People love to collect things.

Professional collectors exist for coins, records, cars, art, antiques, World War II memorabilia, books, rocks, dead bugs, celebrity signatures, and just about anything cool you can mention.

Other collectors who are more eccentric, idiosyncratic, or plain weird collect wild animals, pencils, unopened Coke bottles, back scratchers, Troll dolls or just about anything you can mention.

But normal middle-class people who are not intentionally creating “a collection” of things will tend to accumulate piles of stuff. Perhaps batteries, sci-fi novels, DVDs, empty containers, firewood, hoodie sweatshirts, or high heels, golf clubs, pool toys, or potted plants are taking over your house and your life.

The causes of overaccumulation are many:

  • fear of letting go.
  • “I might need that one day.”
  • “I paid a lot for that.”
  • “Someone could use it.
  • Greed
  • “Acquisitiveness”, that nice useful old word for the excessive tendency to acquire material things

Minimalists push against the natural human urge to collect things. They urge us to keep what “spark’s joy” or to keep to a set number of clothing items.

Our Christian moralists such as St. John Chrysostem and St. Paul teach us to share what we have (share from our need but share especially our excess) with the poor and needy. There is a bias against accumulation and therefore against collection. “Possessions can be justified only by their use.”

In order to address the concerns of both minimalism and charitable generosity, I’d like to propose creating “uncollections.”

An uncollection is simple: it’s the smallest stable number of objects, for a particular class of object, that you can keep and use. Uncollections are intentional little pockets of minimalism that, combined, can grow to create a lean, healthy, charitable lifestyle.

For example, an uncollection of books could be the smallest set of books you can read and re-read, with profit, for the rest of your lives. Could you do it with 30? With only 100? Make your starting list and try to trim it.

An uncollection could live inside of a collection. For example, you may choose not to get rid of all 500 of your books, once you have curated your uncollection of 30. But you have learned something important about your own taste and priorities, and perhaps developed a more detached attitude toward the rest.

An uncollection of clothes is those 30-50 items you regularly wear. Give away the rest.

An uncollection of dried goods consist of the food you and your family need for a week, or a month, or a year. Set a definition, work within it, and then evaluate.

An uncollection of office supplies would be the pens, pencils, paper, stickie notes that you actually use. Get rid of the rest.

An uncollection of bath toys (for those parents with small children) would be the few toys the kids actually use on a weekly or monthly basis. Store-and-rotate – or get rid – of the rest.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.