Confessions of a Dollaholic ~ Dealing With a Large Collection


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On the message boards, we often talk about dolly enabling and I am (correctly) often accused of being an enabler. Not up on your psychology jargon? Here's the definition:

Function: noun
: one who enables another to achieve an end; especially : one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by helping that individual avoid the consequences of such behavior .

Source: Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.

It's all in jest (OK, mostly in jest!) but it's also true: if you frequent the message boards, surf the web or browse eBay a lot, you're going to be very tempted to buy more and more dolls. For many years, I bought dolls without a plan. I am afflicted with three diseases: Bargainitis, Terminal Curiosity and Wishy-washitis. Bargainitis makes me buy dolls because they are such a good deal. Terminal Curiosity makes me buy dolls because I want to handle the doll and look her over closely, or because I want to review her for Just Magic even if I can tell from pictures that she doesn't fit in with our collection. Wishy-washitis causes me to change my mind about whether I like a certain type of doll after I have bought many of them.

My girls and I have only been collecting dolls for five years or so but we now have about 300 between us. We also have half the basement devoted to dolls, dolls in three bedrooms and a 10' x 7' dollhouse to display them! Besides all that, we have a big percentage of our house's storage space taken up with doll clutter. We're addicted and all our on-line friends only encourage/enable us!

We have a large collection and sometimes dealing with it all can take the fun out of it. This article is some thoughts I've had and lessons I've learned while dealing with our large collection.

Is Your Doll Collection Too Big?

News flash: scientists have finally discovered a formula for determining the maximum size of a manageable doll collection:

π (disposable income / (display space, spousal tolerance))²

Wouldn't it be great if we really could calculate it? Instead, it's a very personal thing. You could look at the reasons why you think your collection might be too big:

bullet Too many dolls to fit in your available display space.
bullet You're spending too much money. (You and your family have to define "too much".)
bullet Some of them are still in their boxes.
bullet You've forgotten about some dolls you have.
bullet You're not giving them enough attention.
bullet You're giving them too much attention.
bullet etc.

But the only real way to determine if your collection is too big for you is to look at how they make you feel. Do they make you smile when you walk in the room(s) where they live? Is it fun to spend time with them? If they make you feel guilty or stressed out, then maybe your collection is too big.

But keep in mind that you might just be having a bad day. Usually when I'm feeling overwhelmed by life in general, my dolls start to seem frivolous and excessive. But then I spend some time brushing their hair or making up a story about them with my (real) girls and I realize that they're just dolls. Dolls are fun.

So, how do you keep things fun if you have a big collection and keep the negative feelings at bay?

Keep Things Organized

If you have naked dolls standing all over, clothing in piles to be put away, Rubbermaid tubs filling your closets, etc., your dolls aren't going to be fun. Things are going to get lost or broken. Your family is not going to like having the dolls around. And if you have to hunt for ten minutes to find a pair of shoes for an outfit, where's the fun in that?

There are lots of great systems to keep things accessible and protected. That would be an entire article in itself, though. Ask on the message boards and you'll get lots of great ideas and pointers to photo albums, websites and past threads about organization. To get you started, here's a good article by Kim. The thing you need to do is look at your collection and your potential storage solutions and find a good match.

Then you have to maintain the system. For instance, if I decide to change a bunch of my dolls for a new vignette, or story, or just because, I only do a few at a time. When I take the old outfit off the doll, I find a Ziploc bag for its pieces (my system) and a hanger if necessary and then I make sure it gets put away in its trunk or closet or bin before I'm done. Same with accessories.

Having things neat and put away and displayed nicely makes a large doll collection not seem so overwhelming.

Learn to Recognize Dolly Clutter

FlyLady is a genius. If you haven't heard of her, she's a home cleaning guru. Here is what FlyLady says about how to recognize clutter:

"What to declutter? Things to ask yourself as you get rid of your clutter:

bulletDo I love this item?
bulletHave I used it in the past year?
bulletIs it really garbage?
bulletDo I have another one that is better?
bulletShould I really keep two?
bulletDoes it have sentimental value that causes me to love it?
bulletOr does it give me guilt and make me sad when I see the item?

Cleanse this room of everything that does not make you SMILE."

She certainly wasn't talking about doll rooms when she wrote this (to FlyLady, a professional organizer, or even your mother-in-law, all of our doll stuff might be clutter) but it certainly applies. When I look at my dolls, or their outfits, or any dolly stuff with decluttering in mind, the first question is the most important. Do I love this doll? Or did I buy her because she was a good deal? Or someone else thought she was great? Or I used to like that kind of doll but now my taste has changed?

Don't keep dolls (or furniture, or outfits, or accessories, or...) that don't make you SMILE. If you'd like, use the trick that moms use with their kids: if you're not 100% positive you want to part with something, put it away for a while. Make a dolly limbo in some closet. Pack them away and pretend they're not there for a month. If you really missed them, release them and welcome them back to the gang. If not, let someone else enjoy them.

