My first taste of greed was waiting in the line at a local crafts store called The Hoot. My blood was pumping as I looked at the clock and counted down the minutes until 9am when the store would open and a group of 10 of us, an odd collection of fathers, mothers and children, would walk calmly but with some urgency towards the back of the store. The goal was always the same — to acquire at least one plush, hopefully soon “retired” and artificially scarce PVC pellet-filled creation.
My first collection was of basketball cards, but it never turned into a full-blown obsession. Okay, I’m lying. I had a monthly price guide and organized my cards by team and by year. I had a dedicated box of Michael Jordan cards, which eventually held (and still holds) over 100 of his cards.
However, collecting basketball cards were something I would pull out when I was old, sharing stories about sports with the next generation.
Beanie babies were my ticket to teenage retirement
The early internet was a wild playground. As a 13 year old, the banks had no interest in my services, so I got creative. I would buy basketball cards, beanie babies and beanie baby accessories on eBay. Instead of paying immediately, I would send the seller a self-addressed-stamped-envelope stuffed with cash. I was operating as an amateur drug dealer and beanie babies were my drug.
At one point, I orchestrated a complicated trade over a forum with a random person on the internet to acquire a rare “retired” seal that went by the name Seamore. This specific beanie baby I acquired came without the famous TY “hang tag” — probably ripped off by some child who had no idea what kind of treasure they were playing with. It was still a coup for me — price guides told me it was still worth $50 without the tag.
There were many of these price guides on the web which gave optimistic predictions. While there were some differences, most confirmed my conclusion that beanie babies would rise in value forever. I was mentally doing the math and it was quite clear that I would not have to worry about college. I was starting to imagine a future in which I was some sort of beanie baby lord, just swimming in my riches.
Preparing for my leap to the upper echelons of society, I started curating and obsessing over my collection like a collector of wine or fine art.
To protect my collection, I spent money on the finest cases and tag protectors that my self-addressed-stamped-envelopes could buy. There was an abbreviation MWMT that meant “mint with mint tags” — all was lost of the tags were not perfect.
Fueling The Fire
As I collected more PVC-filled bears, ghosts and animals, I would go to the homepage of the maker of beanie babies TY.com.
As anyone with a dial-up connection remembers, you did not simply go to a website in the late 90s. You first typed in the address, hit enter and then slowly stared at the screen as the website loaded, line by line from the top to the bottom.
Like the drug-fueled addict that I have already admitted to being, I would refresh the page several times per day. After a couple of minutes, the latest news section of the website would finally load and I could read the latest product announcements.
TY was strategically introducing new beanie babies while simultaneously “retiring” the current collection — meaning you could no longer buy those sacred beanie babies in a store. Online price guides would adjust to reflect the scarcity everyone would lose their mind calculating their riches.
As I built my collection, I had no real strategic plan other than acquire beanie babies and to put them in cases
- Step 1: Obtain as many beanie babies as possible
- Step 2: Protect the good via tag protectors and cases
- Step 3: ?
- Step 4: Retire
This past year, the internet lost its collective mind acquiring cryptocurrencies. I was not immune from this contagion. At one point I was up a good chunk of change on a small amount of money I threw into the mix. Did I ever think about selling? No. Just like beanie babies, I got caught up in the story of the future potential payoff.
However, unlike beanie babies, the crypto-craze seemed solely about money. With beanie babies, there was something deeper — something playful and silly. Perhaps it was because I was a child or the absurdity of so many people hoarding $5 plush filled animals and other mythical creatures.
I still own several Princess Diana bears and over 100 other creations and store them MWMT in cases at my parent’s house. Within my family, there is an inside joke that my beanie babies will one day be worth millions once everyone else has thrown them away.
Deep down, it is fun to play with that dream and wonder “well, what if…” and to think that my PVC-filled creations could be one day still be worth a fortune. But even if they were, I’m not sure I’d sell. There is something about holding on to something from your childhood.
Peace & Travel
As I write this, I am looking at a tie died PVC-filled bear and one of the most famous Beanie Babies named “Peace” staring at me with its small black circular black eyes. Every time I look at it, I crack up a little.
Imagining myself in front of the computer loading the ty.com website hoping for updates, convincing my mother to drive us to the Hoot, orchestrating trades with strangers on the internet, filling envelopes with cash, and protecting my goods in fine glass cases awakens my inner child.
In a couple of months, I’m embracing a dream I have been building towards for a couple of years — moving across the world and starting a journey of living nomadically. Over the last few years, I have embraced minimalism and with each move have slowly gotten rid of more stuff. Every time it is a bit painful getting rid of my “stuff”, but every time it sharpens the mind towards which things are worth keeping.
Through each move, the tie died bear has survived the purge. I wasn’t really sure why I kept it, but I now realize that it captures a moment in my life in which I was dreaming big and filled with life. Not only that, but it was a time filled with silliness. At the time, I knew deep down that I wasn’t actually going to retire on beanie babies. It was fun nonetheless.
While it was likely one of my first tastes of greed, it was also a first taste of putting a lot of energy into something that didn’t make sense.
As I’ve explore my more artistic side over the past few years, I have experienced similar emotions. Writing to see what comes out.. Creating things on the internet without any intent to “scale.” Helping people without any expectation of payback.
As I travel and continue to learn as an adult, I hope to never abandon that playful and silly mindset to do things I am drawn to and sometimes without reason. Creation for the joy of creation.
As I set forth across the world, I will be accompanied by my friend Peace.
Paul is a digital nomad that “retired” from the default path in 2017.
He is most curious about how to carve a path in the world to live simply with creative freedom and purpose.
You can follow his journey here.
Originally published at medium.com