Things to "collect" in a neighbourhood or place? Non-internet edition.
December 7, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Aimless wandering is one of my preferred pastimes, and finding things locally blends well with this; I have a strong collecting impulse and it's a good way to know an area. But many recreational spins on this - geocaching, Ingress - are too internet-based for my tastes lately, and feel somewhat artificial. So what other things do you find it interesting/useful to go hunting for? All I can think of offhand is edible weeds/plant stands.
posted by solarion to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (35 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Cuttings! If you have space at home you can try propagating all sorts of things you find on your walks and see what grows. If they succeed and you don't want the resulting plants, you can give them as gifts or even sell them.
posted by lollusc at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

We do letterboxing, which is not unlike geocaching, but with STAMPS and PUZZLES. We end up printing the puzzles/directions out and bringing them with us so we're not looking at our phones.
posted by linettasky at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Birds seen in an area - which is the activity called birdwatching.

Mosses and Lichens - depends on the area of course but they are complex, interesting things to identify.

There are many other recreations in this category of amateur naturalist - trees, leaves, snails, butterflies, other insects.
posted by vacapinta at 4:44 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Cool or funny signs. Sometimes I take pics to text to people, but seeing them is enough.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:46 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

You could look for artwork/statues. A lot of towns will have public art, and in a few that I've lived in, there's often some sort of theme.
posted by FireFountain at 5:12 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

I always look for things to make collages or assemblages from. For me that's fragments of wood, metal, plastic, nut and bolts, washers etc, but you could pick up whatever takes your fancy.
posted by Chairboy at 5:15 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like looking for nonstandard street signs. There are a couple really old ones that are a different color from the one our city currently uses, and I know of at least one that uses the wrong font.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I pick up whatever catches my eye. Different kinds of pine cones, seed pods, lost notes, interesting sticks, rocks, leaves, feathers, bottlecaps. I have a large brass tray table that I put it all on, I call it my Magpie's nest. I guess it's sort of like a altar. It makes me happy to be reminded of all those walks.
Eventually I lose interest, toss most of it and start over.
posted by BoscosMom at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Pictures of manhole covers?
posted by Tsuga at 5:24 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Benchmarking. Kinda geeky but fun.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Riffing off Tsuga, how about taking photos (a cellphone camera is fine) for humanclock? For the uninitiated, humanclock shows for every minute a photo of the current time, taken somewhere in the world with either the time naturally occuring (like on a house number) or inserted into a scene (like on numbers being held up by someone). I've always found it fascinating for its views of other places, other people, and most especially people's creativity. Disclosure: I was so inspired by what they were doing that I submitted a few photos of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward about a year after Hurricane Katrina.
posted by DrGail at 5:34 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you know about the website, Found? You could become a contributor to Found and pick up all kinds of interesting ephemera.
posted by dchrssyr at 5:38 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

My friend Gerard "collects" (photographs) things like: interesting street furniture; the letter G in interesting fonts/designs/places; gay couples' names (e.g. Steve+Adam 4 Eva) and other signs of lgbt presence that people wrote in wet concrete.
posted by rtha at 5:42 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Collect the streets themselves.

Several years ago, some guy walked every street/block in Manhattan until he'd covered the map. There was an article about him and how it helped him get to know the city. Now that I'm googling, there seems to be a new person doing this every few years.

So I'd either try to block out a whole map, or if your city is big, try to walk at least once on each street.
posted by mochapickle at 5:56 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ghost signs! Those are the old signs still visible after the business has left-- in older neighborhoods, they're often painted on the brick of a building, and some of them are really cool-looking.

If your area is not built up, or is very new, another thing I like to do is try to plot ways to give directions from one place to another which do not rely on any human-built landmarks.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:54 PM on December 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

“The streets themselves” is something I did when I first moved to this town, bicycling not walking though. Partly as a way to learn the place, partly as a way to mix it up and have a little fun with my exercise. I used the paper street map from the middle of the phone book and colored in each street when I “collected” it.

A great way to find all the weird little corners.
posted by traveler_ at 6:55 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In a similar spirit to benchmarking, you could look for sidewalk stamps (example). In many places, these are quite varied since the sidewalks were laid (or relaid) one tract at a time. I've seen some that are elegant, hand-carved, or just plain weird. And many are dated, so you can learn how old different parts of the neighborhood are.

