Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Simple Living: A Story of Collecting

Hello dear readers!  I've been working on a series of great interest to me.  Simple living.  This is a topic that has gained momentum in the last few years.  A lot of people have been questioning their values.  Whether it's  a desire for the peace that simplicity brings, or due to economic necessity or change in life circumstances, more and more people are questioning their consumption.  I'd like to start this series by discussing collecting.  For a very sensitive post on this topic, please see Jessie's blog.

Jessie's post is a rigorous self-examination of her own love of collecting.  I loved reading it.  I totally get where she is coming from.  I am a person who loves objects, love hunting and collecting them, yet also like sparseness and simplicity.  I love beautiful things, but I don't want too many of them.  It's always a delicate balance. In addition, I am an organization freak.  Each piece has a place in my home.  The reason for this is my poor memory.  If something is out of place, I can't find it.  Plus, our tastes change over time.

I hate to admit I am a collector.  I remember reading Rachel Ashwell's book on Shabby Chic.  It struck a nerve with me.  First, I was doing shabby chic interiors long before she coined the phrase.  We took furniture off the curb and painted it out of necessity.  We were poor, but still wanted our place to be cute.  The other nerve it struck was when she challenged the notion of collecting.  She said she was skeptical of collections.  That pissed me off at the time.  But.  I have learned when you read something that strikes a nerve, you are meant to listen, but perhaps are not ready.  I pay attention when I have this type of reaction, because the lesson later surfaces.  I have since examined and re-examined the notion of collecting many times.  In fact, maintaining a balance of beautiful objects and a love of simplicity are a constant dilemma I enjoy resolving in my laboratory (aka my apartment).

I first caught the collecting bug when I was a child.  I never liked baby dolls - I had a baby brother!  Infinitely better.  I was so possessive and protective of him.  I thought he was mine.  My mom liked dolls and bought me beautiful ones (even life sized ones that scared the crap out of me).  For some reason, they were too perfect for me.  I preferred my large troll doll and my slinky pig.  I had a beautiful vintage baby stroller made of wicker.  One day my dad came home from work and saw me walking my babies in the stroller.  He popped his head into the stroller, saying, "Who do we have here?"  His face became one of astonishment and disapproval, a look I instantly recognized.  This was his default look whenever he interacted with me.  Who was in the stroller?  My troll and pig, of course.  My father shook his head and said, "I worry about this child.  She roots for the under dog."  My dad never addressed me directly when he was disappointed with me.  He preferred to talk like I wasn't there.

Image via Google Image Search

And he often spoke mysteriously.  Under dog.  Under dog.  What in the hell is an under dog? my young mind wondered. There was that stupid cartoon called under dog.  But I wasn't a fan.  There was also an under dog in those mysterious words they made us say every morning at school.  "One nation, under dog...."  But I had no idea what he was talking about, as usual.

Sorry, I digress.  The point is I never liked baby dolls.  But I did fall hard for Barbies.  When I was a young girl in the 70s, a teenage girl who seemed so worldly, gave me her collection of barbie dolls.  I had the best collection in the neighborhood, and was very popular!  The most gorgeous dolls you've ever seen.  Some from the 50s, 60s and 70s, the most gorgeous clothes, shoes, purses, hats.... So many I carried them around in a suitcase.  I also had campers, cars, etc., but no Ken dolls, I was never a fan of Ken. I preferred my brothers' GI Joes and Viking dolls for the boyfriends.  Much more macho.  I also started collecting Dawn dolls and Flatsies (do you remember those?).

I gave my collection of Barbies to my ex-husband's sister.  I thought that's the way it went:  my collection had been given to me, I added to it and passed it on.  I still regret this decision, but believe everything happens as it should.  I have yet to encounter a collection as beautiful as mine.  c'est la vie.

I started collecting rocks at an early age and still dearly love them.  I had an uncle who was my pen pal for years.  He would send me post cards from all over Europe.  I wish I had those post cards today!  I became fascinated with stamps.  Each one like a tiny painting.  In my teens, I collected vinyl. I still love album covers.  I lost everything (including my photo album) when I fled the home of my physically abusive husband in my early 20s.  I  had nothing, but it was so worth it!  Leaving him was one of the hardest - and best - things I have ever done.

For a long time I didn't collect anything.  Poverty always plagued me.  Though I worked like a slave, I never made much money. It was all I could do to drag my ass to work everyday. I began to see possessions as tying me to that horrible beast, corporate America. I loved the feeling of mobility, and craved freedom above possessions.  I could move on a whim.  Everything I owned fit neatly into my little car.  Sometimes I miss those days.  I guess the point of all this is that things come and go.  And we must be prepared to let them go without fear.

