Atlas Hugged: How to Stop Collecting Globes, or Anything Else

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

My favorite globe, gifted to me from a fourth grade teacher in Portland.

HouseI didn’t do it consciously. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided I was going to start collecting Cold War-era globes. Seriously, who does that? But within a year, I had four. And I started realizing that globes were sneaking up on me in other areas of my life.

Like any good self-examiner, I started wondering what was going on.

I had started decorating with globes.

The nymph sculpture is my husband's work, carved from a root.

The nymph sculpture is my husband’s work, carved from a root. I picked up the painting at a vintage shop in Aurora, Ore. It’s a watercolor of Grosvenor Square in London, from 1922.

The globes had started congregating in my office.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

My husband found most of these at Goodwill.

One day, my friend gave me this gorgeous globe necklace.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

You can take it with you and, of course, it falls at your heart.

Two years after the fact, I realized that I had even made my son into a globe, for our local UFO parade.

My kids are my whole world.

My kids are my whole world.

Why We Collect

Psychologists estimate that about a third of people collect, and the reasons vary immensely. You might not be surprised to read that people who study collecting always point to the psychological underpinnings of the behavior. It has everything to do with the high-game stakes of life and death and our shoddy attempts at cheating the inevitable.

In other words, you’re older than you’ve ever been and now you’re even older!

Are we trying to fill a void in our lives that was never filled? Motivated by the existential urge to make our ephemeral existences more permanent? Connecting ourselves to an object in an attempt to hang our identity hats on something in the physical realm? Simply misplacing an age-old survival tactic?

The desire to control even a small part of the chaos of the universe is great — even greater so for me since I became a mother and became the ruler of the universe.

“The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.” – Philipp Blom,

I like that idea. It feels so definitive, and yet, I don’t think it says enough. It certainly doesn’t explain my globe collecting to myself. After all, every collection is an attempt at personal storytelling, with the beginning (the idea) and the end (your death) being just the bookends.

Golden Globes

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with  maps. As a child, I had attended one of those no-walls elementary schools developed in the 1970s. Between my fourth-grade classroom and the bathroom was a storage space where our teachers had placed several giant maps of the world on movable rolling barriers.

The relief map of Europe was my favorite. During bathroom breaks I often stopped there and ran my fingers along the word Czechoslovakia. Ever since, nothing makes me tingle more than a map. It’s the travel writer in me – the person who sees a place name and imagines being there. Just what would happen to me in the place between here and there?

But globes? As physical objects they are so much more compelling than a map.The earth trembles under your hands.  They harness space and time in a way that accentuates our place in the universe. So tiny, but with such a great and expanding view.

You can certainly hug a globe.

So there it is – a childhood back story, a life calling to become a travel writer. Self-identification as a worldly person. A global symbology upon which I could hang a collection.

In my life, the globes came forth.

Enough is Enough

You can see the possible end to this story. Emily decides she’s into globes and then acquires globes for the rest of her life until her house is like a mini universe of rotating Earths. Each holiday, her friends and family find new and inspired ways to bring the globe back into her life, to appease this unending global hunger.

That’s not the way it’s working out, thank God. For me, the balance has come from two areas 1.) Identifying what the collection means and 2.) Becoming something of a feng shui nut. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I have found a way to both be thrilled with my collection and not let it take control of my space.

Collecting and feng shui

In her wonderful book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, Karen Kingston writes about how collections happen. When you collect, you choose object based on their metaphorical meaning. After all, I’m not collecting vintage medical tools or Pez dispensers. These are globes.

Kingston says that when the collector has moved through the stage where she draws metaphorical meaning from the object, she can stop collecting.

You mean you don’t have to collect something for the rest of your life?!

Yes. You can stop now.


And I did. I stopped. Because here’s the real reason I was collecting globes.

Since having children and becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom, my world has gotten smaller, sometimes suffocatingly so. International travel is pretty much off my radar. Since my entire world exists in about 2,000 ft.2, and I work from home, I have sometimes felt like a John Denver song unable to reach its chorus. And while I do get out a lot more than other moms since I do a fair amount of travel writing professionally, the distance between the center of my circle and its periphery is very small.

