DIY: Organizing Collections

I should start out by saying I’m not usually the type of person who collects things. I have a pretty strong aversion to clutter, so the mere idea of displaying curated groups of objects all over my house makes me want to cringe. It might also explain that rash. (The fact that I can’t seem to stop myself from buying white sidewall shoes, office supplies and small handbags is irrelevant. Do those even qualify as collections? To be safe, let’s go with ‘no.’)

There is one thing I do collect, though, something that represents a legitimate collection no matter how much I generally avoid the behavior: Hard Rock Cafe pins.

It started in 1995, with a Hard Rock keychain I purchased during a trip to London. (I still have it, too, but it’s pretty beat up now – the downside of letting it get cozy with keys!) I remember showing it to my dad when I got home – I knew he’d appreciate it since he had a penchant for their t-shirts. I also told him I’d just visited the first ever Hard Rock (which opened in 1971) but he didn’t believe me. He thought the chain originated in the States. Secretly, I think this is why he made it his personal mission to obtain pins from as many exotic locations as possible. He couldn’t stake his claim on the Original, but he could canvas the Orient. Nothing like a good father-daughter competition. ; )

A year later, after he returned home from his first overseas business trip, he presented me with a pin from Japan. Thus began our tradition: whenever one of us is near a Hard Rock, we shop for ourselves and each other – a t-shirt for my Dad, a pin (or two) for me. To this day, it’s still fun seeing him wandering around in his Dublin shirt, as I can remember the day I bought that, just as it’s fun seeing the Kowloon pin and remembering all the places in China he’s been.

That’s what’s cool about these pins: you can only buy the named location ones at that location. You can’t just go online and order the one from the Philippines. This makes it a true collectible, something that is more valuable and interesting because it represents actual travel. (Or, in my case, a father that spent a lot of time overseas for work and scored pins in many exotic locations. Hey, I didn’t say it had to be my travel.)

As of this writing, there are 175 locations in 53 countries. Not sure I’m ever going to get to all of them, but that’s okay. Part of the fun with these pins is the chase. My current collection stands at 40 (across 9 countries), which includes multiples from many locations. I always try to scoop up two pins from each place I visit: one limited edition, and one that represents the local culture or attractions. I’ve just never had a way to showcase them before. So, recently I spent some time looking at various organization/display options before settling on one. Here’s what I did:

Organizing a Hard Rock Cafe Pin Collection

Step 1: Gather Materials

Okay, this is an obvious first step, but I really did have to go gather all my pins in one place. Most of them were hanging out in my closet on top of an old display board I’d planned to use but decided I no longer liked; the rest were still in their bags or in a drawer. It was actually fun to see them all together as a group for the first time!

Step 2: Choose Storage

This step will vary depending on what you’ve collected and how you want it displayed, but with my pins, I knew I wanted a black background and something with glass for protection. I also knew I wanted to be able to hang the finished product, so for me the choice was clear: a shadowbox. (Since the pins have varying thicknesses, a regular picture frame would not have worked – there would not have been space to squeeze them between the glass and backing board. With a shadowbox, you have the option of mounting towards the back of the frame or right up next to the glass, depending on how you flip the spacer inside. Also, the board you get in a shadowbox is typically Velcro-friendly, as well as being thick enough to hold small objects that have punctured it/been pressed into it.

For my project, I chose the 9″ x 20″ shadowbox. I felt the vertical space would suit the shapes of the pins well, and the narrow width meant I could eventually hang two of them side by side without taking up a lot of wall space. I think it’s always good to think about how your collection might evolve over time. For example, this exact shadowbox might not be available in the future, so I bought myself some “growth insurance” by purchasing two at the same time. (If you wait for a frame sale, you can often score a nice 2-for-1 deal. Michael’s does this a lot.) I still haven’t completely filled the first frame, but that’s okay – when my collection is big enough to warrant the second, I know they’ll match perfectly.

Step 3: Do a Mock Layout

This is the fun part, but also the easiest to obsess about. To combat this, I first laid my pins out in a simple arrangement that I thought would look good. I did it quickly because until I could see all of them in front of me, I wouldn’t know what I was working with. I also knew that once I started pushing them into the backing, the positioning or orientation might change, so my goal was simply to determine if all of them would fit in one frame, and if so, how much spacing would be needed. I probably spent about 15 minutes on this step, just moving things around until the end result felt visually balanced. This is the time to play around with different ideas, though, so take as much time as you need.

Step 4: Assemble & Finish

The first pin I placed was the one at the top center. It had the iconic shape and colors, so I thought it’d make a good “header” for the collection. Then I switched to the bottom and built the rest up from there. I started with the placement I’d set during the mock-up phase, but after I’d seated a few, I found it worked better (and was more enjoyable) to be organic about it and let the pin shapes guide the arrangement. I was putting them much closer together than I had originally thought, so in the end it became a bit of a pin puzzle, trying different ones together until I had the right fit. All told, I’m really pleased with the result, and it’s cool to finally have this done and on display!

Your turn: Are you a collector? What do you have sitting around that you’d like to do something with?

9 Comments DIY: Organizing Collections

  1. Sandy Beason

    I don’t collect things. My house is completely uncluttered, especially my craft room. Well, maybe scissors.

  2. Kevin

    I’m not sure if I got signed up or not, but anyway, I enjoyed the piece about your Hard Rock pin collection, but what I most enjoyed was the part your Dad played in it. I would insert a smiley face here if I knew what I was doing, but oh well. I found his quest for Hard Rock pins to be such an integral piece of your relationship that of course, I knew nothing about! He is truly quite a Dad!

    1. Kristin Smith

      You must have gotten signed up if you saw the post! :) Glad you enjoyed the story. This is definitely one where I couldn’t have done it without my partner in crime!

      1. Jim Bob Dad

        Don’t forget a small shout-out to all the Asian customers of MTS who paid for all the travel costs!! A bit over 900.000 miles of fun and frolic!! I got t-shirts and jackets from Hard Rocks, and my daughter just became a “pin-head”

        1. Kristin Smith

          Yes, that’s true – as well as the occasional coworker of yours who scored pins in places like Bogota. I almost mentioned the Pinhead thing, but couldn’t figure out a way to work it into the story. Also, I don’t think they call the collectors that anymore – not sure why, it’s hilarious. It’s the one time you can call me a Pinhead and I won’t get offended.

  3. Sabsi

    VERY COOL! I looks great, I love it!!!

    PS: What are sidewall shoes?! :-D Google did not give me a definite answer.

    1. Kristin Smith

      Sidewall shoes have a wrap-around, rubber edge along the bottom. It’s usually white. Think Converse, Vans, Ed Hardy, Keds. Artsy-fartsy tennis shoes. ;)


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