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Collecting Cool, Old Outdoor Things

My wife thinks I am a hoarder. I believe I am a collector of things.

I tell my wife, Polly, that a collector finds special value in one type of thing but the hoarder finds value in innumerable things, thus the reason for keeping everything. I don’t keep everything. Just the cool things of value, whether intrinsically or monetarily, that I find outdoors or outdoors-related to be displayed. I guess you could say that I am into ‘alternate de-cluttering.’

For clarification, here are the professional definitions of collecting and hoarding. Collecting: Possessions are part of a larger set of items. Display does not impede active living areas in the home. Hoarding: Possessions become unorganized piles preventing rooms from being used for their intended purpose.

Look, everybody collects stuff, right? Some folks collect baseball cards, ball caps and other sports memorabilia while still others collect stamps, coins, Mason canning jars, antique jewelry, vinyl records, knives, beer cans and a lot more.


Me, well, I collect cool outdoor things  –  old or vintage outdoor things. The outdoor world is rife with items to collect from legally obtaining artifacts in the wild, to buying homemade doohickeys or old, manufactured gadgets from antique shops, garage or farm sales, flea markets, swap meets, etc.


I even have an old Nebraska Game and Parks Commission work patch.


To me, collecting means more than just “collecting.” It is a quest. It is a life-long journey that is never truly complete, and it’s fun. Additionally, collecting is a stress reliever. It gives me an escape from the fast pace of everyday life to slow down and focus completely on something else.


Are the ‘outdoorsy’ things I have collected worth anything?  Some yes, some no. I know the cash value of many of my collectibles (almost to the penny), but never sell a darn thing.I do give some stuff away.  I see my collection of old outdoor pieces as a combination of art, nature and history. Items may be passed on to someone who really appreciates it or the next generation. Every object has its own story. I try to keep notes on each piece.


Collecting, after all, is a pursuit that requires a fair amount of passion, purpose and persistence. Okay, I’ll admit that the scale of my collections is a little overwhelming. They occupy a significant amount of space in the Wagner basement (outdoor cave), especially considering they don’t actually get used for anything other than to be occasionally picked up, examined, admired or showed to my oldest grandson, Jackson. And, oh yes, a yarn will be spun about the acquisition of that object.


I collect old, vintage outdoor items to remember and relive the past. I dare say it is the preservation of tradition. Some of my keepsakes stimulate memory and trigger recollections of great adventures.


But even if my memory cannot be relied upon to document an official record of the past, it remains critical to my understanding of it. I have always felt that it is difficult for us as a society to determine where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been.

People have been collecting things for centuries. Research done by anthropologists suggests that collecting is a basic human instinct; a survival advantage amplified by eons of natural selection. This research shows our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scarce, tangible, valuable objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring.

Today, psychological studies show that typical collecting enhances a number of positive attributes in people. Among those heightened characteristics, are: Building observational skills, improving organizational thinking, increasing the capacity for pattern recognition, awakening a desire for knowledge and history, inspiring creativity and fostering social connections.


More relevant though than the reason you happen to collect valuable items, is the connection to nostalgia and the study of change over time. Psychologists say that collecting, like most intensely personal activities, has the capacity to let the collector live in another world if just for a while.

This may explain why people collect old war memorabilia in an effort to recall the romantic aspects of war while not forgetting the true horror of such times.

Some folks have asked me: “What good is all that crap you have, Greg?” My response: “This stuff is very important to me and my fondest memories. I feel closer to my chosen pastimes of hunting, trapping and fishing as well as my work in a conservation and outdoor recreation agency.”

In my view, anything that can bring the “good old days” back to life, if only for a few minutes, is well worth it!



How many of the older items I have collected in my photos above can you identify?

By the way, I am not the only person at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission who enjoys collecting things they find. Gerry Steinauer, Botanist, describes his penchant to search and ogle with satisfaction over things he finds while outdoors on page 62 in the 2019 August-September Issue of NEBRASKAland Magazine, if you can get a hold of a copy.

Happy collecting and don’t forget about the old photos! GW

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Communications and Marketing Specialist and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

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