If there’s one thing that running an 80s-themed website has taught me over the last 13 years it’s that one has to really be proactive in order to avoid sadness and ennui that future nostalgia will inevitably bring. Nostalgia is by nature one of the more frustrating feelings of sadness that we face while growing older, as there really is no way to return to the past. Collections of vintage treasures can sometimes help, though if they’re merely a representation and not the actual treasured objects, the ones we owned as kids, then it’s typically still a transitory fix.
That being said, sometimes these mementos are the best cure-all, knowing when we’re in the midst of loving something so much that we’ll truly miss it when it’s gone is an entirely new hurdle for the nostalgia-ridden folks like us. Will we ever love a modern TV show as much as the shows from our childhoods? Maybe. Will the branded foods that we eat now be mourned when they’re discontinued in the same way we mourn the loss of PB Crisps, Ecto-Cooler, and Pizzaria Chips? Quite possibly. But this posits a question as a collector, what do we keep now so that we won’t miss it later?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as the bulk of my vintage collecting is winding down after 20 years of reclaiming my childhood. I’ve gone through a lot of phases as a collector. For awhile I was picking up anything and everything I could afford/find that reminded me of the 80s and my childhood. It started with creating a digital archive of images of all the food, toys, clothes, comics, TV shows and movies that I loved as a child. Then I filled in these gaps with more tangible pieces, the actual toys, a vast collection of DVDs, and a bunch of comics. Then I started tipping into trying to acquire old food and drink ephemera like magazine ads, coupons, and in some cases even the empty packaging of certain items I really loved. It even led me to picking up some complete cases of expired candies, things I never thought would be so readily available, things I never thought I’d be keeping in the house. Specifically I sought out cartons of one of my favorite bubble gums from back in the day, Topps Juice Bar gum.
But lately, as I’ve been trying to reign in the impulse to collect, to try and refine the collection to a smaller amount of stuff that truly fills my heart with joy, I’ve had to make some tough decisions when it comes to the potential for being nostalgic for modern stuff. Like I was driving at a second ago, it’s tough to know what you’ll really miss when it’s gone. For the past 13 years I’ve been holding on to (okay, hoarding) all sorts of Halloween ephemera as each season comes and goes. All of the interesting candy wrappers, images of seasonal mascots, and anything that seems like it might be a rad thing to have in 20 years. Going through that box recently I noticed something really strange. Some of these things have been hidden away for over a decade, but because I was so hyper aware of them when they were new, because I wrote articles about them here at Branded, and because somewhere in the recesses of my mind I knew that they were tucked away in a box, I had almost no nostalgic feelings for them.
Part of this might be because I’m an adult and don’t form the same sorts of attachments to pop culture as I did as a kid when everything was new and exciting to me, but I think in some weird way I short-circuited the potential nostalgia simply by holding on to the item. Again, one of the main ingredients in nostalgia is the longing for a thing that you simply can not have. Because I do have them, the same feelings just aren’t attached. I’m fairly certain that time really isn’t a factor in this either. I think if I bury them in a closet for another 15 years I still won’t have nostalgia for them. So when trying to navigate the murky waters of being proactive with my nostalgia, it’s hard to know what to try and capture now, so that I’ll be glad I have it later.
The only thing for certain that I knew I’d want was some piece of a property that meant something to me both now, and when I was a kid. That thing is Toys R Us. In the wake of the company bankruptcy and the closing of all of the US stores I knew that I would want something to remember it by, something that wasn’t just now, but also then. Luckily I have a friend, that shall by request remain anonymous, who was able to snag something very cool from the toy store chain that has a lot of love attached to it. My friend was able to grab an 80s/90s branded shopping basket with one of my favorite versions of the store logo stamped onto the side. I remember having the opportunity to walk into a store with my folks, where they gave me a basket and a budget and let me go crazy for my birthday. I also know that over the years this particular basket has been in service, countless families have carried it around the store and purchased all sorts of games and toys for kids that loved that stuff. That’s some pretty strong juju that supersedes or sidesteps the pit of collecting something before you’re truly nostalgic for it.
What modern stuff have you found yourself collecting that you hope you’ll really want in 20 years? Have you stumbled on your own issues with preemptive collecting killing your nostalgia down the road?