Collections of Nothing

Collections of Nothing CoverNearly everyone collects something, even those who don’t think of themselves as collectors. William Davies King, on the other hand, has devoted decades to collecting nothing—and a lot of it. With Collections of Nothing, he takes a hard look at this habitual hoarding to see what truths it can reveal about the impulse to accumulate.

Read more about Collections of Nothing at the University of Chicago Press.

Find the book on Amazon.

This is my "log of labels," a twenty-year accumulation of water labels, six hundred or so. I like that the "bark" of all those plastic bottles now occupies the parched, acid-heavy pages of an old ledger book. It bulges with the weight/wet.

I write about this collection, and others, in an essay collected in a new anthology of essays about collecting: Contemporary Collecting: Objects, Practices, and the Fate of Things, edited by Kevin M. Moist and David Banash, just out from Scarecrow.

One of the editors, David Banash, has also written about my envelope linings collection in his new book, Collage Culture: Readymades, Meaning, and the Fate of Things, just out from Rodopi


In March 2013 I gave a talk called

Looking at My Life™: Thirty Years a Cereal Collector

at the Popular Culture Association conference in Washington D.C.

This was my topic:
My life has nearly coincided with the history of Life cereal, which was devised by Quaker as a sweet yet somewhat nutritious cereal in 1961. I also began collecting Life in 1981, along with the boxes of many other cereals. Then, starting in 2001, I started (re)collecting my life in the lower-case sense, by writing a memoir. I wrote in that book about how collecting took place almost unnoticed in the background of my life, which in retrospect seems astonishing, considering the thousands of items I collected. Since then, I have been looking at what is in these collections, and that has involved an opening—unboxing the boxes. I single out my 80 Life boxes not because it is the largest category, but because it seems as good place as any to begin an investigation of how my collecting reflects my consumption, how in a sense I am the Life I ate.

In June 2019, I created a "performance event," called

Tree of Life

in the Modern Dance Studio at UC Santa Barbara. 

With the assistance of my daughters, Ruthie and Eva, I laid out my entire cereal box collection, which at that time consisted of about 2300 boxes (maybe 200 of which were duplicates). The event was open to the public to watch as the "tree" was being created. It turned out to have a "vine" of Wheaties boxes, creating a walkway so you could go through the tree. Here is a link to a time-lapse movie of the event, made by Mark Moskowitz:  Mark and his company, POV, are in the process of creating a film about the things people own.  

My collecting was also featured in another movie:

Obsessive Possessives, made by Louisa Achille for Radio Free Alice. You can stream it here: