In the face of the onslaught of AI mania, big tech megalomania power trips (RIP Twitter bird icon), and record-breaking heatwaves, it’s critical that we all find ways to cope and stay grounded. While some might look to typical self-care practices like meditation and a nightly glass of pinot, a subset of people on the internet turn to the ever-calming Instagram account, @foundandchosen.
UK-based writer, artist, and collector Jane Housham runs the account, and has done so for nearly a decade. As a lifelong accumulator (not hoarder!), Housham finds serenity and joy in creating aesthetically pleasing arrangements from small items she’s collected that are all united by a common theme— an assortment of rubber hippos, rows of doll-sized plastic toilets, a pyramid of mini pigs. Her carefully crafted collection snapshots provide a sense of nostalgia and order that’s soothing when the frenzy of the modern age can feel soul-crushing. @foundandchosen serves as an all-important antidote to the fleeting and ephemeral, not only for the account’s over 55K followers, but for Housham herself. She shares her thoughts on her process below, along with why she thinks her quaint collections captivate so many.
How did your Instagram account @foundandchosen first come about?
It started the day after my birthday nine years ago when I got an iPhone— I only got the phone so that I could start posting on Instagram. I really wanted to dive into that small square swimming pool. I’ve done over 4,000 posts since then, and it’s been fairly consistent since the early days: arrangements of very small objects united by some shared quality, be that color, material, shape, or function. I find it very pleasing to impose that kind of order on things.
How long have you been collecting? Why did you start in the first place?
I’ve been a collector all my life in the sense that ever since I was a child, I’ve cherished my belongings, clinging onto them where most people might hand them onto someone else or just throw them away. So I’d call myself more of an accumulator than a collector in the usual sense. I’ve never obsessively tried to find more and more of one particular thing— say, costume dolls or frog ornaments. I’ve just kept a lot of things that I’ve had since I was very small and added to that core ever since. Instagram has, I admit, given me an excuse to add to the gathering heaps with abandon, as now I can tell myself I need to “feed the ‘gram…”
I can’t really tell you why I accumulate so much stuff— perhaps I’m really just a hoarder and will one day have to be rescued from a labyrinth of old newspapers and empty cans. For now, it’s under control (honestly), and anyway, it’s all so small, it doesn’t take up very much room. It isn’t going to get me just yet. I’ve always had a strong preference for tiny things; the smaller the better, right back into my childhood. My mother loved furnishing dollhouses, so I got the love of miniature worlds from her. From a very early age, I had a box of little “treasures,” which I loved to sort into different orders: my favorites, smallest to largest, by color and so on— I’ve still got it, and it’s clear that my Instagram feed is just a continuation of that activity.
From where do you source the items you collect for your photographs?
I’ve had quite a lot of them since I was a child, and then I also kept all my mother’s small things after she died in 2011— she and I were very alike in that respect. Obviously there’s the constant lure of eBay, where you can find almost anything you hanker for at a price. I try not to buy too much from eBay, partly because of the cost, and partly because it’s just too easy. I like to keep a sense of randomness about what comes my way, so I will scrabble in boxes of toys at car boot sales and flea markets to find the tiny things that fall to the bottom. Charity shops are another great source. Best of all are things I’ve found on the ground— you’d be amazed how often I spot little things at my feet. Found passport photos are a particular favorite of mine, left in photo booth delivery slots or thrown to the wind.
What is your studio setup like? How do you store all of your items?
My setup is just a table in front of a window. I rely on natural light, even though it can vary from very yellow through to very gray. For Instagram posts, I’m just quite spontaneously recording the outcome of a little idea, so I don’t agonize too much about the lighting conditions and so on. I get through a lot of sheets of paper, which I use as backgrounds, and which soon become grubby, as so many of the little objects are crumbling or rusting or “melting” (some types of old plastic become weirdly gummy after a few years, I’ve found).
I keep all my little bits and pieces in numerous small boxes and pots and drawers, arranged according to what they are, rather than by, say, their color: pots of small zebras, cameras, fish, hats, body parts, and so on and on. Within those pots/boxes, I’ve now started to have a second level of tubs or little bags with the smallest things in them because it’s so easy for those to become lost.
What is your production process like for these photos?
I really try not to overthink it. It’s supposed to be for fun. I don’t pre-plan anything much, except that I sometimes scribble down ideas (such as “pictures of sandwiches” or “squatting figures”) if I think I might forget them. More often than not, I’ll go into the room where I keep everything at lunchtime (taking a break from editing a book on Victorian bricks or Tudor women for my professional work) and I just have a sniff around. An idea usually jumps into my head, perhaps most often a color. Or it might be a category such as tiny toy radios or seahorses. Whatever takes my fancy.
How do you design a given collection photo?
Once I’ve decided on the “idea,” I’ll grab a container and pick the objects that fit it. If it’s a color, I’ll go round all the different places in the room where I keep things and look for that color. I try to be as specific as possible, and then when I tip out this first selection of things onto the table, I’ll edit it a bit more to exclude things that aren’t quite the right shade. Or, alternatively, I’ll arrange the objects so that they run through the changes of shade in an orderly way. I just piece together the selection into a rough square, fiddle with it for a bit to get the spaces between each thing looking right, then I take a few pictures of it with my phone. Nothing very high tech. As soon as I’ve posted the picture, I sweep the arrangement away; I try to be good and replace each thing in its right container straight away. If I don’t, then a heap of unsorted things soon builds up, and I start missing them out of new combinations, which is frustrating.
Why do you think this account has resonated so strongly with people?
It’s very innocent and unthreatening. You don’t have to have an opinion or the “right taste” to like the things I post. Nostalgia plays a strong part too, as most of the tiny objects are old, from the ‘60s to the ‘90s, predominantly. At bottom, the little collections refer back to childhood, and people love to comment that they also used to have something they’ve seen in one of my posts.
The other aspect that seems to appeal is what you might call the “rhythm” of the posts: the orderly way they’re arranged in grids. Some people have compared it to ASMR. Anything that makes people feel happy and calm is alright by me.
What’s your favorite part of running this account?
Everything about it is a pleasure, to be honest. Finding the connections between different sets of things each day answers to some quite deep-seated need in me, I think. It reassures me that I’m in control, perhaps. But more than that, I just really like the look of the little square layouts— it’s the joy of sets.
I also really enjoy interacting with others on Instagram. People are very generous in their responses and leave joyful comments that I appreciate enormously. And I love the connections one makes through Instagram to other collectors— they’re out there in their multitudes and they’ll share their knowledge with such generosity. It’s wonderful.