11 People on Their Private Obsessions

I watched a Netflix documentary about minimalism a few months ago and keep recalling one particular scene. The doc’s main subjects, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, are minimalism maximalists: they own just a few, necessary items of clothes; their homes are bare. No decorations. No knickknacks. No “stuff.” They don’t need a ton of things to be happy, and they travel America to spread the gospel of living without excess. As someone who stores sweaters in the oven and had to lobby with a professional closet cleaner to let me keep my box of costumes “just in case,” the concept was refreshing — it seemed freeing. But it also seemed impossible. I wanted to know what you’re supposed to do with all the impractical, space-taking, no-value, dust-collecting stuff that you love, that means something.

Millburn and Nicodemus get that question a lot, they explain about halfway through. They share an anecdote of a book collector who takes joy in their library, who likes to loan friends old books, find new ones, browse through dog-eared pages at whim; and the book collector wants to know whether or not, in order to convert to minimalism, they have to get rid of their collection. The minimalists’ answer is simple: keep it. That which fills you with joy and happiness, they reason, no matter how much space it takes up or how useful it is, is not excess. It’s not just “stuff.” It’s a part of you.

In what started as a pitch to celebrate Fandom Month, I asked members of the team to bring in their obsessions, which quickly translated into something more: their not-just-stuff — that which they collect and cherish, individual items that are important to them for various symbolic reasons. Matt, our Head of Operations, has held on to a pair of sky-high patent leather platform stilettos because they represent a pivotal change in his perspective. Nikki, our Director of Ad Operations and Product, brought in medals from all the half marathons she’s completed. Scroll down to see the things that matter most to them, and then, in the comments, tell us (or better yet, show us) your most important “stuff.”

Ashley, Social Media Editor

What do you collect?
I collect U2 stuff. I brought in a few records (I don’t have a record player), some concert tees, and a wristband from a time I saw them live. I have a giant framed poster in my bedroom but I wasn’t sure how to get it across the city for this shoot.

What made you start this collection? How long has this collection been growing?
I’ve been a huge fan of U2 since my freshman year of high school. My first items from around that time (though not pictured here) were an Achtung Baby CD and the book U2 by U2. They both currently live in my childhood bedroom.

Would you ever sell it?
No way.

What do you need strangers to know about your U2 stuff?
U2 gets a lot of inexplicable hate and I just love them so much and I need strangers to know that it’s okay to like whatever music you like. Britney Spears and U2 and whatever else aren’t guilty pleasures, they’re just good.

What does this collection say about you?
It says I know great stuff when I hear it.

Have a good story about any of it?
The SNL wristband is from last December, when I got a friend to get me into the show. It has no value to anyone else, but to me it’s something I wore the night The Edge and I touched elbows “by accident” and I teared up.

Amelia, Head of Creative

What did you bring in?
Vampire Weekend’s debut album, Vampire Weekend, in record form.

Why is it special to you?
It reminds me of a few very, very specific moments in my life. One in particular is the first time I heard the album, from start to finish. I think it was summer 2008, since the album came out in January that year. So many things happened in that short half hour that I feel like I could write a whole book around it. I have a few other albums from around that same time period that I feel the same way about, but I have no idea where those CDs are.

Would you ever sell the record?
Sure, although I’d feel guilty because the record’s in bad shape. I’m not attached to the physical record — just the album itself. ~*It’s a metaphor, man.*~

What does this record say about you?
That I am a very bad record owner? Also that I used to spend a lot of time at Urban Outfitters (because I own a Vampire Weekend record and was probably like “buying this is the coolest thing I have ever done.”). Also that I am unequivocally stuck in 2008, musically, and forever will be.

Crystal, Operations Manager

What did you bring in?
A Halle Berry-as-Jinx-in-007-Barbie

What made you buy this doll?
Representation has always mattered to me, and seeing Black dolls, especially one that depicts a character in a mainstream film like Bond, was so awesome that I couldn’t leave it behind.

Are you strict about who can/can’t “play” the Jinx doll?
I don’t believe in “look, don’t touch.” I invest in these sorts of silly things so they can be enjoyed by everyone, not just me.

Would you ever sell it?
No, it’s more sentimental value than anything else!

What do you need strangers to know about it?
I know, the idea of Barbie is problematic, and I get that (and agree), but this doll is more about the kick-ass character and less about the body politics, for me.

What does it say about you?
It really speaks to the duality of who I am, now that I’m thinking of it. I like to think that I’m Woke AF, but I also own a Barbie Doll. That about sums it up.