But the world is out there! It’s waiting for me, for another time. I am small and the world is big. And every day I have reminders of that. Sure, they may be reminders with political boundaries from my childhood, but there is some comfort in that, too. These globes are reminders that the borders are always shifting, that attempts at control break down over time. Rivers change paths. Mountains crumble, a planet swiftly tilting and all.

Once I realized this, I didn’t really need any more globes. I love them, I’m keeping them all (for now), but let’s not get carried away here. Now, I have something different. I have am left to enjoy the process of having an acquisitive eye, which means when I see globes out there looking awesome (as so many of them do), I can merely snap a pic for Instagram or add it to my ever-growing collection on Pinterest of globes.

The Internet saves the world again.


Making a collection work for you

Feng shui guru Kathryn Weber has a really great breakdown about how to assess if your collection is working for you. It’s got some truly stellar questions you can ask yourself about your collection and your collecting habit that will help you see your collection as the story that it is in your life.

In the end, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself. I know someone who liked penguins as a child and was still getting penguins a decade after she was over it. My German host father has an overflowing owl cabinet, for example, though he really seems into it. My husband has too many collections to recollect: bonsai, flutes, wheel-thrown pottery. He’s unstoppable.

But you have to be really vocal about just what your relationship is to these objects. If you find yourself getting gifted a lot for your collection, don’t forget:

You’re the curator, here.

Do you have a collection? Do you know why you are collecting?

13 thoughts on “Atlas Hugged: How to Stop Collecting Globes, or Anything Else

  1. Jennifer McCormick says:

    Hi Emily,
    I collect travel books. When I was a kid my parents would take me to the library every 4 weeks so that I could check out books. I would walk up to the check out counter with a pile of travel books so high that I could not see over it. When I could afford to buy books I began buying travel books, sometimes places that I’ve been and sometimes places that I want to go. While reading them cover to cover I am able to travel in my mind. My collection includes free books from AAA, pocket size maps, foreign phrase books, a copy of Birnbaum’s DisneyWorld from my first trip to the parks at age 12 and every travel book I’ve ever found on Ireland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      I’ve been traveling by scent. When I can’t get out or am otherwise housebound I smell my oils and dream of some other landscape! Thanks so much for sharing your story. #iheartmaps


  2. QP and Eye says:

    Hi Emily, Love the ephemera pictured with this post and the globes are beautiful. I can see why you’d want them displayed as they are. However, I understand there comes a time when one needs to rethink what ‘treasure’ means and the things that add value to one’s life. 🙂 Linda


  3. The Bold Bluebonnet says:

    Great post. LOVED your kid’s hand being the moon. That was adorable and clever. I have a husband that collects. We’re trying to get to the bottom of it now as we pare down for a move. Thanks for your insight.


  4. LifeLoofah says:

    This is very interesting! I have a faery collection that interestingly started with my receiving a beautiful metal faery with stained-glass wings and wondering why on earth my Aunt would give me something like this, particularly because the faery was naked. Plus it was pink and I didn’t like pink at that age. But I grew to love it and so my Mom gave me a larger stained glass faery with green and purples (my favourite colours) and the rest is history. I’ve never stopped to wonder whether I should stop collecting. These days I only obtain them as gifts from others who see one during their travels and think of me, and I love getting them under those circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      It’s hard to say no to a gift of fairies for sure. I was into them myself in high school but grew out of it. Never collected, just read a ton of books and looked at a ton of fairy stuff.


  5. Kyle says:

    Emily great post, I’m a hard core globe collector globes creep into more spaces in my home all the time, I’ve asked myself why I collect and after a long time I’ve decided that there is a slice of American history in globes from a certain era and I want to do my job to preserve that slice, check out my slice of American globe history at


  6. Colleen/Bettina says:

    Loved this one! Guess what: We have maps office at work whose mission (among others) is to collect and study maps worldwide – particularly from hard to reach places. Second career? 🙂


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