Minimalist vs. Clutter Free~

Image: nuttakit /

I have read quite a bit lately about clutter-free living.  It seems to be a snowball effect.  Someone wakes up one morning, glances around their home, sees stuff everywhere, and realizes it’s too much.  They mention something to a friend.  The friend agrees that her life is being suffocated by her stuff.  Another woman overhears and pretty soon, the world is on a decluttering binge.  WHAMMO!

I’m all for it, by the way.  Clutter tends to stifle creativity, increase stress, and create a burden on you that can choke the life out of you.  Clutter is just that.  Clutter.  It is extraneous and a miserable way to live.

The problem is, there is no one definition for what is or isn’t clutter when you get down to specifics.  For example, I am not a potter.  For me to own any pottery supplies is, for me, clutter.  A potter who does not sew has no need for machines, fabric, and patterns.  That’s kind of obvious though, isn’t it?  A perfect example in my own life has to do with my sewing supplies.  You see, I used to sew half a dozen garments per day.  I had hundreds if not thousands of yards of fabric.  Patterns… hundreds.  Trims, buttons, accessories… Tons.  However, I used it then.  I went through dozens of yards of fabric every week.  I needed the variety, the quantity, etc.  It took me a while to change how I bought my fabric.  I was used to buying what was left of a bolt– or the whole bolt… or two.  I tried the whole, “I’ll use up what I own before I buy anymore fabric.”  Guess what?  I quit sewing.  I was sick of that fabric.  I’d sewn it for AGES.

For years, I’d needed that much.  I don’t anymore.  What was once a necessity is now clutter.

The same is true for anything– books, craft supplies of any kind, kitchen gadgets, tools, curricula, figurines, anything.  I’ve read long articles, blog posts, message board posts, and similar things that all say or imply that if something isn’t useful, it is inherently clutter.  I know women who have tossed cherished items from their childhood in the name of “decluttering.”  It wasn’t that there was no space for it or that they didn’t love it.  They were just convinced that the item– a vase, a figurine, a sampler, a stool or table–was extraneous so therefore wrong to keep.  Why?  Why is it so wrong to keep a beloved grandmother’s brooch– even if you have no intention of ever wearing it?  Why is it so wrong to have a collection of Precious Moments figurines if those things bring you joy– true joy.

Image: nuttakit /

Don’t get me wrong.  I know a lot of people hold onto stuff for stuff’s sake.  There wouldn’t be TV shows like Hoarders and Clean House if people didn’t have issues with owning too much stuff.  Some things can easily be saved in a snapshot instead of holding onto all the originals.  We don’t need every picture our child ever drew, every outfit they wore, or every stuffed animal we ever bought to remember those things from their childhood.  We can take pictures of most of it and keep in a 4x6x.5″ space what otherwise could fill a room.  Some people have trouble not owning one of everything in a collection.  They fall in love with a “Snow Babies” figurine or a “Willow Tree” one and buy it.  Suddenly, they MUST own all of them by that company.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s some kind of compulsion or something.  For whatever reason, something feels incomplete without all of them.  The sad thing is, most people I know who do this don’t enjoy them after their collections become filled with ones that AREN’T favorites.

I just think that a person who finds half a dozen Willow Tree figurines shouldn’t feel obligated to get rid of them (because they are not practical) OR buy every one ever sold (to complete a collection.)  I think collections are complete when you can enjoy each item individually on a regular basis.  I think it’s overkill when you only know what you have based upon your inventory lists.

It seems as if a clutter-free life is being redefined.  I see a trend toward minimalism being defined as “clutter-free.”  I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  I can have a whole wall of stamping supplies.  If I never use them then of course, much if not all of it is just clutter.  However, if I use them often, use it all (on a semi-regular basis), then the quantity is not clutter unless I don’t have the space to have a “home” for those things.  Sure, if it’s spread all over the house just willy nilly and I can’t find the stuff to use it, then it’s probably clutter.

