(Note: Many people use the word “stash” in scale modeling terms to refer to the unbuilt kits a person has. Others use the term “backlog”. I’ve always used “stash”, but regardless of your preference, consider them interchangeable for this article.)
When it came to toys, I suppose I was an average kid. Though I didn’t have many of the high-end, most sought after play things that many of my well-off friends did, I certainly had plenty more than other kids I knew. At the time, I didn’t realize the implications of it all. One friend had loads of cool things, another less, yet still cool.
And like so many of my friends, keeping it all reigned in according to the cleaning sensibilities of my mom was an ongoing battle. I felt that a logical course of action was for all the toys to be out and visible, ready for play at a moment’s notice. My mom, on the other hand, seemed to have this odd notion that things should be put away neatly after use, resulting in something she titled a “clean room”.
Of course, we were at opposite ends of the spectrum philosophically. So after some negotiations and compromise, and an occassional “posterior warming” 😉 , we came to a mutually agreeable solution.
“Jon, clean your room. Now.”
The Origins Of The Stash
There is a saying I’ve heard for years, offered in jest of course: “He who has the most toys when you die wins.” Obviously this is a humorous take on the fact that you can’t take anything with you. But many of us – myself included – seemed to take this as truth as children, whether we’d heard it nor not.
I can’t say I was a particularly greedy kid. Yes, I wanted more toys. If offered, I’d certainly take one. And many times I pestered my parents for them. But for the most part, I accepted what I had, played with it, and enjoyed the times that new additions were brought into the fold.
Still, there was an underlying current of “more”. A tidal wave was never desired, as long as I knew a steady stream would flow. When I could look across my kingdom of toys, I was satisfied. For a while.
Shaking Hands With The Boxes
I don’t know that kids ever consider the long term implications of things. I rarely did. Having toys, and getting more, all seemed like a lot of fun. “What did you get for your Christmas/birthday/whatever?” Some wielded it like a club, a few with humility, but most simply liked to tell their friends what they had, and hear what their friends had acquired. Most good friends shared toys anyway, so even lack of ownership rarely resulted in completely missing out.
As I grew older though, the realities were a bit clearer. Quite often troubling.
My late teen and early adult years were full of boxes of guitar parts, VHS tapes, and music CDs. Later years added computer video games, DVDs, and NASCAR collectibles.
When I returned to the modeling hobby, I quickly latched on to the “stash” mentality. Even at the rate I built models – easily two dozen a year – I wanted more.
The boxes piled up.
Not The Intended Reality
Of course, just as when I was young, I can’t say I deliberately set out to have a mountain of cardboard filled with plastic sprues tucked away in closets. I enjoyed the hobby, and when I saw a subject I liked, the thought was “why not buy it?” Sometimes I had sufficient funds and acted immediately. other times I did not and saved up. More than a few times I justified my happiness and financed a plastic toy at a high interest rate.
I never started out saying “I think I will spend inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money to buy stacks of models that will never get built.” It just turned out that way.
And it might have never dawned on me at all if not for a survey I conducted.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
In 2015, I took on what I thought would be a fun little project – conducting a survey about modeler’s habits. I’m certainly not a professional at it – I don’t actually know the correct term for a survey-taker-person. Still, I put together a few questions that seemed logical, created a form to record answers, and placed links in several aircraft forums that I frequented at the time. I figured if 50 or 75 people answered, I’d be doing well.
It turned out that 575 people responded. I didn’t know much about survey-taker-persons, but I realized that response rate begun to nudge into the realm of having enough people to generate valid data.
And as I read through that data – outlined in this blog post from November 2015 – I came to a very uncomfortable realization.
Sorting Through It All
Making some assumptions based on the data, it turned out that on average each of the respondents had 182 models in their stash. Further digging indicated that those same respondents essentially built 5 or less models per year for the most part.
Even more shocking were the extremes. Over 60% of people reported having 100 or more models in their stash. And 20% of that number were actually over 500. I actually had enough people contact me after the fact with precise numbers on their own collection that I realized I probably needed to have breakdowns in increments of 1,000 all the way up to 5,000.
The average I’d come up with based on my survey of 182 models each was seriously low…
The Grimmest Number
A survey that I’d intended to be a fun read began to look far more grim and discouraging than I’d ever intended. Yet there was another set of numbers, from these very respondents, that chilled me.
Of 575 people who answered, over 65% were over 50. Include the over 40 crowd, and it meant over 90% of the people were in that group, with their 182 models each, being built at a rate of 5 per year. And I’d never even factored how many models were purchased each year.
I recall dwelling on what all this meant for quite a while.
