Have we finally made peace with our clutter?

‘Cluttercore’ is an addictive reponse to minimalism, but what’s really interesting about it is the endlessly weird relationship we all have with our stuff – or lack of it

There is a picture pinned beside my desk, a grid showing nine photographs of the same room. In the first photo there is a single bed, a clock, a lamp, two posters. It looks like maybe a student halls of residence – there is the feeling of homesickness and lack.

In the second picture some rubbish sits on the carpet, the kind of stuff you’d tip out of a rucksack when repacking in a hurry. One poster is wonky. In the third, a chair has joined the room, and a pile of papers, and discarded clothes. In the fifth, a television is just visible beside a second chair, I think I see some speakers, a bundle of sheets. In the ninth and final photo, the bed is hidden beneath a mountain of clothes that touches the ceiling, a broken blind, a large bottle of something red and presumably fizzy. This is the Clutter Image Rating scale, a diagnostic tool designed to measure hoarding habits, and it has somehow become very important to me in the time since I printed it out at work and carefully carried it home inside a book, both as an image and as an evergreen template for the domestic horror stories of our lives.

I referred to the scale this week when reading about “cluttercore”, an interiors trend that emerged in response to Marie Kondo’s throw-away-your-photos minimalism – a colourful, organised mess. In i-D, author Marianne Eloise wrote that cluttercore offers “a neat delineation between ‘hoarding’ and ‘collecting’… a curated kind of chaos”. It looks like: shelves and shelves of little plastic toys grinning out in shades of orange and pink and plants cascading down a bookcase and a gallery wall of mismatched picture frames and a hanging collection of trainers. “When someone comes into my home, they also get a window into who I am,” says Eloise. “That’s often vulnerable and I kind of cringe when I have to explain to the guy fitting the blinds why I have so many Hello Kitty mugs on the shelf, but I am free.” I love that, actually. I love that! Free!

The Clutter Image Rating scale suggests a room that rates four or higher “impinges enough on people’s lives” that they need help. From seven, it will, “require intervention with a collaborative multi-agency approach… This level of hoarding constitutes a safeguarding alert.” I have sometimes considered staging a similar rating scale for minimalism, a white sofa at photo two, the safeguarding alert sounding at the introduction of a special drawer to hide the toaster.

Because, a lack of clutter says just as much about a person as clutter itself, doesn’t it? A home filled with nothing offers just as much of a window into who a person is as a shelf of Hello Kitty mugs. Yes, firefighters might have a much simpler route into a minimalist apartment than into a house piled to the ceiling with newspapers, but which of the two homeowners is more likely to have lots and lots of milk bottles of questionable liquid to hand to start to quell the flames? Well? I’ve got sidetracked, wait. What I’m saying, is – in most homes the stuff is there, even when it’s not. An empty living room is not a neutral space, even if the walls are beige. It vibrates with what you can’t see.

I watched a series of videos, a great number of videos, too many videos some might say, of homes that tag themselves “cluttercore” – some are lovingly curated museums of young people’s careful collections, cuddly toys lined up cheerily on a patchwork quilt, Paris snowglobes, but some are just, well, homes, like all of our homes, with plants and cups and the usual undesigned detritus that flakes off a life of family and work and dinner-making and reading in bed. It made me wonder – when will we finally have a healthy relationship with our things?

Some feel the answer is to banish stuff from our lives completely, creating a kind of fear of clutter – others feel they can only be known by displaying their childhoods on colour-coded shelves.

Scrolling through the January sales I’m aware many of us exist in an eternal loop of buying and purging, with one eye always on the dream of a clean countertop. Instead of thinking about the meaning of the objects we collect, we try to aestheticise and label the ways we live – cluttercore, minimalist – as a way of trying to explain and rank it, and contain ourselves neatly. But all of the words seem increasingly to mask a deep discomfort with our attachment to the stuff we surround ourselves with.

I hover fairly happily at a two on the Clutter Image Rating, with moments of three, and two cupboards upstairs that verge on six, but the doors still shut, so. One day I will feel at peace with my stuff, the objects that have stuck to me as I’ve aged through the world, but until then I think I’ll just keep judging everybody else’s.

Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman


Eva Wiseman

The GuardianTramp

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