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In Defence of Stuff

bangles and elephant
My bangle display in the bedroom, complete with toy elephant from the charity shop

Among the bloggers I follow, it is a common occurence for people write about how they are clearing out of their stuff and are paring their wardrobe or belongings down to the essentials. And when I read this kind of stuff I am filled with admiration.

I love the idea of all this ‘simplify your life’ stuff. The 50 piece capsule wardrobe including everything. The tiny studio apartment in which everything has its place. The being able to fit everything you own into two suitcases, so you’re always ready for new adventures. It sounds amazing, it really does. The minimalist, sleek me is one of my favourite fantasies. A fantasy in which I can get ready in 10 minutes flat in the morning and still look perfect, in which I never have to do any dusting, because there is no stuff for dust to gather around. In which enjoyment comes from people and ideas and experiences, not things. It sounds magical.

Handmade stuffed cat Gloria a wedding present from Julia of Materialised

And I’m bought into it in many ways, here’s a lot of decluttering advice I wholeheartedly support and will give myself. I take things out of my wardrobe and house to donate all the time. I haven’t had a big clear out for a while, but I am pleased to report that I have got myself into a state of mind where I declutter as I go along, and I give a bag (not a bin bag, mind!) full of stuff to the charity shops maybe every couple of months. I am far beyond the stage of holding onto stuff that doesn’t fit, or that I would need to alter massively. Once something is gone, I mentally let go of it and never miss it. I am also very conscious about stuff I buy, and if something’s not quite right I will leave it for someone else, even if it’s in a charity shop and costs a pound. But I realise that this by no means adds up to a clutter free life.

Because, to be perfectly honest, I don’t want a pared down life at all. Not truly. The minimalist fantasy is just a fantasy. I’m happy to admit that I LOVE STUFF. Love it. The things I own that stand about in our house and look pretty, even if they serve no function, even if they increase the time it takes to clean exponentially, make me happy. They really do.

The big vase rescued from a storage cupboard in my parents’ house, small vase from the car boot sale, candle holder thing from the charity shop. Yellow bowl from an antique shop in Berlin, photo by Diana of Our.city.lights

Often while sitting about in our living room, I will zone out and look at a vase or whatever and think how nice it is, and how happy I am that we have created a home where we are surrounded by things we love (I should point out that Dave is much worse in his love of stuff than me. Compared to him I *am* minimalist). What makes me even happier is that a lot of this stuff is inherited, bought on holiday or rescued from a charity shop or car boot sale see the descriptions under the photos). It has meaning.

Same goes for my wardrobe. I own a lot of clothes. I fear saying 200 items might be an under estimation. My wardrobe is about as full as it can be without becoming completely unmanageable, even with the regular culling.

Janosch tiger duck a present from my mum, black glass candle holder a gift from Dave’s mum, Black bottle in the background used to contain Hendrick’s Gin

One of the things that often precedes decluttering advice is that we wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. And that is kind of true for me. I do have a small part of my wardrobe that is in constant circulation, my work wardrobe basically. A small number of neutral basics that I use like a capsule wardrobe: I wear them all the time, they all go with each other (it’s a black, white, purple, blue and red colour scheme), I add interest with accessories, and when stuff gets worn out I generally replace it with something very similar. I could function with just these clothes and it would be more efficient.

But that does not mean I want to get rid of the remaining 80%. I love the remaining 80%, and I think (hope!) you do too, because that’s what I wear in my outfit pictures. These items is what I wear when I want to dress up, when I express myself, when I feel interesting (in my view, interesting is a much better compliment than pretty). I can do a competent work capsule outfit, but I can do an amazing mix and match weekend outfit.

orla keily boxes
The boxes Orla Keily bed linen comes in, now containing maps and papers

I have a largish collection of mainly vintage dresses (33 of them, I just counted) that I will maybe wear 2 or 3 times a year only (I also have three dresses that are in the constant rotation). But they always get compliments when I wear them, and the fact that I don’t wear them all the time makes them special. And like the homewares, most of my clothes have a personal story attached too.

And so I keep them, and my other stuff. Because I love it and it makes me happy.

What do you think? Are you a minimalist or a collector? Obviously its all about finding the balance, but where does the balance lie for you?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jessie 21 November 2011, 8:21 am

    When I saw the title of this post in my reader, I mentally jumped up and down, pleased to hear your always-eloquent thoughts on this subject. I too am most definitely a collector with minimalist fantasies. I also get rid of stuff all the time, and the more I do it the easier it becomes. I have also been a collector all my life. Sometimes I will find something such as a sheet of stickers, unused and hoarded for the perfect moment, from my own childhood. So I give them to my daughters! But I agree with you entirely that it is just fine to be made happy by stuff, it is fine for the minimalism to remain just a fantasy.

  • SACRAMENTO 21 November 2011, 9:53 am

    I am afraid my husband is the collecter of everything that catches dust, ahhhhhhh
    I stick to clothes.
    Besos, Franca
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    • kathy law 4 December 2011, 4:41 pm

      you are so funny

  • Libby 21 November 2011, 12:30 pm

    I feel the exact same way: minimalism is really lovely to daydream about, but really I’m much more at home with oodles of pretty stuff, hee.

