My collection started around Christmas of '83. I got Rock-n-Roll at school as a gift, then got Gung-Ho and the APC for Christmas from my parents, along with a RAM that I had to share with my kid brother. Those two guys were best buds and went everywhere in the APC. They're still my favorite two Joes. Those two ran around with Sgt. Rock and his pals, fighting the Bad Guys, because I didn't get any other Joes for a while. But if you remember, things stayed on shelves forever back then, instead of the cycling out of old product for new we get every few months now.
So this meant that for my birthday in '84, I got Duke, Scarlet, Baroness, and Zartan, along with a Rattler and a Slugger, then got the HQ for Christmas. I had asked only for Joe that year and I got only Joe from everyone. I remember being so worried I wasn't going to get the Rattler, because we had gone to Wal-Mart to do some shopping, which I knew was code for 'birthday shopping'. Mom told me and kid brother to wait in the foyer and play video games, but brother insisted on going in and finding mom not long after she'd gone in. I knew if I went in, mom would put back any toys in the cart because it wouldn't be a surprise, so I took him in, found mom, and pointed him toward her then ran back out. But I had seen it. I had seen the Rattler in the cart. When she came out, she asked where my brother was and I said he came in to find her. She became upset that I would let my 3 year old brother (I was almost 9 at the time, the '80's were truly a different time for parenting) in the store alone. That's when I told her I had brought him in, pointed him to the cart, then went back out. She went back in and found him, and I still got the Rattler.
Various small playsets (FANG, SNAKE, etc.) or figures were purchased throughout the year, using my 'allowance' -- we went to visit my grandfather once a week and he'd always give me a $1 for doing some trivial task for him. At the time, I thought the more I did, the more I might get, but I now know he gave all the grandkids who visited a dollar, under the ruse it was payment for something as simple as changing the channel for him (he had had a stroke and so could not easily walk, and remotes weren't really a thing yet). We generally went to Wal-Mart once a month, so this allowed me just enough time to save up the money to spend $2.83 (plus tax!) for a figure, or if I had saved right, the ~$5 for a small vehicle/playset.
Until about 1988, GI Joe was my Pokemon -- I had to have them all. In 1988, I became more selective about which figures I bought, but I still collected religiously and almost compulsively. A trip to the store was agonizing, since I had to decide between all the incredible figures. Usually, the figure with the most accessories won out, but occasionally, it was a matter of pragmatism. If there were four of one figure on the pegs and only one of another, I bought the lone figure, hoping all four of the other wouldn't sell out before my next visit. Other times, I'd revisit my dalliance with Transformers or He-Man instead of buying a Joe, but those moments were rare. I did not get every figure, but I did get most of them, excluding vehicle drivers. I did not have a lot of the larger vehicles due to space and price.
One of my most exciting finds also came in 1987. We had gone shopping at a small grocery store we rarely visited and I sought out the meager toy aisle I knew had to be there, since every grocery store had some sort of toy aisle. At the end of the aisle was a produce display, but instead of produce, it was full of toys. Mostly Hot Wheels and the like, but then something caught my eye -- there, in the corner, was a 1984 Storm Shadow! I hadn't seen him in the store, ever, so he had always eluded me. Yet here, in this tiny grocery store, I finally found him. I clutched him up and ran to mom, begging her to let me buy him, promising to pay her back when we got home.
In 1989, for my 14th birthday, I received the last toy I would get as a gift. My parents had tried to talk me into asking for something more mature, but I still held onto my childhood, wanting toys yet also wanting to be a grown-up, so we compromised. I got the Crusader (I had asked for the Defiant when it was out, but there was no way they could do that) along with other more 'age appropriate' things. If 14 year-old me could see the me of today, I believe he would be happy.
A lot of my collection came from trading with friends, trading off Transformers for Joes or Joes for Transformers, or He-Man figures for either. As a result, my collection was always changing, but what I remember having as a kid and not trading off:
82 - RAM and VAMP, no figures (had swivel arm versions of Breaker, RnR, Scarlet, Cobra Trooper, Cobra Officer)
83 - APC, FANG, HISS, Dragonfly, HQ, Polar Battle Bear, SNAKE, Airborne, Doc, Gung-Ho, Major Bludd, Snow Job, Tripwire, HISS driver, Wild Bill, Battle Gear pack
84 - Chameleon, ASP, CLAW, Rattler, SHARC, Sky Hawk, Slugger, Stinger (got in trade, no driver), all carded figures, Deep Six, Thunder, Wild Weasel, Zartan, Hooded CC, Battle Gear pack
85 - AWE Striker, Armadillo, Bridge Layer, Silver Mirage, Snow Cat, Cobra Night Landing, Check Point Alpha, Parachute Pack, Battle Gear pack, all carded figures (had two of Lady Jaye because I won her on a TV trivia call in show and they sent me two), all drivers but Keel Haul and Lamprey
86 - Air Chariot, Stun, Conquest X-30, Devilfish, HAVOC, Surveillance Port, Battle Gear pack, all single pack figures, mail-in Sgt. Slaughter, Cross Country, Stun Driver, Serpentor, Slipstream
87 - Buzz Boar (don't know where it came from, but I always had one), Maggot, Air Skiff, Dreadnok trike, Battle Gear pack, all carded except Big Boa, Raptor, and Sneak Peak; WORMS, Zanzibar, Slaughters Marauders, Refrigerator Perry (ordered one, they sent me 3)
88 - Stellar Stiletto, Swampmasher, Skystorm, Cobra Battle Gear pack, Blizzard, Shockwave, Spearhead & Max, Road Pig, Windmill, Star Viper, all the Tiger Force non-drivers
89 - Arctic Blast, Crusader, Devastator, Darklon's Evader, Python Asp, Python Stun, Tiger Fish, Tiger Sting, Alley Viper, Annihilator, Countdown, Gnawgahyde, Recoil, Rock-n-Roll, Snake Eyes, Stalker, TARGAT, Darklon, Payload, all the Slaughters Marauders, can't remember which Python Patrol figures (pretty sure Copperhead, but not sure who else)
90 - Sky Hawk, Sky Sharc, Cpt Grid-Iron, Freefall, Metal Head, Pathfinder, Rampart, Stretcher, Topside
91+ - I may have snagged some stuff here and there in last grasps of childhood, but they weren't really part of my collection
My favorites then were, and still are, RnR and Gung-Ho so they got the most play.