“Clutter is Good for You”, But Is It Really?

Did you happen to catch Rob Walker’s article in the NY Times this week, “Clutter is Good for You”? I loved hearing a different perspective on clutter, showing how there is value in the things that we keep because they have meaning for us. 

However, while the overall message is fun and alternative, I do take issue with one important point. Walker is not really talking about “clutter.”

Clutter is stuff that piles up. Clutter is things that we often forget (or would prefer to forget) that we own. Clutter is not *one* ceramic leprechaun that we keep and enjoy, as Walker received from his mother.  

Piles of belongings that cause a sense of overwhelm and dread when we look at them? That’s clutter. Boxes of stuff that we feel guilty letting go because it came from the contents of a deceased relative’s home? Clutter. Things that we purchased for a hobby we no longer enjoy, or items that we impulse-bought that weren’t quite right in the first place? Again, clutter.

In my experience, clutter is the stuff we hold onto, because we don’t know how to let it go — or what to do with it.

In “Clutter is Good for You”, Walker describes a collection of bird figurines that his mother wanted to send to him despite his lack of interest. He persuaded her to keep them because, as Marie Kondo says, it “sparked joy” for her. 

In his mother’s home, the collection is amusing. He calls it clutter that is good for her. But the collection is not clutter to his mother. Only in his own home would it become clutter.

Unfortunately, many of my clients are not as persuasive against their own mothers as Walker (I wish I were!).  Instead they are guilted into acquiring things for which they have no interest other than pleasing a family member. Think: clutter, but bubble-wrapped in guilt. The collection that is good for one, is not necessarily good for all.

Walker also makes reference to cluttercore in support of his case. For those unfamiliar, it’s the trend of maximalist decorating with eclectic items to intentionally fill every spot of space in one’s home. Again, I consider the use of “clutter” a misnomer. The intentionality of cluttercore makes the spaces feel busy — but still aesthetically pleasing and functional.

My overwhelming concern with the title that clutter is “good for” us, is that readers will mistakenly believe they should continue to hold onto things that are actually doing them a disservice.

Lastly, while I am a decluttering coach and organizer, I do not consider myself a minimalist. I have never preached purging for the sake of purging. In fact, much like Walker, I encourage my clients to keep all of the collections and items that they find joy in owning. 

I simply support my clients in letting go of their belongings when they recognize the amount of stuff they own has impacted a room’s ability to function as it should, or prevents my client from performing tasks in that room comfortably. If your stuff is quirky but you feel content, by all means keep it.

Perhaps “Kitsch is Good for You” would have been a more appropriate title?