When your collection becomes clutter

Many people go lifetimes collecting shot glasses and displaying them without ever thinking or feeling like they have a cluttered collection or home.

If you are one of those people, then rock on.

But before I let you off the hook completely, note that clutter can cost you money & sanity as well.

You have clutter that takes up precious square footage

No one ever seems to have an apartment or home big enough, am I right?

If you are paying $2000 a month for rent, for a 1000 square foot home the calculation is:

$2000 / 1000 square feet = $2/square foot

Then you may decide you need a bigger home or apartment

Which means you will have to pay for:

  • Realtor┬ácosts to sell your home
  • Moving costs
  • A brand new mortgage
  • New furniture for your new digs (backyard and garage included!)
  • Possible maintenance on your new home (painting the walls, tearing out the kitchen)
  • And maybe a new car to get to your new home, as there aren’t any buses

Not only that, you are paying in time to go search for a home, meet with a mortgage lender to figure out how much you can get to buy said home, and are ever more aware of how much you must keep your job to pay for the home.

You may be subconsciously stressed or guilty about your collection

This can affect your personal life (marriage, perhaps?), career (you come into work more fatigued than you should be), and just general unneeded stress.

You may want to keep buying more items for your collection

Those things can be a never ending cycle of constant purchases and worry about making sure your collection is as full, and as complete as it can be.

You may be putting money into items without any resale value

Collector’s Plates, anyone?

If you love collecting, then by all means do it.. but be aware of the financial costs of collections, and its resale value as well, which may be 0.

Just because you love collecting those plates at $100 a pop, doesn’t mean your children will want to keep the collection later, which means they’ll probably end up selling it or worse, dumping it!

Did that help any?

If not, it clearly makes you happy as a clam, so stick to what you’re doing.

There’s no need to change just because you FEEL as though you should.

However, if you are the person who just woke up one day, wandered into a room, thought “I need to clean this junk up”, and realized you were referring to your collection, then keep reading.

Waste Not Want Not Installation @ the MoMA by Song Dong

Waste Not Want Not Installation @ the MOMA by Song Dong

Define when it has turned into clutter for you and perhaps, why

If your collection starts making you stressed out, then it has turned into clutter for you.

If you start tripping or wondering why the heck you have so many collectible toy cars all over the place, then it has turned into clutter for you.

That’s not to say you should just scrap your life’s work, but rather, to acknowledge the fact that to turn your clutter back into a collection, it needs to be reined in.


Take a picture to get some perspective

This is a step that many of you may decide to skip thinking it’s a waste of time, but especially if you have a digital camera, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot to see whether this will work for you.

Take a picture of your clutterlection (clutter + collection)

Sometimes, getting a different, 2D perspective can do wonders for laying the groundwork to start taming everything back into something manageable.

Instead of being able to physically touch everything, stressing, and trying to figure out where to start, you can just study the image on your computer screen.

Adopt the Sun Tzu method and come up with a strategy

Sun Tzu, a prominent possibly fictional writer of “The Art of War”, had a lot of little philosophical proverbs for managing conflicts and winning battles.

Fighting your clutterlection is a battle of sorts, and you will need all the help you can get!

Study the image with two these questions in mind:

  • How many pieces do you have?
  • How many pieces do you TRULY love out of that collection?
  • Which pieces are valuable (if any)?

Set a challenge for yourself:

  • Do you want to pare down the collection by half?
  • Do you want to get rid of everything except the pieces you truly want to keep or are valuable?
  • Do you just want to organize and group them into recognizable sections?
  • Do you want to set a number as a limit? 20 items, MAX?

Keep in mind that you cannot keep everything. It’s how it turned into “clutter” in the first place.

Whatever you decide to do, you must inevitably chop down on the collection, so figure out a strategy to weed out the items so that you can keep that goal in mind as you’re doing it.

Start the ruthless chopping

Collectible ClutteredIf you have more than one collection, I suggest you tackle one at a time, and the most important or clutterific clutterlection you have in your home. (And no, neither of those are actual words in the English dictionary.)

There’s no point in doing all of the clutterlections at once, you are going to just get confused and overwhelmed.

You have two ways of beginning:

  1. Remove everything from the shelves and sort them on the floor (my preferred method)
  2. Leave everything on the shelves & just start cherry picking your favourites

..but the sorting into categories will remain the same:

  • To Keep
  • To Toss
  • To Sell
  • To Donate

The first time around, your Keep pile might be quite large.

