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the cat & dragon rag - The morality of clutter
litter & tinder
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The morality of clutter
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/apr/09/spring-makeover-decluttering-burkeman

Subtitle: Does clutter indicate a spiritual burden—or a full life?

It's common in this culture to ascribe moral value to concepts such as "eating right" (you're immoral if you don't) and "health" (you're immoral if you're not). Personal clutter is also considered to have moral aspects (you're immoral if you have too much stuff or don't have your stuff put away).

I've rejected the idea that a person's worthiness are related to what they eat and how healthy they are. But I haven't worked as hard on questioning the moral judgement on having a lot of stuff. So I like this:
"clutter" is inherently subjective, denoting a certain kind of problematic relationship between you and your things, rather than things themselves. [...] A home full of things can signify a full life. Clutter exists only when those things exert a mental drag, or get in the way of living. [...]

By the same token, there's nothing morally superior about the severe lines or vast white spaces of ultra-minimalist apartments.
The article goes on to quote Thoreau:
"The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call 'life' that is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run," is how Henry David Thoreau, everyone's favourite 19th-century hut-dwelling minimalist, expressed the sense that owning things constitutes a spiritual burden.
I really like the quote. And that viewpoint also at the core of books such as Your Money or Your Life that encourage you to think about what your job really pays and what it really costs, not just about the number on your paycheck.

But is Thoreau's statement (out of context) necessarily about "spiritual burden"? There's a lot of relief in getting stuff done that was hanging over my head, and getting rid of stuff that was getting in the way, but relief isn't a spiritual feeling. There's also a feeling of relief when I am able to hold certain mental and behavior patterns more lightly. But that's not a spiritual feeling either.

What does approach a spiritual feeling, for me, is what I can do when the stuff isn't in my way. I can open up and appreciate so much more of what's out there. (Not everyone would call this a spiritual feeling, though.)

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/710978.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Comments
graymalkin13 From: graymalkin13 Date: April 11th, 2011 08:04 am (UTC) (link)
I've come to despise the word "clutter." It doesn't mean anything, and the "decluttering" craze strikes me as marketing hype. I don't have the energy to answer all the subtle points in your post, but I agree wholeheartedly that inherently negative words like "clutter" are not helpful. And that there is no inherent virtue in emptiness. What matters is the harmony of the whole.

I like a space filled with evocative objects and pictures, intriguing books, enticing art supplies, jewelry I never wear, and snoozing cats. Objects in my space can inspire quasi-spiritual meditations or bring up memories I might not otherwise recover.

Yes, my space is full of things, and it's dusty. But it's my mirror, my still-life, my treasurehouse, my messy unconscious, and that's what makes it home.
firecat From: firecat Date: April 11th, 2011 08:16 am (UTC) (link)
It doesn't mean anything

That is a really good point!
mama_hogswatch From: mama_hogswatch Date: April 11th, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC) (link)
It think clutter is stuff you don't need and love. If you need it and love it, I don't think it's clutter at all.

I also think this is a subjective thing. My house isn't old-style Samurai spare (attractive enough, but not to my personal taste), nor is it at Victorian levels of nicknacks and visual patterns (again, attractive enough, but not to my taste).

I am happiest when things are mostly neat. I think for my own part it is because I associate piles of papers, boxes of things in corners and piles of laundry around with some of the worst times in my life, shouting, controlling behavior and emotional abuse. I am uneasy when spending long periods of time in such environments because of that association.

I associate things being put away with peace and considerateness. I could see (EASILY!) where my exact preferences might be associated with bad things if, for instance, a parent were abusive in the face of less orderliness.
cakmpls From: cakmpls Date: April 11th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC) (link)
It think clutter is stuff you don't need and love.

I think it's stuff you don't need OR love. I don't "need" any of my collectibles, and I don't "love" stationery supplies, etc.
e4q From: e4q Date: April 11th, 2011 08:11 am (UTC) (link)
i am a big fan of getting rid of things that are in any way unhappy, but i also own a lot of things that are perfectly happy things, and which i like. some of which would need replacing if i ditched them.

i have a mirror which i climbed into a skip around 1983 and unscrewed from a wardrobe which has moved house with me around 20 times. it's not super nice, and it certainly isn't valuable, but it's a full length mirror, and it also reminds me of a lightness of spirit and physicality that is a fond memory among less fond memories.
cakmpls From: cakmpls Date: April 11th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC) (link)
Making things that have nothing to do with morality a moral issue is a real hot-button for me.
auntysocial From: auntysocial Date: April 11th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC) (link)
Me too, and then some.
auntysocial From: auntysocial Date: April 11th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC) (link)
Clutter is like fat. In olden times, only the rich had enough to eat to become fat. Now, anyone can get fat, and slenderness is a status symbol. In olden times, only wealthy people could buy a lot of stuff. Now, with thrift stores and junk left in the street, anyone can have a lot of stuff. Vast empty space is a great luxury now, and has more to do with economic status than virtue. Many years ago a friend of mine said she was happy to have more money because it meant she could get rid of things. She didn't have to worry about replacing the things she discarded, if she ever needed them again.

firecat From: firecat Date: April 11th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC) (link)
Many years ago a friend of mine said she was happy to have more money because it meant she could get rid of things. She didn't have to worry about replacing the things she discarded, if she ever needed them again.

YES, that's so true!
micheinnz From: micheinnz Date: April 21st, 2011 06:48 am (UTC) (link)
I have heard fat referred to as "body clutter." Shudder.
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