Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Home, Sweet Home - Collecting versus De-cluttering

Hello Friends,

I'm joining Wen at AppleApricot for Simply Neutrals Tuesday.  

Wen is decluttering her life, and enjoying the process. She's asked for other's thoughts on decluttering, and it's a topic I've been reflecting on lately, too... I debated whether private musings are safe to put online - but people write books about their lives and thoughts, so I'm going to risk it. How else do we create real connections on the Internet? So here's my honest musings on clutter and decluttering, because I know many people struggle with this issue... so get yourself a cuppa - it's a meandering story!

My partner calls me "Queen of Clutter' and 'Clutterbug'. I've always collected stuff - such as birds' nests, leaves, stones, shells, dead butterflies, second-hand books, old furniture to do up, vintage baby clothes, lace and tins. 

Lace Age Girl

My craft room is turning into a display place more than a work room! I have to clear some space when I want to make something. I love to see each piece of lace, each old book cover, each little piece of inspiration, and things I've made all around me. 

Lace Age Girl

Sometimes I feel guilty for 'hoarding stuff', especially when I read articles about Marie Kondo and her decluttering methods. But I never feel at home in empty, personality-free display houses with empty space and echoes of pristine neatness.

Recently I stumbled on an interesting article on de-cluttering by Valerie Peterson, and I found myself ruminating on it for days afterwards. She talked about why we accumulate clutter. Valerie quotes Randy Frost, a Psychology Professor and co-author of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things... 

People hold on to objects for three basic reasons:

Sentiment: The item reminds them of a person, place or happy time or was a gift from someone they care about. For some people, throwing out something associated with a memory feels like erasing a piece of their life.
Utility: The tendency to keep what “might come in handy someday” comes from fear of waste. Each person’s idea of waste is different and can be complicated by a number of psychological factors.
Aesthetics: People who can organise objects and information may become collectors or artists – but accumulating things we think are “beautiful” without that accompanying organisational ability or desire can merely create clutter.
Taken from  

I am caught on all three of these reasons!!! Reflecting on why, I realised that I have another reason: it's the sense of 'home' that I have attached to my stuff. 'Home' to me is feeling peaceful, fulfilled and living in a sense of order. (Yes, my clutter is very ordered!) 'Home' for me is emotional fulfillment. 

I like to surround myself with beauty and memories of love as a buffer against the stress of negative emotions. My childhood wasn't easy, moving to over 20 schools in new places, never having lasting friendships, living on isolated farms. A couple of traumatic events in later life, including going through a severe bushfire have left their impact.

When I left home at 16 (while still finishing school - my parents moved on again!), I took my single bed and my chest of drawers with me. It made me feel at home to have these childhood 'friends' as I began to rent a room, study, work and then gradually buy my own furniture and decor. Almost everything I owned was second-hand (still is!). The worn, aged patina of something well-made always appealed to me over the plain, cheapness of mass-produced stuff. I couldn't afford new things that were fine quality, so I re-covered, repainted, remodeled, or just enjoyed the patina as it was. 

Living alone for so many years while waiting and hoping to meet a partner to start my own family, moving from place to place at least every six months, meant no stable home for me. So I had to create that sense of home in other ways.

My sense of 'nesting' led me to learn various crafts to help furnish my home. I taught myself to make things like cloth dolls, smocked baby dresses and teddy bears in the hope that my future would hold children and motherhood. (Which it did, many years later, thankfully). I've carried my bags of baby clothes with me since I was 16, starting with my own precious ones given to me by my Mum, hand knitted by my Great Aunty Bid, who never had the opportunity to have a baby of her own.

As I moved from rented group (shared) houses to flats and bedsitters over 15 years of being single, I'd unpack my stuff, set it up around me to create my 'home space'. Being alone, without family nearby, I invested a sense of emotional security and homeliness in my stuff. I enjoyed how I could set my things up creatively and change them around yet still I'd feel a sense of home. Unlike much of life, my stuff was within my control. Gradually I developed a sense of style that brought me much happiness - the joy of rearranging, of presenting it to tell its story... just playing.

My family on both sides have a history of being hoarders of one kind or another, and the few possessions that have been saved and passed down the generations to me are solid memories of the people who have gone before me in my family tree. I cherish my Nana's Singer treadle sewing machine with the drawers still full of her things - like the huge needle she used to sew up bales of wool in the shearing shed on their sheep farm. I have half of my paternal grandmother's tea cups of fine bone china (my sister has the other half), her old postcard collection (shared between me and my sister), diaries, family bibles, photographs and mementos going back several generations. Since I was the one grandchild who showed interest in the family tree, I became the Keeper of a cupboard full of old photos, ephemera, and memories.

