Stef (firecat) wrote,

The morality of clutter

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.)

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