A Decorating Idea for Crazy Hoarders


If you’re like me, you sometimes love, sometimes hate to throw things away. I feel so satisfied after clearing stuff out, but on the other hand, I just love things, especially old things and memories. And I love that smug feeling when I’m able to pull out that random dish, hat, book—whatever—to use at the perfect time. I loved growing up in a house where you could find anything. In high school, if we needed an item for a skit, video, or activity, my friends would say, well, the Rotes probably have that. And we did: from wigs and costume clothes, to arrowheads, to books, to a (non-working) motorcycle in our garage, which is just an entirely different story, having to do with my oldest brother, my dad, and which one had the higher level of testosterone.

These days, I’ve grown better at simplifying. I try to make good decisions about what’s necessary and what’s clutter, and I try to be sure that whatever new item we acquire is something that we love (or is really useful—see this post about good souvenirs). (And, let’s be honest, things that can’t fit in our apartment I ship off to—you guessed it!—my parents’ house!)

But as much as I like an uncluttered life, I hate when good things go to waste. I think it’s from Dad. If you know him, you know that he doesn’t own a polo shirt other than those he received in swag bags at golf tournaments. (They’re perfectly good!! Why buy others?) For Christmas last year, Israel and I just saved up all the free promotional items we’d received from work, fundraisers, etc. and gave them to Dad: pens, notebooks, shirts, coffee mugs, keychains, handcrafted souvenirs from a delegation from Guatemala.

Some of the worst offenders in the area of swag that you’ll never use are lapel pins. Unless you work for the organization, or it’s an American flag (because, ‘Merica), will you really wear it? They just seem to be a waste of resources. I don’t even have lapels.

BUT don’t let this cause you anxiety! I’ve found the perfect solution. Toss the backs and use your lapel pins as push pins! When I appointed myself as Israel’s office decorator, I found several commemorative lapel pins among jars of coins and drawer dividers and abysses of forgotten paper and business cards. Repurposed on his bulletin board, they’re functional and create a built-in professional scrapbook.

So I feel somewhat crazy to blog about this, but it’s this kind of epiphany that really makes my day sometimes. Is that pretty sad, that I’ll go to such lengths to feel good about hoarding? Or will you go get your secret stash of lapel pins and implement them on your bulletin board, STAT?

P.S. To be clear, I draw a pretty strict line about what’s appropriate office decor versus home, but that’s another post another day. For now just know lapel pins, the swinging hips Elvis clock, and the Bruce Springsteen poster fall under office.

P.P.S. This year for Christmas, we got my dad a goat. For the gentleman who has everything.

Fishmael Part II, or How To Choose Fantastic Souvenirs

Shopping in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico

The people spoke, so Fishmael will stay for autumn! Bostonians drink water all year, apparently, and “being awesome never goes out of season.”

Clearly, the gurgling cod was a good choice. I hope we’ll use it him during dinner parties for years and years; he’s fun yet fancy; he says glug glug; he will always remind us of the trip we took when I was pregnant with Mary Tobin. All in all, a fantastic souvenir.

I’m not necessarily qualified to give retail advice, except that I love stuff too much so I’ve had to become more selective to combat my hoarder tendencies. Since I was young, when I see a collection, I feel I need every piece. (Ahem, American Girl dolls.) No one could accuse me of being a minimalist.

I’ve gotten better at thinking through what I really need and/or want, and I try to choose carefully, with the goal of only surrounding myself with things I really do like. (Not just things that I got because they happened to be there.)

When it comes to souvenirs, what’s worth buying and why? Here’s the rubric I’ve come up with for choosing a little goody to commemorate your trip to a great place. (Similar but different from my brother’s old dating philosophy: Smart, pretty, sane. Pick two.) For souvenirs, try to find something that’s all three:

  • beautiful
  • useful
  • representative

Beautiful. Ask yourself, would I want this in my house if it wasn’t a souvenir? A gurgling cod? Of course! Timeless. And I love the blue and white pottery from our honeymoon to Mexico. I’d buy it in a store today. Please don’t get something just because you feel like you have to.

Useful. What’s something you’ll always need and use? Think housewares, clothes, etc.  My best example is our comfy blanket from Paraguay, in classic white. (I admire my own restraint! That’s another tip: don’t get carried away by your exotic locale and buy a multicolor tapestry that’s going to look crazy in your house.) I still wear the earrings I got in Rome and Chile. Be careful about clothes though. My epic fail in this area was the gladiator-style disc belt I bought in Cardiff, Wales. Useful in theory, but fails in the beautiful/representative categories. Ridiculous looking. Forced it. Never wore it.

Representative. Will your souvenir be a good reflection of the place? Are they known for that type of thing? Don’t buy a sweatshirt that says St. Thomas USVI; get a nice big beach towel instead. When I studied abroad one summer in Oxford, my splurge was a nice rugby shirt in the colors of University College where I stayed. Now I love to get cozy in that thing on cool days, and remember the big park behind Univ, eating brie and apples, the school boys walking by in their uniforms, the chapel bells tolling the hour. Had I purchased a bathing suit in Oxford, however, that would not be representative.

What do you think of my system? Can you add or comment? Please share your souvenir triumphs and failures!

Kathleen: It happened in Spain. People do really stupid things in foreign countries.

Frank: Absolutely! They buy leather jackets for much more than they’re worth, but they don’t fall in love with fascist dictators.

-Nora Ephron, You’ve Got Mail, 1998

Call me Fishmael.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Source: stellaholiday.blogspot.com via Josie on Pinterest

Hey, internet friends, what do you think?

It’s fall, and we’re looking forward to all those nice fall-y feeling things. Israel and I brainstormed over lunch this week, and he’s specifically looking forward to:

    • college football
    • tailgating
    • pumpkin beer
    • pumpkin anything
    • delicious air
    • sweaters
    • getting out his Patagonia fleece
    • romantic comedies that feel appropriate to autumn, such as St. Elmo’s Fire and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

It’s also about time to switch out clothes and little house items, like putting away the summer table cloth and getting out that delicious candle. BUT we have a dilemma. “Fishmael” is our gurgling cod from last summer’s New England vacation, possibly my favorite souvenir I’ve ever purchased. (We obviously had to choose Nantucket Red.) Does he stay or does he go?

Here’s Fishmael in his native habitat:

[Let’s take a moment, not for silence, rather for loud appreciation of Mama Rote’s handiwork on those shelves during her last visit! I had the vision; she handled the execution. Here’s the before; the cabinet on the right:

Note well: this metamorphasis took place only during times when Mary Tobin was asleep. And, these cabinets are heavy as the dickens, so we didn’t budge them to paint. When we move, we’ll have to paint the three remaining sides.

We lined the back with wallpaper (from a Washington Design Center sale) and used Annie Sloane chalk paint, which lived up to its rep of being nice and easy. The color is a mix of Duck Egg and French Linen that we dubbed “French Duck Linen” or “French Egg” or “Linen Duck” . . .  shall I go on?]

What do you look forward to for fall? I hope you’re pulling out the blankets, sprucing up the nest to make it nice and cozy, and enjoying the cool breeze through your windows.

More importantly, if you had a gurgling cod pitcher that brought an awesome glug-glug sound to the water glasses at your summer dinners, and—let’s be clear—undeniably reminds you of summer and whaling in Nantucket, would you let him stick around through the cold months? Or are some things made even more special through their absence? Again I ask you. Does he stay or does he go?