Lace Age Girl

I think I missed my calling in life - I should have been a museum curator! I especially love vintage things with a sense of history and story. I enjoy volunteering at our local museum, displaying and photographing vintage items and atmospheres. 

I've always loved to ask my parents and grandparents about the 'olden days' of their childhoods. Old things always fascinated me - their character, their worn sense of story. Somehow there seemed to be some sense of connection for me to the past, or an understanding that perhaps there was more social connection in the past - because there had to be, for survival. 

Lace Age Girl

My mum learned to be extremely frugal. Her early childhood was lived in the shadow of the Great Depression of the 1930's - things were still difficult in Australia in the 1940's.  Having lived in a slab hut with six brothers and a sister who shared a double bed, she knew about surviving on very little. Luckily hers was a family of great love and resourcefulness. 

The hut had a bare dirt floor, and a huge open fireplace which was limed to make it look white. Mum told us stories about how she and her brothers and sister would lie in the bed together, throwing their shoes at the rats whose feet they could see running across the hessian bag ceiling lining. The children only had a few simple toys, mostly home-made, and all of them had to help out - fetching water from the creek, 
weeding the vegetable garden, carrying the dead rabbits my Grandad trapped so he could sell their skins, pegging them out on the makeshift clothesline. They ate rabbit stew, and trout that my Grandad caught.

Rabbit skins drying 1940's

Grandad Robinson

This is Mum's old 
1940's family home 'Glen Abbey' from different angles, photos taken in the 70's and earlier, after Mum's family moved out. It has since fallen down...

Hobby's Yards

Hobby's Yards

Mum brought her own childhood frugal experience into our family. She was a talented seamstress, and made many of our childhood clothes. She recycled my dad's old trousers into overalls for her four kids - good sturdy country play clothes, and she knitted and crocheted in any spare time she had. We rarely threw anything out, as there was usually another child who could use it, or there might I too learned to keep things for repurposing, or until someone needs them.

There wasn't much spare money, but we had what we needed and never went hungry growing up. Dad's vegetable garden supplied the pantry (wherever we moved, he would start another!) There was the time when my father served us beetroot (from his garden) sandwiches with brown sugar and cream ( from the cow), because Mum was away having another baby...and his famous 'critters' - deep fried leftovers in flour, which he could never replicate!

My father collected rocks wherever we went, labeling them carefully with initials of where he found them. He knew what kind of rocks they were and what was special about them. We moved house over 20 times in my childhood, and his rock collection always came with us. 

'Functional' is the way I'd describe the furniture of my childhood. There was no extra money to replace things that were still serving well, no matter how ugly. The same fake leather lounge suite that we all sweated on in Summer came with us on the trailer to each house we moved to, along with the shiny laminated fake wood buffet cabinet, the matching kitchen table and chairs, our double bunks and beds that served us year after year, with the same matching bedspreads.

It wasn't until her later years that my Mum could afford her own personal collections - porcelain dolls, craft supplies and pretty china were her favourites.

Once I became independent, it was a pleasure to choose my own style, even if it was second-hand. By the time I met my partner I had enough furniture to begin to set up our house. In my mothering years, being early at garage sales and checking charity shops regularly meant I could get plenty of great toys, books and clothes for my young children (they're too fussy now!), and the odd ornament or what-not to re-purpose, all on a small budget. 

It's especially hard for me to part with things that cost my time, talent and effort, particularly those things I made in the small spaces of 'me time' while my children were occupied nearby, or asleep. This became apparent to me in my panic when police ordered us to evacuate during the Canberra Bushfire of 2003. I had to quickly decide what to save - limited to what I could fit in the car with two young children in child restraints. 

That traumatic event is a tale too long for this post, but after fearing for our lives and our home, we were lucky that Terry stayed to defend our home from spot fires while I evacuated with our boys, one a baby aged 10 months and the other a frightened five year old clinging to my leg. Luckily our home was spared, but six houses were burned down in our street. I found out later that the explosions I heard were actually the ducted gas heating systems exploding into flame, and not the water-bombing helicopter saving houses as I had thought! We had the same gas heating system, but luckily Terry put out the spot fires that started in our yard before they got to the gas pipes.

A very understanding and helpful counselor remarked that it is common for people who have been through difficult and traumatic experiences, especially over years in childhood, to try to regain a sense of control in their lives by controlling their environment. My artistic need to creatively display my memorabilia is invested with emotional tags of 'Wow, I'm proud that I made this myself!', or 'made with love by a family member', 'a special gift', 'a memory of a family member', 'a piece of nature's beauty to soothe my spirit', or 'something beautiful to be appreciated'. As an example, the shoe pincushion below was a gift from my Mum.

