Is it possible to be a minimalist and an antique collector? Most tried-and-true minimalists would say no, absolutely not. On the other hand, I think there are ways the two mindsets can coexist. I’m mindful of the fact that antiques have their rightful place in a sustainable world. For example, what’s better for the environment and our health than existing antique furniture that has already off-gassed all its harmful VOCs?
Remember, minimalism at its core is a cry for sustainability in a reckless world. In effect, an aesthetically minimal home filled with five pieces of fast furniture from Ikea is no better (and perhaps worse) at sustainability than a home filled with 100 pieces of antique furniture.
It isn’t so much what is in our home but our intention that matters. Suppose we approach minimalism as a lifestyle and not just as an aesthetic. In that case, we can easily marry a minimalist mindset with a home that’s filled with antiques. The rest of this article explores ways you can do just that.
Collecting runs in my family, from my grandma’s eclectic cottage to my great-grandmother’s house condemned with clutter. Yes, my great-grandmother was a hoarder just like the ones you see on TV. After getting into the antique business, I’ve reflected more than once about whether or not I would suffer the same fate. I’ve heard the cautionary tales and warnings from my parents more than once as they saw my collections grow. I knew I was on a potentially dark path.
What could I do to prevent my collections from taking over? How could I get ahold of the clutter that had already taken over? To better myself and my surrounding environment, I consciously took on more minimalistic habits over the last several years. But at heart, I still have a full-fledged passion for antiques. I have introspected about why I collect (the reasons are varied), and I’ve explored how I can collect more thoughtfully going forward. Below are some ideas based on my experiences as an antique dealer and now as a mindful antique collector.
How to Be a Minimalist Collector
1. Become an antique dealer to support your passion.
I’ve had collecting tendencies long before I got into the antique business. Still, when I started working in an antique store, my tiny apartment was quickly overtaken with additional belongings. To support this habit without changing it, I opted to start my own antique business. Being an antique dealer allowed me to indulge in the hunt without feeling guilty. The income from the business sustained the habit and also provided me with a career. It wasn’t until I stepped away from retail and started writing full-time that I was forced to reevaluate my collecting.
2. Be intentional with your purchases.
Once I was writing full time, and my tiny house was completely full, I still had the itch to go antiquing and add to my collections. At this time, I really started to evaluate why I was purchasing things. I realized that I wasn’t just over-purchasing antiques. I had an excess of make-up, clothes, personal care products, kitchen utensils, you name it. Most of the time, I was buying things mindlessly without even realizing I already owned something similar. Before I pared down my antique collections, I tackled a more straightforward category like hair care products first. I found one version I liked, and I intentionally committed to that product until it was completely empty. No more impulse buying. Becoming more minimal in this area of my life eventually helped me evaluate my more sentimental collections. This leads me to my next point.
3. Assess whether you are using retail as therapy.
It’s easy to justify antique collections that bring us joy. It’s much more difficult to explain why I might have four different face moisturizers at any given time. I realized, though, that sometimes the impulse to purchase felt the same. Sometimes, I added an antique to my home for honorable reasons, like saving an old stool from a landfill. Other times, I added to my house to bring me an emotional high that I lacked elsewhere.
Because I wasn’t coping with emotional stressors in other areas of my life, my brain was instead distracting itself with stuff. I realize this psychological defense is more in line with hoarding. I had to take an honest look at my habits and decide that I needed help. Not everyone who collects falls into this category. Still, it’s important to figure out if there is an underlying problem that is worth exploring further. Once I untangled some mental knots in my head, the impulse to own lightened. I was able to add to my collections from a passionate place instead of an emotionally empty one.
4. Sample a hobby before going all in.
Once I cleared out the mental clutter, I approached hobbies in a brand new way. Before, I was creative yet fickle. Once I got interested in a hobby, I would go to the craft store and purchase tons of supplies before knowing if the pursuit would stick. By the time I was 18, I had scrapbooking supplies, fine art supplies, potters clay, a keyboard, and as many Bob Marley posters as I could fit on my walls. I carried this tendency and all these things with me throughout my twenties. Eventually, I realized how heavy and not at all creative this felt. It’s better to wait to see if something sticks before you invest a great deal into it. Eventually, I sold off the unused supplies and made a conscious decision to borrow and not buy if I want to try out a new hobby.
5. Get rid of things you no longer use or enjoy.
The major crutch for most collectors is “what if I need it someday” or “what if someday it’s worth more money.” I don’t cling to these phrases anymore, and instead, I do a regular inventory. But inventorying is a process. When I had my store, I spread out this task over a couple of weeks so I didn’t burn out, and I do the same thing with my home.
I tackle small corners of my house when I have the mental energy to get rid of stuff. I see what sparks joy, but I don’t follow too many rigid rules on how to declutter. Instead, I either sell or give away items that no longer serve a functional or aesthetic purpose. And when I mean aesthetic, I mean an aesthetic that feels light and not weighed down. I love having my collections displayed on wall shelving or display cases and not on countertops or other surfaces.
6. Support a sharing or second-hand economy.
If you have collecting tendencies, one way to support that habit without burdening yourself and the environment is to invest in the second-hand economy. See if there is a Buy Nothing group in your area and track down all the local antique and thrift stores. Then, if you add something into your home that doesn’t work out in the long run, you’ll feel less guilty passing that item back into the second-hand marketplace.
7. Sit with your desire for novelty without acting on it.
People like novelty. Even as a kid, I would rearrange my room every once in a while just to feel that uplifting energy when things are new to the eye. As we get older, it’s possible our inclination for newness fades, and we welcome more familiar things. I have noticed that shift within myself. It’s hard to say if it is because of all this work I’ve been doing to become minimal or if it’s the wisdom that comes after several decades of shifting trends. I love timeless elegance, and I’m tired of trends. However, I still get the urge for novelty sometimes, and I know to let it pass.
Now, if I want to change the energy in my home, I try to think of ways to do it within what I already have instead of adding in new decor. If I find something additional that fits into a collection, I make sure I have room first. In addition, I consider selling off something else so that my overall footprint of items remains stable. I don’t need exponential growth of stuff within my home. The more room I make in my house, the more space I have for growth within myself.
Right now, I have the best of both worlds, and it’s a work in progress. I feel the peace that comes from a minimalist mindset, and I still have the passion of being an antique collector.