A trip to Clutterville

I recently spent a week as a guest in Rachel's home. Though we have been very close friends for at least 15 years, I had never before set foot there.

During my years in my former city, where she still lives, I didn't give it more than occasional thought; we lived at opposite ends of a metropolis, and often met halfway, after work or on Saturday morning for breakfast. But now, newly empty-nested, she invited me to stay.

And I learned why her home has been off limits.

She quoted her mother: "Everything is all over everywhere!" Rachel had to come out of the bulging closet; she's a Clutter Queen, with emphasis on books, papers, CDs, file folders. Beauty products, kitchen gear, clothes.

Rachel's desk (facsimile)
If forewarned, I'd predict an uneasy perch amid the mess. But I wholly enjoyed visiting for two reasons: first, because despite teetering piles, the house was immaculate, and second, her vibrant decor enveloped me in busy beauty, something to delight the eye at every corner. 

Rachel's possessions decorate her like the ribbons the birds draped around Wendy in Disney's "Peter Pan". I admit that on the first night, while trying to fall asleep in a bedroom festooned with a daughter's left-behind hats, vertiginous heels, and more makeup than a Sephora warehouse (is this hereditary?) I mentally shopped the Ikea catalog for a massive Billy System injection. Then I realized this 'muchness' matches Rachel's exuberant, generous nature.  

She says one reason why she has amassed so much is to heal the effects of a childhood of frequent moves, in which she was often forced to abandon her toys and books.

My desk (actual)
When another friend visited my home, she looked at my desk and asked "But where do you keep everything?" The answer is, I have no 'everything'. And yet I'm taking time today for another clean-out. 

You Have to Keep on Top of It is the motto of the clutter-averse. 

If you're unhappy about your plenitude, purge mercilessly, arrange what's left in spruce containers (I like Semikolon), and request that your loved ones give gifts you can use up. 

Rachel's home was no less welcoming for its genial jumble; on my return journey I reflected on why some of us yearn for the spare and orderly while others embrace an overflowing bounty.

Which are you? Are you happy that way?


Madame Là-bas said…
I have been working hard to eliminate clutter in our apartment. I find that less clutter is more restful and calming to me. I have a desk very similar to yours but I'm using it as a dressing table as well. Makeup samples and surplus product all have to be purged again. I do enjoy visiting friends whose lifestyle choices are different from mine.
Jane said…
My home could be described just as your friends. I have a hard time sharing my home with others because I don't want to be judged for the clutter. I love how you embraced her home as it was and could see her beauty and appreciated it. I feel a little better about my cluttered, but much loved home.
frugalscholar said…
As you might guess, I am a clutterbug (perhaps b/c my mother throws everything out). At the same time, clutter drives me crazy. The worst of both worlds.

I am impressed by your kind response to your temperamentally different friend.
Bunny said…
My mom's home was like your friend's. It was totally disorganized but clean where it needed to be. But here is the important thing, and it is so important compared to importance of clutter standards. Our home was THE hangout.It was where all her friends and neighbors came for a great cup of coffee and to hang out for the afternoon. It was where all our young friends could hang out totally comfortably as she had a warm ear for listening to whatever love challenges, parent issues, and future talk any teenager could bring. My mom, like your friend, taught me the importance of friendship and warmth. She didn't teach me a thing about house keeping and I never had to make a bed till the day I got married. I have fond memories of that messy old home.
LauraH said…
It can be a challenge for me to accept other people's clutter as I find it very difficult to function in that kind of environment. Thanks for providing a more generous perspective.

Although I haven't reached your level of spareness, I do keep my stuff well organized and in it's place. Of course, it's not just about tidiness, I also try hard not to accumulate. These days I'm more conscious that a downsizing move might be in my future - an additional motive for keeping an eye on stuff-creep and for letting things go to new homes. The approaching icy days of winter will be a perfect time for another de-cluttering sweep through the house. As so often happens, your post is very timely.
I am live in Clutterville. With all I am involved in, it is difficult to control all of the papers and information for teaching journalism, freelance writing, and blogging. I married a neat freak and over the past 30 years there are times when we have collisions. But, he has never changed me...just part of who I am.
materfamilias said…
Papers (years of research and teaching -- I'm beginning to purge in anticipation of retirement, but it's not going to be easy) and books and yarn stash -- my primary weaknesses. I definitely have a tendency to collection and I love homes filled with artifacts that reveal life histories. But I also appreciate order, so it's a balancing act, especially since getting things off the island complicates the process of de-cluttering. Good for your friend for her willingness to reveal a vulnerability . . .
Murphy said…
I like lack of clutter in my decor and closet, but my desk looks messier than your friend's desk! I'm a stacker, and I like a different stack of papers for each project. Not to mention my stacks of books...
I dislike clutter but have a couple of junk drawers for the odd disarray of detritus.
I actually enjoy spending time in over stuffed houses and perusing all the clutter. I find it rather like being in a museum and when I get home to my small space I feel a sense of calm wash over me...although there might be the odd dust bunny and cobweb, there's no place like home!

