Collecting elegantly

               Has anyone read the infamous anti-clutter books by Don Aslett? Hearing the books read aloud as well as seeing them rigorously implemented in my childhood home developed an anti-clutter paranoia within me growing up, despite what I am sure were the author’s best intentions. My room regularly received clutter overhauls where all but the basics – a few clothes, some bedding, and one or two toy sets – were thrown out or given away. I remember at least five different occasions in the space of a few years where no less than three contractors trash bags of items were removed from my room at a time! Also, my parents’ home was strikingly devoid of clutter; the only wall decorations were handmade items, the books all fit on one shelf, furniture was minimal and there were no visible items sitting around for decor’s sake; everything had a function. There was no seasonal decor other than Christmas, and that was mostly items that went on the tree. You would never see an overstuffed drawer or not know where to find something at my house growing up! It was clean, simple, and orderly, and I learned valuable lessons about the arts of orderliness, organization, and not owning too much “stuff.”

               Unfortunately, I felt restriction and a sense of loss as a child, not really understanding the merit to all that stuff being thrown out of my room right in front of me. I became very emotionally attached to “stuff” throughout my teenage and young adult years. I felt that there were only two options: the extreme of owning nothing but a toothbrush and a change of clothes, or keeping every church bulletin that I ever received, along with everything else! It has taken me a while as a progressing homemaker to develop a balance between cluttering my life and loving my life. The most important lesson I have learned has been that decluttering goes beyond simply throwing out or giving things away. The people I know who do this tend to re-accumulate things and have to repeatedly have massive throw outs, kind of like yo-yo dieting in clutter form. Rather, decluttering has two facets: not keeping excess items, yet carefully arranging, storing, and enjoying the possessions one chooses to keep. No one can dictate the amount of items a person should have, such the number of clothing pieces in a wardrobe or furniture in a room. It is an innate sense of balance, collectedness, comfort, elegance, and style that each woman must determine for herself. With that in mind, the following are some guidelines I follow for the art of acquiring, storing, arranging, and using my possessions as a well bred woman.

               The first thing I do is make sure that everything is organized, arranged artfully, and put in its place. By putting like items together and attempting to find a storage spot for all of it, I can see if I really have too much or too little of something or if I need to re-work my storage systems. And not everything should be stored out of sight in an attempt to make a room appear uncluttered; arranging artfully is the trick to owning and displaying many lovely possessions in an elegant manner. Some people naturally have more stuff than others, and they need not feel obligated to pare down to meet a certain standard if they are able to arrange it all in a manageable, pleasant way.

               While putting everything in its proper place, I can evaluate each item to ensure that it is in good working condition, pleasant to look at, and not only useful but also actually being used. Some things may still “work” and be useful but are just plain worn looking, such as oft-used utensils, clothing items, or toys. If I can live without them, my personal preference is to have fewer but nicer looking items. I also make a mental note of the things that wear out more quickly than others to guide my purchasing choices for the future. If something is not working or looks dingy but could be repaired or spruced up, I determine whether or not I am actually going to do so; if I plan to do it soon, I keep the item, and if not, I do not.

               When the urge to declutter strikes me, I ask myself if I am feeling stressed about actual clutter or if I am feeling a sense of obligation through peer pressure since decluttering is such a popular theme on social networking these days. You can only see so many guides to de-junking on Pinterest before you feel a bit obligated to de-junk something, anything! But as I mentioned, no one else can determine an individual’s comfort level in their own home, and individuality is key for a woman who knows her own mind. For example, I have a large collection of CDs because I love music but refuse to convert to MP3s. (My secret dream is to own a record player and amass a collection of vinyl records!) To some people, having a large collection of CDs is junky because you could just convert them all to MP3s, pop them on your iPod, and get rid of the pile of CDs, thus freeing up a little more space. But decluttering extends beyond having more cubic feet; it is having more sense, more reason, more enjoyment, more productivity, more relaxing, and less stress!

               I carefully consider whether or not to add an item to my collections. Some of the most extreme anti-clutter people I have known shun collections altogether! Case in point: jigsaw puzzles. I love them and try to do one at least once a month, more at Christmas since my collection is mostly Thomas Kinkade Christmas puzzles. By the way, my collection has seven puzzles, five of which are T. K. pictures. So I consider myself a collector of T. K. puzzles. My family has occasionally given me one for Christmas or just because. But I do not have a line in my budget for T. K. puzzles, my goal is not to own every single one they ever made, and I never purchase them for myself. I do not work them often due to time constraints and because I do not want to grow tired of them, but I really enjoy them each time I do because they are my favorite type of puzzle and having fewer of them makes each more valuable to me. On the contrary, an acquaintance of mine also likes to work jigsaws and has one set up in her house nearly constantly. She abhors collections and periodically gives away her puzzles, only to purchase a new set of cheap puzzles. Because of the stability it brings, I prefer to maintain a collection of specific, highly prized items instead of constantly gaining and losing items. Discriminating taste is an excellent discipline for a well bred woman to cultivate, although it will come across as snobby, picky, or even rude to people who are indiscriminating.

               When sorting through my bathroom and kitchen, I consider whether or not I am collecting perishables items without using them up in a timely manner. Makeup is fun to buy but a little bit goes a long way, and as it is dangerous to use expired products, too many purchases may end up in the trash if a person allows her beauty products collection to become cluttered. Some items such as nail polish will go bad without regular use, so again discriminating taste applies here: purchase only your favorite items, even if they cost a little more, and use them up. The same goes with food: even shelf stable items lose nutrients over time, and sometimes they never get used. Regularly sorting through your possessions may not necessarily yield clutter to get rid of but rather insight for your future purchasing choices.

               Finally, after determining that something looks nice, works, is in the right place, and is useful, I as myself the following: Does this item make my life easier or more enjoyable, or does it add an unnecessary step of time or effort? For example, there is a specific kitchen tool for everything from slicing kiwis to storing part of a sandwich, but most people can suffice with a good sharp knife and all purpose containers. Speaking of containers, I grew up in a humid state where, despite my family’s best efforts, ants regularly entered our house. To save our food from ant takeover, my mother habitually transferred all shelf stable food to sealed containers. Although I have not lived under those circumstances for years, when I began house keeping I felt obligated to amass a collection of glass jars to store all my dry goods in. Not to mention, home decor websites commonly list this as a way to add beauty and personality to one’s home. Though I did love the way they looked, I did not realize at first how much extra effort they ended up being. One day I was wiping down the miniscule counter space in my kitchen going around the glass jars when I realized that even though they were functional, useful, and pretty, I just did not need them. Pouring dry goods into glass jars which then would need washing between uses and took up valuable counter space and needed to be moved every time the counter got wiped…it was too much effort and I did not derive that much pleasure from owning those glass jars! So away they went.

               In conclusion, a well bred woman should evaluate her possessions with a sense of balance and functionality. Decluttering will no longer be a stressful chore but rather a joyous time of framing her household around her character, with well kept, useful possessions that add value and pleasure to her life.

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