Recently, I reminisced about a photography class I took in college. It required a manual SLR camera, endless rolls of film, stacks of pricey silver halide photo paper and long nights in the darkroom. I loved every minute of it.
As a final project, we had to create an installation by selecting 10 - 15 pieces from the total of our semester’s work. We completed numerous series with landscapes, people, still life, movement, daytime, nighttime and more - there were so many directions one could take. I found it difficult to find a balance between what best represented me and the best pieces of my work. I changed my portfolio about twenty times before I finally found the set of photos that told the story I wanted to tell.
Then I thought about the work of museum curators. Museums have carefully curated collections of art. Within any specific genre or medium, there are numerous pieces that can be acquired and added to the mix. However, space and money often dictate what can be included. So, museum curators plan and research to make sure their collections fit the depth and/or breadth of the story they are trying to convey within the limitations of their venue and budgets. They purposefully collect things.
Then I had a little epiphany, “Why don’t I do that with my stuff?!"
Careful planning and research are reserved for big ticket items, you know - the ones that cost larger sums of money. But for the everyday, do I invest the time and effort needed to maximize my space and money?
Cute shirts on sale - check. Random one-use kitchen utensils - check. Five dollar coffee concoctions - check. Impulse purchases make it difficult to see the best pieces of our collection, to stay true to the theme of our story. They also make it harder to invest in the pieces that could better define or complete our collections.
Our belongings do not define who we are, but they are a reflection of our lives. Therefore, I am speaking to the entirety of our possessions, not just one’s singular obsession with a particular set of objects (like say, antique cars). If all of our stuff was on display in an actual museum, what would the docent say? Granted someone can always tell a story from our possessions, but is it a story that we would want told?
The good news is that we get to decide what goes into our exhibition. Each purchase we make either enhances or distracts from the beauty of our collection. As the principal curator of our stuff, we must edit and procure items as our money, time, and space allows. This process requires us to acquire things on purpose, not absent-mindedly. It may or may not require a hiatus on spending, but it most likely includes decluttering.
Whether we like it or not, our stuff is already on display. We live it in every day. We pay rent or mortgages to house our collections. Some of us work hard just to maintain our collections. The question remains: when it comes to our stuff, are we curating or merely collecting?