The Art of Clutter

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There’s been a big shift toward minimalism in the last few years. Everywhere I look I see people simplifying their homes, switching to monochromatic schemes of black and white and grey, seeing my Instagram feed fill with pictures of elegant, bare-bones rooms. There have been a few times where I wished I was more drawn to minimalism – after all, the concept of ‘stuff’ seems so bourgeois today.

I never wish that for very long. I wasn’t made for minimalism. Growing up, I was always fascinated by clutter. Not Little Old Lady clutter – I knew the difference between curiosities and Precious Moments figurines – but real, interesting, story-filled, curiosity-cabinet clutter. One of my favorite books growing up was Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Eight Cousins,’ which I read far more frequently than Little Women or even Jo’s Boys, my other favorite.  The main reason I loved this book was Uncle Alec. I wanted to be Uncle Alec. He swooped into the story with his tales of travels, bringing foreign, exotic things to Rose, raising questions as often as he answered them. Between Uncle Alec and Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which from A Wrinkle in Time, I knew how – if not exactly what – I wanted to be when I grew up.

I knew I couldn’t live a minimal life and also surround myself with that cabinet of curiosities-slash-wizard vibe I wanted, so I gave up the thought and began the art of Collecting Things. I’m a very specific collector. I need items to mean something to me – they need to make me happy, remind me of something, or have a purpose. Just having ‘stuff’ isn’t my goal – filling my space with things I love, things that will make other people stop and look and wonder, that is the goal.

My room isn’t very large, but every time I walk into it, it’s like stepping into another world, or the mysterious wing of a different house. There are sixteen plants in this small space; three different strands of lights. The windowsills are lined with crystals. There are several piles of books by my bed. A large figure of the anterior view of a skull hangs from my wall next to a celestial chart. A strand of folded stars, made by women in India, hangs from my ceiling, as does a small dragon I adopted from a renaissance faire several years ago. My bookshelf (for I only have room for one in this room, the rest of my books are in a dozen boxes in the basement) is stacked not only with books, but a large cast-iron griffin I got at a curiosity store, a small faux-ivory box in which I keep my pipe tobacco, a pipe, a wooden gnome carved by a friend of mine, a jar of paper star from another friend, a tiny Totoro figurine, and more.

Belts, bags, jewelry, and masquerade masks also hang from my wall. My ‘office space,’ i.e. the side of the room where I work, is my favorite. The wall is strung with maps, keys, art prints from my favorite artists, a Carnival poster from my dad’s high school days, a painting of Big Ben by my little sister. The desk holds a letter tray, boxes of pencils and pens, an incense pot, a candle, a rat’s skull, jars of glitter and wax seals and feather pens, leather-bound notebooks and a wooden growler (surprisingly helpful for organizing other miscellany like paints, more jars, and a plastic skeleton’s foot) made by a wonderful craftsman from the local farmer’s market.

When people walk into my room – even if it’s a family member who has undoubtedly stood in this room hundreds of times – they stop and stare and look because there’s so much to see. Everything I keep is something I love. Something given to me, something discovered, something with a story.

It’s not always organized. It’s not always clean. It certainly doesn’t always look Instagram-worthy, and it definitely makes it harder to pack up whenever we move.

But it’s a lot more fun to unpack, too.

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9 thoughts on “The Art of Clutter”

  1. I think it’s regrettable that the word “minimalism” has come to stand for two different things—on the one hand an aesthetic/color scheme, on the other hand a lifestyle—and so gives a lot of people a confused idea that the two things are identical or interchangeable. Now me, I don’t like monochromatic and modernistic at all; I love soft colors and rich colors, old-fashioned furniture, and details of art and craftsmanship in decor! I do call myself a “minimalist” in the lifestyle aspect—I see it more as simple living in the sense that you choose to have just the things you need/use/love the most around you, so you have the time and space to enjoy those things to the fullest. The way you describe your room sounds like you’ve chosen everything that goes into it because it’s useful to you or gives you pleasure in some way.That’s you! And that’s the thing about real simple living: it’s not a set of rules! It’s more like a helpful guide or tool to help each person sift though and find the lifestyle and surroundings that are most fulfilling for them.

    My two cents, anyway. :)

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  2. I love your room. Always have. Always will. Minimalism is fine, and I suppose it’s preferable to hoarding, but I’d much rather have eccentric, mildly organized clutter. There’s an older (60?) gal from our church and her house is nice and cute cottagey on the outside, and then you walk in and it literally looks steampunk. She’s got gorgeous reds and greens and big steamer trunks and springs and gears all over and I love it. It’s not messy, but it’s definitely full, and she can tell you for hours what each thing is from and means to her.

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  3. I’m drawn to minimalism in as the inspiration for declutter (not as an aesthetic or to be a minimalist) . . . because I’m naturally a maximalist/hoarder and that stresses me out, but true minimalism also stresses me out or bores me . . . I need choices and color. I also noticed a lot of the minimalist people weren’t highly artistic/creative/makerish in the kinesthetic sense, any creating they did was digital. Not me. I need my yarn, my fabric, my real books. So I tried to find people who were trying to bring some sense and control to their crafts as a more relatable inspiration.

    This is trite, but it does really boil down to whatever works best for you. I like to pick and choose what I find helpful. I won’t ever follow minimalism or capsule wardrobes “officially” but I do find inspiration.

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  4. Love this! I like the “freedom” of the minimalism ideal, but I’ve never been that successful in purging my way there. I definitely *need* to get rid of a lot of stuff, but I love this idea of meaningful clutter! <3 That’s going to be my goal. ^_^

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  5. I love purposeful clutter! People’s rooms always fascinate me, especially the more books and photos they have. There’s a huge difference between “mess” and “clutter,” anyways. Sometimes minimalistic stuff looks nice, but I agree, it can be boring, too. I try to keep the desk in my writing room neat and tidy, but it’s by no means cleared off. I have tons of books and papers stacked off to the side or shoved into an organizer. But it’s more fun, I think. Cool post!

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  6. I love your room! I loved to decorate for years. And I still do. I think beauty is a wonderful thing. And your room is also something that shows how unique you are: skulls, fandoms, pretty pictures, plants, inspiration… Mirri stuff! :)

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