Haley, Digital Editor

What do you collect?
I enjoy small animal figurines and have amassed a small army of them completely by accident. Not all of them are pictured here, but these were the ones I could find when I was late to work. They’re curiously scattered around my house.

What made you start this collection of animals?
I’m easily charmed by cute things. I hesitate to call it a collection because there’s been no intentionality in its creation, but maybe that makes it all the more legit! I just love objects that look like creatures and I wish everything I owned had ears, eyes and a tail.

How long has this collection been growing?
I think the first one was Helen the frog, pictured above. I found her in Chinatown in San Francisco in 2012 on what I used to call “my trinket hunts.” She’s followed me everywhere since, usually finding a home on my desk among my other treasures. Occasionally I will drop Helen on other people’s desks at Man Repeller when they’re feeling down. Her presence helps.

What does it say about you?
I love animals so much and am quick to anthropomorphize. I think some part of me truly believes in the aliveness of certain inanimate objects. I find comfort in surrounding myself by a little family of cute things. That sounds so creepy, but I just think it makes life more charming.

Have a good story about any of them?
The white seal you see is called a Squishie — you can buy them in bulk on Amazon. When I first bought them and had them shipped to the MR office, Amelia freaked out because she had just ordered one the week before. We ordered more as a group, and everyone at the office had one on their desk. When we started posting them on Instagram, people started asking where they were from and buying them too. It was a Squishie moment. A couple months later, my SF friend told me he shipped me a present for no reason. It was a box of Squishies. He had no idea I knew what they were. Guess it’s been a Squishie kind of year; we need them right now.

Harling, Fashion Editor

What do you collect?
I brought in my collection of mini bags, which was amassed not so much as a byproduct of intentionally “collecting” them, but more so organically, as a result of my great affinity for the way carrying them makes me feel (like a stylish giant).

What made you start this collection?
After I purchased my first mini bag two years ago and realized it was the perfect size combination of aesthetically pleasing (they’re adorable) and functionally utilitarian (they hold the perfect amount of stuff), it was full speed ahead.

There’s no storage in NYC — where do you keep all of it?
This is a great question — one I’ve been struggling with given my bedroom itself is nearly as small as a mini bag. For a while, I stored them all around my room in various nooks and crannies (on top of my radiator, in between stacks of jeans, inside bigger bags), but that system proved to be problematic because I frequently forgot where I put them (that’s the thing about small bags — they’re tiny enough they can get lost, even in the tiniest of New York apartments). Now I keep them together in a giant basket underneath my shelves.

Would you ever sell any of it?
I don’t know. This sounds weird, but each one has a different personality, so they kind of feel like my friends. I’m pretty attached to them.

Imani, Editorial Intern

What do you collect?
I collect postcards from places I visit and museums/galleries.

What made you start this collection?
I started collecting postcards when I came to college — so it’s been roughly four years now — because it was a really simple and cheap way to decorate. It’s become something much more sentimental; now my walls are covered with little memories.

Would you ever sell them?
I don’t think anyone is interested in purchasing my collection, but maybe for the right price…? It depends on the postcard.

What does this collection say about you?
I think my postcards are like puzzle pieces of who I am, as corny as that sounds. They are physical and visual artifacts of the experiences I’ve had and the emotions I’ve felt at different moments of my life.

Have a good story about any of them?
One of my favorite postcards, an image of a bullfighter’s butt in hot pink hot pants that I got in Cordoba, went missing! I got it during my last full day in Spain when I went back to visit in August (I spent a semester in Madrid during the Spring semester of 2017). I was so devastated that it was gone that I tried to convince a friend in Spain to try and find me another just like it. A day later, I found it tucked in the notebook I brought with me on my trip for safe keeping.

Louisiana, Visual Assistant

What do you collect?

What made you start this collection?
I think it started when I was about 15? 16? I bought a Polish pottery mug and got hooked. I like ceramics and I use mugs every single day, so the collection grew from there.

There’s no storage in NYC — where do you keep all of it?
Thankfully I live alone so all my kitchen cabinet space is for me and my mugs.

Would you ever sell any of it?
Maybe! There are a few I don’t *love.*

What do you need strangers to know about it?
I try and get one every time I go on a trip!

What does it say about you?
That I love beverages, which is true! What’s also true is that I probably always have seven half-full mugs around my apartment at all times.

Have a good story about any of them?
Two very nice ladies at Waffle House gave me mugs (one regular, one holiday edition!) after I asked if I could have them. GOTTA LOVE THE SOUTH.

