Is your box collection sparking joy?
There is a lot of idiotic controversy over Marie Kondo's frank (but not unkind) assertion that most of what we own is disposable and is, in fact, making us unhappy. Hoarders (sorry, collectors) of all interests are taking umbrage. Some stand aggrieved at the notion that all of the books they haven't touched, let alone read a single word of, in 20 years would be eligible for discard. And of course, gamers with mountains of dust-gathering shelf-toads took notice- and, expectedly took to the battlements to defend their Kallaxes burgeoning with Kickstarter junk, clearance sale cast-offs, and BGG's hottest games circa 2015.
Real talk. Marie Kondo isn't wrong. Most of the stuff you've piled on top of piles is more than likely excess junk that is getting in the way of the real joy you might feel for things you are burying in clutter. And I think the board games hobby, which is now a box-collecting hobby focused on acquiring rather than playing games, is a prime example of how excessive collections are making us miserable and keeping us from joy.
Here's an example. After playing Warhammer 40k: Kill Team for a while and realizing that I preferred its small scale3x3 battles that resolve in under an hour to the full 40k rules that require more of everything, I decided that I wanted to reduce my Apocalypse-level armies - all four of them - down to Kill Team-sized forces. I took a hard look at my collection- which was pretty damn big- and I'm not going to lie, it hurt to think about letting go of my fully painted Astra Militarum motor pool, my "Nidzilla" army full of all the biggest and gnarliest Tyranids, and my lovely and pustulent Death Guard. But then I realized that these were not being played with at a frequency that warranted the space it was taking to store them. And I had a lot of unassembled and/or unpainted models that I had gotten ahold of but moved on away from before I could get around to them.
I'd think about the task of putting together $1000 worth of plastic and painting it all and it stressed me out. I thought about the space all of this would consume- in a small house with a wife and two kids - and I'd quali. I'd think about the money spent, and the time required and it didn't bring me happiness at all. But focusing on a small set of models, Speed Freeks, and focusing on those to completion and then playing and enjoying the game did make me happy. So I let a lot of it go, keeping only some favorite finished pieces and my Kill Team armies. I loved collecting all of this stuff, putting it together, painting it, playing with it and I don't regret it. But I simply had too much, and I realized that if I let go of it I'd be happier.
And once I had this stuff sold off, packed up, and mailed away it felt great.
Likewise, it's felt great every time I've purged my board game shelves to get things down to a manageable and practical level. I love looking at my shelves and not feeling sad because I'm not playing certain games or disappointed because there's a really great game sitting there isn't played anymore. It's great to see your collection and it is full of games that bring you joy here, now, today. Not games that brought you joy 20 years ago. Not games that you have all of this nostalgia wrapped up in but are just sitting there with no purpose other than to remind you of your college glory days or whatever.
It turns out that my "if it ain't playin', it ain't stayin'" aphorism is actually pretty close to Marie Kondo's ideal for living. Keep what makes you happy, discard the rest. The trick is figuring out what really makes you happy versus what you think makes you happy. I've been through the whole acquisition phase where getting a new game is joyful. But now, what makes me joyful is playing a game, enjoying it for a while, and letting it move on to someone else. It's true I have some "forever shelf" titles, but my forever shelf games are ones that see a lot of play. My Cosmic Encounter box is probably more tape than cardboard at this point.
Of course, the board game hoarder brigade will step up and say "but having a large library of games brings me joy, every game I own sparks joy". And that's fine, for some people that may be the case and they've got the "shelfies" to prove it. But these are people for whom the value of games is in the commercial product, in their availability, and in being able to say "I own that". They are in that acquisition phase and may never leave it. And that's fine too for them. But I would ask these folks what is the actual value of game measured in happiness that is sitting on a shelf, unplayed, in a box for years or even decades? I don't care if it's Full Metal Planete or a complete set of Cthulhu Wars. For me, that value is zero.
It's a bitter pill for many to swallow, that things they once cared about, spent a lot of time with, or even labored over are no longer bringing real, tangible joy into their lives. It's even harder to admit that things you've spent a lot of money on and were really into are now, today, about as valuable in your life as an empty yogurt cup. But you've got to remember that you can still love and appreciate a Frank Lloyd Wright building, a Dostoyevksy book, a Clash record, or a Caravaggio painting without owning it and affording it physical space in your life. Games are the same way. The idea that appreciation and valuation is contingent on ownership is, to be honest, kind of gross.
Consider that following that line of thought could be cluttering your life and in fact making your hobby a burden not just for you but also your family. Maybe step back from the Kallax and think about what it is that made you interested in games in the first place, and if it is in buying and storing boxes, you are doing the right thing and by all means find your joy there. If what brought you to games is the fun of interacting with friends and family, experiencing interesting settings through authored sets of rules, and engaging with a compelling and emergent medium...then ask yourself if the joy in that is obscured by stacks of boxes.