Becoming a Barbie Doll Collector

When one paints an ideal, one does not need to limit one’s imagination.
Ellen Key

As most kids I loved my softies and later my fashion dolls (actually only owned like two real Mattel dolls). Each one had names, personalities and were a part of my family. But unlike most people I don’t think I ever outgrew them… And now I’m coming to terms with this fact, that I am becoming an adult doll collector. And thats it is okay, and kind of awesome…

Becoming a Barbie Doll and toy collector - blog post by iHanna

When I became a teenager I simply could not imagine getting rid of any of my friends (dolls or softies). When I stopped playing with my toys I of course couldn’t have all of them out, but instead of donating them my mom put all of them up into the attic. And then in my later teen years when I stopped playing with my Barbies (they were the last toys “to go” up there) I carefully packed them away in boxes, along with all the clothes mom had sewn for them, Blixten the black horse, the big poodle Prince as well as all their little things, furniture and shoes.

I just loved them way, way too much to give them away. I wanted to keep them even when I didn’t feel the need to spend time with them daily. And they were packed away for many, many years.

But then, about two years ago, I happened upon a very cool trend that is about customizing Monster High Dolls, on YouTube. It’s very artistic and cool what they do. The artists swipe the factory paint of the dolls face to re-paint them in a new style, sometimes more realistic and sometimes very fantastic. They might continue with making custom clothes, shoes or accessories for that doll – making it a head to toe custom. I was totally in love with this idea, and hooked on watching these kind of videos (I’ll post some of them in my next doll post, if you’re curious), and this obvious creative outlet led me down the rabbit hole…

How I became a Doll Collector

After a couple of months of me obsessively watching doll transformations on YouTube I decided to hunt down my first second hand Monster High doll, to try customizing one for myself. I must say I’ve since dabbled in it, but mostly I got hooked on the “collecting” part, which in a way is also rather creative.

I got a few Monster High dolls, which are these totally fabulous dolls of descendants of different famous monsters, dressed in super cool fashion and with rainbow hair. They weren’t around when I was a kid, so I had never seen anything like them before. I was in love.

Thrifted Monster High Doll Venus McFlyTrap

I still love Monster High and will keep the ones I have, and I have a few more on my wish list. But unfortunately they are no longer being made, so new ones aren’t coming out. The love of these dolls (also by Mattel who created the Barbie doll) led me to see other kinds of dolls, so of course I bought my first Barbie as an adult – at another local flea market (around spring 2018). It was just the first one I saw that day, the first Barbie bought with my own money as a grown up. And all the love I had for my very small Barbie collection as a kid, came flowing back to me… I went online, did lots of research – and slowly but surely my collection of Barbie dolls grew and became part of my life. Since then the collecting second hand dolls has gone a little… over board, because I am not always listening my own advice of how to think before buying, but at least most of these are discarded kid’s toys, so I don’t feel bad for the environment. And each doll has brought me so much joy, so it’s excusable, right? Well, I’ve ordered some new dolls as well, when I couldn’t resist. The new made to move doll is great for posing and photographing (but very difficult to find in Sweden).

And I guess the rest, as they say, is history. I am now a doll collector. Who’d a’ thought? Not me that’s for sure.

Creative with Dolls

Yes, I am a doll collector –?or sometimes I think of myself as Creative with Dolls and that is my second user name on Instagram as well. I love these plastic little doll – they’re like little creative canvases that you can build upon. So I have dabbled in sewing clothes for Barbie dolls (let me know if you want to see some of them), trying to make furniture, and things, and backdrops / box rooms for photography, re-rooting doll hair and customizing just a little bit.

I go straight to the toy corner at the thrift store these days. I might at times ask myself “What has happened to me?” but mostly I just enjoy the hobby as much as I can. Being a doll collector is so fun, who has time to second guess it!

I didn’t document anything about this journey on my blog (sorry! but I’ve mentioned it here and there) because I wasn’t completely on board with this idea yet, I guess. I was not sure if it was the right thing for me to do or if I wanted to continue it. But I have a massive documentation on my computer, both photos and written diary entries about “doll collecting” – it might become a book some day, now that I’m on board.

Some of iHanna's Barbie dolls in her new adult collection of dolls and toys
A few of the many Barbie dolls that I have found (mostly thrifting) in the two years that I’ve been a collector. I love them all so much!

I do know in my head that it’s completely okay to be an adult collector of any toys (or other item), right? I think it’s even okay to say that you “play with dolls” as a an adult if that is what you feel like… but could I personally be that brave?