Isn't it wonderful that we can be guests in our friends homes now that we are retired...a mini vacation that is free and offers many opportunities to sit and reconnect with friends?
Northmoon said…
I'm a clutterist aspiring to the possibility of minimalism. While I love the look of your desk, mine resembles that of your friend. Knowing that the responsibility for the state of my living quarters is entirely my own, I read blogs on minimalism, the simplicity movement, decluttering etc. looking for inspriation. I have donated or sold a certain quantity of my posessions, so I'm not anywhere near hoarder territory but the crowded aspect remains. Part of it is sentimental, not wanting to let go, part of it is lack of space for hobbies and part is just inertia.

I agree with Hostess - it is wonderful to visit a friend and reconnect, even if I do envy their uncluttered home!
LPC said…
I'm in between. Not minimalist, not cluttered. I'd call it a generous serenity, if I'm being poetic:).
Nancy K said…
My house is mixed. My studio and sewing room are pretty cluttered. I can never seem to clean up every day, though I usually clean up after each project. Of course it's messy again almost immediately! I just don't seem to be able to keep my desk area clear either. Living room, dining room and den, where we live are actually much neater. Kitchen is usually pretty good too. Maybe not up to your gorgeous desk, but it works for me.
une femme said…
We have a lot of clutter, and it's not because we like it that way. We're still "storing" a bunch of my late MIL's stuff which compounds the normal clutter of a small 1940's home with minimal storage space. One of these days I'm just going to rent a U-haul and make it all disappear....
Well, I'm a messy, though my work desk looks nothing like the messy example in this post (I clean it at least daily). But I don't see how you work without any physical notes, pens etc. I still don't do all that online. And that pretty chair is far from ergonomic.

I've been purging a lot of things ove the past months, but now I've met a dead end, precisely because those I haven't managed to cart to a charity shop or bazaar are in bags, but the approaching icy days of winter make it almost impossible to take them there, damn it!

Oh well, I'll find a way.
Duchesse said…
Mme: "Calming and restful" sums it up! I also use this console as a buffet as it is near our dining table.

Bunny: Yours sounds like such an inviting childhood home, full of memories for not only the family but friends.

LauraH: When preparing for our move, I was aghast at how much had piled up in drawers and nooks, despite my long habit of being clutter-averse.

Pam: You are one lucky woman. Rachel's husband, a professional photographer, works from a home office and is by necessity precise and orderly. Friction arises, especially when he has a big assignment.

materfamilias: A friend who lives on Toronto island asks visitors to not arrive with anything in hand, unless cleared with her first, for that reason. Her storage is very limited. Carting things on and off islands is a whole art unto itself.

Murphy: Messier? Can it be so? ;)

Northmoon: Beware! After reading such blogs, you might one day give in to an uncontrollable urge to declutter!

LPC: I guessed that from seeing your beautiful wild/manicured garden.

NancyK: What works for you is the way to be. Our kitchen is clearly on view from the living/dining area, so we keep it very tidy.

unefemme: Well •there• is a post I look forward to reading, and so will many others. The sentimental things are the hardest to deal with.

lagatta: The pens and notebooks are in the drawers; office supplies are on a closet shelf, boxed and labelled; work files and products are in secure cloud storage. The chair (from Design Within Reach, is extremely supportive padded leather, the perfect proportions for my body.

Good for you for donating!

Susan said…
I am firmly in between clutter and spareness. Too many things (small things) in a room comes across as visual clutter to me and makes me uncomfortable in my own home. I don't mind lots of things in another person's home.
Eleanorjane said…
I love stuff, particularly stuff with memories attached like things from holidays or things inherited from family.

I also don't do nearly as much tidying and putting away as I should. I'd love it if the fairies put my clothes away every night as I end up with a pile of once worn clothes at the end of every week.

Still, I am reasonably rigorous about 'one in, one out' with clothes. Living in a small flat helps keep accumulation down too.
Anonymous said…
My office hosts 2 businesses (medical and creative writing), 1 hobby that may eventually become a business (yoga), and 1 hobby that will stay a hobby (sewing). I literally can't think or create if the clutter gets out of control.

But I know full well that some people are exactly the opposite--they can't think or relax when things are too neat and tidy. Vive la difference!
Anonymous said…
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Duchesse, messier - yes but that is called hoarding. I have a friend whose flat was so full of boxes and stacks of papers that he could scarcely move about. The situation has much improved - he had no choice after a fire department investigation, and attends a self-help group. Worse still is called "Diogenese syndrome". These are cases one encounters working in community associations. Absolutely nothing to do with your examples, any more than compulsive cleaning has to do with minimalism. But encountering such extreme cases sets one off on a hell of a cleaning spree!

I'm glad your beautiful chair is also ergonomic.
Kristien62 said…
I am clutter averse, but fail miserably at achieving it. My worst failing is the inability to figure out what to file and what to toss. Thus piles on my desk that I can't even look at. Getting better with clothing although the guilt I feel when I let go of a piece of rarely used clothing inhibits my forays into purging. One step at a time.
Duchesse said…
Kristien62: May i suggest a scanner (many low-priced printers come with them as a feature)? This has reduced our paper storage drastically.
The key is to not acquire clothing that will be rarely used but that has taken me about 50 years to figure out ;)

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