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Finding Time

By John M. Hotchner

What is the most difficult problem for stamp collectors? My bet would be finding time to pursue the hobby. My evidence is my own experience and the general rule that the incidence of stamp collecting among 15- to 45-year olds is very small indeed. These are the years that people are most concerned with schooling, career building, family raising, and assuring a problem-free old age.

Unless one develops a rare dedication to the hobby, the collecting urge lies dormant; or at best, material is squirreled away on a catch-as-catch-can basis, against some undefined time in the future when gets around to active collecting.

Finding time for the hobby is difficult in these years, but it can be difficult at any time of life because of two factors. First is that it is seen as frivolous by collectors themselves (unless one is making money by buying and selling). The usual imperatives must come first: attention to spouse and children, earning a living, the projects to see to upkeep and improvements of the home, taking care of extended family responsibilities, car repairs, and more. All of these cost time and money, and it is all too easy for most of us to barely keep up, and fall into bed at night with no energy left.

The second factor is an offshoot of the first. If we don't exercise a healthy enthusiasm for the work/play of our hobby, how can we expect others to? Even when we do, others important in our lives may still think of the time we give to collecting as wasted; somehow taken from what is owed them.

I have no answer for that; at least no guaranteed answer that works every time. But there is a partial answer in the old saw: "The family that plays together, stays together!" If you can find ways to share your hobby, to get your spouse, children, grandchildren, and significant others in the family interested, it then becomes a more acceptable and a more enjoyable hobby, and the time spent on it is not so much resented.

But I digress. If you are the only collector for miles around, and no matter your age, it is still a good thing to find time to actively pursue the hobby. Why? Because time spent on a hobby — any hobby — is restorative. Getting outside yourself, and letting your work-a-day problems recede to the background has the same effect as gazing at a fish tank. Your blood pressure goes down. You smile inwardly. You put other things in perspective.

So now, the crux of the matter. How to find time, and what to do with it? Maybe those questions are reversed. You need to know what you want to do. before you can plan time needed to do it. Here is a small laundry list of collecting activities:

  • Activities around acquiring stamps and stamp supplies can be done by ordering or bidding by mail or on the Internet, by trading with another collector, at bourses, by participating in sales circuits, or you name it.
  • Preparing stamps for your album(s): Including washing from envelopes, organizing by country, cataloguing (which might involve perforating, watermarking, looking for small variations with a magnifying glass, and more), making mounts for mint stamps, etc.
  • Putting stamps into your album(s); finding the right space, checking against what may already fill a space to see if the new acquisition has a better appearance, making pages for varieties.
  • Other possibilities, including storage of duplicates, making sales circuits, doing exhibits, and enjoying philatelic literature.

Two things to realize about this list. One is that many of the activities are not things that can be done in one sitting. The other is that many of them are portable. The importance of the first realization is that stamp collecting is a lifelong hobby; one that puts a premium on accomplishment over the course of years — a marathon, not a 100-yard dash. For this reason, working on a project for 15 minutes a day may have more benefits for you and for your collection than a single two-hour stretch once a week.

The point is that regular effort gives you something to look forward to each day, and after a while you actually have something to be proud of. It needs to be said here that stamp collecting is a hobby of self-generated challenges. Done right, you will never run out of challenges, projects or a reason to get up in the morning! It is no accident that stamp collectors seem to live longer — they have goals to keep them fired up.

Where do you find the time? Sitting in front of the TV at night. Waiting until everyone else has gone to bed, when the phone isn't ringing and there is nothing else demanding your attention. Getting up a little earlier in the morning, or setting apart a half hour of quiet time for yourself just after the kids have gone to bed.

And this is where the second realization becomes important. Many of your collecting activities can go on the road with you when you travel or when you are waiting in lines: reading, writing, washing, cataloguing, inventorying, making sales books, and a dozen other things can fill productively hours that might otherwise be wasted staring at walls, the TV, or spending $65 on a fancy dinner that you really didn't want to attend but had nothing else to do.

I'm reminded of something I often hear: "I didn't have time." What the speaker is really saying is that s/he didn't have sufficient interest to make or allocate the time to do something. We are almost all able to make the time for the things we really want to do. It is a matter of making conscious choices.

Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at

How do you "steal" time for stamp collecting? Join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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