How to Domesticate Clutter (Or, Make Like the Borg and Assimilate)

domesticated clutter demonstrated

domesticated clutter demonstrated

Lately my already tenuous hold on household order has slipped. Luckily I love irony, or the irony of creating chaos by writing about it would be killing me.

But I do and it’s not, and I am somewhat saved from chaos by some fail-safes I prepared earlier.

Like: the fact that I already had my bases covered for the eventuality of disorder prevailing (because it was going to happen, someday, somehow). Three kids, two adults and a dog living in 85m2 was always going to be a challenge, as I’ve mentioned before.

open shelf storage

What has saved my home from uglitude is:

1) accepting that there will be clutter

2) utensils and appliances that are functional as well as beautiful, or well hidden

3) finding creative storage spaces (from vertical storage behind doors to windowsills – such underutilized areas in minimalist philosophy!)

4) keeping it eclectic (matchy-matchy is far harder to achieve by shopping second hand. Plus, it’s really, really dull.)

plain shade wrapped in a shawl atop a stack of home magazines - storage for shawl + hair decoration + magazines = boheme bedside table and lamp

plain shade wrapped in a shawl atop a stack of home magazines – storage for shawl + hair decoration + magazines = boheme bedside table and lamp

5) going with a boheme vibe which kind of soaks up, or embraces, clutter.

Yup. Embraces.

My feelings on clutter are this: it’s better not to have it. I regularly go through our cupboards and throw as much as I can out – which is never ever enough to go minimalist, even were I so inclined. So, if you are going to have clutter – and for some of us it’s inevitable (and apparently for the sake of creativity you’re better off not getting up hung up over it anyway, according to this comforting little piece) – you must, like the Borg, learn to assimilate.

Thus, all our utensils and stationery and paperwork, toys, schoolbags and hoarded treasures are either in and of themselves visually appealing, displayed appealingly, or contained in something visually appealing, or at the very least tidy. I collect containers of all sorts when I come across them especially for those little odds and sods which end up lying around until they’re rehomed.

fabric covered container

fabric covered container

Someone commented in response to my post on beauty and discrimination how unnecessary it seemed to choose between intelligence and attractiveness when a person could embrace both as a gift. Broadening the point, I get the feeling that greenies like me (and busy mommies) have a tendency to eschew attractive surroundings, assuming, I think, that busy and/or frugal lifestyles cannot or should not also accommodate beauty. But me, I am an artiste, and uglitude sucks my energy and disorders my mind. But I don’t think it’s just me being precious, I think we all function more efficiently in comely environs. Humans are biologically programmed for aesthetic pleasure, so I don’t feel a little bit bad, even as an environmentally-conscious greeny, for desiring attractive surroundings. I’m convinced it enables me to be more productive and creative.

Feral vs Domesticated Clutter

Of course, there is more than one kind of clutter; let’s narrow it down to two kinds – feral and domesticated.

Feral clutter watches you with hostility and retreats from taming. It is unpredictable. Do not turn your back on it. Domesticated clutter is far friendlier. It allows itself to be wheedled into co-operation with bribes of food. And what you want living with you in your home is the domesticated variety.

Domesticated clutter may be, well, still clutter, but it works with one toward a purpose, and thus one feels that though “everything” constitutes a lot of “things”, still everything has a place. By which I mean, in my house, I know where everyone’s crap is at all times. But at least it’s nice crap.

making whoopie with books

making whoopie with books and other nice crap

So how do I justify my desire for an appealing home space while preaching thrift? Simple. Op shops are my thrill. I love a good rummage. If I ever had (just dreaming here) a day off from toddlers and kids, that is where I would go. Just me and the junk. Yep – weep for my sad little hobby. But it gets the job done, and how. I recently, in a period of obsessive organisation, upgraded our household storage from almost none to at least interesting and (to my eyes at least) attractive, for a fraction of the cost of the thrifty suggestions by the idea mills, through my weirdo secondhand shopping habit. For literally a few hundred smackeroos I revamped my entire house. Yu-huh. (High-fives self.)