And even if you managed to proudly put things into the Toss/Sell/Donate piles, you may feel pangs of guilt, regret or just plain sentimentality, and are LOATHE to get rid of anything.

Why did I start this damn project anyway?“, is something you may or may not ask yourself many times over and over again. (True story.)

Totally normal.

To combat this, just keep your goal in mind: To display your collection in a way that is befitting for its stature in your life.

Once you start letting go of one sentimental item, and then another, the rest of the culling will go much, MUCH easier.

Once it stays in the box, it stays IN THE BOX.

Combating the “I want to keep this-itis”

Here are a couple of strategies to help you let go of the items if you cannot be ruthless and tough on your items.

If it is for sentimental reasons, consider hugging it for 10 minutes, taking a digital photo of it (5 to 10 shots should do it), and then putting it permanently in the Toss/Donate/Sell box.

If it is out of guilt, consider that you are being guilted right now. Manipulated. USED by an item.

I understand that Aunt Sally gave you that Christmas statue as part of your collection of Christmas ornaments, but if every time you look at it, you feel a shudder of disgust, quickly replaced by guilt — do you really want to feel that way, for the rest of your life?

I hope not. Take a picture and get it out of your collection.

If it’s a broken item you cannot bear to let go, see whether you can repair it first. If you cannot, then it might be time to show it the trash bin. Take a picture of the broken item, if you must, and then let ‘er go.

If it’s just plain ugly, I don’t see where the problem is. If you must remember it in some way, shape or form, I suggest resort to taking a photo of it.

Take a deep breath, a little break, and come back

During this purging process, if you are a purging virgin, I suggest you take frequent breaks to help the process.

It can actually be very difficult to let go of even a dogeared paperback.

Sometimes, taking a little lunch break and coming back to the collection after mulling over it with a peanut butter jam sandwich, is the best way to get a surge of energy to purge.

Dig deep into your psyche

Maybe you have to dig deeper (am going to pull out a little Dr. Phil, here) and ask yourself WHY you want to keep that item.

Sometimes, it isn’t that you love and consider all of your baseball cards like little 2D paper children, it’s that as a whole, that collection it represents a very happy, past childhood that is just a memory.

And keeping the item, is a way of physically holding onto that memory.

Maybe, once you come to grips to why you’re holding on to a card that has no collector’s value and no sentimental value to you, you can start to let go of the items.

Delay the deletions

When all else fails, keep it for a trial period of time, taped up, boxed up and labelled.

The first time I tried to purge my shoe collection, I had heart palpitations. At least, I think that’s what they were.

I couldn’t bear to let go of any of my shoes. Every time I put a pair into the Sell box, I would go back to the box and take it back out.

I soon came up with solution: delay the selling or donating.

It might have also been a way for me to be lazy and put off the eBaying process, but we’ll never know now, will we?

I put all the shoes I wanted to get rid of in a box. I taped up the box, labelled it “Sell/Donate Shoes” and stored it in my bathroom.

After a couple of weeks, I forgot about the box.

And 6 months later, when I had a reminder pop up on my organizer to go to the bathroom & find the box of shoes to sell/donate, I realized that I had gone all this time without them, happy as a clam… where was the problem in letting them go, forever?

Grey Focal Wall for Plate Collection & Decoration

Grey Focal Wall for Plate Collection & Decoration

Prep the display area

Clean the shelf, wipe and paint the wall and prepare the spot for the triumphant return of your beloved items.

A nice idea might be to mark off the section of the wall and paint it in a bold colour like red or orange, place shelves in the middle of it and display your items on there.

That way, they have an eye catching background to best show off their charms, and since you’ve pared down dramatically on your collection, you can space them out nicely & really show off each piece.

Place everything back on the shelf or on the wall

Think about:

  • Leaving blank spaces in between each other
  • Grouping like items with each other (or similar colours) for a stronger impact

Gorgeous? Ugly? Still too cluttered?

Maybe you need to come back tomorrow with a fresh eye and start cutting back on your collection until YOU feel it’s just right.

Whatever you decide to do, or not to do, it is up to you.

All that matters at the end of the whole exercise is that you are happier than when you first started.

Here are some inspirational pictures for displaying collections.


Displaying your action figures Via Apartment Therapy


Displaying your seashells & things Via Apartment Therapy

Hanging Letters or Cards

Hanging Letters or Cards via Apartment Therapy

Arranging it in a vignette

Arranging it in a vignette

Tacking photos on an inspiration wall

Tacking photos on an inspiration wall

Focal wall interior decorating

Setting up a focal wall for your plates

About the Author

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.