I next caught the collecting bug when I spied a beautiful bird house that looked like a church.  This is perhaps around the time I grew more interested in nesting.  (sorry for that dreadful pun)  What a beautiful piece of hand made art.  I was very specific with my bird house collection, they had to be white, simple, geometric.  I sold that whole collection and still miss it.  Oh well, there have been many times over the years where yard sales saved my life when I had no money.

Image via Velocity Art and Design, now sadly defunct, I believe

Currently I collect the following:

Costume jewelry.  Helps me to stretch my very few clothes and still be cute.

Image by Peggy

Rocks.  I still love them.  So fascinating that rocks from each geographic location have their very own character.  Friends and family bring me rocks from when they travel.  I haven't found a way to display them as yet.  That's a problem with collections, they need display. 

Promotional post cards.  This collection is easy to manage, it fits neatly in my file cabinet, and costs nothing.  I just grab them when I am attracted to them, wherever I see them.  Makes a great souvenir, and I am very attracted to the graphic art.  Again, display is a problem.  Sometimes I think about buying a card display or framing some of them.  But again, there's the issue of clutter.  I guess this is what you'd call a hoarded collection, see previous post about postcards here.

Image via Weekday Carnival

Vases and pottery.  This is my big weakness, as you know.  I adore ceramic, porcelain and glass vessels.  Mostly white - in matte finishes - but also love pink, blue, turquoise,.... etc.  Love simple shapes and the tactile nature of pottery.  I also have a weakness for lamps (which resemble pottery).

Textiles.  I've found as an artist I have to fight the tendency to become a pack rat.  I will keep things (organized, of course) intending to work on projects.  Over the years I've come to know myself and have accepted that there are somethings that are not going to happen.  For example, I'm not going to learn to sew.  I have enough on my plate.  If I did learn to sew it would become a huge obsession and I would soon be buried in pillows.  I gave my collection of fabrics that were sitting in a box forever - to someone who really loved them and used them!  Such a joy.  Things are not meant to be hoarded.  If you are not using something, pass it on to someone who will love it.  No sense having things in the closet that make you feel guilty.  This is also why I don't have exercise equipment in my apartment.  I know I will only use it to pile dirty clothes.

I satisfy my obsession for textiles with a few pillows, throws and scarves.  I like modern, but I also like cozy.  Especially in the colder months.  Pillows and scarves are very easy and cheap way to add color or change color on a whim.  Please don't spend a lot of money on them!  I find beautiful pillows for cheap all the time.  Go to TJ Maxx, Burlington, Big Lots, or even the dollar store is surprising at times.  I am finding that Target and Kmarts prices are not maintaining competitiveness.  In fact, the next time you make a Target run, challenge yourself.  Is this something that can be skipped?  When I leave Target empty handed, I feel almost noble and saintly, lol.  I've never been a Walmart shopper.

Urban Vinyl Toys.  This is another obsession of mine.  I adore them.  Each toy is a little piece of art.  See my previous post on why I love urban vinyl, here.  I guess this is also a hoarded collection, because it currently resides in a bin in my closet.  Again, the issue of clutter and display.  Sometimes I think of selling my collection on Ebay, but I'm not ready yet.  And I find selling on Ebay to be such a pain in the ass.  That's right, part of my desire for simplicity is laziness.  I admit it.

There are collections I've had in the past that I have whittled down to almost nothing.  I had thousands of magazines, books and CDs.  (I never collected VHS or DVDs.)  Now I have just a few of my favorite books and a few European design magazines, which I tend to like a lot more than the American ones.  My PC meets all of my media needs, I love Pandora and Netflix. It's  also helped me cut down on paper.  Nothing like a series of moves to help you cleanse and purge!  In my 20s I had probably 100 pairs of shoes, in every color.  Now I wear mostly black and have maybe 6 pairs.  I'm still a girl and enjoy girly things.  One  of the luxuries in my life is nail polish in funky colors.  I can find fab nail polish for $1.00 at the dollar store.  It's perfect for when I need a girly pick me up!

There's a few things I don't have that I don't miss.  I don't have a TV, but don't need it.  I don't have a microwave oven.  Again, don't miss it.  I don't have a smart phone.  I sort of want one, but feel a little overwhelmed.  I do not buy into the notion that we must be accountable 24/7 and at times feel the need to unplug.  I do thank the cosmos for the miracle of the Internet.  I enjoy the self-expression and the friendships with like minded people I've cultivated.  I don't have a car.  I do miss that.  It's not so easy getting around in an urban environment without a car.  Yes, there's the bus, but it's such an unenjoyable experience of  over-crowding, shoving and loudness, my sensitive soul cannot bear it.  When I was in college, I thought about majoring in Urban Planning.  I imagine that is a frustrating field right now. Our whole infrastructure is obsolete and completely reliant on the automobile.  Sorry, I digress again.  That's a whole other topic.

