Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Can You be a Collector and Live an Edited Life?

I received a newsletter from The Minimalists entitled “Collecting is Dangerous.” It was a polemic about how collecting is often a veiled form of hoarding. Indeed, as they note, the thesaurus cites “hoard, pile, heap and stockpile” as synonyms for collecting.

Beyond the physical implications of collecting, they wax about its emotional aspects, maintaining that what we collect often becomes entwined with our identities. Likewise, they imply that collecting often serves as a proxy for creating; they point out that there are numerous societies and TV shows that focus on collecting, but few that focus on creating (RIP Bob Ross).

They make provocative points worth considering. We would add a practical question: Is collecting worth it? In order to collect, you need space, whether that’s your home, a garage, a storage unit, etc. You often need a way to present that which is collected–furniture, books, etc. When the day is over, we wonder if you are more satisfied with that State Spoon collection or having a manageable space and living a manageable life?

Even if you’re not a collector per se, things like old photos and tchotchkes picked up while abroad become ersatz collections.  Do their sentimental benefits outweigh their logistic costs?

This is certainly not a one-size-fits all question, but we’d love to hear your opinion. As it happens, we’re considering what flourishes to add to the spartan interior of the LifeEdited apartment. Is it over-edited or less is more?

Please share your thoughts in our comment section.

image credit: modish vintage

  • Jcats50

    I live in a small 650 square foot house and I am a collector. To me antiques are pieces of history and they reflect the superiour workmanship of the past. I also consider myself as one of the original recyclers. Instead of buying pasteboard junk made today I collected piece by piece furniture. My house inside is original and eclectic.

     And my pieces go up in value. When I buy a new item I sell the old item at the local antque shop. My collectables are like a saving account that I can enjoy and live with.

    I value items that speak of the past and the fact that they survived over the years. I have never understood people that pay big bucks for poorly made junk items of today. Items that in a few years will be hauled to the landfill to take up more space on this planet. Collect and be green. Recycle for the good of this planet!     

  • Anne

    Use your kids’ artwork as accent pieces.  A nice frame makes anything look professional.  Also If your kid has ever taken a ceramics class, you will have enough knick knacks to satisfy anyone.

  • Randall

    I need color and warmth in my space. Things that we collect reflect our personality and therefore give it to the spaces we live in. An all white interior with no objects of art is too sterile for my taste. 

  • David_simoes

    collecting things does not mean making a pile of things; in my opinion, we all can be a Collector, and keep our “lifeedited” style. to do that we must collect the most important and for example, rare things

  • David, good question. If it’s true an edited life is one more terse, that connects more effortlessly with others, and streamlines one’s core essentials, then most will want to answer the question.

    It’s interesting. When you said “collecting” I assumed you referred to great art and nothing else. Then I read all your article. While someone could make a good case for collecting say, furniture of great design because it speaks, or a child’s drawings because they speak (at least to the parent), on the other hand, one would have to reveal a sad compromised state to regard tchotchkes in the same room with a Picasso print that speaks.

    An “ersatz” collection is just that: an artificial substitute. Hell is a home filled with dead collections of (fill-in-the-blank) that say nothing more than “look at me.”  This is why we feel such sorrow for the typical surburbanite mired in pop culture, stuffed with “art” purchased from K-mart unavoidable cute earthenware statues choking the throated howl of birth.

    Interested people (that first word *is* correct) generally seek conversations with other minds, either through direct conversation, or by the art those minds make. Great art carries that adjective, great, because it’s initiatory: every time you encounter it, there is new light.

    An edited life is worth the work to get at that light.

  • For me, the main difference between collecting and hoarding lies in the way those objects are being kept. Having a bunch of old comics in boxes is hoarding. A collector keeps them not only carefully protected but classified as well, to make them easier to find and display.

  • One way to show who we are is through our possessions.  Different people place different levels of importance on their stuff as a way to express their identity – to themselves and to others.

    Taken to the extreme, hoarders attempt to ease their anxiety about their identity by surrounding or insulating themselves with their stuff.  It follows that collectors are trying to create or manage their self-identity with their collection. 

    That said, minimalists may be doing the same thing in reverse.  I need very little.  I am efficient.   

    Facing death often forces individuals to resolve these identity issues.  How many times have you heard, “After my (near-death experience) I realized how unimportant this ‘stuff’ is”.


  • Ari

    I collect thimbles and although I was given butt ugly tourist ones early on (as people knew I had a collection) it’s pared down to a small shadow box of interesting and varied types now, with a few shells and pretty rocks to fill in the leftover spaces. Pretty to look at, sparks memories from time to time and takes up very little space.

    There’s no particular monetary value to them but finding a small space on the wall to hang the box is one part of making each new house we’ve moved to more like home.

  • Hoarding in the extreme sense of the psychological disorder depicted on the eponymous tv show is very different from collecting. The hoarders place value on things that any rational person would view as garbage, and they don’t value it by using it thoughtfully and getting joy out of it, they value it by simply owning it somewhere under a weighty pile of other unused garbage. So there’s a serious spectrum of difference going on here. One can be a collector and live a life-edited absolutely but it would mean having an edited collection, just like all of ones other possessions, the collection would have to be providing you with some value in terms of your own aesthetic enjoyment, your connections to others who share your interest, your connection to the history of the objects in questions etc. Probably a collection that aims at completion – as if collecting was something you could win at – isn’t going to be very in keeping with a “life edited” that would be a specialised version of the “must have all the things” thinking that maligns consumer culture.

    Collecting can definitely be part of a “life edited” but it depends very much in the nature of the collecting. For my personal taste classically minimalist homes read as utterly soul-less, but you could have less and the things you do have still be vibrant, soulful, beautiful and in a sense all of ones possessions useful or otherwise are a kind of eclectic collection that speaks of who we are and how we live.

    • The other thing about the extreme hoarders is that they almost always are obsessed with bargain hunting and compulsively purchase cheap horrible mass produced junk simply because its on sale and they feel they’d be stupid not to take advantage of the ‘savings’. this is almost a totally opposite psychology to the Collector, who invests sometimes irrational amounts of money on a perfect item that speaks to them