I’m not  a hoarder, I’m a collector; if you have something you like, every time you see it, you have a little happy hit.

 –Douglas Coupland

Yes, you read that right. I am just one of many collectors of dead things – mostly flowers and seeds, but also the occasional bug or butterfly or rock or bottle or jar, well. And, then, if you count shells and sea skeletons, driftwood and bark, then add those to the “Dead” collection subjects. Honestly, the list goes on, and, technically, anything you bring in your home that doesn’t need care or feeding falls in this category. It’s easy to do, and I’m so glad I am not alone in this adventure. In fact, on a recent workshop I was leading, two ladies gleefully and proudly stated that they were members of the group. I know there are men who do this as well, but for now they shall also remain nameless.

Milton and aged delphinium embraced with vintage gloves.


I’m sure those of you who are minimalists or who fall into the “neat freak” zone would gasp in horror if I showed you even a portion of my entire collection. Me? I wonder about the minimalists. I wonder, “where’s their stuff?” when I enter those worlds of immaculate and perfectly placed objects. To each his or her own, really.

I must admit that the collecting can and does get out of hand at times. It’s during those times when I’m thankful that I am not a hoarder. And there is a difference. As a collector, I AM able to let go of stuff when it gets to be too much or in order to make room for new stuff. And, of course, this is all in the name of creativity and photography. If I were a hoarder, I could never let anything go, and I would eventually fill my home in every corner and crevasse and shudder at the thought of letting go of anything. Makes sense to me … and that’s what matters.

One of the reasons I collect old, dead (or inanimate) stuff is that I see potential for image making. I see challenges that I can give myself, like “make it beautiful or interesting.” And, as some who know me can relate, I love the concept of wabi sabi, combining metaphors and creating visual stories.

Moonflower pods in milk bottle in multiples.

Moonflower pods and seeds in glass.

Moonflower pods and seeds still life.


Okay, so if you live alone, there’s no one to temper your collecting or to put the brakes on it. In that case, it’s your job to keep the stuff in check, somewhat organized, and, at best, at a controlled level of chaos. If you have a spouse (partner, roommate or children), you are in a similar but different boat. And, how big your “boat” is matters. The others in your life must have some space for their stuff. They must also have a level of patience, tolerance and understanding that would boggle the minds of some. They often reach a level of acceptance for the things they cannot change – one of them being you. You, in turn, must be flexible enough to respect your housemates and their boundaries. In other words, when your stuff is tucked in all corners and covers the dining room table (mine?), it’s time to clean some of that crap up. It transitions from stuff to crap when it’s out of control.

I must admit that “my time” has come to clean up the crap. Truth? I have a very “stuff-tolerant” husband, partly because he “collects” stuff, too. But when the stuff gets overwhelming (and it has), it is time to cull. Hence, this blog post.

Seeds of unknown origin served as if tea – afterwards, tossed in the garden to see what comes up.


As you can imagine, for everything that you keep and collect, you must find somewhere to put it. And what you put it in depends on its size, fragility and category. I can’t begin to tell you the myriad of boxes, plastic containers, Ziploc bags, jars and bottles that are filled with dried flowers, petals and seeds. Some things I don’t even know what they are, but I saved them anyway – for good reasons, right? There are a few file cabinets in our shed that have a variety of glassware, bottles and vases. Another few drawers with collections of all kinds of shells and rocks – yes, a few drawers. And, there are other containers that have “old stuff”, like oil cans, gears, clocks, tools, beads and baubles. And, other bags contain a variety of fabrics, including black velvet, sheers, tutu materials and ribbons. Yes, the list could go on, but I’ll spare you and leave you to imagine.

At this point, I can imagine several responses. One might be, “Yay! I’m not alone!” Another might be, “Oh my gosh, I can’t even …” Believe it or not, I understand both responses. My grandmother was a hoarder, hardcore. But because of her, I can appreciate old salt shakers, tiny tea cups, marbles, buttons and all kinds of other things, big and small. Sometimes I wish that I could have gone through the house before it was sold so I could “collect” the things that were super cool, but also the things that were super special and reminded me of my grandparents and all the visits while growing up. I did not. However, I do have her old cameras, and they are quite special to me for many reasons.

Purple petals in mortar and pestle.


Since I’ve recognized the need to cull (seriously), what better time for a challenge? Here’s what I started with … and where I ended up. My assignment was (is):

  • Take a picture of all the dead stuff as it sits in the house (primarily in the living room and on the dining room table). No hiding and no shame. It is what it is, and I needed to own it. What surprised me was how much I really had in those two spaces and the variety and reasons for keeping.
  • Get rid of anything I cannot think of a creative way to photograph in that moment. I did not need to stop to do the shooting, just have an idea. No idea, say goodbye.
  • Weed down the dead stuff into semi-organized groups and address them. If practical, bag and tag them. Even better, shoot them and then discard. This must be done as there is most definitely more stuff on the horizon.
  • Bring some of the good stuff to my upcoming indoor workshops as subjects. Give my students full permission to “deconstruct” or destroy the stuff to photograph it and then discard.
  • Photograph everything with a level of creativity. Make an effort to make the stuff beautiful or interesting to me. (I have made much progress.)
  • And, finally, give myself a break. It will take time to inject creative energy into these subjects, but at the very least they should be cleaned up, cleaned out, contained and better organized. (Check! The living room is under control, and half the dining room table is available for meal time.)

Dried flowers in milk bottle with simple mat boards.