Friday, December 8, 2023

The Capsule Collective: In Defence of Clutter – Our Writers Debate the Merits & Pitfalls of a Cluttered Life

Welcome to the Capsule Collective, where the writers and editors of Capsule discuss an issue that’s most likely come from a lively staff meeting where no one could agree on anything, so we decided to write about it in the hopes that you, our readers, can settle the matter once and for all.

In this edition, we’re debating clutter. is a little bit of it in the home a good thing? Or is there absolutely nothing positive that can come from a little clutter?


Emma Clifton (Editorial Director) and Sarah Lang (Feature Writer)

For us, clutter equals creativity and the whole messy desk = messy mind comment might in fact be read as a compliment. But there is adult clutter, and there is child clutter, and one is easier to pull off as a sign of creativity than the other.

Marie Kondo admitted recently that, now that she has three children, she’s given up on tidying. That felt like a divine pardon, because she is the goddess of tidying. It made me feel marginally better about the state of my house. I (Sarah) only have one child, but that means an ongoing war with the floor. Right now, at the bottom of my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, is a mass of toys and boardgames and Pokemon cards and kids’ books and unidentifiable objects. TBH yesterday I put a clothes-drying rack on top of this floor lava as a sort of screen – yes with actual clothes on it, which form ‘curtains’. It works pretty well!

Sarah Lang

I love the retro style, and orange is my favourite colour. So my mum, bless her heart, has given me presents she thinks will bring joy to my retro soul. There is a pile of orange bowls (which I use), a ceramic, angular tea set (something you can’t use, kinda like ceramic art), even a beaded orange horse ‘statue’, for want of a better word. Once she said ‘your house is looking a bit cluttered’ and I was like, ‘yep I should tidy up but also, lots of orange things!’

That said, on the whole I don’t mind the level of clutter in my home. Mainly because many items hold meaning or memories. I have souvenirs from a trip to Greece and Italy – a statuette of Apollo, a framed print of a square in Venice – which join other travel souvenirs. When I look at them, I think of how much I loved those places I visited.

Oh, and the orange things remind me of how much my mum loves me. I actually like the beaded horse.

For Emma, it’s more of a case of the controlled clutter of the adult universe being relinquished to the much more powerful force that is child clutter. As I await my first child arriving in a month, I have quickly realised that there is a difference between adult clutter and child clutter. Even though my unborn baby is the size of a pineapple/honeydew melon (depending on which app I ask), our small flat is piled high with so many baby items and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to receive courier packages for myself, rather than Lil Pineapple.

Emma Clifton

Before, all of my items of clutter were a choice, made by me, for me. Back when I worked in an office, I always took a perverse pride in having a messy desk; for me, clutter equals creativity. Messy desk = messy mind? Thank you for the compliment! But now that I work from home, I have reached some limits with my clutter. I’m almost at three years without a desk, instead mooching around the house to lean on whatever flat surface is most comfortable for the baby head-butting my cervix at any time. In an attempt to separate work from leisure time, the art of setting up my laptop/laptop lap desk/tea/snacks/Swiss ball – and then putting them away again – has become a form of demarcation. But I am worried about what will happen when Baby Honeydew arrives and I can no longer pretend to have any form of control over the state of things.

In fact, part of my nesting has shown itself in the most unexpected of ways: organising. The other day, I organised the pantry and lined up the 75 different spice jars in order of most used to least used, and was disgusted by how in control this made me feel. Same with the labelling system I have used for the weeks’ worth of frozen food now sitting in our freezer. Maybe the controlling-the-controllable aspect of being a tidy person has finally entered my brain, with the impending chaos of a newborn knocking on my door. But I will say, I’ll know things have gone too far if I start buying neutrals. Beige is definitely my version of a red flag.


Kelly Bertrand (Editorial Director) and Bel Crawford (Digital Content Editor)

There is nothing – NOTHING – worse than clutter. It encroaches, it looms large over order and productivity and hygge and it just bloody irritates us.

There’s a reason for the saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ and frankly, the two of us both can’t understand how a human can function in and amongst clutter (love you Emma and Sarah xoxo).

If we could get ‘tidy home, tidy mind’ mugs, we would. We’re those people.

Both of us are known for being pretty methodical about clearing away clutter. For Bel, she simply cannot sleep in a messy room. Kelly finds it impossible to begin work each day without doing a desk reset, with everything just so (oh yeah, I’m one of those fun women who like things at parallel and perpendicular angles. No wonder I was single for so long).

Kelly Bertrand

We both do a morning and evening reset of our homes – just a quick 10-minute whip-around to put away anything that needs it and reset for the morning/day. Chuck the dishwasher on, push go on the washing machine, fluff the cushions, the bench cleared, etc.

For us, it’s a way of having just a little control and order in a crazy, unorganised and chaotic world. A calm, ordered space helps us with getting through the day, laying the foundations for productivity and creativity. Unsurprisingly, we’re also list people – Sarah and I have already debated about this at length – and yes, we alphabetise and colour-code. It makes life EASIER.

Bel was one of those kids who actually liked tidying. “I’d I used to change my room and clean for fun as a child. Mum says since I was a toddler, I’d help her tidy if visitors were coming over – ‘I’ll do the kitchen Mum, you do the lounge!’.

Bel Crawford

Where as Emma was famous for her messy desk, Kelly was equally as famous for her almost-too-tidy desk at our last office job. “It was a frantic, stressful and honestly, horrific environment to work in – an old truck depot that was constantly too hot or too cold but never Goldilocks right – and that’s BEFORE the mice infestation and the kamikaze family of sparrows that pooped on everything and got very adapt at dive-bombing us. I needed SOMETHING nice and calm to help me get my brain into the work zone.

“And yes i would surreptitiously try to tidy Emma’s desk, with no success.”

Don’t just take out word for it – the experts reckon clutter is detrimental to overall health too.

In one study, women who reckoned their homes were ‘cluttered’ had high levels of cortisol, while those who described their homes as ‘well-organised and restful’ had lower levels of the stress hormone. Having a whole lot of stuff around you can also make your mind wander, and leave you struggling to concentrate – especially if you’re neurodivergent. And of course, there’s the physical side to clutter – it’s harder to clean around stuff, leading to more dust particles. It’s just science, guys.

There’s also the social benefits of regularly decluttering your home – you can give your unwanted items to those who’ll appreciate them most, or make a little extra money hawking them on TradeMe.

And look, a disclaimer here. We both don’t have kids, and we both know that if we ever do, we’ll have to adapt to more clutter in our lives and that’s fine.

But until then, the world is messy and cluttered. We don’t have to be.

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