11 May 2018




Despite 20th century trends towards a minimalist modernism, most people develop their own collections of stuff. But to be fair, modernism was probably a stress reaction to the Baroque. Each home is a tiny little museum that worships the sense of self (or for those living with somebody else… the interaction of competing value systems seen through object).

The last ten years have seen the wall unit expand into most homes. An open display unit, where pretty things are proudly displayed because they “complete” the room. As an undergrad, I quickly came to understand that those wall units needed to be filled with unpractical, decorative pieces. Otherwise I would pick something up, use it, and never put it back. I wonder if anyone else notices that display units look great in a home until you have a big exam, long hours at work, or … other things.

I’m prone to piles of stuff accumulating, and recently I’ve sat down, and started to go through my own collection. It's spring cleaning, and time for the ritual acquisition and deacquisition that most people do unconsciously in spring. It's like we wake up after our winter hibernation, look around, and say “this won’t do.”

Getting ahead of a messy, hectic collections is hard, but it is worth it in the resources saved and headaches prevented. Plan for them, and what we are going to collect going forward? There’s a deep gluttonous accumulation of things that I want, but shouldn’t have. One way is to look at space. If you don’t have room for it, you can’t have it. Next is to organize your collection into categories, and see where things overlap. If you have ten pairs of black pants, in the same fabric, you can let some of them go (maybe the ones with the holes) or stop buying black pants.

Personal collections are hard to manage because you use the stuff you collect, and you often don’t think of your belongings as museum quality. I would argue most museums include material culture that either had the audacity to survive a couple of thousand years, or someone in power decided that it was worth something. Personal collections are the beginnings of social collections. The material collection that survives will inform people of who we were. Those objects that you are hoarding can define us for people who will live in 2200. That thought makes you look at your memorabilia in a whole new light, doesn’t it?

Museums have the same problems as spring cleaners. They just have mandates, boards, and policies to help sort through the avalanche of stuff+stuff+more stuff that comes through the door, or in deciding what doesn’t come through the door, some of which might be eventually yours. If we treat our own collections like a museum collection then we can practice for when we have to apply routine structure in the museum field.

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