Clutter is usually portrayed as a negative aspect in your home – you’re told to get rid of it, hide it (but in a well organized way), donate it, etc. Even we have jumped on the band wagon and encouraged you to declutter your spaces and limit the “sit around stuff” on tables, clean out your closets and drawers, and organize your office down to the last paper clip.
I’m here today to add a qualifier to that premise. Sometimes a messy drawer or desk top is okay. A favorite collection that’s taking over a bookcase can be perfectly okay. Adding a personalized accessory to a shelf might be okay. Buying a new pair of shoes and adding them to the crowded shelf might even be okay. Most of us live in homes that are somewhere between hoarder paradise and magazine perfect minimalism. So where does clutter begin?
What IS Clutter?
Maybe a definition is in order so we have a beginning point from which to judge. “Clutter [kluht-er]: to fill or litter with things in a disorderly manner.” I think clutter is different for each of us and we need to look carefully at our lifestyles and habits to determine what qualifies as clutter.
For example, every home likely has a junk drawer where little used things are dropped and saved. Who knows when you’ll need that extra luggage key, a green paperclip, a 2″ long pencil, or a game token? While it’s good to clean it out once or twice a year (or when it doesn’t close any more), it’s somehow comforting to know that there’s a place where little mementos or random pieces of your life can end up.
This series of photos shows a junk drawer progression from chaotic, “disorderly” storage to a reasonable level of organization to a highly organized drawer (mine looks this way for one day after its annual reorganization!). Which of these drawers feels cluttered to you?
Living With Clutter
We all own things that we keep for sentimental reasons: you inherit a lamp, table, piece of art or box of old journals; you keep gifts your kids made in elementary school (10 years ago!) or wedding gifts that never leave the gift box. Most of us collect something: toy trains, teacups, thimbles, books, roosters; the challenge occurs when the collection outgrows its space. We all have clothes and shoes (sometimes that counts as a collection!) and when what we own no longer fits in the closet space we have, its time to decide. Has it become clutter?
Returning to the official definition of “litter in a disorderly manner”, I’m of the opinion that if the magazines you’re saving for recipes or decorating ideas overflow their storage basket, they will have reached a “disorderly” state and need a purge. However, if your collection of roosters takes up all available display space in the dining room and you expand the collection to the kitchen, they’re fine (unless you can’t find room to chop a tomato). If your collection of beach rocks has overtaken the window ledge but you still love picking them up, go ahead and fill up another ledge.
Four Levels of Decorating Clutter
Each of us must find that tipping point between what we enjoy as visual stimulation and pleasure and what becomes messy, dangerous or uncomfortable to look at. Ranging from minimalist design to filled-to-the-brim design, I think clutter levels can be classified in four sections.
1 - “Nothing Extra for Me” – Characterized by furniture with simple lines and few or no pillows; few side tables or extra chairs; almost no accessories and what is on display is usually large in scale; some art but also plenty of blank wall space. Clutter would show up immediately because in comparison to the stark surroundings, every little thing out of place would be apparent. People who enjoy this style of living would have a place for everything and everything in its place.
2 – “Keep me Tidy” – Characterized generally by more furniture pieces and some of the pieces would have more detail – carved legs, elaborate lamp shades, multiple sofa pillows, ottomans for extra seating; accessories would be plentiful but carefully edited to fit the available space; collections might play a big part in the accessorizing; art, prints and family photos would adorn most wall space. In this decorating style clutter might take a while to develop and become noticeable because there’s plenty of visual stimulation already going on. People who enjoy this style wouldn’t mind a vase sitting empty on a table for a while or that a stack of books takes over the nightstand, but every once in awhile the need to restore order will assert itself.
3 – “Love my Stuff” – This style is characterized by a love of collecting stuff – from accessories to furniture to clothes and shoes; shelves and tables are filled with collections and accessories artfully displayed; walls are covered with groupings of art and photographs. With most available space filled with treasures, the visual stimulation is already quite high and clutter would perhaps consist of “disorderly”, meaning that items added to the collections are done in a messy, unplanned way. People who enjoy this style like the energy and excitement of seeing everything on display. Clutter has a much looser meaning to them.
4 – “Out of Control” – Characterized by filling a space to the brim with furniture, accessories, and art. They are unable to let go of anything from a treasured gift to a thrift store find that they never use, so every drawer, closet, and surface is littered with possessions. Items are stacked, layered and shoved into every nook and cranny, and not always with decorative intent. Clutter is hard to notice because it’s difficult to separate from the daily collection of miscellaneous tchotchkes.
What is GOOD Clutter?
This image would conform to my idea of Good clutter – it’s artfully arranged, it’s a cohesive collection, the collection pays attention to scale and proportion, color is well used throughout the collection and the books are integrated into the display. Is it busy with LOTS to look at? Definitely. Is it cluttered? You decide.
Good clutter can be defined as extra possessions that are sitting around but placed purposefully, with intention. If the accessories are placed with intention and in an effort to create a pleasing arrangement, then the term ‘clutter’ is in the eye of the beholder. True clutter is when possessions, stuff, gets dropped on the floor here, left on a table top there and just not put away. As more items are left out and the piles of random papers and magazines, shoes under the furniture, toys scattered about, and decorations from last month’s birthday party are left here and there, the resulting disorderliness (mess) qualifies as clutter. That’s when it’s time for purging and organizing.
How do you Define Your Clutter Style?
Do any of these definitions or descriptions describe your style? Do you feel like you have a low or high tolerance for clutter – the stuff that we all accumulate? Do you want it all hidden in pretty bins (even when it’s in the closet) or do you like to display everything? Leave a comment and tell us how you feel about clutter and how it affects your home.
If you need some help organizing your space, arranging your furniture, selecting color or any other design related help, Cindy and I are glad to help. Check out our consultation options here. Another option is to order our e-book “How to Successfully Use Color in Home Decorating” for only $14.99. It will guide you step by step as you select colors for your room or your whole home.