I just love getting one over on Big Business plutocrats. I realise that if everyone descended upon their local op shops they’d be emptied in days leaving just the dross, but really, people, we do not need so much stuff. Think twice before you buys. (Erm…yeah…scraping the bottom of the rhyme barrel there…)

First World Expectations and the Surprising Evil Role of Pinterest

cunning out-in-the-open storage

cunning out-in-the-open storage of books, ornaments and children’s art

We may have a problem with our expectations. I was brought up in a third world country, and this has shaped my standards. But this is not necessarily to insult the third world’s standards. Maybe the first world’s standards are too gorram high. Dusty baseboards? Pfft, seriously?? I’d rather read another book to my kid. There’s few enough hours in a day. A new kitchen? What’s wrong with the old one? Does it truly need ripping out, or have you just put too many hours in on Pinterest? Put your hands in the air and step away from that Board… Really. I know the siren call of Pinterest; how it drowns out the voice of reason. (Having said that, I can point you to some great little boards where people have made sweet interior decorating whoopie with very basic, if not sub-par, spaces.)

Assimilation and Futility, Pushing the Borg Analogy to its Limits

I’m not going to even try to pretend I’ve got it made in chaos wrangling, that would be….futile. As I write, there’s the debris of a toybox explosion around my feet and I didn’t quite get around to unpacking all the groceries. But that’s my point – sub-perfection is O.K. If you can look around your place and it reflects you and makes you happy, you’ve succeeded in making whoopie with what you have.



16 thoughts on “How to Domesticate Clutter (Or, Make Like the Borg and Assimilate)

  1. By your photos your clutter looks very beautiful which then begs the question is it clutter at all? 🙂 I am a minimalist I confess. Perhaps because unlike yourself am I am not an artist so it would look awful if I tried your lovely style.


    • Mm…I’m afraid clutter by any other name is still – a lot of stuff! Sometimes I would love to be a minimalist but I’ve come to accept it’s not in me 🙂 Thanks though 🙂


  2. I am currently waging a war of attrition with our feral clutter – and trying to resist the urge to head down to Petone for some second-hand shopping until we have somewhere to put something 🙂
    Btw, which third world country did you grow up in? I was raised in Papua New Guinea, myself. (And do I detect a Firefly vocabulary?)


    • Ah I hear you! The dilemma…. Is that Petone NZ? I was originally S. African, and while Africa lives on in my heart, I really don’t identify as S. African any more – I think of myself as “third culture” (lost in between) 🙂 A third world upbringing definitely shapes the perspective, eh! Although I love NZ for still being down to earth, more than a lot of first world countries anyway.
      Firefly vocab? it’s possible, I cried when that show cancelled (or perhaps raged is a better word for what I did)!


      • I live in Lower Hutt, so yeah, that Petone.
        I know what you mean about lost in between, although I was never really ‘from’ anywhere to begin with.
        I think I’m getting more Kiwi as time goes on (been here more than ten years now), but you could still pick me from the crowd at a hundred paces 🙂


    • Thank you! And yes, yes I am! Though I understand there are levels of legitimate fandom….and all I can say is, I’m just a girl, who really really likes sci fi and may have cried and/or organised riots at the cancellation of Firefly and may have just said too much ;D You are a fan too?


  3. I’ve been living with feral clutter for 35 years. Despite persistent wheedling, he refuses to be domesticated. What a fabulous post. My house sounds similar to yours – eclectic and every inch of space used. My children mock me and say there will be no momentos of their childhood left when (god-willing) they leave home.


    • Love it! It means your life is full – a good friend (who knew me well) once gave a me a fridge magnet with the saying “Dull women have immaculate houses”…..yup, that about sums it up – no dull women here 😀


  4. Great pictures. I enjoyed this and the comments following . I’ve always practiced “organized clutter” as a way to keep chaos at bay. It makes regular dusting unnecessary if the newspapers are straightened just so.. It creates an illusion that I’m a better housekeeper than I am.. If something as lowly as my toaster is bright and shining it gives the impression that everything is just as meticulously tended to – so I shine the toaster, straighten the papers and let the rest go.


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