The Art of Clutter


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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