Collected Works

Are you a deltiologist, or an arctophile? Perhaps you’re a tegestologist?* We’re a nation of collectors – so let’s celebrate our Stuff!

Our belongings get an increasingly bad press these days: they’re labelled as clutter, while their disposal is considered somehow virtuous.

I’m no hoarder, yet my home often feels crowded with possessions and I sometimes quite fancy the sort of minimalism you see in magazines. In the real world, however, most of us have a lot of stuff.

We put so many of our belongings away in cupboards and drawers, but if you have the space, why not display them? Even humble objects can combine to create attractive collections that will give you pleasure every day.


We are, by nature, acquisitive creatures. Around a third of us are collectors: people who take pleasure in tracking down, owning and organising their particular objects of desire.

Ever since our ancestors abandoned their nomadic lifestyles, we’ve settled down and feathered our nests with all manner of useful, beautiful – and often bizarre – objects.

It’s hard to know what draws us to particular items – it’s often a bit of a guilty pleasure. It could be about nostalgia, or a desire to leave something behind when we are gone; maybe we enjoy the hunt or the research; or perhaps we enjoy being part of a community of interest.

Whatever our magpie motivations, let’s rejoice in our collections! Put them out on show for the world to see!

From little acorns…

Are you the kind of person who comes back from a walk with pockets stuffed with seedheads, pine cones, pebbles, shells or sea glass? Aren’t we all?

An old wooden printers’ or typesetters’ tray makes a great contained display for tiny treasures. Paint the different compartments or line the base, and each little work of art is contained within a miniature gallery. The only challenge then, is to keep your collection within the confines of its frame.

…to great oaks

Collections start small and grow fast! Tania (Ms Pink, from design duo Quirk and Rescue) now owns more than 100 tin trays. These exuberantly colourful circles adorn the staircase in her north London home and make a stunning display. The trays are all vintage and most were made in England by Worcester ware or Elite Trays.

“Like a lot of collectors, I feel that the assemblage will never be complete,” she admits. “My heart still flutters when I acquire a new one. There is some conflict though, as I’m running out of space – well, technically there’s room for about 15 more…”

True colours

Sophie Crocket of Pineapple Retro uses bright and bold colour to organise and display collections of books, vintage tins and toys. Items of similar shape and size can really sing when they come in a vibrant rainbow of colours. White cube shelving offers a neutral backdrop, giving space for the objects to breathe and adding a pleasing symmetry to the whole arrangement. How can it possibly be clutter when it’s displayed this beautifully? Those glass jars on the top shelf, by the way, contain colour-sorted Lego. It’s like a wonderful, old-fashioned sweet shop.

Even those who don’t consider themselves to be collectors have collections of similar objects. Your books don’t have to be arranged alphabetically, by subject or according to the Dewey Decimal system – that’s for librarians (and they’re getting paid). Have some fun by grouping books by colour: this approach reduces visual clutter and adds coherence to your bookcase. Add interest to runs of vertically-displayed books by lying some flat or (gasp) leaving empty spaces.

The life-changing magic of collecting

If you’re hardcore, you might start a new collection to house your existing one. I saw a vertical stack of battered, vintage suitcases in a friend’s house the other day – the display looked wonderful and had a really evocative sense of romance to it. Every case in it was packed full of her stuff.

Baggage – quite literally bursting with baggage!

Lesley Swann

* a collector of postcards, teddy bears and beer mats, respectively