Shoe pincushion by Lace Age Girl

Collecting gives me so much joy, and my possessions make me feel 'at home' in my space. There's always a great book to read or lend out, or something to make, paint, fix, or re-purpose creatively - I am never bored!

This quote sums up my attitude to my 'clutter':

'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.'
                             William Morris 

Well, there's my problem - I see beauty everywhere! I cherish stories and memories, and maybe I'm just not yet in that spiritual place 
that some people grow into, to be able to let go of 'stuff' ... maybe when I'm older?In the mean time, I do so LOVE treasure-hunting, with all its potential fun creating or re-purposing something! 

I'm joining Wen over at her blog for...

Have a happy day,


  1. Oh my Jesse, I enjoyed your 'honest musings' and 'meandering story' So Very Much! I will come back and read it again. It was great and you are a wonderful story teller. <3
    I can concur with Marie (I've read her book 2 or 3 times) but I can also
    concur with those that happily desire to be surrounded by, shall we say, So Much Stuff! : ) I'm guessing I'm some where in the middle there. But happiness can mean a lot of things, so . . .
    let me just conclude with a big 'thank you' for sharing your heart! I appreciate you and your blog and your lovely treasures. Hugs to you, karen o

    1. Thank you Karen! I 'm so glad! You've brought a tear to my eye to be validated in such a way. Thank YOU!
      Love and hugs,
      Jesse XX

  2. Oh Jesse,
    Such a long and touching story of some of your life.
    The hard life your mother lived as a child, and your own moving around, not finding peace and home, anywhere- until your grown up life.
    I have no such story to tell, of so much hardship , Jesse, and I feel with you, and your family for going through years of difficulty. and also the terrible bush fire, you experienced . But all the same we have something in common , the beauty of clutter, the feeling of home, from all we collects , and did over the years , the feeling of belonging in just all that. One of my dear friends, experienced only 3 days ago, that her home burned down to the ground....nothing saved not anything !!! A tragic and terrible thing for her and her husband. She had a wonderful clottered home, like you , and I , I can`t imagine how she carry on, with loosing it all.
    Thank you for your story, dear friend.-
    Hugs Dorthe

    1. Oh, Dorthe, more tears! You are so right about the feeling of belonging. Another essential ingredient to happiness, and a reason some people like their 'clutter'. Your poor friend, I really feel for her. I would feel like I had lost a part of my very self if a fire were to take my stuff. Your friend will need lots of emotional support. Often the emotions don't get processed for many years - that's what happened to me. I was so busy getting on with life, mothering and working that it wasn't until about 2 years ago when it all erupted for me again. I always knew I carried the scars, but hadn't really talked and thought it all through. I hope your friends were insured, at least they would get some money to start again. What a tough time for them.
      Thank you for your uplifting comments, my friend.
      Love and hugs,
      Jesse XXX

  3. What a wonderful post and I love to read your story and I just can say: You do the exact right thing Jesse! Collect what is worth to be collected!

    1. Thank you so much, Susi. I'm glad you enjoyed my musings. I like to write -it's like talking - a way to process the events of our lives.
      Hope your week is happy,
      Jesse Thank you, Linda, that's very kind of you. I'm looking forward to seeing what you will share with us on Simply Neutrals Tuesdays.
      Jesse XX

  4. here from Simply Neutrals. What a touching and thoughtful post- and full of memories and love. Love the vintage laces, and your photos- precious memories to treasure.

    1. Thank you, Linda, that's very kind of you. I'm looking forward to seeing what you will share with us on Simply Neutrals Tuesdays.
      Jesse XX

  5. WOW Jesse, my little Clutter Queen, that was a long and moving story about your years of growing up, moving home, teaming up with your hubby, raising children, escaping the Canberra fires and all the items, memories that you have gathered up and along the way adding to your collections which identify you as you.
    Everyone is on a different journey and whether peoples collections are large or small are totally relevant to them.
    I personally gave up so much when we moved into town from our beautiful garden property but I am quite at peace with that as I have so many precious smaller items gathered and gifted surrounding me especially in my studio which bring me so much joy and happiness as well as connections to dear friends and memories from where they came. These are where we feel we belong and and where we are at home!
    The main thing is that we can love and appreciate our clutter today knowing and realizing that in an instant it could all go.
    I feel blessed with my clutter but am learning daily that letting it go is an even greater blessing!
    Thank you for sharing these personal musings with us!
    Big hugs and love,

