Category Archives: interior redesign

Defining “Clutter”

clutter 2

I have friends that have so much Stuff in their homes that when I visit, I feel like I can’t breathe. I need air, give me air. Walking into their house, I feel like I’ve just walked onto the pages of a Where’s Waldo book. I’m not normally claustrophobic…except in their houses…and it has nothing to do with room size. Stuff me in a tiny closet and shut the door…no problem…put me in an overly-furnished room and I start to tremble. There’s so much stuff I don’t actually see individual items; everything blurs into a massive kaleidoscope of indistinguishable Stuff!

By my definition, their homes are cluttered. By my definition, almost anything can become clutter if there’s too much of it: plants, books, art, or furniture. By my definition, stuffing a home is like wearing every necklace you own…at the same time. And yet my friends are not only comfortable but proud of their homes…and their Stuff.

De-cluttering….it’s a critical component of home staging and home design; we are constantly reading or hearing about the need to de-clutter our homes…but what does that really mean. What exactly is clutter? And how do we DE-clutter when we’re not even sure what clutter is?

It’s not exactly helpful when design sites or magazines feature articles on the need to de-clutter and the next article features a room crammed with furniture, accessories, and art. Huh?

And what about the debris that collects when we are relaxed, tired, sick, or busy? Newspapers, half-filled coffee cups, empty pop cans, stray papers, and stacks of mail…surely that can’t be the clutter designers, decorators, and stagers are talking about?

Stagers often define clutter as any item smaller than a basketball…beach ball…football. Easy, but most of us don’t live in staged homes so how does that translate into normal living?

Miriam-Webster gives a more formal definition:

Clutter (noun) a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way: a crowded or disordered collection of things

Clutter-(verb) to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness

Hmm! Does that mean that we can pack a warehouse worth of stuff into a 10 x 10 room, as long as everything is neat and orderly and we can move around? Does it count if the columns of stuff are eight feet high?

The word “clutter” also seems to imply something of little value and not much worth. Please! We’re talking about our Stuff here. And how do we define value…by price, size, or quantity? 

Perhaps clutter comes in layers; the first layer being the debris of daily living. Or perhaps it is measureable in units… degrees of clutter…mildly cluttered, moderately cluttered, or totally cluttered. Maybe we could devise a scale, kind of like the Richter scale, that defines the magnitude of clutter and has an attached alarm or siren: “Warning! Warning! You have reached maximum clutter. Please move to higher ground…”

Only this is not a science, this is perception.

What I have finally come to realize, is that there may not be a universal definition of “clutter”, a single meaning that we can all agree on. Just as we all have individual tastes and style preferences, our definition of “clutter” is highly personal, we each define it differently. What is one man’s “clutter” is another man’s treasure.

I’ve also come to realize that “de-cluttering” is a different process based on whether we are staging or creating home, because the goals are different. The goal of staging is visual clarity; the goal of creating home is self-expression.

When stagers recommend that a client “de-clutter” what they’re really saying is limit the number of accessories on the coffee table, minimize the number of prints on the wall, or downsize the amount of furniture in the living room. The terms, downsize, simplify, streamline, or minimize, are more effective, precise, and easier to understand than the ambiguous “de-clutter”. And there is no suggestion of lack of value or worth.

So, I vote we ban the over-used terms clutter and de-clutter and find more precise terminology with less ambiguous definitions and without negative connotations.  What about congestion and de-congestion…uh, no! Or Stuff and de-Stuff…hmm…maybe not.


The Clutter Quiz

26 indications that you might have

                   too much stuff 

You know you have too much stuff when:

1) you can’t see what kind of material the kitchen countertop is made of 

2) the top of your table (dresser, nightstand) never needs dusting

3) you can’t see the color of the walls because of the amount of art work hanging on  them

4) you have to climb over some…thing to get some…where

5) burglars have to come back for a second trip

6) your shins are chronically black and blue and you’ve broken your big toe twice

7) you lost the cat…for three days…and he’s a housecat

8) your 9-year old refuses to take off her bicycle helmet, your 14-year old wears his shin guards in the house, and your husband comes to the dinner table every night wearing a hard hat  

9) the amount of stuff you find under the couch cushions fills a five-gallon trash bag

10) you suffered a concussion after opening an upper cupboard door

11) the avalanche that occurs when you open a closet door, lasts longer than 30 seconds

12) the stack of newspapers or magazines in the corner is taller than you are

13) you have enough ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center

14) you have enough chains, necklaces, and bracelets, that if placed end to end, would circle the earth…3 times