Don't Let the Clutter Accumulate

FlyLady also says, "You can't organize clutter, you can only get rid of it." So, if you've been buying little doo-dads for setting up a miniature kitchen for your dolls and you finally get a shelf set up for it, what do you do with the extra stove that you ended up with (because you found a better one at the antique shop) or all the little miniature cooking implements that really seem out of scale now that the room it set up, etc.? You get them out of the house.

You have three choices for ridding yourself of your clutter:

bullet throw it away
bullet give it away
bullet sell it

It's usually obvious if something is junk and needs to be tossed. Or is it? I just took an icky, pilled outfit with cheap shoes missing their laces off a fixer-upper doll I bought. Did I toss the outfit? No, I added it to a bag of other unloved outfits and pieces. "Some day" I plan to go through that bag. I should have just tossed that outfit in the first place.

Dolly stuff seems too specialized to just donate to Goodwill. Especially dolls. But if you have some you don't want to keep, you need to decide if they're worth selling. (I have a personal rule that any doll for which I expect to get less than $10 is not worth selling.) If they're not worth selling, and you want a doll lover to get them (because you don't want to see them wrecked at Goodwill or you want to think of the doll as going to a good home), offer them to the first taker on your favorite message board. Let the receiver pay for shipping. Perhaps a charitable organization would be willing to take your unloved things and list them on an auction site themselves. Then you can take a tax write-off for them. You could package up sets of dolls and some outfits and find a Giving Tree in your community. Check if there's a FreeCycle in your area. Or send them off to Goodwill with a happy prayer that some little girl is going to be made very, very happy.

But what if you think the item is too valuable to give away? If you're going to sell it, make friends with eBay. It's really not that hard to sell there. Or find one of those drop-off places that list the stuff for you. If your point is to rid yourself of clutter, start your prices low and make sure they sell. Some message boards allow selling or a consignment store might take them too. Craigslist is another option. FlyLady would have an issue with this idea of selling your clutter. It takes much too long and doesn't solve the problem. But I feel that dolly stuff is not like general house stuff that everyone has a use for and some of it is worth a fair amount of money. It makes me feel better to get back at least some of what I paid for my dolls.

The key is to not let the clutter accumulate.

What if it already has? (Like mine.) Then make a plan. Pick one box or shelf or plastic tub at a time and deal with it. Do a little each day or as often as you can. Chip away at it until you have it out of the house.

Be Selective

If you don't get it in the first place, it can't become clutter.

bullet Don't buy things because they're a great deal. It's not a bargain if you don't love it and have to declutter it later.
bullet Don't buy to re-sell. Unless you really do resell it right away and you treat doing this like a business.
bullet Be careful of buying things in lots just because you want one item. Then you have to deal with the rest. Make sure you really want that item.
bullet Make rules if they help you. I don't do this because it doesn't work for me. Here are some that I've tried or heard of though:
bullet Only buy things from money you've "earned" from selling things.
bullet Don't have more than one doll of a certain face mold.
bullet If you buy a doll, sell a doll.
bullet Don't buy anything for X number of weeks/months.
bullet Only spend X dollars a month.
bullet Only collect a certain type of doll and stick with it.
bullet Use a purchase as a reward or incentive. (This one really didn't work for me! I bought the doll anyway after a while and felt bad for doing it. Now I'm having trouble enjoying her.)

And most of all, go through those clutter-identification steps before you buy the item. Do I love this? Do I have another similar item and don't need two? Etc. I repeat: if you don't get it in the first place, it can't become clutter.

Use What You Have

This is a motto from the quilters and seamstresses I know: Use What You Have. These are play dolls! Play with them. Distract yourself from the need to add to their numbers by doing things with them. Make them new clothes. Set them up in scenes. Make picture stories. Make them websites. Learn how to do fancy dolly hairdos. If you're busy playing you'll spend less time browsing eBay.

Rotate Them

OK, you've gone through all of your dolls and whittled them down to the ones you absolutely love. If you still have too many dolls for your available display space (and you can't come up with creative ways to add space with shelves, cabinets, etc.), you might want to consider rotating your dolls. You could keep a set of fall/winter dolls and spring/summer dolls. If you put them away dressed, then you'll have them all set to display when it's time to rotate them. Of course, you need to store them safely (make sure they're in a low humidity location, that their clothing is color safe or you've removed it, that the temperature won't reach extremes, etc.)

If you have the time and storage space to do this then it might be a way to keep a large collection without being overwhelmed by it.

Stay Away from Enablers if You Have To

Yes, even Just Magic! Delete everything off your Favorites list as a last resort. Stop checking the message boards (except maybe HouseFullOfDolls which is a support group for people trying to limit their too-large collections). Or do the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting "na na na na" until the enablers desist. 

Your doll collection should be a source of relaxation and enjoyment. I hope this article has helped you deal with it if you feel it is getting too big. Now back to playing dolls!


Text Copyright © 2002-2006 Maria Greene All Rights Reserved

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This page was last updated 09/23/06