Clutter can often be confused with hoarding. It can be limited to finding a box of objects your father had somehow stowed away. It can be hanging on to your child’s first drawing or confirmation certificate. It can mean keeping photographs. All things one could do without, and which can therefore be labeled clutter. But which on the other hand are part of who we are.

But just what do we mean by clutter? It is certainly not something new, as proved by Oxyrhynchus, that ancient Egyptian city built on a canal of the Nile. Since it was not subject to flooding, when documents and papers got in the way of future activities, they were dumped out into the desert, providing today’s archaeologists with something to do. And helping us learn about our past and that of humanity.

One of the solutions to clutter, or having too many useless things around, is clean out your house. I am told that if you get new shoes, you should always throw out an old pair.  And clothing? Why if you haven’t worn it in the past year, I am told, toss it.

I am wearing things acquired years ago. Then when I had my hip replacement, those roomy skirts I had thought of giving away were just the thing. Can I bear to give away the lovely jacket I wore at my step-son’s wedding? I may never wear it again, but the deep reds and purples of the brocade do still give me joy. In a sense, the best solution would be not to buy anything new. Evidently one can wear whatever one likes now, or does that only apply to the younger crowd?

My problem is of course unique in that first of all my son is an archaeologist. My husband was an archaeologist. And so, for that matter, was my great grandfather. What they dealt and deal with can be defined as always “meaningful” clutter.

Now how does one decide what is clutter. Certainly not by holding it up and deciding if it “gives one joy”. Take the terracotta clown on one of my shelves. It’s not a masterpiece but it is a sign of caring. And all those books I have kept through the decades, wouldn’t think of dumping them even though you can probably find everything on the web now. I’m still of a generation where books were sacred objects, not to be taken lightly, not to be discarded. Yes, some day or other, I might just want to get out that book on the second shelf and leaf through the pages.

I could easily give away extra kitchen utensils. Inherited from my parents and in-laws, there are just too many ladles and odd forks and knives in my drawers. Reminds me of when my sister-in-law died and my son Claudio and his wife Alba went to sort out her belongings. Alba was very practical, would put  a chipped enamel pot in the throw away pile, only to turn around and find that Claudio had salvaged it for it held memories for him.

Now isn’t that what distinguishes objects from clutter? Memories. One makes the rounds of flea markets and wonders at the array of objects in what to some are pretty horrible taste. Yet someone bought them, kept them, perhaps treasured them. Each box or picture frame has a history to it – sealed forever in the mind of its owner, ready perhaps for a new life with whoever buys it.

Memories and an imputed beauty of some sort are both essential aspects of what clutter is and getting rid of this profusion of objects is not all that simple. As long as one has room for memories, for “clutter”, I would say keep them.  

5 thoughts on “Clutter

  1. Thank you for speaking about clutter and hoarding, two words that are close to my heart. I appreciate the definitions you give to distinguish these terms. Over the years we have had many discussions about them. I see that among the 3,620 Notes on my phone that are definitely not clutter😉 the draft of an article that dates back to when we downsized from our large, well-filled home of 35+ years: “Confessions of a Recovering (?) Hoarder: the 20 objects that did NOT get the boot, and why.” In thinking about how to comment on your piece from today, however, I looked back to my record of previous comments, and the first one that showed up was: “This is from your friend Diane Joy, whose other middle name should probably be “Hoarder,” and who saves every one of the items you mention. You can probably guess how much I agree with what you are saying, so perhaps I can surprise us both by stopping here.” I’m going to do that right now, after thanking you for the gift of the lovely term, “meaningful clutter.”

    Envoyé de mon Di-Phone


  2. Thoughtful words, Erika. We have too many things, stuffed in drawers and closets. They are are clutter. Unread scraps of paper and plastic boxes with loose paper clips and batteries and screws. Sometimes I’m simply too busy or too lazy to remove it. But, as you say, most of our stuff stays, not for its beauty or usefulness, but because it holds memories. Both good and bad.

    Hugs, Linda



  3. Well said Erika. My wife and I have often said that the world divides into hoarders and chuckers. She is a hoarder; I’m a chucker. So we compromise – and both hoard and chuck, and then find that the things we want are the ones we have chucked away, while the stuff we’ve hoarded we never require!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: