Amy Sedaris, comedian and queen of clutter, is now also the showrunner on my favourite new Instagram series, "What's In The Drawer?" During each 10-second episode she opens a different tiny drawer in her multi-drawer cream credenza and shows us (among other things): an array of tiny handmade road signs, a hoard of plastic jewelled rings and an overflowing collection of googly eyes. There is no rhyme or reason as to why Amy's held on to these things, why she has so many that they need to be organised in this manner, or what possible use they could have. It doesn’t matter. They are, as one commenter put it, "delightful and soothing" at the same time – a guiding example of how a home with clutter can surprise you at every turn, if you let it. Especially if, like Amy, you have a drawer full of mini hot dogs and hamburgers.
Amy’s cluttered, eclectic home is the polar opposite of the interior aesthetic of the moment which dominates Instagram – all minimalism, pastel colours, rounded edges and nothing too busy. Clutter is meant to be the enemy of home decor. It should be tidied away or dealt with, a tasteless disturbance of a home’s true, final state. But among the many things that have become clear during the pandemic is that existing is a messy business. Clutter, once the scourge of minimalists and interior Instagram accounts, has become more than just an unavoidable part of life. It is something to be embraced.
Even before we all became confined to our homes, resistance was growing to the dominant, aspirational look of minimalism – a look that was all about the reduction of stuff and sleek, tastefully decorated spaces. The modern iteration of minimalism was initially embraced as a kind of anticapitalist stance – possessions won't make you happy – but it became increasingly apparent that it was only achievable if you were in a certain tax bracket. In order to buy with purpose, you need to have enough money to buy something that will last. More importantly, you need to have the space and the time to maintain this bare bones aesthetic. Following this superficial, purely aesthetic interpretation to its end point will lead you down the truly haunting halls of Kim and Kanye’s home.
Much has been made about the KonMari method, which has good intentions and is not (as its corrupted interpretation suggests) about throwing out everything important to you. However the ensuing aesthetic resulted in a paring down of spaces that could feel sanitised (even if that was not Marie’s motive) and was sold as a route to self-improvement and fulfilment. Decluttering your home became a reflection of how seriously you were taking your self-care.
Adjacent to and inspired by this look – although not explicitly minimalist – is the now ubiquitous 'millennial aesthetic'. A constantly shifting beast, it is largely defined by rounded edges, soothing pastels, low-slung mid-century sofas, carefully curated displays of random objects and terrazzo tiles. The most obvious versions of this aesthetic can be found in popular co-working spaces or particularly chic brand homes like the Glossier pop-up. In her piece examining this phenomenon for The Cut, Molly Fischer says the aesthetic "functions more like a CBD seltzer, something you might buy in a salmon-pink can. There’s not a lot of distinctive taste, but still, it’s hard to resist when you’re on a permanent search for ways to feel better." The appeal is in the comfort of sameness and the relatively easy access to the products thanks to a proliferation of affordable online homeware stores, though it retains a semblance of 'adulthood' in its aspirational look.
The resistance to these dominant trends wasn't so much about taste (to each their own) as it was ubiquity, and what we felt we were sacrificing for the sake of being sleek. The things that perhaps drew us in (soothing, accessible, available to all) are the things we are now rejecting. This is due in part to the cyclical nature of design: a high tech, forward-looking style will inevitably give way to something backward-looking and heavy on nostalgia, with the appeal of 'authenticity'.
But there’s more to it than that. As Nathan J. Robinson writes in his piece "Death To Minimalism": "I do think clutter has its place. It can be a sign that a place is truly lived in and enjoyed, that it hasn’t been artificially cleansed of its most human qualities." Not so long ago we would be drawn in by a room that might be anywhere in the world (see the thousands of Airbnbs now being posted on rental sites worldwide, complete with folded towels at the base of the bed). Now that bland façade in which we sought comfort feels almost empty, in its place the human messiness of a cluttered life.
Your home can never be 'done' when you're constantly living in it: unlike the curated 'mess' of staged Instagram shots, day-to-day clutter will always creep in.
Even if you never bought into minimalist design or found yourself drawn in by the millennial aesthetic, living in lockdown has forced us to reevaluate our spaces and see them for what they are: spaces to live in, make a mess in and, for the most part, spaces in which an aspirational look has to take a back seat to life's practicalities. Staying inside for weeks on end is revealing to many of us in Generation Rent that our homes are not built to accommodate so much intense living. Many of us lack space and have to negotiate other flatmates, kitchens built into hallways, old carpeting that we just have to deal with instead of ripping up. Living this way was bearable when home was a resting point – somewhere to move to and from – but it feels very different when you cannot leave. As lockdown goes on, the pull of aspirational minimalism or stylish but uncomfortable furniture is usurped by the dirt and mess of daily life. Your home can never be 'done' when you’re constantly living in it: unlike the curated 'mess' of staged Instagram shots, day-to-day clutter will always creep in. Either you have to clean up after yourself (constantly) or embrace the ways in which things jostle against each other.
A report by trend forecasting agency WGSN says that lockdown has led us to see home as what it calls a 'homebody hub' – "a more realistic, less aspirational take on home life" – and comments on the move towards cocooning, the impulse to surround ourselves with things that comfort us, putting us in a constant state of rethinking our space. We are becoming intimately reacquainted with our stuff as we embrace the urge to rearrange, spring clean and take stock. And since we can't go to the dump or the charity shop, we have a lot of time to consider and reconsider what we might want to remove.
Accepting and even embracing clutter is not about accepting mess or suggesting that to clean is to be anal. It’s more about seeing our homes once again as places to live, reflecting lives which more often than not have clashing, mismatched and perhaps impulsive tastes. Clutter, of the kind that lines Amy’s drawers and defines her space, should not be seen as a mess or a disruption but as an integral – even joyful – part of a home.
Now is an opportunity for us to be more grounded and less aspirational, a bit messier but a bit more comfortable, too. So what if your space isn’t artfully curated all the time and everything is out of place? Embrace your clutter! Revisit old memories, remind yourself of thoughtless choices and look back through the life you lived before this all went down.