A collection is not, for example, a set of dishes that you buy in a box at WalMart or Bloomingdale’s. You may have a very fine set of dishes, but they are not a collection. If you were a "West Wing" fan, you may remember Michael Douglas in his role as the President of the United States call the West Wing China Collection the "dish room." Well, the "dishes" in that example are a "collection.
If you have a fabulous set of Wedgewood China displayed in your china closet, it is still not a collection. The operative word here is "set." "Collection" is just what it implies--you have carefully or not so carefully collected similar objects from various places at various times. They don’t necessarily have to be of great value. They may not even be beautiful. They may only have some significance to you. Two objects are not a collection. In other words, a vintage salt and pepper set on the back of a range does not make a collection. Three, four or a half dozen salt and pepper sets displayed on a shelf could be the beginning of a collection. A half dozen no name purses hung on a hall tree is not a collection. Three or more Judith Lieber purses sitting almost anywhere is a collection.
When does a collection become clutter? In interior design,clutter is when you have too many disparate objects or things spread about so little or no surface has been untouched, regardless of their beauty, value or significance to you. Clutter is when you get comments from friends, family, and acquaintances such as, "You have some interesting things," in that quizzical manner that implies they don’t know what to make of it all. Or, "Your house looks lived in." In other words, you haven’t had time to pick up the mess. Clutter makes it difficult to distinguish trash from treasure.
Grouping several like objects together allows the eye to rest and the collection to be appreciated. When it gets so crowded people are making a game of counting them, something has gone awry. Objects need to be well-displayed and have some relationship one to the other. For instance, a kitchen with old iron pots to antique silver spoons can make a series of great collections in the same room because their relationship is they are kitchen utensils.
A good rule of thumb is "less is more." Stash away some of your collections and swap them out when you find yourself walking past what once was a coveted treasure and now goes all but noticed. It makes your collection even more important and surprising. It will, also, spruce up your space and visitors will think you have redecorated. I particularly love oriental art, yet I am very selective, and again less can be more.