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Help! Too many paintings in my home! How to downsize your art collection.

How do I choose what to keep and what to part with?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you've gathered a collection of paintings on your walls over time, but now it’s time for a change.

Paintings by Sophie Grillet on a cafe wall 2017

Too many paintings?

There are many reasons why you may want to part with some of your art collection - maybe you’re downsizing, or have a new partner who’d like to bring some of their preferred art to your shared home, or maybe you don’t want to lumber your heirs with so much “stuff” to deal with, or maybe you just feel like you have too many paintings, your taaste has changed, and the moment has arrived to rationalize and aim for a new look.

There’s definitely no point in keeping art that doesn’t draw you in visually or emotionally. But decision making is hard work!

First, don’t stress yourself any more than necessary! It’ll probably take more than one swift run-through to arrive at a satisfying answer. Different people have different decision-making styles, and it’s important not to add any friends or relations to the “happy never to see again” list!

Keep it simple

So, to begin. Three categories may not seem like enough, but remember, they’re not set in stone: “YES” “NO,” and “MAYBE”. Get three little pads of different colored sticky notes, say, green for YES, pink for NO and yellow for MAYBE. You’re going to walk all round the house and make as snap judgements as possible, and slap a sticky right on each frame or right next to it on the wall. The groups won’t be equal, that’s okay. Be lighthearted! It’s only a scrap of paper!

After going around once, you deserve a reward: go out for lunch or for a nice walk, visit a fancy cafe for hot tea and a pastry, or pour your favorite tipple. The important part is to celebrate completion of Part I, without looking back (yet).

Step two: second iteration. Be a little more analytical.

  • For a “YES” the art must make you glad to see it every time. It may qualify because of the content or subject, the style and colors, or because of the way you came by it - ideally all three. Bear in mind that the frame may be affecting your decision one way or the other, but frames can be painted or changed.

  • For a “NO” you just need to answer the question, ‘this may or may not be valuable or well executed, but would it bring someone else more joy than it brings me?’ Simply being familiar isn’t a good enough reason to deprive someone else of the chance to own a picture they like more than you do. These get taken down and stacked safely somewhere, ready to go.

  • The “can’t exactly decide” group all get the “MAYBE” sticky note.

Step three. After at least a day or two to percolate, it’s crunch time.
  • Check on the “YES” group. Did any slide mentally into a “MAYBE” in the past 48 hours?

  • Now, all the “MAYBEs” have to come off the wall and earn their place if they’re to go back up. By definition, they’re the ones that didn't make your heart sing enough to say “YES!” So, why would you want to hold on to them?

  • Wouldn’t it be fun to go out and find another work of art that truly delights you? It’s fine to have less on the wall until something really calls to you.

  • So, any “MAYBEs” that don’t demand promotion will have to go.

What if there are two of you deciding?

Some couples enjoy discussing and deciding from the get-go, but by no means all!

It can be hard finding out that your partner has always hated your favorite.

Step One for couples: For a gentle beginning, make a video of all the works, and/or make a list of them and write your first Y/N/M responses separately, without moving anything or sharing yet.

Step two for couples: If your relationship is good, do the next part together. (Otherwise, see below.)

Any that both agree on can follow steps two and three as above. Any that only one says YES to, should stay, preferably in a part of the house that the favoring partner sees more of.

Be ready for some introspection and discussion about your choices, and be open to one another’s thought processes and emotions.


If it’s bad and you’re actually splitting up, continue separately to the end of step two. You should agree at the beginning that any that just one says YES to is theirs. Leave valuation considerations to the lawyers or other outside parties. NEVER say YES to a painting you don’t care for out of spite. It would only leave unhappiness in your home and your future.

Useful tip

If you’re offering first pick to any friends or relatives, be sure to put a tight deadline on their decision, and a tight deadline on picking up their choice, or for sure it will drag on interminably. This is your new look, your new dawn - keep your focus!

Sophie Grillet

Arbor Art Consulting

4 Dec 2023


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