Really, though, many of the interesting things in cities are the one-offs that don't belong to any particular set -- a bower over the sidewalk, a yard with eleven pink flamingoes, odd graffiti, a pleasant place to sit. Why not collect those? When I moved to my current city, I cut a walking map into squares and pasted them into a little black book that fit in my pocket, on the left-hand pages. The idea was to use the right-hand pages to jot down anything interesting I stumbled on. I didn't really follow through with the jotting-down, but just having the book influenced the way I thought about my city. I still tuck it into my pocket when exploring new streets.
posted by aws17576 at 6:55 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

A friend collects heart-shaped rocks. Seems like they'd occur infrequently enough, but once you are tuned into looking for them, you'd probably be surprised.
posted by coevals at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2016

pole/pylon numbers (yes, they all have one)
posted by scruss at 7:27 PM on December 7, 2016

I live in a very urban area, and the things that wind up lost or discarded on the ground are often interesting, sad, funny, or otherwise thought-provoking. I don't pick them up because 1) gross, usually and 2) I'm not the collecting sort like this, but I usually try to take a photo.

Things I've seen that come to mind: pants, shopping lists, spilled candy, maybe 50 lottery tickets, children's drawings, another pair of pants, piece of a neon weave, broken toy parts, playing cards, inexplicably, yet another pair of pants. The list goes on.

Sometimes a thing is a mystery, and I go back home and do a little internet hunt for what it might be, and that's fun. But mostly it's a tiny glimpse into what someone else's day might have been like, and I find that a neat thing to think about as I walk along. Did that person remember to buy peanut butter even without their list? Will that game of go fish ever end without the four of clubs? Does this person realize they're pantsless? What have I dropped in my life that someone else found?

Random graffiti is also a fun thing to "collect."
posted by phunniemee at 7:42 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Interesting names from gravestones
posted by Redstart at 7:55 PM on December 7, 2016

I sometimes wander until I find a Little Free Library. Then I get to collect (and/or deposit) books!

Some urban areas also have free piles, which are similar except they can contain anything, not just books.
posted by sibilatorix at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Start an Instagram and make a series of photo alphabets! More examples: here, or here
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:02 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Would you like to develop a route where you collect backyard fruit for food banks?

If so, look at local organizations like Food Forward or Village Harvest. It would be interesting AND useful!
posted by metaseeker at 9:49 PM on December 7, 2016

posted by Gotanda at 1:08 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you live in a more urban area, you could walk for miles crossing things of Wikipedia's Nearby feature, which shows you interesting places near a given GPS location.
posted by peacheater at 5:09 AM on December 8, 2016

Keri Smith's How To Be An Explorer of the World is chock full of little collecting adventures to go on in your neighborhood.
posted by apparently at 6:27 AM on December 8, 2016

Historical markers or good viewpoints.
posted by chapps at 7:07 AM on December 8, 2016

Best answer: I used to assign the Fifth Graders a map making project: map your neighborhood. Instead of using the "real" names for places, they'd have to use their own ("the tree Tunces got stuck in that one time"). My goal was to get them to see themselves as active participants, with their own unique contributions and perspectives so that later when I asked for the same from them about our reading they'd have some confidence, but we all had a lot of fun with the maps and stories they came up with.
posted by notyou at 7:39 AM on December 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine collected stuff (ads, matchbooks, business cards, photos of signs, anything) from any business named "Mr. ***". You know, like Mr. Plumber or Mr. Computer. He lived in a good-sized city so there were lots of choices.
posted by workerant at 8:16 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding birdwatching!

Also, and this is sort of related to a few other suggestions, but just cool typography. The site Vernacular Typography is super fascinating and might intrigue you.
posted by dondiego87 at 12:29 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Years back i stumbled across this little book that is basically a collection of how people improvise things in their daily lives - how they interact with their environment and are problem solving and just living life in a multitude of ways - rr sorry, really struggling with explaining the books idea! but maybe the link will work better! but it really opened my eyes to how much we really do cool little stuff. all the time. so mabye you could try to collect those little things?
posted by speakeasy at 1:44 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

This book and this book might help
posted by nuclear_soup at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2016

Best answer: If your area is hilly, public staircases! Make a goal to walk on all of them. For example, Queen Anne Stairs. If it's not hilly, how about finding all the little pedestrian only right of ways.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:10 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Similar to Joe Chip's answer, I collect shortcuts -- alleys, staircases, paths through buildings rather than on the sidewalks, etc.
posted by librarina at 8:47 AM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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