My Dubai: Finding a collector's niche in a world where hoarding isn’t practical

Temporary residents of a country (like most of us are here in the UAE) tend to forego the thought of committing to a collection, because hoarding items is the last thing you want to do as an expat

My grandfather, a former UN ambassador, has flown all around the world throughout his life, and has hefty albums full of postage stamps from different countries, as proof of his well-­travelled career.

Before my family moved to Dubai from the United States 13 years ago, I had also moved a lot as a child, and when I was younger, my mother and I would sometimes look through the stamp collection together. The stamps were lined up neatly in small paper slots, each page protected by a thin sheet of wax paper. Some were stained and aged, carefully cut away from envelopes, tainted by the remains of postal ink stamps, and others were pristine, having never been used before. I would see images of tropical flowers or of silhouettes of royals, and would move to touch them, only to get scolded by my mother, before the albums would get packed away, only to be taken out again the next time we moved house.

I always thought that I would inherit these albums and add stamps of my own to them one day. And while I have been blessed with abundant travel opportunities, the intrigue that stamps once used to hold has greatly diminished. Snail mail has given way to e-mail, and I simply cannot be bothered to go hunting for stamps in every country or city I visit. 

Nonetheless, I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and have always had dreams of growing a huge collection – of something; anything.

READ MORE: My Abu Dhabi: I'm a 45-year-old man who takes the bus. So what?

As a child, I had a collection of rubber erasers in different shapes, sizes and colours. I kept these in a floral-printed tin box. When I was a teenager, I started collecting keys – from antique pieces given to me by my grandparents to simple, mall iterations that accompany cheap locks from the Dollar Store. I kept them in a drawstring velvet pouch.  But as I have grown older, I have realised that a hallmark of a good collection is the sentimental worth that it holds. That's why stamps were so sought after – they mark travels and personal experiences, in a tangible, methodical manner.

So, today, I collect hotel key-cards, obtained in locations from my honeymoon to the Maldives to a staycation at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. At the top of my collection are my two most recent additions – a palm-tree-patterned card from the Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda and a plain orange one from the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto. Like stamps, these are all personal souvenirs of places where I have been, though they lack the vintage aesthetic and fragility of stamps.

Often, temporary residents of a country (like many of us here) forego the thought of committing to a collection, because hoarding is the last thing you want to do as an expat. But collections don't have to be big – my hotel key cards number about a hundred so far and all fit inside a single shoebox.

There's a therapeutic effect that collecting can have on a person. Plus it's satisfying to imagine showing your prized pieces to your children and grandchildren one day.