    1. Wise words, Suzy. What an interesting topic this is, and it's so good to hear everyone's wisdom and experiences, including yours. Thank you! I think belongingness is an important theme in our 'clutter'. Clutter is such a negative index word, it makes us feel guilty if we enjoy our stuff, whatever it is!
      Sending you a big hug,
      Jesse XX
      Much love,
      Jesse XX

  6. Oh sweetie, this is such a beautiful, touching and heartwarming story about you and your dear family! I have to come back many times more to reread it again and again, because I could not take in everything at once now. Thank you so much for sharing your honesty, your personal story, your reflective thoughts and your challenges with us, I really appreciate it and think it is so brave to do so! You have gone through so much heartache that I totally understand what you share here with us.
    Now please let me share with you some first thoughts about what you say here. First and foremost: no one should ever feel obliged to "declutter". What I see you sharing here are treasures, not clutter. Things with personal meaning and story of your loved ones. I very much applaud you for treating them with respect and love. Please never let anyone tell you that you should get rid of them!
    What I am talking about in my own story does not deal with these precious treasures. I am only talking about the clutter of things unnecessary, things that come from the fast-stuff industry (like fast food but then with stuff). Things that shout to us from the shops and tv/computer screens that they will make us happy, only to break and be worthless after a very short time. A whole lot of us drown ourselves in a huge piles of these things. But what you are talking about is from before the fast-stuff time. It's the things that were made with good care, meant to last a lifetime or even a lot longer. I so long to go back to that mindset! And that's why I "declutter" the shit that I bought out of easiness, laziness, emotional buying (like emotional eating), or longing to the happiness they said was attached to these products. It's the stuff that is being pushed upon us by the fierce advertising industry. I fell in their trap way too many times. And I no longer want to, nor do I want to hold on to that crap.
    A second remark I would like to add about your story is about the KonMari method. I used that method in my second round of decluttering and will share my story about that next week in part two of my series. But here are two things that I would like to share with you at this moment: 1) Marie Kondo doesn't encourage us to live in a house that is that impersonal and pristine house you are talking about. She might live in a house like that herself may be, but the tidying method she is teaching has nothing to do with that. That sounds more like the so called minimalism lifestyle. What Marie does encourage is to only keep what you really love (and that is a very personal thing and can me three things or a thousand) plus the things you really need. 2) What really helped me in her method is that she encourages tidying up by category. This really helped me seeing how much stuff I had in these categories, and also seeing how much of it was of no use to me, nor was it something that had any worth to me (non like the treasures you are talking about here in your post!). I find that since I decluttered so thoroughly the crap I was talking about, there is actually more room now for the treasures and heritage keepsakes that I do wish to hold on to, because they are so dear to me. Only mine fit in a couple of boxes. I do not own much of these and never did.
    Sweetie, thank you again so much for sharing your story and thoughts, it means so much to me! I will come back many times more to read it and probably also to share my thoughts on it.
    For now, big hugs and love, take care, and wishing you a beautiful, peaceful, and love filled weekend.
    xx Wen

    1. Dear Wen, I didn't hit Reply on the blog, so just in case you missed this reply I'll fix it now!!!

      I'm glad you liked my family story and musings. Thanks for your wonderfully thoughtful comments and ideas. I guess I really do feel a bit guilty collecting too much though! I really find it hard to part with things, and I do fall into the trap of buying things because of their future potential to make something with, or just to enjoy - like lace for example. I have so much, and there's only so much room for displaying it properly! But I find it hard to walk away from a bargain, or an especially beautiful piece. My kids laugh at my lace obsession and think I am strange for collecting it and displaying it. There is something about treasure-hunting that feeds my soul emotionally, and I find myself wondering where do you draw the line between enjoying stuff, laughing at myself, and worrying that maybe I have too much stuff already and I'd better do something else! I recently read "Never Stop to Think... Do I have a Place For This?" by Mary Randolph Carter - it's about collectors of junk who love it unashamedly. Much of the stuff collected is not to my taste, but what a fun book to browse and read. I would love to be able to justify my collecting and make it pay in some way. Mary's chapter is called "Once Upon a Time There was a Girl Who Loved Too Many Things" Ha Ha, that's me, too! She has produced several books on collecting junk - I'd love to do something like that to legitimise my collecting!!!! Any way, I am trying very hard to prune and pass on some things so my displays will look better and I will have clear space to work in!
      Sending love and thanks, this topic is a challenge but enjoyable too.
      Hugs, Jesse XX


Thank you so much for your friendly comments. It makes my day to hear from you about my artworks and topics.