15) you have enough craft supplies to open a Hobby Lobby, enough material to open a  fabric store, enough tools to open a hardware store

16) you have enough dishes to feed the army’s 3rd infantry division

17) you have enough bubble bath to float a battleship

18) you have enough books that the library calls you and wants to borrow a book

19) you have so many house plants that you thought you glimpsed Cheetah thru the foliage yesterday

20) an acquaintance walks into your living room, picks up a vase and turns it over looking for the price tag

21) you have enough nail polish to paint the Brooklyn Bridge

22) you have enough clothes to dress the populace of a third world country

23) your friends prefer to sit outside on the patio, porch, or deck despite the rain….sleet…snow

24) everyone walks like a Geisha when navigating to the living room couch

25) Aunt Ellen got lost on her way to the bathroom and wasn’t found for 12 hours 

26) the dog packed up his food dish and moved next door  

If you have experienced  even one of the indications you may want to consider downsizing and de-cluttering.

Seeing familiar things with new eyes: interior redesign

It isn’t what you have but how you use it.

 When I think about interior redesign I always think of hair dressers and the story of the woman who goes into a shop carrying a picture of Audrey Hepburn, or Princess Di, or Jennifer Lawrence and tells the hair dresser “I want to look like that!” It doesn’t matter that the customer is 50-something and 90 pounds overweight with a sagging throat and the features of Witch Hazel.audrey hepburn 2

 There are actually two problems with the scenario.

 First, that customer will never look like Audrey, Di, or Jen…short of head-to-toe reconstructive surgery, enough liposuction to construct a second person, and turning the clock back 30 years.

 The second problem; why would she want to? Be a clone of someone else? Imagine if all the women in the world suddenly woke one morning looking like Jennifer Lawrence; we would be a vast herd of jennifers, indistinguishable from one another.

 No one is born perfect. Even Audrey Hepburn, an icon of beauty, grace, style, and class…had big feet. (Sorry Audrey, but she did.) She emphasized her best features so beautifully, that people rarely noticed her big feet. Attractive people aren’t born beautiful, they learn to make the most of what they have, emphasizing what’s good while minimizing what’s not so good. And everyone has at least some of what’s not so good. Even Audrey!

 Perhaps the beauty shop patron would have done better to ask “what style would best suit me? How can I be the most attractive me possible? Not a clone of Audrey, Di, or Jennifer. The best me I can be. What style would highlight my big eyes, high cheekbones, slender neck, beautiful smile, curly hair (pick one)? What style would minimize my crooked nose, thin lips, weak chin, frizzy hair (pick one)?

 Within this context I think about Bea Arthur, probably most famous for her role as Dorothy on the Golden Girls. Bea was not a classic beauty in the sense of Audrey, Di, or Jennifer. She was certainly not a size four; she was not svelte or particularly slender. She was a tall, broad-shouldered, aging woman with grey hair and a fleshy face. She bea arthur 2did not have classic or beautiful features. What she did have was a style that was uniquely her own. Whether or not you liked her style is beside the point. She would have looked silly dressed as Audrey, Di, or Jen, just as they would have looked silly dressed like her. She did not try to look like anyone else. She worked with what she had, highlighting her best features and disguising or downplaying her worst. The result was an attractive style that was uniquely her own.

 So why, when I think of redesign, do I think about the woman in the beauty shop?

 First because the concept of it isn’t what you have; it’s what you do with it, applies not just to individuals but also to homes. Expensive, beautiful furnishings do not guarantee or automatically make a “beautiful” room. Conversely, “beautiful” rooms have been created using inexpensive, second-hand-thrift. It isn’t what you have; it’s how you use it.

 The other reason: if you love minimalist design but have Early American furnishings it’s a bit like Witch Hazel wishing to look like Audrey Hepburn. It doesn’t mean you can’t create a beautiful room using the furnishings you have; it doesn’t even mean you can’t adapt or adopt components of a minimalistic style but if you want a full-blown minimalistic room your chances are probably as good as Witch Hazel morphing into Audrey.  Unless of course you can afford to completely replace your Early American furnishings. That’s creating a whole new room and that’s a whole other ball game. What redesign will do is help you to make your room as attractive as possible using your Early American furnishings. While most Early American furniture does not support a minimalistic style, it may support another style: country, cottage, beach, that’s more akin to your current taste. Or at the least it might be streamlined for a more simplistic style closer to the minimalism you crave.

 Redesign is looking at familiar things with new eyes. It is using what you already have. It is making the most of what you have. It is making the best of what you have.

 “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”                                            Jack London