Displaying a Collection: “Isn’t This Stuff Neat…?”

Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty,
I’ve got whozits and whatzits galore.
You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty!

Part of Your World” (lyrics: Howard Ashman/music: Alan Menken)

Remember The Little Mermaid with her treasure cave full of cast-off items from the human world?  It worked in an animated movie… not so great in your home.  Many of us love collecting on a small scale, but some of us go all out. There’s something about collected items – whether a few souvenirs from special moments or reminders of people and places – that give us comfort.

If you’ve got some collected items and you’re not sure how to display them, here are a few tips:

  • Consider color. A variety of same-color objects such as china or glassware can be grouped against a brightly-colored wall, for a fresh and clean presentation.
  • Books. Everyone has books.  If displayed properly, books can look and feel less like stuff and more like a collection of valuable objects… not to mention something nice to look at.  For maximum effect, organize books visually, by size or color, rather than by title or author.
  • Find the right spot. Think about your collection’s theme and place it in the proper room.  Got a collection of cookbooks, fruit crate labels or utensils?  Display them in the kitchen or dining room, obviously.  Typewriters or antique pens?  The office makes sense. Board games or toys can go in the family room or playroom.  (Speaking of board games, we’ve heard of people mounting all the boards on a wall, sort of like a funky all covering.  Use Velcro and the kids can still take the boards down to play!)
  • Let the display evolve. Nothing is forever and a collection is no exception. Once you’re happy with your collection’s display, keep in mind you’ll probably need to change it and that’s OK!  You may add new pieces to the collection, or you may just like to change-up your view. See this as an opportunity and not a chore… a welcome bit of time spent with your collection, instead of keeping it out of sight or “on the shelf” (literally!).
  • Keep it clean. Dust is a collection’s mortal enemy!  Cute little thimbles on a shelf or matchbook covers in a frame look far less special – and far less valuable – when they’re coated with dust or cobwebs.  A quick feather-dusting or swipe with an electrostatic cloth will do the trick.  You could also display items in a shadow box or under a bell jar, to give them an attractive context as well as protecting from dust and grime.
  • Anything is better than nothing! A collection that no one ever sees isn’t really a collection at all – it’s just a bunch of stuff!  Even if you’re the only one who ever sees your collection, give your special items the TLC they deserve and that will allow you to enjoy them.
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