Do you have a policy about using them or who else gets to drink out of them?
I have a ranking of which mugs I love the most, so I save my highest ranking ones for myself and then let others use those lower on the rank. Hehe.

Matt, Head of Operations

What did you bring in?
A pair of size 15 black platform patent leather pumps.

How long have you had them and what made you keep them?
I’ve had them for four years. Aside from their timeless and classic nature, they were the first pair of heels I ever owned and a gift from a good friend who had them custom-made via a human named Blondie.

Who is/isn’t allowed to touch these shoes?
All are welcome to experience their glory.

Would you ever sell them?
No — they’re sentimental!

What do you need strangers to know about them?
While on the surface they are just a beautiful pair of shoes sized for a large-footed individual, they represent a pretty pivotal moment for me in terms of opening my mind to sartorially expressing myself beyond the bounds of traditional gendered clothing.

What do these heels say about you?
That I am confident in my balancing abilities and love living on the edge. (Also that I’m not afraid of a sprained ankle?)

Have a good story about any of them?
Less of a story and more of a newfound appreciation for every sorority girl I went to college with.

Nikki, Director of Ad Operations & Product

What do you collect?
Medals from races that I’ve completed

When did you start this collection and what made you keep going?
I did my first half marathon in 2008. I was so happy that I saved the medal and the bib from it. After that, I just started saving all of them and never stopped!

There’s no storage in NYC — where do you keep all of it?
Thankfully, I have a ton of closet space. I hang them on a hook tucked behind a dresser in my closet.

Would you ever sell any of your medals?
I don’t think anyone would buy one, but I want to hold onto these forever.

What do you need strangers to know about your collection?
There’s an accompanying Google spreadsheet with the date, race type (run, cycling, tri), distance and results for all of my races.

Have a crazy story about any of them?
One year I tried to do a half marathon every month. I got up to 10 and then a few storms wrecked my streak.

Patty, Head of Partnerships

What do you collect?
Letters between my grandparents during their first year of marriage while my grandpa was in the service overseas and my grandma was pregnant with my dad.

What made you start this collection?
I love letters. Reading them, writing them, receiving them, reading books with letters IN them. My aunt found these and, because of my letter obsession, gave them to me for safekeeping. I treasure them (and her, thank you Aunt Mary!).

In addition to these letters, I have most letters that anyone has ever written me: letters from my parents and brothers when I went away to college, love letters from past boyfriends, letters and postcards from friends. There are some meaningful letters that I’ve lost along the way, and I do miss them.

There’s no storage in NYC — where do you keep all of it?
Um, in my apartment with no digital back up. I know, I know, working on it.

Would you ever sell any of it?
How dare you.

What do you need strangers to know about it?
That my grandma had the most beautiful handwriting in the entire universe, and she was a lefty!

What does your collection of letters say about you?
Words matter to me. And I need to back up my shit more regularly.

Have a good story about any of the letters?
There is one letter in there that my grandma wrote while she and my grandfather were dating. She was in college in Illinois, he in Indiana (her brother was his roommate). My favorite bit: “Tony, I got the lead in the play! I was so excited when I found out that I could scarcely think. It is really a tremendous part and will be quite a challenge. Thank you so much for your prayers. They really help.” I MEAN C’MON.

Starling, Social Media Intern

What do you collect?
Star jewelry!

What made you start this collection?
At first, it was accidental. I received a lot of star jewelry as gifts. Then I started to realize that wearing the items when I started a new class or new job helped people remember my name.

How long has this collection been growing?
I had a terrible nickel allergy growing up, so once the allergy faded and I was allowed to get my ears pierced, it was a BIG DEAL. I bought my first star earrings at the pharmacy in Canada where my sister and I got our ears pierced together.

Would you ever sell any of it?

What do you need strangers to know about it?
My name isn’t STERLING. Or Sterlene. Or Charlene. Or Sternum (yes, I got that written on a Starbucks cup once).

What does your collection say about you?
When I first learned to write my name, I was desperate to perfect my criss-cross star abilities. I knew I wanted to write my name with an actual star in it. It’s been my legal signature on my passports and every legal document. My sister Rein wrote her name with a raindrop on the ‘i’, my sister K’s name is just one letter long, and my sister Willow used to doodle a willow tree out of the ‘l’s, so name imagery was a big thing in my fam.

Have a good story about any of your stars?
I wore the dangling star earrings (from Madewell) to my first day at Man Repeller, and so far I haven’t been called Sterling once!

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond is a writer, creative consultant, and Man Repeller alumnus living in New York City.

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