“They should be outlawed,” said Pat Barber, a longtime volunteer at Faith in Action Thrift Shop. “First, a ceramic dolphin, then two, then friends were gifting me dolphins and it became a dusting nightmare.”
The Belfair thrift shop is one of my project locations. Subject being knickknacks.
Nothing like a knickknack. Everyone has them — small, nonutilitarian objects just meant to be looked at. But what are they really? How do they fit in the scheme of things?
I thought to myself, what would an interior decorator do with them?
I contacted well-experienced designer Kate Adams at Arnold’s Home Furnishings. She referred to them as something in an age gone by, not really appropriate for today’s contemporary or traditional settings.
“If a client wants them exhibited, I would suggest corralling them to one location, maybe in a curio cabinet, but not scattered,” she said.
Yes, those concerned with contemporary, minimalist décor cringe at such dust collectors, but grandparents, on the other hand, can’t get enough of the barely recognized macaroni critters.
Travelers carefully polish the small-brass, Eiffel Tower-like items that evoke wonderful memories. Then there is the inherited obligation of knickknack ownership. Artists might frown but the definition may even apply to their creations. And I know many artists who utilize or take apart knickknacks to create assemblage art.
For such a small item, it can be complicated. Don’t confuse it with a doodad, whatnot, trinket, bric-a-brac, ornament, gadget, doohickey, whatsit, chotskie or thingamabob. Most of those refer to something hard to describe or that has a forgotten name. Gadgets are thought to be something, maybe stored in a drawer, and the gadget usually has some practical use.
A knickknack is an item that is carefully stored or sits upright on a shelf. And one would never say, “What a nice looking thingamajig.”
I spent some six months on a knickknack definition and purpose quest — observing, questioning and interviewing designers, friends, gallery visitors and craft persons, and also visiting thrift shops.
Many a time I heard, “My kids don’t want them.”
That was made evident as I saw thrift-shop shelves flooded with small eye-candies once so treasured. A clerk shared that she was seeing more of those items donated. But to counter that, on my return visits I also observed a healthy turnover, folks buying the sweet little items.
I have an online Facebook Pyrex Museum page that has thousands of visitors every day, mostly enthusiasts of the midcentury era. Any pink or turquoise knickknack or Lucille Ball-like morsel is very sought after.
For the most part, knickknacks should be looked at as temporary treasures. That one cute, polar-bear saltshaker with utilitarian intent that turned into a collection or the travel bobbles that made for such good party conversation — that was then.
But now you are talking to Amy Burnett, the college-educated person who was taught to know when to stop but turned to say, “Enough is not enough!”
If you love your knickknacks, how great is that — buy more or embellish what you have. There are so many out there, such good selections — as if the hunt is worth the clutter and dust.
On another note, this is an era of downsizing and inheriting. Often, loved ones have decreed in their wills gifts of dishes, art and all those knickknacks, whether it be a collection of porcelain cats or brass door stops. If it does not fit your lifestyle, take that precious collection and donate to your favorite cause in the name of your loved one.
Many times those accumulated treasures are very valuable. A small, jade 10th century Buddha or an ancient, carved-walrus-tusk knife or a great grandmother’s framed locket? In that case, you must think in terms of investment or family historic heritage.
Knickknacks, small things that have no use except to be looked at on a shelf. Everyone has them. What are they? Someone’s memory.