Over half those people were within 25 or so years of death, with no indication of building more, or buying less.
I looked at my own stash of over 400 kits. The realization dawned that something had to change.
Ignore It And It Will Go Away
For a while I ignored it all, hoping my mind would file the numbers away among old phone numbers, faces, and other things rarely dredged up, and the reality they pointed to would dry up and blow away. But my awareness of all of this had to shake hands with another grim fact of life.
My father-in-law, 30 years my senior, once told me something that I ponder more and more. He said “The worst part of getting old is you quit going to birthday parties near as much, and you find yourself at funerals instead.”
I began to notice announcements on forums. “Sad to report so-and-so passed away this weekend.” Appropriate condolences would be offered, kind remarks made, humorous stories shared. After a few days, people moved on. Then, some brief period of time later, another similar announcement would be made, and the same cycle would occur.
And each time, I would briefly sit and think “an average of 182 kits, left for a widow or children to deal with.”
A Change Of Direction
I finally realized that this pursuit of kits was futile. So what if I had the latest Spitfire? Even as many as I was building, it did no good to have them sit for years. The realization that I’d once bragged about the models I had seemed to be grossly and morbidly ridiculous. Foolish.
I’d hear of a friend dying, and that a group would get together to try and sell the kits on behalf of the family. Many times, despite knowing why those models were being sold, vultures would swoop in, vying for a bargain, even to the point of nagging the widow to sell some piece of plastic for a cheap price. The thought was sickening.
Thus, I started doing something about it. I determined that I would not leave a closet full of toys for my wife to one day have to deal with.
In essence, my 10-year-old self looked at my mom, and said “You’re right. These toys have gotten out of control. It’s time for a cleaning.”
Feeling The Weight Lifted
I started simply. If I saw someone looking for a model, I gave it to them. Yes, gave it to them. In my own reckoning, I’d purchased it foolishly. Why not make the end of it punctuated with generosity?
And I sold quite a few too. I went to a model show, nearly 100 boxes in tow. A few folks remarked how low I’d priced them. I told them simply my goal was to leave with no models and more cash. Yet I knew all along the real reason – I’d leave with no models, and nothing for anyone to deal with later.
The more I unloaded the models, the more I wanted to continue doing so. I gave away more, and sold more. A few that had been started, and languished for years, even found their way in the trash if no one showed an interest in them. You may ask yourself “Is he serious?“
The answer would be “most assuredly so.”
Stay On Target
Tomorrow I’ll be attending a model swap meet in Fayetteville, NC. I’m bringing all but 2 or 3 of my aircraft models to sell off. I say that not as an advertisement really, but rather as celebration of the end of one part of this modeling journey. If I can sell those off, I’ll be down to a point I consider maintainable. All that will be left is the amount of models I would typically build in a year. And I am playing by a new rule. If I buy one, another must leave the closet. It can be by way of my workbench, giving it away, selling it, or even tossing it. But the “one in, one out” rule will stay.
The goal will not be to have the most toys. I won’t go and stand foolishly at the door to my modelo closet and survey my “kingdom”… a kingdom I now see as folly.
The goal now is to make sure my wife will never have to look in the closet, and with all else she is dealing with, think “what will I do with all this?” If nothing else, she’ll have no more than a single trash bin full of boxes to toss if she chose to do so.
A Few Concluding Thoughts
If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking “this is quite grim compared to most of what I read here.” And I’ll admit it is. Frankly, the direction this has taken has strayed quite a bit from my original vision. Still, I think it’s important to bring up.
And I’m not asking you to agree with me. Each person decides on their own. I suppose if I could plant a seed in anyone’s mind it would not be “reduce your stash”, but rather “what cost is the hobby really worth?”
There may be a few who read this and think “Yeah, but I’m young – under 30! This isn’t a problem for me.” Perhaps… but I was young once myself, and all of the stacks of movies, games, and models I had even then were simply the seed of a monster. Please don’t take this as a condemnation, but rather as a warning to heed from someone who has passed by that same marker you’re at. Beware what looms.
Happily, the reduction in my stash has had many positive outcomes I did not expect. The reduction in expenditures has really helped out our family budget. The nagging sense of guilt at stacks of boxes has gone way. I know my wife won’t have to deal with the often months long process of getting rid of things – and the constant reminder of my parting one day.
Best of all, I’m happier in the hobby. My pursuit now is building the models. As much as I would often argue that there was fun in collecting, I realize that for me personally, it was simply a poor excuse to salve my nagging conscience.
Your mileage may vary, as they say.
But that day is coming. For all the boxes you may have, only one awaits.
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