I love a home decorated with family antiques. I also like looking at photos or other family art, such as the painting of my husband's great-great-grandmother which hangs in his mother's living room. My daughter and son-in-law prize the caricature portrait drawn by a San Francisco street artist when they were on their honeymoon, and a friend of mine displays plaster of Paris handprints of each of her three children, made in school for Mother's Day decades ago.
I also appreciate collections of natural elements. My husband, son of a geologist, has several beautiful geodes, those vaguely spherical rocks which contain a hollow cavity lined with crystals. Another friend cherishes her elegant orchids.
Can a minimalist be a collector?
I have a small collection of vintage English blue and white transferware. My first piece was a Sadler Blue Willow teapot given to my mother as a wedding gift in 1959. She never used it, but I was fascinated by it for many years before she finally passed it on to me when I was in high school. I used to make and serve tea with it, but now I mainly use it as a vase since it probably contains lead.
Unfortunately, the same was probably true of the plates and bowls in various blue and white patterns which I used to mix and match with plain white dinnerware on our table. I still own several different pitchers and pots which I use for flowers, and teacups I display for their lovely floral designs, including a Kensington Balmoral teacup and saucer which I purchased in England when I studied there in 1980.
Even though I'm a minimalist, I don't think it's necessary to remove collections like these from a home. These keepsakes have personal meaning and come with stories and memories attached. A collection accumulated over many years expresses some of the collector's own nature – his interests and aesthetic preferences. These items speak from the heart.
Limit your display for the most impact.
As with anything else you use to decorate your home, a collection or treasured belonging will be most evident if it's not part of a crowd. My favorite blue and white pieces are displayed on a small apple green shelf, where they pop against a creamy white wall. My husband's favorite geodes are arranged on one shelf of a bookcase. Another friend hangs a shadowbox displaying a photo of herself and her siblings at the beach, along with sand dollars and driftwood collected on the Oregon coast where she grew up. They are part of her own natural history.
The whole point of owning collectibles or mementos is to have them catch your eye so you can appreciate them. So don't scatter items around a room or all over the house. Instead, group them together on a wall, a shelf, gathered on a tray, or (for small items like seashells or vintage marbles) in a glass bowl or jar.
To keep cherished items in the spotlight, consider a limit of one or two collections. Perhaps your kitchen features jadeite bowls, mugs, and serving pieces while your living room walls hold some of your grandfather's landscape paintings. You could also rotate collections seasonally, bringing out your bluebird figurines in the summer while saving your brass owls and candlesticks for winter display.
Another way to feature a collection is to keep a room mostly neutral while making your collection the focal point.
Imagine a family room with creamy-white walls, honey-colored hardwood floors, and a beige couch and chairs. Add black and white buffalo-check toss pillows and a black and white striped area rug. A rustic wooden coffee table holds a tray filled with succulents and a small stack of old books. Now cover one wall with 20 or so vintage auto license plates. The colors and designs make a stunning impact.
Perhaps the collection includes the states you've visited or the years in which various family members were born, going back into the 1930's and 40's. The effect is still very minimalist since most of the color in the room comes from the plates, and there are no other knickknacks.
How to pare down
Collections are very personal, and usually embody memories of happy times and beloved people, so deciding to place a limit or pare down is a personal process as well. But if items are taking up what feels like too much space, time, or money, then maybe you need to reevaluate.
Choose to keep the items that hold most significance for you. It's not the monetary value of a collection that matters, or its current fashionableness. It doesn't matter if it's "always been there" or it "fills an empty spot."
And the decision shouldn't be made for you by someone else, as with a collection you inherit. It may have been important to an older family member, but is it also personal and meaningful to you? If your mother's Gone With the Wind plate collection displayed her personality, but you don't care for it or want to give it space in your home, it really is okay for you to pass it on or sell it. I promise you won't forget your mom if you don't keep her plates.
Gather all the pieces of your collection in one place and ask these questions:
- How many pieces do you have?
- How many pieces do you truly love? Are there some pieces that, for whatever reason, you aren't as attached to?
- Which pieces (if any) are actually valuable?
Next, you can set a challenge for yourself:
- You could keep only the pieces you really love and/or the ones that are valuable.
- You could decide to pare the collection by one-third or one-half, or to keep a certain maximum number of pieces.
- You might decide that you would be happy with one favorite item.
Change is good.
So if you decide to part with some possessions, simply remember the joy you felt while collecting them, and release any guilt you may feel over money you spent that you might not be able to recover.
Whatever you decide, your collections should not be a source of clutter or stress, but of enjoyment.
Updated June 2023