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.



Frugal and Fun

Beautiful Home in Nagdhar - Anni, Kullu
Many people, for one reason and another, find themselves in straightened circumstances, for limited or indefinite periods of time, but does this mean they should put their lives on hold until fresh income makes life enjoyable once again?

Life, and to the Full

The Good Book says we only get this one life, but even for those of the reincarnation persuasion, this life still has its own precious value and should be appreciated to the full … and can be, financial circumstances notwithstanding. It takes some creativity and extra work, but being forced to think twice before purchasing isn’t necessarily a negative.

A priority reshuffle which generates savings might mean a vacation, or avoiding debt, or it may mean a breadwinner could make career decisions based on different priorities than income. I have written previously about a culture of acquisition pervading western society, and whether our purchases deliver the satisfaction we anticipate, or if accumulation is really more of a habit than a necessity.

And of course, this question becomes especially relevant on a reduced income.

Don’t just Survive – Thrive

Realistically, unless we take drastic measures to live “off the grid”, we do need some level of income to put food on our tables and keep a roof over our heads. But necessities aside, can we not just survive, but thrive, on less?

Totally Free Activities

Besides basic food, shelter and clothes, most of the important things in life are free! Time with family never has to cost a bean – walking the dog, or the baby, taking the kids to the beach or park, and even couple time; whether you like board games or feeding birds, it’s all out there.

Put Your Hands Where I can See Them and Step Away from the Mall!

On a daily basis, depending on financial necessity and commitment to lifestyle change, there are more or less things that can be done to spend less – staying away from malls might be the biggest income saver of all. Unless you have nerves of steel (or consumer paralysis), window shopping usually doesn’t remain free, when cups of coffee or lunch to keep the strength up, or falling in love with a “must-have” item is counted.

Food Savings: Planning

Supermarket shopping and meal planning, while requiring some organisational skills, are other areas where significant savings can be made over time. Work out some staple recipes with core common ingredients, mix them up for variety, and buy in bulk or on special when available. Try to plan menus around in-season vegetables, since these will be cheaper. Decide in advance what the necessities are and buy only what’s on the list while shopping. Doing more food preparation at home rather than buying ready-made is both healthier and generally cheaper, and you can involve children in the preparation of meals, which is always great for bonding and developing self-sufficiency.

Go one step further, and save both money and teeth by avoiding softdrinks or juice – tap water is virtually free, and in some places actually tastes decent. Yes, the kids will bellyache, but they’ll get used to it. Really, I am that cruel.

G.Y.O. – Grow Your Own

If you’re really keen, you can grow the more expensive of the fruit and vegetables which constitute your core ingredients – but bear in mind that it may be a good idea to concentrate on high-harvest, low-area crops – potatoes, for example, can be a good choice, since they can be grown successfully vertically and produce well, whereas onions and carrots are usually cheap to buy, while to grow they need a lot of space for the harvest that would make the effort worthwhile.

Home Savings: Treasure and Tat

While home magazines sing their siren song, tempting us with all-new kitchens and trendy bathrooms, unless the place is really falling to bits, existing fixtures generally will suffice for years to come. Instead of craving to rip the lot out and start over, we can take a leaf from the book of rental chic – as demonstrated at Apartment Therapy, renters are creating beautiful spaces, while by necessity retaining sometimes less than beautiful existing features. These inspiring people demonstrate the eco- and pocket-friendly possibilities and benefits of effective recycling. By avoiding soulless, store-bought tat, their homes reflect personality and originality.

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle

Secondhand stores, often supporting charities, contain troves of treasures from clothing to furniture to household items, many full of the character of decades past, often solid and made to last. Clothing, and other things, can also be upcycled for reuse in an original way. Here again, a rummage through the internet will turn up sites with ideas for upcycled clothing design. Furthermore, if you have thrifty friends, consider swapping or bartering useful items.

Priceless (Free) Gifts

If you’re on a tight budget, gifts can be a drain on the pocket, but depending on skills and interests, friends and relatives can just as well be recipients of handmade gifts. Made with recycled materials, these can be free to make, and priceless for the receiver. From jewelry to hand cream to a cover for his motorcycle, the world wide web is a fund of ideas for the willing.

Emotional Wealth

Living on a budget doesn’t need to be a source of gloom, but of pride in achievement and overcoming a challenge, and encounters with simple pleasures. Having to work together on money-saving projects can be a bonding experience for a family or couple, and a mental renovation may be the catalyst for realigning priorities towards accumulating a hoard of emotional wealth.




Pins and Needs

Not my beautiful kitchen.

Not my beautiful kitchen.