    Also, I love your bangle display!

  • Rebecca 21 November 2011, 5:06 pm

    That cat pillow is adorable.
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  • poet 21 November 2011, 6:49 pm

    Juchhu, eine Tigerente! Ich sammle auch alles Mögliche… neulich hab ich mal ein Spreadsheet mit allen Klamotten gemacht (ohne Strümpfe und Unterwäsche) und kam auf um die 250 Sachen. Ich brauche nur mehr Platz dafür… 🙂
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  • jesse.anne.o 21 November 2011, 7:45 pm

    I am the same way and it was good to see you write about it. I have a happy medium when it comes to “stuff” – I will let myself go over on kitchen stuff and clothing but I’m under in many other stuff categories so it prevents my apartment from being overwhelming.

    I agree re the 80/20 clothing thing. I don’t need to wear dresses or skirt suits daily but for when I have to, it’s good to have more than 1 so I’m not stuck if I have 3 business mtgs in one week. Same with party stuff. I can’t wear the same party dress to every wedding or holiday party. I wear them rarely but they go in rotation.
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  • Veshoevius 21 November 2011, 10:40 pm

    Franca, at the risk of sounding totally gooey – I love this post and I love you for writing it! I actually imagined you to be a pared down minimalist for some reason – maybe its all that ability to organise colour so well in your outfits you show on your blog that makes me think you are the dustfree, superorganised type. Anyway 200 – you go girl! I’m definitely in the chaotic, collectors realm with you. I very much agree with the 80/20 points. Like you my 20% is currently my work clothes and the other 80% the stuff I love because it’s beautiful, vintage or something I want to wear when I want to express something about myself and I don’t want to get rid of it no matter how little it gets worn. So here’s to stuff! And I like all your lovely colourful stuff on display here by the way!
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    • Franca 22 November 2011, 8:51 am

      How strange! Of course i don’t show my mess on the blog, but I’m quite surprised anyone would think I was super organised!

  • WendyB 21 November 2011, 11:42 pm

    A “collector” is a nice way of putting it. I sure collect lots and lots of things! I have a fine paperwork collection on my coffee table right now. Why won’t it file itself?
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    • Franca 22 November 2011, 8:48 am

      I’ll be a happy woman the day paperwork becomes a fun collection 😉

  • Emily McIntyre 22 November 2011, 12:10 am

    Great post, Franca. I tend to idealize minimalism as well, yet I’m also rather good at purging. I have been contemplating winnowing my wardrobe down to a few items and just putting everything else in boxes for a few months to see whether I miss them.
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  • Jacqueline 22 November 2011, 12:22 am

    I am a total minimialist, but it’s because I have moved around so much as an adult, my sister on the other hand, is a total collector and her house is filled with lots of cute interesting stuff like yours is! I have to say I am quite a fan of the cat. ^^

  • studio SWAG 22 November 2011, 12:59 am

    I think of my closet as a collection also! There are some pieces that I will never get rid of but may wear once a year. Although, I do enjoy the occasional cleanout. Great post! Glad I found your blog!

    xx Rach
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  • Style Eyes Ethical Fashion Blog 22 November 2011, 11:40 am

    I am definitely a collector. I have an extra walk in wardrobe in the study that Mr Style Eyes build especially for me to keep my special and vintage dresses because the main wardrobe was at bursting point. I also have stacks of shoes. I am thinking of starting up a vintage store to sell off some of my vintage find though as there comes a point when I just won’t have any more space.
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  • Kirsten 22 November 2011, 7:22 pm

    Clutter makes me nuts, but beautiful, meaningful, interesting objects, preferably with a story attached? I’m there. Thanks for writing this!

  • Ofelia 23 November 2011, 5:37 am

    I’m a collector that can also be a giver or like I like to put it a reckless giver; because I had gotten rid of so many clothes and accessories and now that my daughters are older I wish that I had kept some of those items.
    I keep most of the really love pieces, pass on some to my daughters and friends, send some to my cousins in Dominican Republic and donate to the Salvation Army the rest. The way I see it its just recycling because I go back to the Salvation Army to buy more the same week that I’m donating items.
    By the way love your blog and your colorful style,

  • Buttercup Rocks 23 November 2011, 9:55 pm

    I’m a lurker here but I adore your style and love that colour rocks your world as much as it does mine. I’m vehemently anti-minimalism in pretty much every aspect of my life! Because I’m a size 22 and don’t always have the luxury of finding exactly what I want when I’m craving a particular look or vibe, I tend to buy stuff as and when without much thought as to what I’ve got that might match or when I’m likely to wear it. Consequently, I take a very dim view of the received wisdom to ditch anything you haven’t worn for six months. That probably works fine if you’re a standard size and/or a lot wealthier than me – or maybe just given to buying things you don’t like all that much in the first place. Right now I’ve a bright yellow 1980s Benetton swagger-coat that’s enjoying its third revival since I bought it secondhand 20 years ago. Somewhere in the middle of that period it lay dormant in my wardrobe for a decade. But I knew it was there and that, eventually, its time would come (again).

