The Art of Recluttering and Finding Meaning in Functional Things

I recently wrote an essay for Apartment Therapy’s Recluttering campaign on recluttering my grandmother’s dishes (I’ll explain in a minute).

It’s an interesting topic, recluttering. Or at least one that I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, I hate clutter. Don’t even try to throw a junk drawer my way. I try to keep surfaces clear in my kitchen and living room. I can’t imagine having a nightstand or dryer with more than the necessities and perhaps one or two intentionally styled pieces. Yet, I’m certainly not a minimalist. I love gallery walls filled floor to ceiling. I always think the more books, the better. I’ll stack beautifully selected coffee table books on the floor for a collected look. I’m not anti-decor.

But I’m anti-meaningless decor, buying items just because you have a space til fill.

I suppose here’s the tie-in to Thanksgiving and the holidays, given my timing. We talk about decluttering, and so much of that is heavily weighted with family, stories, and history. My family and I recently spent time cleaning out my great aunt’s apartment, and, when something comes from the home of a loved one, you wonder what the story is — even when you have no way of finding it out. You assume they bought it with some intention in mind which immediately assigns it more value.

In the story I wrote for Apartment Therapy, I shared how I’d inherited my grandmother’s blue and white dishware when she passed away, and, for the first several years after college I used it — just like you should do. Pieces were broken along the way, then, eventually, it retreated to the crawlspace underneath my parents’ house, set aside in lieu of a minimalist focus with a streamlined set of newer Crate and Barrel dishes that went with the crisp, white aesthetic I was going for.

Years passed, and eventually I forgot about them, until I started thrifting items specifically for the cottage. Working with a blue and white theme, I was reminded of those dishes, and I asked my parents to pull them out, hoping that perhaps a few had survived years spent shoved between old Christmas tree decor and yard supplies.

Not all did, but I had enough to rebuild my collection, and I’ve spent the past few years acquiring pieces to re-complete my set, throwing minimalism to the wind and, instead, embracing recluttering and having things just because they’re pretty or meaningful. Using them and taking care of them feels like a way of honoring family and people that have come before. People who are no longer here live on not only in our memories, but in the physical possessions that remind us of them each time we use them.

While photographs and stories are wonderful, using a plate or lighting a candlestick that you can picture your loved one using sometimes seems more powerful. There’s meaning in the functional use of things. And that’s something to think about again and again, each time we use a family member’s items throughout the holiday season and, in a way, invite them still to join our table — that’s reason enough to reclutter rather than declutter.

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