Collecting without clutter

Collecting Without Clutter

Vintage earrings, mirror, tray and dresser

When friends from the vintage world visit my house for the first time a comment that I frequently hear is “It’s so uncluttered”.  And it’s true:  while I’m in no way a minimalist, I don’t like clutter.  However that doesn’t mean that I don’t like collecting, in fact I collect a wide range of stuff:  jewelry, clothing, furniture, art, ceramics, glass, textiles, rugs and more.  However, I consider myself a collector with a lower case “c”: I don’t collect systematically, I just collect what I like and use.  Here are some of my tips for how to collect what you love, yet limit and contain the clutter.

Display items that you use regularly, and store the rest.  As someone who deals primarily in vintage and antique jewelry, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I have a fairly large jewelry collection. However, on a daily basis, I mostly wear earrings.  I hang my most-frequently worn pairs on an earring holder on the vanity in my bedroom; the rest of my jewelry is stored nearby, but out of sight.  

Collect vintage storage items, including furniture.  My vanity is vintage, the small tray holding  stud earrings is vintage (as is the Egyptian revival mirror), and the frame holding a picture of my mother is vintage.  

Collect things that are small and easily stored.  One of the joys of collecting jewelry is that it’s small, and a fairly large collection can be stored in a small amount of space.  Jewelry that I wear regularly, but not as often as earrings, is stored in the vanity drawer and on hooks in my closet; infrequently-worn jewelry is in a rolling box under the bed.  Other good strategies that I’ve seen for storing jewelry include re-purposed vintage filing cabinets (the kind with small drawers), vintage glass-fronted cabinets to display and store; and, for a major collection, a walk-in closet outfitted with shelves filled with labeled storage drawers.  

Collect things that you will wear. In addition to jewelry, about one third of my wardrobe is vintage, and I wear vintage almost every day since most of my coats and jackets are vintage (except for the purely functional ones like a Gortex ski jacket).

My dining room table set for a dinner party

Collect things that you would have in your household anyway.  I like to hold dinner parties and cocktail parties and collect serving pieces and glassware.  For dinner parties I set the table with a mix of items from different eras as seen in this photo: vintage lucite and bakelite-handled flatware (which is also my every-day flatware), a 1960’s Danish modern candle holder, 1950’s carnival glass pitcher, and Victorian glass finger bowls that I use to hold condiments.  It’s all united by the color palette, including an Indian print bedspread used as a table cloth.  In addition, the table and set of wood chairs are vintage as are the cabinets flanking the doorway, the one on the left being my beloved 1920’s bar cabinet which holds a collection of Czech deco cocktail glasses.

Inside the bar cabinet, a collection of Czech glasses

Purge your collections periodically.  When I upgrade a collection with something new, I sell, give away, or donate items that I no longer need.  When I got the set of Czech deco cocktail glasses I gave away some glasses to a friend who was cocktail-glass deprived.

Just because something is wonderful, doesn’t mean it’s wonderful for me.  We all buy things we love, but don’t end up using: vintage clothing that just doesn’t fit right, a piece of furniture that never worked in the location for which it was bought, a chair that digs into your hips; etc.  If I’ve had something for a while and find I don’t use it I sell, donate, or give it as a gift to a vintage-loving friend.

Vintage cocktail acoutrements

Group decorative items together, but limit the number of them that you display.  On a  built-in sideboard in the dining room I have a vintage tray holding a vintage lucite ice bucket (I couldn’t resist an ice bucket in the shape of a giant ice cube with a handle in the shape of ice tongs) and a mix of new and old cocktail shakers and carafes.

Vintage lucite knife block with vintage set of knives

Collect useful items that are beautiful.  My collecting extends into the kitchen with this cool lucite knife block (obviously, I’m fond of lucite) and a set of vintage knives that are both beautiful and really terrific knives.

Store most of your collections in cabinets and closets, especially in the kitchen.   I’m not a fan of open storage in the kitchen, except for items, like the knives above, that are used on a daily basis.  If you actually cook in your kitchen, a thin film of grease will settle on everything stored in the open which means washing and dusting.  When I see “designer” kitchens with lots of open storage and beautiful objets, I assume that the owner doesn’t really cook much or has a cleaning staff.  One of the advantages of collecting things that you use is that, even when they are stored out of sight, you will be taking them out to use and enjoy.

Vintage jars holding homemade food

Collect things that make great gifts.  I like to cook and often give homemade pickles, seasoned nuts, and liquors as hostess gifts.  I collect vintage canning jars and ratchet bottles that I use to package  homemade gifts and for storage in my pantry (but don’t risk using them for hot water bath canning). Here’s an array of jars holding (from left to right) homemade maraschino cherries (I told you I like cocktails!), homemade brine-cured olives, homemade salt-cured olives, an empty vintage milk bottle awaiting homemade liquor, and homemade granola.

This is my granola recipe and I think it’s the best I’ve ever eaten, in part because I’ve customized it to include my favorite nuts.  It has a rich taste that comes from using maple syrup as the sweetener, olive oil as the oil, salt, and a little bit of mace (which is the outer coating of the nutmeg nut and has a taste that is similar to, but slightly sharper than, nutmeg).  The oats, coconut, and sliced almonds all have a similar texture, which is punctuated by the whole cashews.

I call it “Millionaire’s Granola” because it has so many expensive ingredients that if it were sold commercially only rich people could afford it.   However, by making it yourself and buying most of the expensive ingredients in bulk at Costco (which is where I get the slivered almonds, oats, and maple syrup) the cost is about the same as a moderately priced commercial granola.

Millionaire’s Granola

4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup coconut flakes (the wide thin ones, not the finer shredded ones)
1 cup raw whole cashews
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/3 cup olive oil
3/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  While the oven is preheating mix all dry ingredients together including the spices.  Add olive oil and mix very well to coat all dry ingredients; it takes quite a bit of mixing to get such a small amount of oil to coat such a large amount of dry ingredients.  Add maple syrup and again mix very well to coat.  (If you don’t already know this trick, use the same measuring cup for the oil and syrup, measuring the oil first.  The oil will coat the measuring cup and keep the syrup from sticking to it.  This technique works for any recipe using oil and a sticky substance such as maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, etc.)

Spread granola on a rimmed tray and bake for approximately 45 minutes to one hour, stirring 2 or 3 times, until the granola is golden brown and no longer feels sticky to the touch.  Let cool and store in a beautiful vintage jar.

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