Maybe it was this feeling of already being too silly, colorful and different that stopped me personally from stating the fact that I am a doll collector with bold self confidence (at first). If I was the kind of woman who wore high heels and make up, and collected in a more orderly fashion it would haven been easier? But right now, today as I’m writing this blog post that I’ve been wanting to write for over a year and I don’t feel I should hide it any longer.

It is okay to be an adult toy / doll collector

I always want to share the things that gives me the most joy in life, even when it’s a little beyond being a creative person. Maybe this blog post will encourage someone else, longing but hesitating, to become what they want to be in life?

Life is too short for hesitations. Go for it!

[tweet “Dolls are not just for kids – anyone can enjoy them, and it’s okay to be a toy collector! /iHanna”]

As an adult you can do and collect what ever you want, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. Those who wants to judge you (call you a child, a hoarder, someone not serious enough, someone spending money on unnecessary plastic items) are people you don’t want to know anyway (because they’re small-minded and judgmental). They scare me at times, because they come from such a strong belief – but I will try to be brave(er) in the future.

I have always loved kid’s stuff, miniatures, doll houses etc…

There are so many aspects of this hobby that I absolutely LOVE!

Mattel made Barbie Fashion in collaboration with famous brands like Sanrio, Power Puff Girls, Care Bears, Hello Kitty etc
I haven’t even talked about the Barbie Fashion either – there is something to swoon over for every girl out there. My personal favorite is Mattel’s collaboration with different kawaii brands… Power Puff Girls, Care Bears and the new Toy Story movie not the least… I want them double up, one in Barbie size and one in my own size. ♥

Now that I think about it, it’s kind of strange that I didn’t dive into it a long time ago! There were clear signs that it could be something for me, but I didn’t want to read them. I could even say I am a toy collector I think, even though dolls are my main focus at the moment. But I’m drawn to so many different things all the time. Miniatures, plastic figures, doll clothes and fashion, Barbies, toys from my childhood (early 80’s) and anime movie figures. Give me anything plastic, colorful (or just very pink) and small and I will be swooning over it in seconds.

I have always loved Hello Kitty, Lala & Kiki, Kate & Bobby, Disney princesses, Kewpie, Strawberry Shortcake, miniatures, and small, cute things – always and for ever. What you’d call kawaii I guess. And as I’m learning more about the toys of “right now” I have fallen in love with LPS dolls, Shoppies, all of Barbie’s little sisters and some collectible figures.

And I love the whole Barbie pink vibe aesthetics of course, but I don’t think I’ll go totally Azuza Crazy, that would be too much (for some, hehe).

A lot of Barbie and doll collectors, I’ve noticed, like to keep their dolls in the package (NIB for New in Box), display them like they live in a toy store and just keep them… That is not me and it will never be my style (I think). I’m the kind that picks up shabby playline dolls at the flea market to clean, shampoo and give lots of TLC to.

I love me a good fixer-upper-doll. I love the creative part of finding (or making clothes) for her, and making her more “mine”.

I think cleaning and combing out seriously sad doll hair is one of my favorite things in the whole world! I don’t care if they’ve got the right clothes, or if they are “collectibles”. I love fun hair colors, cute faces, their fashion and to “play” with them. Not the imaginary play I did as a kid, but rather to photograph, display and set them up together now.

Diversity and news

In case you haven’t looked at new dolls recently, here’s a tasting of what’s out there that might make you understand my cravings a little bit (?):

Diversity among Barbie dolls is a fun fact these days
Diversity is a fact these days when it comes to dolls, a great change from all the regular blond Barbie that were? available when I was a kid. Theses are on my wish list; Yoga Barbie Barbie with rainbow hair, and Barbie Fashionistas 82 Doll Chic in Chambray as well as Barbie Fashionista123 with Long Braided Hair Wearing Girl Power T-Shirt, Barbie Fashionistas #33 (Fab Fringe) and?Tomb Raider Lara Croft modeled after the Swedish actress of course. ♥

And the more I am becoming a part of the doll community online, the more I learn, read and find out about the hobby. It’s super fun, because I love research – but also dangerous when I find that I need the new stuff. There are soooo many collector dolls I wish I could afford that it’s crazy (for example one styled by Iris Apfel or what about a Barbie that is dressed in fashion inspired by StarWars R2-D2?), but they often are not even sold here or are way too expensive (for me).

