Ditch The Junk — aka De-Accessioning

Usen Castle, an iconic building on campus
Time to clear out the castle! Image via Wikipedia

I love this odd, elegant phrase — de-accessioning — used by curators of museums, to describe the formal and sometimes fraught process of culling their collections in order to upgrade and acquire new pieces.

Sort of a garage sale, but with 17th. century tapestries and 19th.century portraits.

Here’s an interesting New York Times piece on it:

Cultural institutions like the National Academy Museum and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University have generated controversy by selling or even considering selling items to cover operating costs, a practice forbidden by the professional association for art museum directors.

So even though all of the sales — with the exception of the historical society’s — are to be used to generate funds for future acquisitions, institutions that deaccession these days find themselves on the defensive. “Part of the normal biological clock of museums is to examine their collections,” said David Franklin, the director of the Cleveland Museum, which hopes to gain about $1 million from its sale. “We should be constantly refining and upgrading. I’ve given the message to all the curators that I regard deaccessioning as a normal act, and I encourage them to reassess the collections constantly.”

I think about this because I have some nice belongings I now want to dispose of, get some cash for, and acquire something better: a Lartigue photo, a kilim rug, a Japanese silk kimono, a raccoon boa. It’s much easier to bring something into your life or your home than find the right buyer for it when you need that cash.

Here’s a fairly astonishing/depressing look at what happens when your husband is a scam artist and the Feds swoop in to auction off everything you thought you owned.

This week I’m in Canada, to face the not unusual but fairly horrible task of sorting through my mother’s possessions and deciding — with her help — what will be sold, donated or kept. She is moving tomorrow into a nursing home, and it’s all been pretty sudden, so we’re having to make quick yet major decisions about some valuable objects and art. Let alone books, photos and personal papers.

I’ve bought and sold at auction before, and have written enough on art and antiques that I have a good idea what’s potentially valuable and is not, but for many people — and this is only a one-bedroom apartment, not a huge house full of stuff — it’s overwhelming physically, emotionally and financially. I admit, I’m dreading it.

When we’re at our most vulnerable, blindsided by grief and haste and confusion and loss, whether of life, home, vehicle, job or all of these at once, we have to detach from all these objects and dispose of them.

However Buddhist we wish to be(c0me) through practicing non-attachment, our possessions so often define us and encapsulate our memories.

Not easy!

What are you trying to get rid of?

How will you go about doing it?

7 thoughts on “Ditch The Junk — aka De-Accessioning

  1. I’m thinking I may get rid of some stuff when I move in with my fiancee, but when it’s your stuff it can be amazingly exhausting, hard, and just difficult to do. It’s just not an easy thing to do, I’ll go about doing it by just pumping myself to do it.

    1. I am at my mom’s this week and the person here helping me made up paper slips — sell, donate, store, keep. It really helps to start making piles and decisions. It will also help to allow yourself enough time to do it thoughtfully so you don’t have to rush or make decisions you’ll regret.

  2. I’ve never heard that term before, bsb. We arrived in London 18 months ago with two suitcases; our house in SA rented out, our furniture in storage and everything else given away or thrown away. It’s strange but liberating to live so light for now, with nothing around is that is our own except our clothes.
    Strength to you for your task ahead.
    Sunshine xx

    1. I know. It’s funny! I like how it formalizes the getting and getting rid of stuff. Boy, you are living light! Impressive.

      I’ve been going through my mom’s stuff this morning and it’s very painful in some ways — a bag filled with snorkel gear and bathing suits she will never likely be able to use again. Plus an astonishing collection of lovely Panamanian, Peruvian and Indian textiles.

  3. Recently, some friends gave me their mother’s boxes of fabric. Some of that included scraps she was going to ‘do’ something with in a someday time frame. Make me thing about my collection of fabric scraps and how I need to get rid of them so my kids do not have to wonder why I kept that stuff.

      1. It’s a real wake-up call to go through someone’s things….I have wayyyyy too much stuff at home and this will (ugh) galvanize me to go through it and get rid of as much of it as I can. It would be a real nightmare for someone else to have to cope with it.

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