In Defense of Clutter

Under my bed, I have three massive plastic boxes of crap I don’t need.

Each box groans with unnecessary, useless paraphernalia, amassed over my two and a half decades of consciousness.

I would not describe myself as a hoarder. But I wish there was a more glamourous term for a person who just likes to keep things.

One of the many items includes a key that I found when I was approximately eight years old, around the time I first got my own room, when I moved out of the bottom bunkbed of the bedroom that my brother and I had shared and into the room that had been transformed from a disorganised barrister’s home office to a decorative dedication to the colour purple (the shade, not the book) whose walls would soon be adorned with posters ripped out of Mizz magazine and Blu-tacked above my bed.

I have swathes of scarves that I never wear that have been stuffed in a  large hat box, of all things. Nice enough scarves that I haven’t worn in a decade and also cannot bear to see given away to the charity shop. One scarf is adorned with peace signs, a relic of my heavy bohemian phase in my early teens. One is a black-and-white bandana with a skull print, which I remember wearing with black skinny jeans, black trainers and a purple Topshop t-shirt. So, an important accessory to an important look. Looking back, I probably looked like a mid-2000s male hairdresser who may have once appeared in an episode of Ally McBeal, with my side fringe and dark eyeliner and surly pout. I wasn’t an emo – that would have meant “fitting in” to a crowd at school, which was so not my brand. I was a social wanderer. But I fancied myself a real punk – because I wore a studded bracelet that I had bought in America and I had two Good Charlotte albums. I wore the palest shade of Rimmel foundation there was, despite my actual skin being a completely different shade. In short, I was about as punk as a bakewell tart.


I like keeping this stuff. I like keeping mementos. I rarely look at them-i rarely want to. But I dislike the feeling of not having those things somewhere in the house. Having them somewhere in the attic, under the wardrobe, brings a sense of safety and calm.

Inevitably, this causes clutter.

It has become a joke of the family that I am a clutter magnet. I leave a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of hair pins everywhere I go, and I like to leave an earring or a pot of nail varnish as a calling card of my presence. Then, once one piece of clutter appears, more clutter accumulates around it, like neighbourhood coffee shops. It’s like putting down seeds in the soil of my home, watching them grow and turn into beautiful flowers taking up too much space.

Of course, much like my Good Charlotte albums, clutter is not so cool these days. Now that Marie Kondo has turned from a person into a movement and then a verb, people are bagging up things that “no longer bring them joy” and dumping them at the door of the nearest Oxfam. It was reported in January that charity shops were receiving so many donations that they had to start turning people’s bags of clutter away. Such is the “magic art of tidying up” effect.

But I’d put a tenner on that most people regretted giving away at least one of the items they bagged up for the charity shop. I’d bet that there was at least a second of hesitation before they handed it over to the lady at the till. We are sentimental, deep down inside ourselves – and I don’t think that’s something we should be fighting.

By all means clear out things that you think could be used better by someone else (although a piece of advice: the idea that someone else will find true joy out of your mustard yellow Bonmarché cardigan from 2007 is wildly optimistic). But don’t give away pieces of your childhood, pieces of your life, of yourself. Keep the cardigan. Keep the useless key you found. Keep them close to your heart, because they are what you reach for when you start to feel like you’ve lost yourself.

To this day I don’t know what door that my useless key opens. I’ve tried it on all doors in the house and it doesn’t fit in any of them. But every time I look at its rusty exterior and feel the surprisingly heavy weight in my hand, I’m transported to the life of the eight-year-old girl who cut her own fringe in a mad flourish of “artistic flair”. Who read Jacqueline Wilson books in a day. Who carried around a beanie baby everywhere she went. That girl’s still with me. I’d never want to throw her away.



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