Stuff and Clutter

Many people, myself included, are frustrated with physical clutter in their homes and workspaces. Clutter in this sense – probably the most commonly used definition – is collections of disorderly ‘stuff’ that take up space and get in the way. Or it can just mean a lot of stuff in a small area. It doesn’t really matter what the ‘stuff’ is that creates clutter – it can be papers, clothes, ornaments, camping gear (my current clutter!), or just miscellaneous junk. Regardless of form, clutter begs to be dealt with, either through organising and sorting through it all – there is a whole industry of professional organisers who aim to help you get on top of your clutter – or through the more minimalist route of disposing of the clutter, one way or another so that it is simply out of your life.

Personally, I favour the latter route. The problem with ‘organising’, it seems to me, is that you will almost inevitably end up having to reorganise the same objects at some point. For example, if your wardrobe and chest of drawers are tightly packed with clothes and it is a pain in the arse to put stuff away in them, you probably end up plonking clothes on a chair or maybe the floor. So one day you get so frustrated with the clothing mountain that you decide to sort out the pile of clothes, and fold and put them all away neatly, perfectly aligned, stacked and organised. Lovely. But your wardrobe and drawers are still really full with all these tightly packed, neatly organised clothes, and getting out one t shirt from under some others upsets the whole lovely pile you made, requiring a re-folding exercise, and putting clothes away after laundry becomes a real chore again as you are still trying to squeeze things in to their allocated place, so they go on the nearby chair… The whole cycle just starts over again!

The fundamental problem is not solved by organising, in this case, as there is still too much ‘stuff’, which morphs into ‘clutter’ once it hits the floor and starts getting in your way. If the wardrobe had a lot more free space in it, there would be less of a hurdle to putting things away easily, so the stuff (clothes) would remain stuff in their wardrobe, rather than becoming clutter on the floor. Essentially, stuff becomes clutter when it isn’t in its home, and chances are, your storage space (i.e. homes for stuff) is limited, therefore to cut clutter, you need to minimise your stuff until it fits comfortably in its allocated home, and stops trying to break free onto the floor/kitchen table/sideboard.

I suppose you could just keep increasing your storage capacity – buy a new wardrobe, refit the kitchen with customised storage – to accommodate your stuff, but then, how many clothes/saucepans/camping mugs do you actually need? There are only seven days in a week, when would you wear all those clothes, and use all that stuff? Furthermore, the more storage you have for stuff, the more time you have to spend putting stuff away (even if you have made it easy for yourself by having it uncramped), cleaning you stuff, performing maintenance tasks on your stuff, and the less space you have to move around in your home due to all the storage ‘solutions’.