Collector Barbie dolls on iHannas wish list as a doll collector: Tokidoki Barbie, 60ths anniversary Barbie and Grease Barbie
Collector Barbie dolls are created for grown up collectors and a lot pricier than the playline. These pink haired ladies by Mattel are very high up on my wish list as a doll collector: Tokidoki Barbie, 60ths anniversary Barbie and Frenchy from Grease.

I want one of each, please.

It’s very rare to come across vintage dolls in Sweden (if you don’t look online) but I would really like some of the reproductions that are out there, as well. Maybe one day when I can afford them. But I’m also trying to be aware of space, but that’s a (much more boring) issue for another day.

I could write a lot more, and probably will in the future – but for now this is what I wanted to share today. How I become a doll collector and how very very much I love being one.

Cheers!

PS: Do you have a favorite Barbie or other doll? I only had one real (Mattel) blond Barbie when I was a kid and it was the Twirly Curls Barbie, then I had some Pediegree Sindy dolls (another fashion doll that I still love and adore, this one from the UK)? – and a lot of clone dolls that was of course as loved and part of my personal Barbie family.

If you’re not into dolls, please do tell: What do you collect?

Some links
Collecting and climate change – very much in line with my post How to (try) to Buy Less this Year

20 Responses

  1. Hi Hanna – Sharing your love of dolls made me smile and I am glad you did a post about them. When I was young I loved troll dolls, I used to make them skirts out of felt and love fixing their wildly colored hair. What makes me happy is thinking about the play dates I would have with friends as they pulled out their “perfect” Barbies and. I would pull out my wacky trolls. They would clump into the Barbie world and none of my friends had any problem with. Them being there. So funny as they were so different than Barbies. I loved them. I don’t play with trolls anymore but always love bumping into one in thrift stores. I now collect Beatrice Potter figurines – I love the characters from her stories and love that they are dressed in human clothing. I find them very inspirational for collages that I make :-). I will look out for Barbies for you. Should I just look for the ones you listed on your wish list? Xo

    • Hi Pam, thanks for your lovely comment on my blog!

      I had trolls too as a kid, and I agree with you that they’re fun to see in thrift shops. I would love to have a friend in the US that could find dolls for me since they’re hard to get here (a lot of them anyway, and very pricy). Any at the moment I think, but yes, the ones on my wish list are the ones I most crave at the moment. It would be lovely!

      Have you seen the move about Peter Rabbit? I just watched it on Netflix the other week and LOVED it – part real life, part cartoon, and a modern day Beatrix Potter too. It was just darling cute!

  2. Hanna, I absolutely LOVE this post so much!!! I had thought over the years that I would like to collect Barbie dolls too but I never did. I’d love to make clothes for them but darn it, I don’t sew … the best I could do would be to crochet it a little blanket. Ha! Ha!

    But – maybe I could learn to sew the clothes by hand since I don’t have a machine (I guess I’d probably have to get a doll first though, huh? lol) Still, I’m thinking that surely with everything that there is online, there would have to be directions on how to hand sew Barbie clothes, right? And they aren’t big so how hard could it be? (Never mind, don’t answer that ‘cuz I might end up getting discouraged! (Smile)

    Thank you for this post … I don’t have room for a lot of things but still there is room if I end up being selective and also I have things there that I really don’t want, nor do I need anymore so I could get rid of those things to make room.

    I’m definitely keeping the e-mail from your blog post so I don’t let this idea fade away — your post just made me want to get some and have fun with them, and love the idea of painting them as well. How fun and yes, I think it’s absolutely fine to have dolls at ANY age! : )

    (Hugs)

    Debi

    • My mom who had never sewn or bought herself a doll, suddenly picked up both when she was in her sixties. She sewed a whole wardrobe by hand for the Barbie she bought herself at the thrift store. So it can definitely be done.

      • Yes, it can absolutely be done – at any age level! Thanks Dawn for adding that darling comment!

    • Thanks Debi, I’m so glad my blog post about dolls resonated with you as well. I could send you a whole heap of videos on YouTube of people making Barbie clothes, and of course most of them you could sew by hand too. Just search for “DIY Barbie doll clothes” and you’ll see.

      And send me a picture when you have your first doll, and we’ll see if you can stop with just the one, hehe. :-) I’ll be awaiting the photo!

      (hugs back!)

  3. Thanks for this fun post! My hubby and I collect sci-fi action figures and memorabilia (think Star Trek, Star Wars, but not just limited to those). Our house is, I like to think, “tastefully” decorated with the characters and places we love. Makes us smile any room we happen to be in.

    I’m glad you’re having fun embracing your love of dolls! And making clothes for them! The hunt at second-hand stores is often half the fun…so satisfying when you find something you’ve been looking for or are delightfully surprised to find! Happy hunting!