Why does it matter?  Well, I’d say because I see a lot of women with a lot of guilt about owning things that they love and/or use.  Some blogger somewhere ripped the idea of owning any figurines at all because “They’re just a bunch of dust collectors.  They serve no useful purpose.” (btw, I don’t think I own any… trying to remember one… don’t think I d0… this isn’t me trying to justify owning anything)  They do serve a useful purpose for some people  Some people find their lives enriched by what is beautiful to them–a flocked Elvis statuette wearing blue suede shoes. If that statuette truly brings joy and (in their eyes) beauty to their home, they ought not feel like a lesser person for owning it.

There is no virtue in bare walls, tables, counters, or shelves.  There is no virtue in only owning three shirts and two skirts for everyday wear.  There is no virtue in not owning a pastry blender because “a fork and a couple of butter knives can do the same job.”  Virtue stems from the heart– one infused by the Word of God.  Virtue is not found in owning things or the lack of ownership of things.

I think this is just another example of the thing I’m always harping on– that blasted swinging pendulum.  A woman has a house full of stuff that she hasn’t touched or seen or enjoyed for years.  So, in her frenzy to purge the excess of her life, she swings to the opposite extreme.  Her favorite books are tossed (she can get them at the library, right?).  Her egg cup collection is sold on eBay (people can use their plate).  The movie collection goes out the window (that’s what Netflix is for, right?).  The craft supplies are cut to just enough for one project at a time– if that (after all, you used to have fifty unfinished projects so this will force self-control).

What will happen after a few years of living an ascetic life?  What will it teach her children?  How will her husband feel when everything he owns becomes fodder for her next purge?  It almost sounds like anorexia and bulimia of stuff instead of humans.  Some strip it down to what they MUST include in their lives for survival… others bring in what makes them happy, guilt over not having an empty shelf or a bare table takes over, and then they purge it again.

I’m rambling… cluttering this post with my thoughts.  So, I’m going to put a few ideas out there in nice succinct style.

  • Stuff itself isn’t evil.
  • Stuff itself isn’t good.
  • There is no virtue in how much you do or don’t have.
  • One woman’s clutter is another woman’s need.
  • God didn’t make carbon copy robots.

Oh, and great Aunt Matilda’s ink bottle and pen?  If it makes you smile every time you look at it, it’s not clutter if there’s some place for it so you can actually see it to look at it– even if that space is in the trunk of treasures at the end of your bed.  If it only means something to you because someone told you it should… maybe it’s better to give it to that someone.  Let THEM enjoy owning that piece of family history.


8 thoughts on “Minimalist vs. Clutter Free~

  1. Chautona, I began questioning the decluttering trend a little while ago, the middle of last year, I think. I tend toward conspiracy theory and enjoy linking philosophies with action. I searched a bit, and found much of the decluttering philosophy stemmed from Buddhism and Zen. I had some really great quotes, but of course, I can’t find them now.

    Great post.

  2. Very healthful and balanced perspective. Clutter is contextual, and one person’s useful is another’s clutter. For me, the bins of cloth are clutter, because my good intentions to make something of them don’t materialize. My books, however get good use.. 🙂

    Well put!

  3. 🙂 Enjoyed the read. Agree very much on the distinction between minimalism and true decluttering. Also on the “anorexia” take. Anything obsessive is unhealthy. P.S. i’ll take the fabric you’re decluttering. 😉

  4. Great article- enjoyed it very much. One thing, though, that I would say is that just because someone doesn’t have room for it does not necessarily mean they need to purge it. I have, regrettably, done that in the past with some things that I now dearly wish I’d have just put somewhere for the time being. As it is now, our home is very small and there really is not room for everything. But, the vast majority of those items are things we regularly use. So, how does one justify it? If we only kept things that had a home, well, it would be rather dull around here and not at all helpful to our way of life as a whole. There is a huge lack of storage in this place and shy of becoming austere minimalists with a pencil and a computer, it is pretty hard to not have things in the way. Anyhow, I know my post here is more of the exception rather than the rule but I just wanted to pipe in as a further “give grace” note. Thanks for your thoughtful approach to this topic.

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