The Clutter Conundrum

Are you feeling clutter shamed? 

Recently, this NY Times article made me giddy with appreciation for its fresh perspective on the big decluttering trend. Author Dominique Browning makes a compelling case for the idea that clutter may not be such a bad thing after all.  I hope you’ll read the full piece but for now savor this snippet:

Home sweet home

"There is a reason we talk about nesting. Next time you are out walking, take a close look at a nest. Nests are full of twigs, bits of fluff, string, moss and bark. Stuff birds take home, and fit to a shape that accommodates their lives. Some birds even press their warm bodies against their stuff as they are making their nests, molding them to the shape of their breasts, so that they feel like … home. A home that is uniquely theirs, and uniquely beloved."


Of course I do, despite the fact that I am by nature a lifelong, habitual de-clutterer. I’ve consistently curated and purged my homes. I like to have a place for (just about) everything — and it’ll drive me crazy when I don’t. It’s easy for me to create messes, but I can’t live with them for very long. 

I’m not sure if all this is due to a distinct “white glove” childhood or simply the fact that I know myself and what I respond to favorably (or not) in my environment.

To be clear, I don’t lean toward a pristine or minimalist aesthetic. On the contrary, I’ve loved my “plenty of” stuff. For every piece of furniture or art or accessory, there was almost always a connection to a person, a time, an experience, and the sum of all those things and more told the story of my life. They were a reflection of who I’d been, all along the way; they affirmed the life I’d lived.

So when a wildfire destroyed my home and all my stuff — carefully chosen stuff — the loss was devastating. So much was and remains irreplaceable, as I wrote in an essay soon to publish in an anthology about Colorado wildfire experiences.

A truth shone by the NYT piece is that our stuff (carefully chosen, acquired, over time) is in part what creates that intangible but vital sense of feeling at home in our homes.

So I’m an advocate for stuff. The stuff that is right for you.

And I’m an equal advocate for letting go of stuff.

The stuff that doesn’t hold meaning or purpose for you.

(That kind of stuff blocks the flow of energy in your home and your life!)

The trick is knowing yourself, what makes you happy and helps you thrive, and honoring it. If your home is so filled to the gills that you find yourself avoiding being there or ever letting anyone else in, you likely have a clutter problem. If your home is so filled to the gills that you find yourself never wanting to leave it, you either have a clutter problem or it’s simply your favorite happy place. And kudos to you if the latter is the case!!

Of course, there’s ample room here for self-deception, and that’s a big part of what we dig through when I work with clients.

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? That’s for you to decide, with or without my help. Deep down, you know if what you have is what you want, and if it isn’t, a little voice inside of you will tell you and then it’s up to you whether you’ll make a change or not.

(And just to sound a clarion bell around our collective over-consumption: Americans spent nearly $8 billion last year on stuff to organize our stuff, and another $24 billion to store it. Wanton spending has created entire industries that not so long ago didn’t exist.)

And then there’s the definition of clutter, which really ought to be unique to each of us.  You can have loads of stuff in your home, but if it is artfully curated, arranged and placed and hung, it’s not necessarily clutter.  It’s just a lot. 

(And to be clear: none of what I’m talking about pertains to any kind of hoarding situation. That’s a whole different ballgame for a whole different kind of expert.)

For some people, like me, all the bare-bones, minimalist,

sleek or zen or whatever interiors making the rounds of

“how we ought to live today” simply lack the warmth and

coziness of an intimate home. Those severely pared down

spaces may appear aesthetically pleasing or politically

correct, but my particular soul craves a bit more padding.

Again, that’s me knowing me.

And me knowing me yearns for spaces that offer beauty, humor, calm, curiosity, delight, comfort and more … attributes that fly in on the wings of stuff. 

Ironically, not quite three years post-fire, I’ve actually been letting go of some of the things I’ve acquired as I rebuild life and home. Things that already no longer “fit” who I am and am becoming. This has been a big step for me, because even though my home has some of the aforementioned elements and aspects of “totally me,” it’s not yet filled in in ways that make me comfortable. Large parts of its many spaces feel incomplete, naked, and clamoring for something meaningful, beautiful and/or practical. 

This has everything and nothing to do with being too materialistic or acquiring simply for the sake of acquiring.

We live in a physical world comprised of all kinds of things. In some prescribed utopia we might only acquire that which we practically need; but in my little bubble of life and home, my heart, soul and mind know that happiness is a complex creature sometimes satisfied by impractical things. I suspect this is true for you, too.

If clutter truly is an issue and you’re uncertain how to proceed making the changes you want, seek help. I’m not a fan of the book that Browning pokes fun at, but one I do recommend (because it is so kind and gentle and practical) is Rosenfeld & Green’s Breathing Room: Open Your Heart by Decluttering Your Home.

Or reach out to me.  In full disclosure (in case this sort of thing is important to you), I’m not a credentialed professional organizer. But I’ve got big chops from lifelong experience and I’d thrill to help you create a soul space that’s beautiful, inspiring, practical … and not!

What’s your relationship with clutter?  ARE WE BIRDS OF A FEATHER?  Share YOUR comments below!


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Susan McConnell is a writer, mentor, and founder of Soul Style Home.  She guides women in new life phases to reinvent home with "design from the inside out." Her clients say her super power is helping them see, celebrate and express who they really are. Learn more at