Collecting & Decluttering

I’ve always been a collector. When I was very young, I collected coins. My parents owned a corner store and I would go through the coins at the end of the days sales and pick out any foreign or unusual coins and add them to my collection.

As I got a bit older, I would buy rarer coins and collect those.  Eventually I lost interest in numismatics and my collecting had a decade or so break.  I got married and started collecting kids, six of them, each quite rare and valuable.

Then I started collecting antique picture frames, restoring them and putting old Indian posters and pictures of Krishna in them. They still adorn our walls today.

About 15 years ago I also began collecting vintage ‘parlor’ guitars.  They weren’t expensive, I’d buy damaged ones and restore them to great playing condition. I liked the woods and they sounded like they had so much more character than modern guitars.

I have an architectural background, so initially I was attracted to some of the graphics on these vintage guitars, but more and more I started to gravitate towards the better makers.

I’m not a good player but the rest of my family is, so the guitars were also useful when we would sit around as a family and sing and have ‘musical meditations’ i.e. kirtan – the singing and chanting of sacred yoga sounds and bhajans.

Whenever I bought an old parlor guitar,  I’d try to find as much about it as I could.  Information about these vintage guitars often took some digging.  I bought a Bay State guitar and was surprised that even though that label occupied an important role in the development of guitars in America, and each one was stamped with its own serial number, no one could date these guitars.

So I set up a page which was a research partnership with the current owner of the Bay State Guitars, Sylvan Wells:

Success followed: Bay State owners wrote in, sharing and wanting to find out more about their vintage Bay State guitars. The registry for those Bay State guitars now numbers over 200 instruments, and so much information has come in about them and the maker.

Collecting is also about the display, and the guitars looked good en masse on my ‘guitar wall’, although my wife was concerned that I was collecting dust and not vintage guitars. Anyway, before I knew it, I had 32 guitars on my wall, different makes like Regal, Harmony, Kay, Imperial, vintage Washburn, Osborn, etc. Then I bought a Weymann guitar. This was an elusive maker! I could not help myself and much of what my research uncovered will be presented in this blog over time.

I was concerned however, that the restored guitars weren’t being played enough. Guitars are meant to be played, and I’d restored them or had them restored, and I believe they now played better than they had ever done before.

Cartoon by my granddaughter Lana
Cartoon by my granddaughter Lana

As time moves on, death inevitably gets closer. On my death bed I certainly don’t want to be thinking of vintage guitars! I want to be thinking of my Lord, my Lord who always resides within my heart. I want to be able to go within and rest with my sweet Lord, with my Dear Most Friend who never leaves me.

 “Whoever, at the time of death, quits their body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature.  Of this there is no doubt.”      Bhagavad-gita 8:5

So much in our lives can distract us from this goal of establishing a relationship with the Supersoul.  Every attachment we have in this material world, whether it’s our home, our car, even our family, can distract us from the goal of this human existence – the re-establishment of our attraction and relationship with the Supreme as Lord Jesus said in his first and second commandments:

“Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind.”  Then, “Care about your neighbour as much as you care about yourself.”   Mark 12:30-31

In the end my body will die but I will still exist.  I will leave all my material possessions behind.  I know that this life is nearing its end and it is time now to declutter some aspects of my life.  It’s time to simplify things.  I’m very clear that facing death is not as some people think: “the person with the most toys wins”. Far from it.

This thought, combined with wanting to make is so the guitars I have are played and appreciated, has led me to find homes for my collected guitars.  Thankfully I have 6 children and 9 grandchildren, most of whom appreciate music and play guitar, or are learning.  It was not hard to decide on making birthday and Christmas gifts of many of my instruments.

I’ve now also sold a few, some to friends, some to fund travel to visit family and friends.  It has been so much fun, not only collecting and restoring these instruments and then finding great homes for them but making friends across the globe in the community of vintage guitar enthusiasts. It has been truly a privilege getting to know people who are also passionate about these instruments.

I’m now left with just a handful of guitars, ones my wife and I play. The guitar hangers have been removed from the wall, holes plastered over, the wall repainted, framed pictures now replace the guitars. My wife is happier 😊.

However, I need to remember change comes from within, it is not about changing my external environment. It is not about joining a religion and pledging my allegiance to someone or some organization.  It is a personal journey, a journey of developing a relationship with the Supreme Soul. This is foremost in my mind.

I  feel fortunate that this cancer I have has given me time to gradually become more and more aware of the opportunity to focus on relating with God, both in the present and going forward, come what may.

Namaste and with much love,   Chaitanya das/Charles Robinson

16 thoughts on “COLLECTING & DECLUTTERING – Living & Dying

  1. I understand your situation. I have a few musical instruments that I enjoy even though I can’t play for any length of time at a sitting. But I have a collection of Erector Sets, the building toys (Mecanno, “down under”, I believe.). The earliest one I have is from 1915 and others from years up through the 60’s. Now I find myself worrying about trying to sell them for fear that, when I’m gone, my wife will sell them for what I told her I paid for them!

    1. Hahahaha Jim, yes our toys don’t cost much do they, wink! wink! I love those Mecanno or Erector sets, they provided so much fun for me as a kid. In another life I’d have collected vintage toys. All the best. Charlie

  2. This is a great thing to read early in the day. Puts everything in perspective.

    I used to collect a bunch of different things too, but learned to live with 1 suitcase. And find a lot more fun in chucking stuff out! (No, my husband doesn’t appreciate this.)

