Collecting without Limits

Fan collection display — Funke Fabunmi

I am a serial collector. I can’t help it. I fall in love with an item and then I just want more of it. 
I collect old fans, vintage purses, tableware and I collect hats from the 40s and 50s. I also collect postcards and photos of early 20th century Africa. Are you starting to get the idea? Right about now, you are probably picturing my home as a prettier version of the homes on the show Hoarders. Maybe you even threw in a cat or two.

And you would be wrong, thank goodness. My home is actually fairly spare and clutter free. I purge old clothes, furniture and other random items around the home mercilessly and routinely. Yet through all of my house moves and life changes, my collections are not even considered for sale or donation. I am inexplicably and hopelessly attached to my collections.

Collecting is a hobby as old and time and it feeds a couple of very basic human instincts; the hunting instinct through the pursuit and “capture” of an item and the nesting instinct through the order and maintenance of an item. It allows us to focus and dedicate time to something that actually brings us pleasure often just for its own sake but sometimes as an investment as well.

However, most collectors though proud of their collections are touched by a modicum of guilt in a world that wants us all to strive for simplicity.

Nowadays, in our mentally and physically cluttered world, collecting is not as popular as it used to be as many of us look for ways to simplify our lives. We are bombarded with images of beautiful clutter free homes on design shows as something to aspire to and shows like Hoarders warn us of the dangers of drowning in our possessions. Many of us live in cities in very small homes and have little space for storage. We seem to have less time even though if you are like me, you spend some of that precious time on other distractions like Netflix (unfortunately lately without the chill). There is so much competition for our resources that the choices on what to spend on can be dizzying.

Yet collecting is again on the rise. With sites like eBay and Etsy providing a global market for everything and anything, collecting has become easier and less time consuming than in previous years. One can amass a great collection in a few months rather than years. If you have ever collected anything like rocks or stamps as a kid, you understand the feeling of pride in your collection. For me, it’s about being surrounded by a physical representation and reminder of the things I love and I find it comforting and grounding. It’s also about announcing a more private side of my personality to anyone who is invited into my home. I have to say though that almost as much as I love collecting, I love a clean spare space and I have had to learn how to collect and keep my home clutter free.

So how do you go about fitting a collection into the space-challenged, time crunched life you have now?

Rethink how you interact with your collections so that you focus on attaining the maximum enjoyment of your items.

Evaluate and collate
Document your collection and group them into loosely distinct clusters. I visited the home of a colleague and to my delight discovered that he is an avid philatelist (fancy word for stamp collector). His dining room where he works on his stamps is lined with bookshelves containing color-coded binders that house his stamps. The walls have framed enlarged photos of his favorite stamps. The photos serve another purpose: they correlate to the stamps kept in the binders below so they are a visual cue to the location of different collections.


Think about using your collections to beautify your home. Replace generic art with artful groupings of your collection. I recently saw a bookshelf where the owner had used her pottery collection as bookends and in groups amongst the books. It beautified a plain bookshelf and served as an engaging focal point in the room.
Make a gallery wall of your collection in frames. On my staircase, I have a series of framed vintage purses. They are too fragile to be used but they never cease to be a point of interest for people visiting my home.

As I mentioned before, many collectors have more items than they can possibly display and that is certainly true for me. I rotate my collection in fall and spring. In spring, I pack up my vintage purses and up go my frames with beachy items like shells from my vacation to a set of old oars. My friend swaps her pottery collection for her milk glass collection, which she uses as vases for fresh flowers in the summer.

If you are going to rotate your items, you need a good accessible place to store them. My friend, a rabid collector (and yes I used the word rabid because her collections span a dizzying array of interests and periods) lives in a one bedroom condo and does not own a car. She also rotates her collections. With little storage space in her home, she uses a site called Spaceishare to find discounted self-storage in her neighborhood and stores her stuff in a nice dry basement a block away from her home.

You don’t have to choose between collecting and clutter. Your collections should be inspired by your passions not by the space you inhabit.