• Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Simplicity: the Beauty of One


Dad's shell

Journalist Cynthia Barnett came to our local independent bookstore, Story & Song, to discuss her new book, The Sound of the Sea. She writes about seashells, their history, the animals that make them, and what they have to tell us about the oceans, climate change, and even about ourselves.

Someone asked Cynthia whether we should collect seashells, because they are in short supply (and also needed by those frequent home flippers, hermit crabs).


Cynthia’s opinion is that every child needs the experience of finding and cherishing a seashell, as do adults. But one shell is enough. She spoke of the beauty of a special shell on a mantle, shelf, or windowsill. And how much more you appreciate seeing one beautiful treasure than dozens of them cluttering the same space. One is lovely to behold and so is the thought of leaving the rest of the shells for others to find.

"We can have a surfeit of treasures--an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant." ----- Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea (quoted in The Sound of the Sea by Cynthia Barnett)

This made me think about how that applies to life, particularly right now in this decluttering phase. I want to appreciate a few things, not be burdened by many.

Lisa's Hummel

There are collectors of shells and collectors of coins, dolls, linens, furniture, Pez dispensers, shoes, and just about anything else. Hummel figurines were once collected and some are even still considered valuable, but today most have very little cash value. Many are being discarded by the carload because the generation that collected them is downsizing or their collections have been inherited by children and grandchildren who do not want them.


My true feelings about Hummels were displayed when I was a toddler. Angry about being put to bed before I was ready, I scooted my crib to the dresser, grabbed the only Hummel figurine in our house, and whacked its head off. Mother, never one to let a bad deed be forgotten, presented the Hummel to me 20 years later, head glued back on, with a reminder to watch my temper.


I discarded that beheaded anger totem. Soon after, another Hummel was left to me in the will of my dear friend Lisa, for whom I purchased this one on a trip to Germany in the 1970’s. It signifies a friendship that ended prematurely and I appreciate its meaning, although it is only special because it reminds me of my friend.

Kevin Jenkins' shrimp

Cherished things that have a singular presence are to be admired. Take this awesome shrimp, for instance. Made by artist Kevin Jenkins, it stands on its own. A trio of shrimp would not be nearly as special. Here in Fernandina Beach, shrimp are popular décor items, but just one is plenty.


I ask all my visitors to leave a shell from our beach in my collection. Because I was impatient to fill this large vessel, I smashed open a shell collector’s lamp that came from an auction and added many unusual shells. Because there are so many, I don’t appreciate them as much as the one shell I own that is special. The photo at the top of the blog is of the shell that was on my Dad’s desk for years. I know nothing about it except that it kept guard over him while he was writing and working, so I love it.

My shell collection

Next time you are at the beach, pick up a shell. But just take one. Place it alone on a shelf or table and enjoy it for a while. Then exchange it for another on your next visit.

The less clutter we have, the more time we have to admire our treasures and focus on the small details such as the imperfections in a shell, its texture, and the brilliance in color when it is submerged in water. There are many facets that become lost when we have too many of anything.


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One happy dog

While Leah does not believe there can ever be too many dogs, she loves being an only dog, overseeing house protective services and managing treats. Other dogs are great temporary companions, but she prefers to be the only one getting the attention.

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