My wife and I have come to that point where 335 square metres (3,600 square feet for the older folks) is proving too much to handle. But downsizing means getting rid of stuff, and that is where my habit of collecting things comes into conflict with practicality.

During my working career I was, among other things, an academic at three of Canada’s universities and, like all academics, I accumulated books. Many were related to my particular interest, Canadian banking, but most covered the wide range, from history to Art Nouveau to posters, antiques, murder mysteries,  cooking and a lot more. Fortunately, my friends in both the local public library and the university had long cast envious eyes on my stuff, and they offered to take the bulk and provide tax receipts as well. The murder mysteries went to a local used bookstore for about 50 cents each.

The real task was disposing of my other collections. I devised a neat strategy: First, I would reflect on why I collected anything, then why I collected the things I did. With that done I might find kindred souls who wanted to acquire more stuff for their collections.

The author's bells

. . . and keys . . .

Why do I collect? There’s no easy answer. I didn’t accumulate all those brass bells because I was afraid of running out. While I ring one or two on New Year’s Eve or at some special event, such as the Red Sox winning the World Series, these bells are not subjected to heavy use. Their shapes are pleasing and their shining surfaces attract attention. They add atmosphere to the room.

. . . and weights . . .

But why bells? Well, why not? I have collected antique keys, weights for a scale, pastry crimpers, and a host of small objets d’art that are esthetically pleasing and evoke memories of times and places past. And my collections reveal to others a part of me without being pushy or loud about it.

I started collecting keys when my son was 13 and attending a prep school in the U.S. His mother and I had divorced when he was 8 and she had assiduously worked to alienate him from me.

. . . and pastry crimpers.

I wanted to give him something different for Christmas, something she couldn’t denigrate or compare unfavourably with gifts from her family.

In an antique store I saw a beautiful pearwood box with pewter inlay and, next to it, four old keys. I bought them, polished the box put the keys inside and wrote my son a letter about why I loved antiques: their silent durability over the years, their equally silent history and their shape and functionality along with their evolution over time.

For several years I bought keys as gifts for him but also for myself. They brought me closer to someone who was becoming more distant.

The brass bell-weights for scales appealed to my sense of shape and balance and I have far more of them than any rational individual should. But each time I look at them I think of all the reasons I treasure antiques and my pleasure in seeing them lined up atop a bookcase in the kitchen.

The pastry crimpers occupy little space, are beautiful to look at and they’re functional: I use them to bake pies. But that hardly justifies having more than 50. I became fascinated by their shapes and the objects that were used used as cutting wheels: clock gears, late-19th-century big pennies, shells and ceramic cutters. Arranged on a wall they make up a conversation piece, a pleasing display and something unique. A subtle statement of my tastes and interests.

All of these collections assembled over many years are easy to sell on eBay or to antique dealers or friends. Not so the art — more than 60 pieces: paintings, prints, lithographs and sculpture. It has taken 50 years to assemble the collection that covers every wall in every room including both bathrooms and the laundry room. Each is of special significance. Each carries its memories of where and when it was acquired. And, more importantly, why.

There are Art Nouveau posters and prints — Japanese, Chinese, English, Canadian and American — but if anything dominates it is the wood engravings that in the past 30 years have become my passion. Each piece appealed to me because of its design or shape or structure, and I didn’t care if anybody else liked it: It was for my own pleasure.

Getting rid of art is not easy. You can give it to public galleries, but each has an acquisitions policy and your works may not fit. Sending the stuff to an auction house carries substantial monetary and emotional costs. These works are like my children; when I send them out the door, I want to be sure they will have a good home.

I never collected anything with the objective of making money. Though many of the books and much of the art have appreciated a great deal, that’s an added benefit. But it can’t replace the feeling of loss when the collection is gone.

But our new home won’t be empty. I’m still accumulating smaller things to fit a smaller space. Eventually my widow or children will look over it and perhaps wonder what the attraction was.

It was this: On a cold winter night with snow swirling outside I sit before the fire with a glass of port and examine a special book or work of art and think, it’s mine all mine and I love it dearly. It gives me a feeling of continuity and pleasure and durability. At my age that is important. That’s why I’ll always be a collector.