I've been working hard over the last few years to whittle down my hoard to a manageable level, and I think I could go even further. I love beautiful things, but when I look around and see too much, it creates discomfort for me.  I find that the simpler I live, the happier and more peaceful I am.  Gifts do not hold conditions.  If I give you gift, we share a beautiful moment together.  I do not place strings on gifts.  You don't have to display the gift, unless it is special to you.  I also tell friends to feel free to re-gift whenever appropriate.  Objects are meant to be dynamic, not hoarded.  Also, your entire collection does not need to be displayed at once. Have a designated shelf in your closet or a cupboard in your kitchen and keep a small collection.  Then rotate your collection.  It's so fun.  Sometimes you discover an object all over again - it can be as fun as shopping!  I love experimenting with vignettes.

Remember to take something out before you get something new.  Perhaps you have a space in your home where you need the perfect vase.  Trust that the vase will come to you.  Create a vacuum.  Prepare the space, make it empty and take something out.  Your new object will materialize like magic.  I donate a lot to the Goodwill.  This is the ultimate in recycling.  I get a lot of pretty things on the cheap from the Goodwill, so I love giving back.  Whenever I donate, sell or gift an item, I thank it for serving me and pray that it will go somewhere where it will be loved and bring joy.  I believe the Native Americans understood this. Objects were to remain dynamic, not stagnant.  Indeed, hoarding is fear.  Hoarding is a lack of trust in the universe to provide what you need.  The pejorative use of the  term "Indian giver" is actually incorrect. The Native Americans believed that if items no longer served, they should move to a place where they did serve.  Hoarding actually impeded the flow of energy.  Hoarding was a fear of lack, rather than faith that the universe would always provide exactly what we need.

When it comes to collecting, don't get caught up in perfectionism.  There's no reason to spend a lot of money on a beautiful object.  If I love an orphaned piece, I don't even mind if it's damaged.  In fact, I like the idea of giving an object a new life.  Sometimes paint will do that. It's so fun to see something new emerge from a pile of rubble and dust.  I don't like new furniture.  My 50s danish sofa was cheaper and built far better than anything on the market today.

Last year when I moved to this apartment, I described the freedom I achieved when I  let go of 20 years' worth of my journals.  A great burden had been lifted.  I closed a chapter in my life, and I felt lighter. When I reviewed the journals, I realized I was no longer that person.  Sometimes you have to get empty to get full.  I maintain that if something is sitting in storage, you don't need it. Like, I said, I am evaluating my toy collection.  I'm not perfect, lol.

Lastly, possessions are work.  They need dusting, arranging and storage.  That's why I adore electronic collections like my favorites on Etsy or Pinterest.  Electronic collections cost nothing, don't need dusting and they take up no space.  Now, if only my Internet were free....I wish I could get off the grid, but that's the subject of another post.

What about you dear readers, how do you feel about collecting?  Are you examining your consumption?  What are your tips for simple living?


Jennifer Peters said...

Great post Peg! I have a gift for you from my travels. Make a little space! :)

Peggy said...

Hi Jenn! You are one of my longest and most faithful readers! I could never tell you how much I appreciate your support.

A gift? How fabulous? What is it? :)

Jessie said...

Great post Peggy! I really enjoyed reading it. You had so many good points. I don't know if you remember the white ceramic bowl you gave me forever ago? But we now use it as a fruit bowl on our dining room table. I donated a chrome one that I had bought forever ago. I decided to use the one you gave me because it reminds me of you and we are putting it to use! It is so fun to collect, I'm struggling still. I would love to sell on Ebay but don't currently have the time. I'm even thinking about downsizing my smurfs!!! GASP! Haha. Ever since falling in love with the Tiny Homes, I realized I simply don't need so much stuff. Oh, and there is nothing wrong with cheering for the underdog!! ;)

Jennifer Peters said...

Just a little something-something. I actually gave it to Tawni last night to give to you. I brought it to dinner because I thought I might see you. Did I mention I missed you?

Peggy said...

Hi Jessie! Thanks so much for reading this novel! :) I know my thoughts are kind of all over the place these days. I hear ya about the Tiny Homes. I love 'em too and plan a post about them in the near future. Thanks for always being so supportive.

Peggy said...

Hi Jenn, thanks! I missed you too!


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