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. My mother-in-law likes to display birds' nests, and of course many people care for lovely house plants.
I have a 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. Now I own several different pitchers and pots which I use for flowers or display for their own 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.
But as with anything else you use to decorate your home, a collection or treasured belonging will be most evident if it is not part of a crowd. My favorite blue and white pieces are displayed on a small shelf painted apple green, 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 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 boasts a display of your grandfather's landscape paintings. Or you could 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 white-painted family room with honey-colored hardwood floors, a beige couch and chairs with black and white buffalo-check toss pillows, and a black and white striped area rug under a rustic wooden coffee table that holds a healthy plant 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.
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 truly 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 of 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.
Don't be afraid to embrace change. I loved my Holly Hobbie collectibles in the 1970's and my vintage patchwork quilts in the 1980's and 90's. But interests and preferences change over time. We grow, our values shift, and our tastes evolve. 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.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash