The Case for Clutter

I like clutter. I don’t know a lot of people who do, but those of us who like it (the clutteri) have a reason, and it’s not just because we’re messy and lazy. Clutter is a very specific thing, though. Messy is not cluttered. Clutter is just a little, of a certain genus of objects. Socks and dishes with crumbs on them do not clutter make.  Things like books and avocados and eyeglass cases are clutterable. A certain amount of unintimate clothing, like a wool toque or a sweater, is also sometimes quite pleasant.

I think the world was supposed to look sort of cluttered anyway. The continents arrayed over the oceans are not very tidy, and neither are the oceans themselves, with all that stuff in them. It is especially nice to be in a mixed forest, but even a forest made of nothing but pine is still a clutter of pine. And what about towns, those things people once made out of what they could yank out of the woods and the ground? At one point, those people’s bodies were the reference to the workable world. Things existed at a human scale and the human scale is cluttered. Go to Carcassonne, go to the old parts of Brooklyn, walk down to King and George streets right here in Toronto and look at the buildings. That’s some fine clutter.

One of the most satisfying things about living with other people is that sometimes, when no one else is about, you can be alone with hints of them. Say it’s a barette on a table. You see your wife walking past on her way to bed, taking it out, putting it down right where she’ll pick it up again tomorrow morning at 7 am.  Of course you don’t have the kinds of associations you’re looking for when, instead of the barette, you find a dirty sock on the table with a food wrapper stuffed into it. That doesn’t count as clutter.

A clutteri can usually keep his or her house reasonably cluttered without causing anguish to orderer spouses or guests. It is a very fine balance. However, I prefer it to the clean house, where everything is sorted. It makes me wonder if the person I’m visiting doesn’t really want me to get to know them. I know it must also be a courtesy, but at the same time, it makes it hard to believe that they actually live there. In some houses, it feels as if the rooms reset themselves whenever you leave them. In others, the books are sorted onto their shelves like little tombs. I can’t tell what you’re reading unless you leave your books out!  And what, no magnets of your travels on the fridge? Who are you people?

Now, if you are a person who likes clutter, there is a very poor chance that the person you live with is also a clutteri. Clutteries are only twenty per cent of the population. They tend to live in houses or flats.* It would be rare to find two people who like clutter living together. But it would probably be beautiful. I mean, a disaster. Clutter is, after all, a stage of entropy. Two clutteri living together have a 45% chance of appearing on a reality show. You have to be very careful.

If you’re a clutteri, it’s almost certain you live with an orderer. People who hate clutter just hate it. They can’t help it and there’s nothing wrong with it. Order has its uses. But sometimes you have to push back a little. You have to help them accept a judicious disorder. From time to time, salt your clutter lightly with some belongings of the orderer and you may be able to establish a slightly cluttered stasis. You leave something of theirs out and then say: “Your sweater draped over the chair gave me a sudden fond memory, a frisson you might say, a soupçon of something we once did together when you were wearing it.” (By the way, orderers will remember everything they were wearing on any given occasion, so if they weren’t wearing the sweater that night you’re remembering, you better start skating.)

That’s my case for clutter. I think the world is returning to clutter (and what are blogs if not digital clutter among the clutter of the internet?) and I just want to say that when they start giving out prizes for it, I was always on the side of clutter.

So I’m just going to leave this here for now.


* Apartment or condo buildings are too Miro-ish to get clutter into. And although all clutteries like Miro, his paintings exude a strange threat of order and you could never live in one.**

** Footnotes make fine clutter.

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