Thoughtful Thursday: Knickknacks

May 19, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayI’m out of town right now, and have stayed in two houses with two very different styles of decor. They both share a common attribute, though: knickknacks everywhere. Everywhere. I was always aware of them, but having two curious toddlers makes me notice each of the hundreds (yes, literally hundreds, in both houses) of items in a new way.

One house has reasonably nice items, most of them not things I would choose, but high quality and mostly tasteful. Far too many of them, but nice enough, and fairly cohesive. A high percentage of ceramic and glass, and therefore asking for trouble with Burrito and Tamale’s grabby hands. For the record, in 5 days in that house, Burrito and Tamale did not break a single thing, but the adults who moved some of the items out of harm’s way broke two (one quite valuable).

The other house has horrific items, not a single thing I would let into my house. Most of them were purchased at garage sales; whatever she paid for each one ($5? $1? 50 cents?), it was too much. Not as many breakable items as the other house, but dodgy in different ways: potential for pokes and cuts, suspicious lead content, musty, etc. Individually, most are tacky. Collectively, it is a hot mess. Nothing goes with anything else: different styles, different subjects, different materials, different everything. Why is that Eskimo statue next to a painting of a Geisha? Why is the velvet painting of a Mexican bandito next to a faux Tiffany lamp? Who would put Quetzacoatl in front of wallpaper depicting turn-of-the-century Paris? Does anything go with life-sized busts of the Three Stooges?

Both of these people have come to my house and declared the decor to be too sparse. I have plenty of art on the walls (mostly fine art photography or family photos, plus a few watercolors and one pen and ink drawing), and no shortage of stuff tucked away, but very, very few knickknacks. I used to have more — nothing like either of these houses, but a couple dozen — but they were almost all banished years ago, primarily because it was too hard to keep them dusted properly! Having moved several times, it also makes you question the utility of each item when you have to wrap each one carefully in newsprint, keep track of what is in each box, unwrap each one, and find a new place to put them all. I now really enjoy my minimalist, tasteful decor, and it allows a proper focus on the few special pieces that are displayed (like a certain statue I bought in Spain, or a statue that DH’s late grandfather carved). Added bonus: Fewer things for toddlers to break.

How many knickknacks do you have displayed? Are you happy with that?

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19 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Knickknacks”

  1. celia Says:

    I used to have a lot, but I cut back and back and BACK. But MY HUSBAND. Holy Bananas! He has cut back, but even cut back there is a ton of crap. And he never dusts it, ever and I refuse to. So his whole office is covered in a thick layer of dust. We also have a lot of art. Oils, pastels, pictures, illustrations, even some tile mosaic. The older our son gets, the less stuff we have out.

  2. celia Says:

    Peter broke this horrifically ugly bald eagle statue at my parents. They have big love for Native American art. Ugh, horrible sad eyed children and skins on the walls and coyote pictures and tomahawks. UGH. Do not even ask ( ok, ask) about the guest room filled with clown pictures. I love them, but they are forever giving me horrid NONRETURNABLE arts and crafts stuff. I hide it in the basement. Most recently we got this rock that is a candle holder. BASEMENT.

  3. a Says:

    My aunt painted and made a variety of ceramic bowls and sculptures. I have quite a few or her paintings and bowls. My BIL is a photographer. We have lots of art on the walls, but very few knickknacks. I had to dust all of my mom’s crap when I was young, so I hate having stuff laying around. We don’t have a lot – but it’s still too much. None of it is reachable by toddlers, though, without lots of effort.

  4. Elana Kahn Says:

    I have a fair amount of knicknacks, but they’re all out of reach of the kids – either behind glass or high up on shelves. I don’t collect them, and I just display what I have room for. My mom likes to give me these kinds of things, but I don’t really have a feeling one way or the other. They’re nice, but I could live without them.

  5. Elana Kahn Says:

    P.S. Do you realize you missed Thoughtful Thursday last week??? 🙂

  6. BB Says:

    There was a time when I used to love collecting “souvenirs”… then I ran out of space to display it. Then I dreamt of having kids and those knicknacks were not very (baby to be) child friendly, so I stopped collecting it for good. So, whatever I have now is all boxed up, hopefully it will come out when the kids grow up and I have more room to display! 🙂

  7. BB Says:

    BTW, did you wrap up the tax drama… or did I just miss it?

  8. St. Elsewhere Says:

    I grew up in a house that had too many things stuffed into too little space. At my in-laws’ place, they are overflowing with show-pieces (cohesive? No. But we can have our own Ganesha exhibition, if we ever wanted to).

    I have chosen to keep very limited items. As far as show pieces are concerned, I have one terracotta woman holding a basket, which is perfect for holding cell-phones or dropping keys into.

    The main spot where we keep the knickknacks is space below our TV, and there we have pics of both of us, three crows, a small joker, and some small ‘children’. And a tiny plastic car. Do they gel together? Not really. But they hold a lot of meaning for me, and there is no overflow of items. I have covered one window with a pair of Rajasthani male-female puppets and decorative strings with bells.

    But I am very cruel in terms of keeping stuff on display, and won’t buy anything for a showpiece till I am too set about it, and have given away things. (e.g. a frame of Ganesha! They should ban him as a gift item.)

    A wind chime we had, got ruined when we changed homes, and I haven’t bought anything to replace it (and that is the only thing I want to purchase in terms of decorative items, right now.)


  9. We have some knickknacks, but not a lot, and there are only about four or five items displayed right now, but they might get packed up soon as well, as our son finds it really interesting to touch them and we don’t want these to break. I think we are getting rid of more and more clutter every day, but there’s still way too much stuff hidden in boxes, cupboards and basements that should actually just go.