    I actually blogged about something similar myself when I got to thinking about how my decorative clutter has served as my main means of creative expression during some of the clothing droughts I’ve lived through. (I couldn’t get a decent dress in my size in the UK for 12 years. For real); and also how said stuff has come to influence my sartorial style over time.
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  • MissMagpie 25 November 2011, 4:48 pm

    You post has cheered me up no end. I kept thinking ‘I could have written this!’.
    I live in a house full of ‘stuff’ and on the whole I LOVE it. I love having things around me that make me happy/smile or just lift my heart on a bad day. Every now and then I yearn to be like my best friend who is rigidly minimalist and even gives away things she loves so her surfaces aren’t cluttered! Every now and then I have a blitz and clear stuff out, it lasts a few weeks and then more things just…..arrive. My wardrobe is a sight to behold in a good and bad way, good because there is so much of it and bad because there is just SO much of it. Sometimes I’m genuinely ashamed at how many clothes I have and then I spy something glorious that I just have to buy and so it goes on.
    Oh, and yes, my other half is much, much worse than me too. I am in awe and dispair of his hoarding abilities

  • Kimberlee 25 November 2011, 6:43 pm

    I think it’s okay to have a lot of stuff as long as it’s organized and not overtaking your living space (i.e. hoarders!). I have a weird combo of hoarding (which runs in my family) and throwing stuff away (my mom’s reaction to her hoarding mother). I keep a lot of old magazines, have a large wardrobe but constantly clean it out, have a lot of products from blogging but try to give it away. I have a small studio apartment in Manhattan so I can’t keep too much 🙂
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  • Cynthia 25 November 2011, 11:25 pm

    I am one of the cleaners-out of the fashion blogosphere, but that does not mean that I’m minimalist. I like having lots of options, but my cleaning out and acquiring over the last year and change has been directed to having lots of really functional options instead of stuff I don’t really love that I have to weed through. Stuff is nice. I have tenure in my job and three pets. The likelihood of packing up and heading to Timbuktu on a whim is very small.

  • Sam 26 November 2011, 6:34 pm

    I found this post through Already Pretty, and I have to say I’m glad I did. I always feel like I should be cleaning out my house and living with less. Out of curiosity I’m probably going to count up my entire closet this afternoon. I really want to know how much I have, since I know I’ve done really well with cleaning things out in the past couple of years. This is a really refreshing take on minimalism or the lack of it in your life! Kudos!
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  • Jess 28 November 2011, 4:25 am

    I’m on the warpath to becoming a minimalist – it isn’t easy, since my instinct is to never give away anything ever because what if I need it later? (I rarely do.) But I’ve found, during the past year and a half in which I have been afflicted with the Raging Minimalist Crazies, that the less stuff I have, the better I concentrate. I’m not as distracted. Which is a good thing, because I was diagnosed with ADD at thirteen, and let me tell you, contrary to what one of my friends insists, it is a very real burden. So I take all the help I can get. Especially during finals week.

    Plus not having a ton of stuff really makes it easier moving into/out of/living in a dorm.

    But I think what you wrote is refreshing, and I agree with surrounding yourself with things you love, and things that mean something to you. I keep a couple of boxes with sentimental useless-but-can’t-bear-to-part-with items from my childhood. When I say I want to be a minimalist, I mean it, but I’m not an extreme one (though I’d love it if my life would allow that). I’m trying to own only things I truly need and/or love.
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  • alice 28 November 2011, 10:30 am

    I am quite the opposite! Hoarding runs in my family so I am very easily stressed by anything resembling clutter and am always looking for ways to downsize. It’s hard for me to have purely decorative items (aside from wall art); anything pretty really needs to be functional as well. And not redundant. I don’t believe everyone needs to be minimalist of course, and I love looking at knick knacks in my friends’ houses. But I know that I myself deal much better with blank spaces.

  • Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys 6 December 2011, 2:50 pm

    I wrote an article which made a similar point about the things we don’t wear all the time, but which are special and define the personality of our wardrobes. I love what you’ve written here. I try not to have too much stuff as I travel all the time and stuff is a nuisance to cart about, but I know I’m not a minimalist at heart. The day I settle down, I will instantly have more than my Day of the Dead cushion covers to my name!
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  • anne aka SpyGirl 29 December 2011, 10:46 pm

    I am a collector, hoarder, curator… Relate very much to what you’ve written. No to minimalism, yes to rococo.
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  • alanc230 20 April 2012, 8:51 pm

    Ah, minimalism in the home. What a wonderful dream. I’m quite sure I’m never going to achieve it – I, too, have lots of stuff I love – but I enjoy seeing pictures of other people’s minimalist living spaces. Everybody needs a good fantasy.