I’m a bit of a Pinterest fiend. This is both a blessing and a curse, just like chocolate really. Pinterest helped me embrace the possibilities of vertical storage. You will hear me mention vertical storage more than these two times if you read more of my blog. Vertical storage is my friend. Vertical storage can be your friend. Vertical storage is undiscriminating, and vertical storage does not have to be aesthetically challenging. I will write a post on all the artful vertical storage with which my home is blessed.

I mentioned Pinterest is also a curse. This is because it can lead me to lose all perspective on why I do not need a shiny white minimalist scandi-inspired interior splashed with tasteful pops of colour, which can lead to little awkwardnesses such as outbursts to unsuspecting husbands about the existential loneliness of being the only one to care about the state of the kitchen cabinetry. Followed by a slow return to equinamity and taking to said cabinetry with paint from the garage. Om mani padme hum.

Thusly* I embrace a bohemian interior style, because boho obviates the minimalism with which I will never be burdened, but convivially accommodates the clutter 5 people inevitably collect with style, and me, I am a stylish gal.


*grammar police get a grip


Survival Storage, Part 1

Kids' treasure display

Kids’ treasure display

Or, How to Thrive with What You Have

Oftentimes, for reasons such as budget, time, energy or ownership restrictions, when it comes to decorating our homes, we don’t have the option to rip it all out and start again with a clean slate. And even if we have the means, this is not always necessity so much as choice. Personally I think you can do a lot with what you already have, save your moolah and the earth while you’re at it. You only have to look at what people achieve with rentals and dorm rooms to know how far creative thinking can take you. I’ve lived in the same 85 sq metres (915 sq feet) for something like a decade and a half. Two children ago I began to feel the squeeze.

Admittedly we also have a 35 sq m (376 sq ft) detached garage out the back and 600 sq m (6500 sq ft) to grow veggies and keep chooks. Into the garage goes furniture items I am considering living without, and clothes stored for the kids to  grow into, plus husbandly tools and camping gear. It’s storage purgatory. Things which end up there exist in a shadow world somewhere between real life and op shop hell.

However. Aside from that dirty little netherworld, in terms of real living space, I felt the squeeze  years ago. Now we have 3 children and 2 adults (and a dog) in a 3 bedroom, one living and ONE BATHROOM house. And I’m here to tell you, it’s ok.

Perspective and Vertical Storage

It’s partly in the perspective, and partly in how you manage everyone’s stuff. In terms of perspective, you only have to look at the world news, google world average wages…I won’t bore you. You know what I’m talking about. First world problems vs you know, real problems.

In terms of practical management – Vertical Storage. My friend, your friend, we’ve been through this. More in a bit.

A lot of people manage their lives well, they’re awfully organised, but their spaces just don’t exude the wow, they don’t sing; frankly they scare off people who crave style and make them think you have to gut a place just to get the wow. Like you can’t live small and cheap and have the wow.

The Wow – you can have it

No. I disagree. I live small, and cheap (or as we cheap snobs like to say, ‘frugally’), but everyone who walks through my door comments that they like what I’ve done with the place. “Warm”, “stylish” and “happy” are some of the words that are used. That’s despite the amount of stuff packed into the space, and the fact it’s a 70s…I don’t even know what to call it; ‘bungalow’ is too posh – it’s the kind of house they built on the cheap in the 70s, with nothing much to recommend it except water-tightness. (It’s tiny, but it is perfectly formed. I have always admired the designers for getting everything a house needs in all the right places in a perfect 85 sq m rectangle. Awesome.)

Small but perfectly formed

Small but perfectly formed

But the truth is, there’s almost nothing about it that’s new or fabulous. Plus the stylist in me has to contend with kid whozits and whatsits, and tools which, you know, need to live in the house ’cause the garage is sooo far away…..not to mention household paperwork etc queuing up for my attention. The real world of families. And that’s where I just don’t gel with those blogs where everyone seems so super-organised (daily chore checklists, pffft, in my house things get cleaned when they start begging for it; squeeky wheels and all that. And if my baseboards are dusty….ok. Maybe growing up in a third world country has left me with different priorities, or maybe I’m just grubby, IDK. I just know I don’t notice other people’s dusty baseboards).

Cupboards the size of houses

I know it’s styling for the photos, akin to airbrushing  advertising models, but it has the same effect of making ordinary people feel inadequate. Don’t misunderstand me, I do love them blogs, they have great ideas and fabulous homes; they’re pinned all over my Boards for inspiration, but where the hell is all the child-litter? Hidden in cupboards the size of my living room I’m guessing.

And that’s where my life and home exists in an alternate universe to theirs. Perhaps having add/adhd doesn’t help, but I’m still pretty sure this is the soul cry of many other real-lifers. So while it’s all very well to be inspired by these beautiful, pristine interiors, how does one marry style with real life, especially if one is confined by space, budget and ADD?

As men are wont to say, it’s what you do with it that counts. And it’s probably more true for decor than for men.