There are dictionary definitions that use words like “untidy,” “crowded,” and “disorderly.” I’ve heard ubiquitous definitions from professional organizers like, “anything you don’t love,” and “things that don’t have a home,” but I didn’t have my own words for clutter. After lots of ruminating, here’s what I finally came up with:
Clutter is stuff that gets in the way.
Thud. I know, it’s not catchy or particularly illuminating, but for me, clutter is really that simple. If it gets in the way, it’s clutter. Clutter can also extend to our time, activities, thoughts and attitudes, but let’s keep it to the tangible, for now.
So why was it so hard for me to define clutter? Because the effects of clutter are complicated and far-reaching. Most of us don’t try to deal with our clutter until the negative consequences are very obvious: we can’t use a space for its intended purpose; we don’t invite guests into our homes; we have no time for family or friends; we can’t get our jobs done.
But there are also not-so-obvious effects of clutter. A UCLA study linked clutter with increased cortisol, a measure of stress. Another study found that women in cluttered kitchens consume more calories. It appears that clutter also gets in the way of our peace of mind and ability to make good choices.
I’d love to hear about the subtle effects clutter has on you. If you’re not sure, try a simple experiment of keeping one small area clutter free. Maybe a corner of your desk, the passenger seat in your car, or the counter around your bathroom sink. Just create one tiny space where you can experience what it’s like to not have anything in your way. Let me know what you discover!