  3. Love your writings, Caitanya das. Very honest, very interesting & very helpful. Collections are great, but I agree with you, the moment is more important in later life travels. I disparage treatment of aging, sickness, handicaps….as a problem. They brought us to where we are, greater appreciation. Haribol❤️

    1. Namaste Siva Dasi, Always love your comments, and I know your body is getting on in years. I hope you are traveling well. Much love to you and all the family. Chaitanya das

  4. Hey Chaitanya das, I really enjoyed reading your article (and the cartoon). Very relatable perspectives. Yes, we’re all just collectors of one thing or another, but gradually, hopefully, we learn how to collect the truly good stuff ~ the wisdom that you so kindly share. Best Wishes. . James

  5. When I saw the title, I thought you were going to go all Marie Kondo on us!

    Before I was going to get married and move to another country, I was in a state of panic because I could only bring 30kg of my life to a new country! I’ve been married for 3.5 years now and let’s just say I have started to collect stuff again that I think I need, but really I don’t. My husband calls it “drawers of death”, and now that we move to a bigger house, “rooms of death”. Uh-oh!

    Thanks for the nice read

  6. Charles:

    Long way from, though I hear your words as if from across the table.

    I stumbled upon your wonderful little world here as I was bloodhounding information on a Weymann guitar. In that regard, your page was a wealth of information, and for that I am grateful. I am a seller of pre-war flattop guitars, from Martin and Gibsons, to Weymann, Stahl, Washburns, Maurer, back to mid-19th century German varieties, such as Adolf Baur, etc. I spend most of my time on the road, searching every pawnshop and Craigslist ad, coast to coast. I’m the guy that finds the old stuff that ends up in the premier shops in America. It’s very hard work, but I love the hunt. My sobriquet of “The Pig” was bestowed upon me by a dealer, and it has stuck and spread. They mean it as (I hope, an endearing) shorthand for “The Truffle Pig,” because of what I dig up. All of this is irrelevant except to say that, as much as I LOVE guitars, I have kept only three for myself. Guitars or coins – they are just stuff.

    But then I stumbled upon the rest of your blog, and I want to say it’s just beautiful. You have a wonderful scope of things, and the right attitude about death. When I was much younger, I thought I was going to be a poet, and I know I was one, once or twice. But discovering that “poet” wasn’t a job, I turned to other things, though I always kept poetry close. First, I did poetry workshops with 1st to 4th graders in high-risk schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma. An overlooked child makes the better poet than anyone in the MFA program at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop – ten times out of ten. I’ve read poetry to people in palliative care, and it finds itself at home there, as well. Poetry gravitates towards innocence (or as Don DeLillo says, “There are no amateurs in the world of children”) and towards those who can see innocence like a leaving train, which is an image that exists in the heart. This is way too long winded, but I want to thank you for this loving mirror of the Light you’ve built with your words. I’ve carried countless poems in my head my whole life, but in regards to death, and dying, and guitars, and stuff; in regards to that liminal place of crossing over, and in regards to regret, fear, and what happens when the unknown becomes known – I’ll leave you with my favorite poem, written by a very young Stanley Kunitz. Thank you for your fearlessness and encouragement. Sangre por Sangre, and Namaste.

    “Open the Gates”

    Within the city of the burning cloud,
    Dragging my life behind me in a sack
    Naked I prowl, scourged by the black
    Temptation of the blood grown proud.

    Here at the monumental door,
    Carved with the curious legend of my youth,
    I brandish the great bone of my death,
    Beat once therewith and beat no more.

    The hinges groan: a rush of forms
    Shivers my name, wrenched out of me.
    I stand on the terrible threshold, and I see
    The end and the beginning
    In each other’s arms.

    1. So good to hear from you Ian. In younger days your vocation would have appealed to me greatly! Thank you for writing in. I read very little poetry these days, I tried my hand at it in my school and University days, but never thought I was very good at it. I’ll leave you with this short poem by late 19th Century Vaishnava (lover of God), Srlia Bhaktivinoda Thakur:

      Let crowded sins repeat my trial scenes!
      And lead me on from woe to woe!
      Care I for that? If love of God alone,
      Would bless my heart where’er I go.
      The holy seat of Love is Vrindavan,
      Where matter’s laws have no domain
      Ah! When my panting soul shall find it’s rest
      In that eternal realm again!

  7. Thank you Chaitanya das. I was really excited to see a notification of your new post in my inbox.

    Your posts are very reader friendly and present super interesting topics in a thought provoking way.

    I do some classes in the UK and have found the information on your website a very useful aid for some talks.

    I also tell people to check out the site. Its very inspiring. Please keep posting!

    Warm regards Haribol Namaste Dave

  8. Namaste Chaitanya das~
    I justify my instrument collecting as creating a nice varied palette for songcrafting heh
    At the present moment I have three lefty guitars, two lefty basses, two Roland keyboards, three congas (Tumba, Conga, Quinto), bongos, tablas, & a lotta percussion
    One of my twin daughters plays lefty too so she will get all this when I check out
    Hope to see you Back Home.

    1. Namaste TallTerry, I wouldn’t call that collecting, I’d call that ‘tools of your trade’! Good to hear from you. Chaitanya das

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