Q: For years, my wife has collected ceramic figurines, salt and pepper shakers, teacups, saucers and plates. Every flat surface and wall in our house is packed with plates and delicate objects, and I'm sick of all the clutter. I've never complained, but I can't hold it in much longer. I can't set anything down for fear of breaking something.
A: I don't envy that dusting chore! And I feel for you, too - living with clutter is stressful enough. But, it's your house, too, and you should have a say in how it looks.
It's unlikely she'll change as long as she thinks you approve. And you have approved, by not saying anything. Understand that whatever you say may come as a shock.
Has she been collaborative in other big decision-making conversations? If so, you may have options. Provide motivation and see how she takes it. Propose a painting project, new carpeting, or other maintenance or light renovation.
These projects would require the collection to be taken down for protection. Of course, offer to help pack things up and be respectful. Don't be too enthusiastic or joke about eBay, unless she starts it! But do be honest and say how you'd like to enjoy the freshly painted walls with fewer objects.
To your benefit, the best way to highlight a big collection isn't by showing off every single piece. Grouping pieces makes each collection stronger. Have your wife select her favorite 10 to 12 or so plates. Choose one wall, maybe in your dining room, to compose an elegant arrangement and help her install it. This will elevate the collection to art, and she can change out the plates for variety.
Same goes for the other collections. Choose one focal area, such as one curio cabinet or a single shelf, for each collection. And dedicate one room for her as an office or hobby room, where she can display (and dust) the rest as much as she wants.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.