documentaries, as I have quite a library now (mostly in digital form but some in DVD-sets), but I still don't really care about anything but their content. I like watching them; they're interesting or comforting or fascinating, but the media itself upon which the images live means nothing to be so long as it's around somewhere and hopefully in good condition.
If you take books out of the conversation, then, there are not too many things you could really say I properly collect, but there are a few quirky things. Just like one of my grandmas like anything to do with elephants, I have a thing for cows (and to a lesser extent sheep/lambs), and in recent years bears as well, especially (really almost exclusively) polar bears. There are some private reasons for lots of these things. I have plush cows and sheep, some cow hand-puppets, and my mom has send me cow stickers and calenders and book over the years. I've drawn comic strips with cow characters and much much more, but that's drifting outside the realm of physical collectibles now, so enough about that. But besides a general love of cows and a sort of lifelong attachment to them, I do still want to continue to collect plush cows and other cow "things"... not just any old thing, mind you, but cute things that I find pleasing for some unknowable reason. Here are a couple things I just found on the web:
Notice the first cow is quite realistic (with an especially nicely-done udder), but still looks endearing. The second picture is a cow puppet which is sensible holding a bottle of milk in his right hand and quite oddly has his own puppet on his left hand, and it's not even another cow, it's a pig! What's going on there? If only it had it's own cow puppet (which presumably would have it's own even tinier cow puppet, and so on), there would be something special about that one. But the pig just kinda ruins it.
I like lavender plush things and lavender candles and such too, but don't really collect them; I just enjoy the smell. It's relaxing. The same with honey - I like honey much better than sugar, and I like the honey bears they come in (at least in the United States), but it's nothing I save or collect. Honey is just yummy, and honey cough drops are better than cherry ones, and the idea of selling honey inside a bear-shaped bottle is great. That's all.
Um, I collect yo-yo's and juggling bags. It's not really a collection so much that I want to have a LOT of either one, it's more a case of I'm always looking for the perfect yo-yo or the perfect set of juggling bags or juggling sticks (or come to think of it, the perfect chess board or globe or lots of unique things like that), and once I find "IT", I have no more interest in the subject. Like, I wanted a shark tooth necklace for a long time. Now I have one, and I like it. The end. So yo-yo's are one of those things which are always on my mind in some way, and I've been looking ever since childhood for the perfect one, which surely doesn't exist. Along the way I've collected quite a few nice ones that I'm quite happy with, but aren't quite right in some way.
I think that's a different psychological pathology working there: Trying to find the holy grail of something and never finding it, rather than trying to build up a collection in which the entirety of the thing is appreciated (even if some pieces are more treasured than others). I do have a D&D book collection that is pretty impressive, and while I lost the financial ability to keep up quite awhile ago, I have most of the stuff that was published from the late 1970s (though not the really early rare stuff) up to about 2005 (I'm just guessing). And that's only the books properly, not all the modules and figurines and other accessories (though I once had a nice assortment of dice... that was another case of always trying to find the perfect set of dice; "my" dice that just seemed right for me. But I never found them).
I dabbled in Coca-Cola branded items for awhile - keychains, old authentic glass bottles, stickers or postcards - but lots of that stuff is too kitsch for my taste and I gave it up. I still like Coke though, and their branding (the way I like Apple's branding but don't "collect" Apple products - I just admire their design taste). I especially like when they feature polar bears enjoying Coca-Cola since that brings two of my interests together.
Speaking of interests - that word conjures up yet another thing that is not collecting, but could develop an associated set of collections as a side result. I'm talking about being interested in audiophile-quality equipment; interested in really nice binoculars, stereoscopic microscopes, and DSLR cameras; interested in geology and all the hammers and specialized equipment that goes with it; interested in learning to play music properly; interested in the design of things in general - industrial design, print design, web design. Love of typefaces, beauty, art, words. All these are interests and even passions but I can't think of anything I have attached those ideas which I could call a 'collection.' I do have the complete works of many of my favorite authors - Plath, Dylan Thomas, Tolkien, and so on, so I guess one could say I'm tending toward being a bit of a completist there. And the same with many bands - I have all their CDs, though again I would stress I don't need to own every re-mix or 45 rpm record or vinyl LP or greatest hits albums when I already have all the songs. It's the writing in the case of the authors that I want to have at my fingertips, and the songs in the case of the bands. I don't think it's the thought that I've assembled something complete and greater than a sum of its parts.
Maybe my Tolkien collection. There's really no other excuse for why I would have 4 or 5 different versions (hardcover and paperback) of The Lord of the Rings, for example. I guess perhaps I am a Tolkien Book Collector. But work about Tolkien or anything else associated with him, like the yearly calendar, and all the Tolkien Society stuff that is really arcane and delves into his invented languages... I draw the line there. I just like having nice sets of his books, I suppose. A set to read and the rest to keep for no reason other than I want them and they look nice all lined up on the shelf!!!
So, to get back to it, what do you collect and if you know why, then why? Elaborate as much as you can, or care to... you won't bore anyone, at least not me. That's all that matters anyway on the 'Plane. I'd like it if everyone showed up and wrote pages and pages of comments every day!