  10. Gil Says:

    A BOATLOAD of knick-knacks in my house. I have a cat collection, ranging from crystal to pewter to a mug with a photo of my 18-year old kitty on it, behind a glass-enclosed display case. And my mish mash of travel knick-knacks too. From every country I visit or have lived in, I have an item. A stein from Germany. A lace piece from Bruges. Wooden shoes from Amsterdam. Maracas from Mexico. Mahogany bowl from Honduras. Japanese goodies galore (I lived there for three years), and more. Some are very cherished.

    Most of these items are on display in our dining room, which is gated off from Petite. She rarely goes there by herself. She’s learned to play gently with the Japanese wooden toys, but the rest is off limits until she’s older.

    And I love seeing knick-knacks in a person’s house. It makes me feel like they have stories to tell. My sister’s house is spartan and she likes it that way. But it looks “cold” to me. Just my POV I guess. 🙂

  11. Heather Says:

    We don’t have a lot of knick-knacks in our house, but what we have is meaningful, like the jade dragon and phoenix orb. DH brought it back from China and it is beautiful. I also do hate to dust and just like you said, when we’ve moved, I’d have to think of wrapping things and finding another home for them. That made a few things go away.

  12. April Says:

    B’s an artist, so we have lots of art. Most of it is on the walls. We do have a few ceramic pieces (which are packed away) and a few carved wood things. Most things like that are kept out of the kids reach. But honestly, I (like you) hated to dust things…so we slowly got rid of excess stuff over the last 12 years. I also just don’t like to have a lot of “stuff”. I’ve been trying to think of what message that sends to the kids about the need to fill space or consumersim. I hate going to people’s houses with nicknacks!! Especially the people who get mad that the kids touch things that are on their level. Duh! What else is there for them to look at?!?

  13. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    This has been on my mind a lot following our vacation. Both Nav’s parents and mine are hoarders. His are only stage 1 but mine are probably at 2-3. I don’t just use that word to mean collectors. All 4 of our parents meet the definition.

    We are able to stay with his parent’s only because they can and willingly clean-up areas the boys will be in. Either they remove the objects completely or they put up fences/gates/tarps to cover their belongings. They also clean any areas so they are relatively dust-free. Prior to the boys the whole house, and now the areas where the boys don’t go, are chock full of things. My parents are the complete opposite. We do not visit them. Period. No discussion. The last time I was there was 22-months ago for 1-hour. Not only are they unwilling to remove or clean anything, they don’t care. They expect us to put up with their lifestyle. We either stay in a hotel or we don’t visit their house.

    I grew up with this but am the opposite because of it while my sister is a hoarder also (stage 1-2). I am not sentimental about stuff. Very few things I consider keepsakes. I would live a much more spartan life if I weren’t married. Nav (because of his upbringing) does like a lot of stuff. Also because of his military lifestyle (nomadic and he’s been a lot of places), he has a ton of stuff and he keeps everything. We compromise by keeping it in boxes until we’re in our forever home and we can go through it all. We have one china cabinet where we display a few things. And our guest bedroom has two bookshelves where we display a few more items.

    I’m most bothered because my parents try to make me/us into them. They are always giving us junk that we have to dispose of but Nav thinks that because they were gifts we need to keep them. Nevermind that we don’t need/want/us any of it. Luckily two toddlers has its advantage and I can use them for the reason stuff isn’t out on display. It’s going to be a long process of sorting when he finally retires and we are in one place for more than a few years.

  14. Cat Says:

    I’m drawn to far more knick knacks than I would actually want in my house. I once had the great idea to only have a few out at a time and rotate them every couple months. I never did rotate anything except when the Christmas decorations were put away and the everyday stuff could come back out. I would have a few more things out now, but not with three toddlers on the loose. Even the places that are gated off aren’t enough for me to trust the kids won’t find a way in.

  15. Ernessa Says:

    I’m a big believer in sparse myself. And the last time it occurred to me to buy a knick knack, I was in my extremely early 20s. I love people who love knick knacks, though, b/c they’re easy to shop for. When we were in Mexico for Christmas, it was fairly easy to pick up something for my sister, b/c she’s a knick knack lover. My husband technically likes knick knacks, too, but he hasn’t bought any since I moved in, and with every move, I convince him to let go of a few more. Still, I love his taste. He goes for kitschy religious (prayer candles and the like) and Day of the Dead stuff. I more protest knick knacks, b/c I don’t really understand the point of them.


  16. That second house sounds like a hoot the way you describe it!

    When Tessa was a toddler, we volunteered with a hospice program that had us go to this one lady’s house. We were just to sit with her for an hour or two and keep her company. Needless to say, I spent most of my time protecting the knick knacks from Tessa.

    I do have knick knacks, despite my inner minimalist. We used to pick up stuff when we travel, and now the kids are continually bringing home trophies, artwork, ribbons, things made of clay. It’s pointless to hide away the souvenirs (why have them if not to show them?) and it’s a losing battle to keep up with the trinkets of childhood.

    Still laughing about Queztacotl.

  17. Ana Says:

    I have evolved into a more spartan person these days. I used to love knick-knacks and souvenirs, decorative items of all sorts. Now the same beloved objects just look like clutter to me, and annoy me. I’m not sure where the minimalism is coming from, but we’ve thrown away so many things, mostly that were given to us by others, but even things I picked out on vacations and previously cherished—the thing no longer holds any meaning for me. I think its part of a much greater life/mindset change that I seem to be going through (mid life crisis, whoo hoo!)

  18. Photogrl Says:

    I have some knickknacks, but not as many as I used to…I struggle with clutter and sentimental attachments. A few years back, in the midst of my IF hell, an aunt came and helped me go through my mother’s stuff. Doing that seemed to help me realize that items are items, not memories.

    Now, photo frames…that’s my problem!


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