    • Thanks Arielle,
      we’re fans of sci-fi here too, and just might have a few figures around but not that many, and of course now my dolls are taking over the place! It’s crazy, but don’t tell anyone…

      Did you watch Mandalorian yet? I loved it SO much. Can’t wait for s02 now.

      • We loved The Mandalorian, too!! We’ve been big fans of stormtroopers, clone troopers, and Mandalorians for quite some time. (My hubby makes an awesome 6’ 6” stormtrooper!). Have you read Karen Traviss’ Republic Commando series? We highly recommend it!

  4. I started collecting again in May 2016 while on maternity leave with my baby girl. I started with Monster High and Ever After High and it sort of moved back to Barbie. I even collect Ball-jointed-dolls now. I love the crafting and art aspect of collecting dolls, because I get to make miniature dioramas. BJD faceups are also easy to do and I love doing those. My daughter turned 4 recently and we go crazy about any dolls – she even got her first Our Generation doll. In South Africa we also dont get all the dolls and cute accessories…Mattel however has woken up and we are getting more of the new things than previously. Still waiting for LOL OMG dolls and Hairdorable – Hairmazing dolls.

    • Thank you Helandri for taking the time to visit and leaving me a comment, it made me so happy that you did. I am pretty sure I could get into BJD if they weren’t so expensive, Monster High is kind of the budget option huh? :-)

      Oh and: It’s just so adorable that you now get to share your passion with your little daughter, I love that!

      Happy collecting to you!

      xo

  5. We are kindred spirits, Hanna! Besides art journaling, I have been a collector of Barbie dolls since the early 90s. I had to stop buying dolls as I have so many now, both thrifted and new collectibles. I have been to 3 Barbie Conventions here in the US. They are so much fun-all of us adults “playing” with Barbie. I have also been big into dollhouses and miniatures. I stopped creating when my little kids and the cats would topple everything I set up in my dioramas. So I have bins and bins of miniatures and miniature-making supplies I may get back to one day, even though the kids are young adults, but I still have cats, just different ones. LOL! I would love hearing more about your Barbie, dollhouse/mi niatures and art journal adventures on your blog.

    • Aw, kindred spirits huh?! I think you need to get a few glass cabinets if you have room, so you can set up the dioramas without the cats meddling, right? ;-)

      I hope to create a collecting video for YouTube or at least do a blog post about the doll clothes I’ve made so far later this year.

      Thanks for your visit, do come back!

  6. Nice post, and so fun to be a collector. And all your little tours into the toy corner with me tagging along got me into getting a couple of Evi dolls, from Simba. I don’t buy everyone I see, but definitely have a lookout for them now. So thanks to you I am a doll collector too and I love them. They are all named after old female relatives of mine, like Albertina, Karin, Ebba, Ellen, Anna, Alma, Hilma. So dear to me!

  7. Hello. Very few people know I collect dolls. It is a point of embarrassment for me because I didn’t start collecting until I was in my thirties. This article is like reading about my life. I’m trying to be more open about my collection because it brings me such joy. I started law school a year ago, which has been awesome but a setback for my “comfortable with collecting” idea I’ve been trying on. This is actually the first time I’ve contacted anyone in the doll collecting community. I found your article inspirational and cathartic. Thank you.

  8. Your article was my morning coffee this morning as it really gave me the mood boost l needed. My adult doll collection began in 2004 with collecting the Holiday Barbies until 2008. However, it started again while home on quarantine when l discovered a community full of adult doll collectors. I discovered a whole world of doll everything. Since March l have collected too many. As l promised to take a break in 2021, l found myself reflecting on the big WHY and very similar feelings you share in your article about being an adult collector. In my search to find an article about collectors guilt or purpose, l found this article. It was just what l needed to read for my sense of pride and purpose of being an adult doll collector to return. I really enjoyed it and am trying to enjoy the craft,hobby and art unapologetically and confidently!

  9. Hi Hanah.
    I was so happy to read your blog about doll collecting,
    we may be twin soules, I collect many of the same things, dolls, small cute plast figures, art…you name it.
    I live in Denmark, near by Sweden 😄

  10. Hi! I love your post. I am also an adult doll collector. The type of dolls that I collect are called American Girl dolls. I always wanted one as a child but never got one so as an adult I decided to buy one for myself. Since buying my first AG doll back in 2010 I’ve gone on to buy a few more dolls as well as various “vintage” (I feel so old lol!) pieces and accessories that I remember wanting as a child.

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