How to: Regain Order When Collections Turn Into Clutter

We're all in favor of displaying things we love, but we also know all to well how innocent little collections can morph into obsessions that threaten your sanity (see above). If you're there already, don't despair, we have a few tips to help you restore order and make your pared down collections proud...

• Step 1. The hardest part of any organizational project is deciding where to begin. To help you do this, take a picture of the wall, shelf, haphazard pile where your collection currently resides. This may seem a bit unnecessary for the impatient— me!— but it will help you take control of the situation if you're having trouble coming up with a plan of attack. Taking a picture is like taking a step back. At a close distance disorder can be a bit debilitating, but on paper or on your computer screen, as it were, it seems more manageable and gives you a better perspective.
• Step 2. Studying the picture, decide what area of the wall/shelf/display space your eye naturally gravitates towards — it will probably be the center of the wall or an area near prominent architectural detailing. Make a note of it on the picture, we'll come back to this step later.
• Step 3. Beginning with one collection at a time, select the piece that you love the most and that has the most visual appeal, and set it aside.
• Step 4. Ok, this is where the rubber meets the road. Get a big trash bag, an outbox for donations, and get down to business! Then, have no mercy. Anything that makes you ill, anything that you're holding onto out of guilt and not out of love, anything that is irreparably broken, ugly, or just not you— toss it! If you're having trouble relegating anything to the outbox or trash, compare the item in question to the item that you love most from the collection ( see step 3). Side notes: If it doesn't match up, pitch it. Make an effort to consider each and every piece in the collection. If you're dealing with multiple collections, assign an individual pile or surface to each one during the sorting process— the kitchen table for your records, the counter for your pez collectctions, etc. The point is not to just trnasfer the mess from one place to another, but to have a place that's out of the way while you're sorting.
• Step 5. When you feel you have sufficiently sorted, considered, and purged your collection, it's time to turn to the display area. Make sure the shelf or wall is completely clear of other clutter and reasonably cleaned — i.e. dust the shelf, patch the wall, remove cobwebs, etc. If you need to install any new shelves, now's the time to do it!
• Step 6. It's impossible to place a number limit on a collection, but once you have a manageable number of beloved items— and you may discover during the sorting process that you don't even like the collection as a whole anymore— you can start planning on how to arrange them. Starting with the original favorite item (see step 3), place that object in the prominent focal point (see step 2). If it's a picture-like item that requires a nail in the wall, you can use painters tape and make a template for the item on the wall rather than hanging the item itself.
• Step 7. Begin to place the rest of the items on the display surface in order of how much you like them — ideally these should be items that are visually appealing and have sentimental/personal weight.
• Step 8. Once you have finished displaying take a step back. If you see an item that still looks out of place, or that still bothers you, send it to outbox.
• Step 9. The final arrangement should seem balanced and appealing. When you've achieved it, take a picture and compare it to the before. If you are displaying multiple collections, make sure you give each one enough room to breathe. They shouldn't be competing for space, or you could end up with a look akin to the picture above...which for us is a bit to claustrophobic.
• Step 10. When you've found the right arrangement, nail in the picture hooks, step away form the shelf, and enjoy your clutter free collection!
(Image: Larie Frankel)