The Soothing Calm of Card Collecting When the World Around You Is Anything But

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People collect sports cards for a variety of reasons. Heck, I collect cards for a variety of reasons — the chase, the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a set and just getting something I think is cool to name a few. But in all my years of collecting there’s something else that has been in the forefront. Going through my cards has long brought a sense of calm to the often chaotic world.

Whether it was when I was young and needed a distraction or right now while I’m coming to grips with a family-changing reality, my card collection has been there to act as a distraction.

To put it bluntly, the past few months haven’t been the best for my family. In January, someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, the terminal kind where there isn’t a cure. Everything they’ve tried has gone sideways. Even with the known reality of the situation, there are still a lot of questions and none with answers that bring fairy tale endings.

Concern, anger, confusion, frustration and grief have occupied pretty much every hour of every day since we got the news. Often, the thoughts just gnaw away at me — the memories, the questioning, the looking ahead to what things could look like in a year or ten down the road.

Right now, distractions are good. Keeping busy keeps my mind off of things. Last weekend was a particularly rough one. We were given a timeline of how things might play out and it wasn’t a long one. After an emotional weekend, Monday rolled around. How often do we look forward to those?

But for me, summer Mondays mean kickball (yes, they have an adult league in my neck of the woods). For two hours, my mind was on defending third base, laying kicks down the line and hanging out with my team. And it worked. No distractions and a brief respite from life stress.

The problem is, kickball was only one night per week. And now the season’s over. I needed more distractions and ones that lasted more than a couple of hours. So I’ve ventured back to some familiar territory — my cards.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten everything fairly organized. But one of the areas that I’ve been lacking is my cataloging my Montreal Expos collection. My in-progress team sets are noted in want lists. Once I wrap up a set, I make a note of it. But it’s that in between stage where I need some work.

Last week I pulled one of my Expos inserts binders off the shelf. I kind of knew what was in there in a rough sense, but not much in the way of specifics. So I opened up the simple spreadsheet I use to keep tabs on my haves and started going through the cards page by page.

A few hours past and I was only half way done the first of two binders. Not only was I doing some menial typing and organizing, but I was digging in and reconnecting with my collection.

Over the last few evenings, I’ve been continuing with the insert cataloging project. I’ve come to realize that 1999 had a lot of Vladimir Guerrero cards and that I probably have one of the larger stashes of Michael Barrett cards outside of Burbank Sports Cards.

There’s been another realization as well. The simple act of digging through my cards and doing something that I see as productive with them has been a welcome distraction, especially on the quiet nights when my wife is working, my kids are asleep and I’m left thinking. Now, instead of my mind racing with thoughts over things I don’t have control over, I’m rediscovering cool sets, revisiting some old favorites and making spreadsheets.

Cards have been there for me lots in the past as well. Growing up, let’s just say home wasn’t always the happiest place. But my stacks of stuff were always there waiting. In the early days, I didn’t have any collecting goals. I amassed a couple hundred cards from 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee Hockey and put them into numerical order one day, by team the next then position a while later. It was a seemingly pointless cycle that got me enjoying cards and learning there was more to hockey than the words “Wayne” and “Gretzky.”

In the midst of the chaos, cards laid a foundation for what my collection is today, not to mention my career. They have been a through line for a lot of the tough times.

And I’m sure cards and the act of collecting have been the same for others. In fact, I know they are. So if you find yourself going through some difficult times, pull out a dusty box from the back of your closet. Embark on that organization project you’ve been procrastinating on. Sort a pile by position. Create some art. Make a spreadsheet.

There are dozens of different ways your cards can take you away from your problems, even if only for a little while. They won’t solve any of life’s problems, but they are a great distraction.

I’m already looking for other projects within my collecting projects in anticipation of the tough months that lay ahead. It’s not one of those things where things are going to get better. There’s going to be feelings of anger, sadness, fear, nostalgia, confusion. There’s going to be some happy moments, too, where we can find them.

But there are going to be lots of days where I’m going to need to mentally check out and get away from it all. And now I’ll know where to go — to the boxes, binders and spreadsheets. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but right now, it’s exactly what I need.

When you click on links to various merchants on this site, like eBay, and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission.

Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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  1. David Berger 30 August, 2019 at 21:54

    Hi Ryan!

    Nice article! I’m sorry to hear you and your family are going through a very difficult time. I too have recently returned to the card collecting world. I collected baseball, football and hockey cards as a kid, back when you could just about collect everything that was made.

    As my wife and I are now empty nesters, I have turned back to the hobby that has always given me such joy and satisfaction. I am continuing to collect baseball, football and hockey cards and putting sets together. I have also begun a collection of Dallas Cowboys cards ( I know) along with collecting some of the all-time football greats QB’s and RB’s. In addition I started collecting hockey goalies as my daughter was a collegiate field hockey goalie. It is a way to remember her playing days.

    My daughter is married to a very nice young man who is an Army officer and they are currently in Okinawa, Japan. As odd as it may sound, I find comfort in collecting and feel closer to her despite the many miles between us. She has even sent me some Japanese baseball cards! :-)

    It is a great hobby! One in which I hope my grandchildren will enjoy with me when they are a little older. Thanks again for sharing and reminding me why I have always enjoyed the hobby.

    God Bless,


  2. Mark Nickerson 31 August, 2019 at 15:44

    OMG Ryan! I am sorry to hear that you are dealing with someone close to you with cancer. I myself have been battling it this summer and I’m not done. I know exactly what you mean about cards being a welcome distraction. It has been that way for me through nearly 50 years of non-stop collecting. When my brother and I were involved in an auto accident as kids, I had my cards. When I went through a divorce, I spent lots of time with my cards. When my parents each passed, again I needed my cards. Now that I’m dealing with cancer myself, my cards take my mind off from the stresses of life. They are very cathartic in that sense taking my mind off current troubles and taking me to my happy place. Thank you for pointing this out to other collectors that may not have thought of this or realized this aspect of collecting. God bless.

  3. Dale Griffin 1 September, 2019 at 20:06

    Thanks for sharing. Talking about this only helps things get better of sort. You are not alone in this wonderful world and hobby.

  4. Steve Pajk 2 September, 2019 at 10:43

    My prayers are with you and your family during these tough times. I have been there all too often myself.

  5. Ron Harth 29 November, 2019 at 12:36

    Sorry to hear about the difficult times that you & your family are experiencing. Yes, cards can be the right distraction when things are tough. I have been battling some chronic health issues for a long time & my card collection has helped pull me through. I enjoy creating spreadsheets for my sets & looking through binders & cards full of memories. It transports me to happier times.

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