Collect yourself

Did you watch that Marie Kondo house cleaning show everybody was talking about a while back? I watched it, and I liked it, but I feel like some people took it as a battle cry for strict minimalism, which wasn't exactly how I saw it.

Watching the families on the show digging themselves out of piles of the useless unloved things that collect around all of us constantly, like rising water in a leaky boat, was very satisfying. You could see the lightness and relief they felt after they'd swept away the clutter and made things they actually enjoy and use visible and accessible. I'm all for a good periodic purge of stuff. Yes - that is one of the best feelings ever - and very illuminating about what things we truly want to have around us. But I wouldn't want to purge my life down to a super minimal state - and I think Ms. Kondo might agree with a softer approach. 

Her method for deciding what stays and goes is to hold an object and see whether it 'sparks joy.' If it doesn't - get rid of it. A little corny and mystical? Sure, and maybe a little nuance is lost in the translation from Japanese to English. But I basically agree with that method of choosing stuff. A lot of things make me happy and spark memories or ideas, so I would never have a super minimal home, even if I Kondo-ed it relentlessly.

An extremely minimal look does make some people genuinely happy, I'm sure. Localized minimal and organized spaces often make it easier to think - I realize this all over again every time I clean my desk and then feel myself relax. Targeted minimalism is useful. It's wholesale home-wide minimalism as a shining and static goal that puts me off. I'm a fan of a middle way - periodically culling the useless and unloved stuff out of your life while also always bringing in new, beautiful, potentially useful stuff. I think of it as being on a pendulum swinging between collecting and clarifying. 

The things we collect can be a great source of inspiration and tool for reflection if we take a little time to study them and what drew us to them. Sometimes we're attracted to things for reasons and purposes we only perceive later on. After we've done more reading or accumulated more related (or seemingly unrelated) objects or experienced a few more things - themes and collections emerge. I believe in having a reservoir of inspiration on hand for the future. And if we Kondo away the chaff of unloved things periodically, the patterns of what we like and value are that much easier to see over time. 

I didn't think of myself as someone with a collector's personality for a long time, though, because I thought collecting had to be done intentionally. Then one day I looked up from a beautifully photographed article about artist and collector extraordinaire, Lisa Congdon, thinking to myself, 'Wow, how does anyone have the time or money or energy or desire to amass collections like these (of erasers or ceramics or whatever)?'

I looked around, and - wait a minute - books, rings, vases, postcards, sea shells, sketch books, tiny bowls, backyard plants.... I have collections! I was accumulating things I liked, for mostly unarticulated reasons, not seeing the forest for the trees, as they say. And I bet you're a collector too, even if you don't think of yourself as one. Because, come on, who among us, even the most seemingly unsentimental minimalist, isn't the creator of some kind of seen or unseen forest?

So, if you're ever hunting for inspiration - perhaps take a walk through the forest you've made and look again at what you've chosen to accumulate. What do you like about these things? What do they remind you of? What can you take from them? Where can you go next? What have you never noticed about them before? 


And then maybe - what would you like to get rid of? I like to think there is a lot to be gained from the enriching curiosity of collecting - as much as from the clarifying and bracing effect of letting things go.

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