“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
This quotation, which is attributed to William Morris (and I confess that I did not fact check beyond that), is one that shows up in a lot of my digital haunts. I see it on blogs, in Facebook statuses, and on Pinterest. It certainly seems to resonate with a lot of folks in this age of over stimulation and mass consumption. I find myself thinking about this concept as we move to pare down our household to our comfort level, wherever that might be. I am pretty good at evaluating items on the useful/not useful part. Lately, though, I have been rethinking the “believe to be beautiful” part.
The visual appeal of clutter-free spaces is certainly a strong one for me. I am not one to pin things on Pinterest very often, but when I look at what I have pinned there, I see a lot of clean spaces and empty countertops. Before I was interested in decluttering, I was interested in organizing. As many who organize do, I purchased tidy little boxes to corral my things. Fortunately, I have gifted, donated, sold, and recycled enough to reduce my need for quite as many containers.
Here is my dilemma: a year or two ago, I felt like I was in a pretty good place on my decluttering mission because I had peeked into most of the containers and made decisions to keep or pass on each of the items. Anything that stayed had been deemed a keeper for the time being, which was going to be at least until my many transitions (housing/marriage/job/city status) had been made. The “keepers” were put away in orderly fashion in their storage containers. Things looked tidy on the outside.
Now, though, what I am really coming to appreciate is that perhaps the better threshold on the keep/toss question is if I would be willing to display something. While I was proud that I had minimized many smaller keepsakes into what I called my “sentimental box,” I began to question why I was storing it. So that I could pull it out once a year and look at it? So that I could still feel like I haven’t fully parted with something that I might feel guilty passing on?
I have decided to try putting more of these items out and in visible locations. I won’t necessarily decide to display them forever, but I am noticing that there are some objects that I relish every time I see them, like this shell below. I participated on a life-changing pilgrimage in 2006, the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I carried this shell with me, and every time I see it I love the range of emotions that runs through me: pride in accomplishment, appreciation for humanity, gratitude for the experience, hunger to do another journey.
Other items, though, are ones that I find myself thinking, “Maybe I liked it better when that space was less cluttered.” If empty space trumps an object in terms of what I find to be beautiful, it might be time to give that item away or at least think seriously about whether I should hold onto it! For instance, these little wooden hearts. I think they are well-made and interesting, and I have kept them because they remind me of a trip I went on with my college roommates to Woodstock, Illinois. I bought them in a little gift shop there. I still have the friendships, I don’t know who made these hearts, and while I still admire them, I would rather have empty space. So, I’ll be finding a new home for these– and not in a little box somewhere in my house!
Could this strategy work for you? I’m still thinking through situations where this might not work. Perhaps with painful memories, such as those related to the loss of a loved one? Also, my long-term goal would not be to display every single item I find beautiful. I have too many letters from my family that I find dear, and I would prefer to keep the physical version of these rather than scan them. Like this little gem from my then 8-year-old sister when I graduated from high school:
If you have any thoughts or tips on how to evaluate, store, or display sentimental and decorative pieces, I’d love for you to share!