Q: Here comes another holiday season, and I'm dreading it. Years ago, I mentioned to somebody how much I liked a particular black-and-white, spotted cow mug I found at a yard sale. It went with the black-and-white theme of my kitchen. Then somebody gave me some cow salt-and-pepper shakers, and now I can't get past a birthday or Christmas without getting as gifts spotted cow cups, plates, calendars, figurines, T-shirts, hats, aprons. I am so grateful for the thoughts, but my kitchen is now completely overrun by spotted cow things. Eventually, I want to downsize, so what should I do with this accidental collection, and how can I politely say to my friends and family: Please, no more cow stuff.
A: In this one letter, you bring up many great topics for the holidays, including gift-giving advice, decluttering, and how to manage an unruly collection. Not to mention how to be gracious when receiving gifts you don't love, and how to be discerning when it comes to keeping a gift and displaying any collection.
First of all, I can see how your collection grew. By displaying every one of your latest acquisitions, you sent your friends the message that you like the cow theme, and this became a convenient gift-giving idea. With any gift, your only obligation is to thank the giver sincerely. You don't have to display or even use something if you don't like it. I don't keep anything in my own home, gift or not, that I don't use or enjoy.
Your goal of downsizing is a good excuse. Use this holiday season to mention your plan, and how you are going to be doing a deep decluttering before the end of the year. No need to explain further, unless somebody asks specifically if you want another cow mug. Simply say, "I appreciate you thinking of me when you see something like that, but my collection is plenty big, so, no, thank you." And suggest going out for coffee instead, or some other inexpensive gift of their time.
If it's a collection you enjoy but just want to reduce, cull your favorites, and donate the rest. Dedicate one shelf or small area, and display just a few items at a time. As with any accessory, odd numbers look best. Group one tall item, one medium or wider item, and one small, and rotate them out with other items from your collection to keep the look fresh. Or add a set number of the mugs into your everyday use. Chances are if your friends and family see the newly edited collection, they won't be offended that their contributions got cut. (If they even remember what they gave you.)
Enjoy your season and good luck with this.