Task: Tips for Managing the Size of Your Collection
Needed: strategy and willpower
Time: 10-15 mins
I amassed a pretty big Atari collection back in the early 2000s when hardware and software was easy to come by in flea markets and thrift stores. Looking back, it was a feeding frenzy. I picked up a ton of stuff over about three years. This included consoles such as the 2600, 5200, and 7800 and a wide range of 8-bit computers. For example, I ended up with nearly 20 2600s because they were so plentiful and cheap. I still have all of these today and plan to get rid of more than half sometime this next year. I also picked up a number of other computers including some Commodore, Radio Shack, and Texas Instruments computers.
While it is relatively easy for enthusiasts to find reasons to purchase hardware, it is very difficult to find the willpower to downsize. I certainly struggle with this. My plans to part with hardware is always more ambitious than reality. Although, I did recently part with three Atari 5200s leaving me with just two. This was hard to do but the 5200 is my least favorite machine and they take up so much space! My complete list of Atari hardware is on my Atari Age profile.
I provide below some tips for how to manage your Atari collection. This of course varies from person to person but I hope you find a few of my thoughts useful.
Tip 1 – Identify a finite space
Perhaps my best decision was to define a finite space where my collection would live. I have a large cabinet in my basement where I keep most of my Atari hardware. My cabinet is about 10 feet long and two feet deep. It has two bays that are about three feet high with two shelves, two that are four feet high with three shelves, and one that is about four and a half feet high with four shelves. This is where I keep about 90% of my collection. I have a closet with limited space where I have a few items and then have a bookcase where I have my software and books as well as a desk with the setup I use on a daily basis. My firm plan is to not outgrow this space. This means that if I want to acquire some new hardware it has to fit in the cabinet or something else needs to go. The 5200s I got rid of freed up almost an entire shelf and who really needs five?
Tip 2 – Don’t keep boxes
One of the best decisions I made from a management point of view was to limit my collection of original packaging. Computer and peripheral boxes take up so much space and they are often not in good condition or harbor mold or vermin. I have a few boxes of mostly peripherals and the ones I have tend be small and in excellent condition. I understand the value boxes have to some but for me it is not worth the space sacrifice. I would much rather have hardware.
Tip 3 – Decide how many of each you need
I have made the general decision to keep no more than three of each console or 8-bit computer type. For the 2600, my goal is to keep two clean and working units of each type (e.g. heavy sixer, vader, jr., etc.). For the 8-bit computers, my plan for now is to keep three clean and working units of each (400, 800, 800XL, 1200XL, etc.). I am pretty close to this goal with about two to three of each. The only one I have more than three of is the 800XL. I have four of those. The XL and XE series don’t really take up much space without the boxes. I can get about eight XL/XE computers on a shelf with each stored vertically. This is enough that I can be sure I will have working version for years with replacements or parts in waiting.
My biggest dilemma is what to do with my consoles and computers from other manufacturers. For example, I have a Commodore Vic-20, three C64s, and a 128D along with several peripherals and a bunch of software. I was never a Commodore guy but think it might be fun someday to give these a spin and learn their ins and outs. However, these Commodores and my others take up about 1/4 of my overall space. I very likely will not be able to dive into these other computers until retirement which is still a number of years away. Do I hang onto these and please my future self or get rid of them to free up space for more Atari gear? For now I have decided to hang onto these since I have a pretty big Atari collection right now and hopefully don’t need to acquire much more.
Tip 4 – Remember the joy it brings
Something that has given me some comfort as I part with hardware is the satisfaction that what I am moving out is likely to go to a good home. Often, the people buying on eBay or elsewhere are collectors like us or newbies just getting into the hobby. Either way, someone else will take pleasure in receiving and owning the item.
Tip 5 – Resist the urge to expand now
One of the things that has kept me from impulse buying Atari hardware is knowing that the bottom is going to fall out of the retrocomputing market in about 10 years. Most of the people buying hardware are in their 50s or so. Nostalgia has hit and most of us have some extra cash in our pockets. Most of the people who want Atari stuff are going to have what they want and the demand should lessen naturally as their thirst is quenched. Also, as people move into retirement there is often a practical need to downsize and simplify. This will create a supply to match the lessening demand. There will of course be less working hardware at that time but I think the increased supply and decreased demand will outpace hardware failure thus driving down prices. So. if you are willing to be patient you may be able to get some sweet stuff at much lower prices in about 5-10 years. This will be perfect timing to set up an Atari retirement. That is my prediction and it has tempered my urge to buy!
Coming up with an overall strategy is important for managing what is usually limited space. The urge to own tons of Atari gear needs to be balanced with the reality of life, family, and the burden a large collection will place on whoever has to deal with it when we are all gone. Each strategy will be different depending on individual space constraints and preferences (e.g. using vs collecting). Hopefully the tips above are useful for maximizing the pleasure that comes with Atari.
There was a recent episode of the Retro Computing Roundtable (RCR) that discussed “uncollecting”. Here is an older RCR episode that talks about downsizing.