It was a thrill this year to complete my 1978 Topps set. For one thing, this was THE set that got me hooked as a collector. And for another, I enjoyed the context of this being the set’s 40th anniversary. Though my original plan was to put the cards in a binder and the binder on a shelf, I decided to go the extra mile and archive the set in just the way I kept the cards in 1978.

That was several months ago, and I haven’t looked at a single card since. I didn’t expect this to happen. After all, this was a massively sentimental set to me, and I absolutely love so many of the cards. But nope, I haven’t seen or touched any of them since the day I checked the final two cards off my list. Ditto for 1985 Donruss Leaf before that, and 1984 Donruss before that.

I suspected I wasn’t alone in this regard, so I polled #BaseballCardTwitter–

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Sure enough, enjoying the spoils of a completed binder captured only 35% of the vote, and the act of finishing the set took last place!

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” — Plutarch (or the bad guy in Die Hard)

A complex transformation takes place when a collector actually completes a set. He shifts from being a collector who’s collecting things to being a haver who simply has things. The haver naturally has a better collection, but the gains are not without an emotional toll.

Daily rituals like checking your eBay saved searches (if you even have any left) lose their compulsion, the periodic rush of adding a new card to your album is no longer to be had, and the very sense of purpose that guided you as a collector is no more. Twitter user @RickyChapps speaks for many of us in capturing the thrill of finally being able to cross a card off the want list, and @IbreakCards reminds us how special it is when the player also happens to be a personal favorite.

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For weeks, maybe months, maybe years, the mission was to collect the whole set, and now all of a sudden it sucks to be done! Psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the Arrival Fallacy, the belief that when we attain a certain goal we’ll be happy when in reality we feel let down and lost.

Most of us already know that a simple cure for this predicament is to find a new set to collect. Done with 1978 Topps? Okay, time for 1979! Done with Doc Gooden’s playing career? Onto his post-career issues! Of course the pattern is easy to see, and in an existential collecting moment we may wonder whether we’re just setting ourselves up for more and more disappointment.

Along these lines, I want to offer a handful of tips that protect us from some of the ruts our hobby tends to bring–

  • Enjoy the journey, first and foremost. Treat collecting like having a good book to read. Nobody rushes out and buys the new Dan Brown so they can be done reading it. They buy it because they want to enjoy each and every page. Treat your sets that way. Twitter user @mattypabst seems to be doing this one right–
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  • Collect a set or two that may never be complete. Examples include the “Topps Living Set,” a thematic (e.g., favorite team) subset of “Topps Now,” the 1987 Topps set autographed, or even a favorite player’s bobbleheads.
  • Turn some of your collections into displays. While I have not once opened my Topps Super Sports Card Locker of 1978 Topps, it might just revolutionize my day job if I had this hanging on the wall of my office!
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  • Help others! It’s the rare set collector who doesn’t accumulate vast amounts of doubles along the way. Inviting other collectors to send you their want lists gets you flipping through your doubles in no time and brings back a lot of the fun you had building the set yourself.
  • Twitter user and SABR Baseball Cards contributor @vossbrink offers an idea that some of us might be scared of since there is always that chance you’ll ding a corner in the process.
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  • And last but not least, try upgrading your set. Just be warned that this can get crazy expensive pretty fast, at least depending how upgraded you want that set to be! Twitter user @billcornell828 seems to be entertaining this option, and I’m guessing his upgrades would hurt the pocket a bit worse than 1978 Topps!
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Whatever your collecting interests are, do your best to find an approach that makes you happy. Welcome advice from others, but don’t let anyone or anything else–fellow collectors, price guides, professional graders–dictate your path. You’re the Emperor, dammit. A cardboard kingdom awaits your benevolence.

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