The Future of Clutter

Don’t laugh. Clutter is on a lot of people’s minds these days—but not with the intent to give it a future. No, the idea is to eliminate clutter, cut it off, stop the flow.

Clutter was supposed to fall by the wayside with the advent of personal computers. Remember? Only now, if we’ve lived any life at all, we have old discs, old printers, old cartridges, old everything—and somewhere in that pile may be archived family photos and memories.

We still have paper, too. Stacks of it. And we can’t just toss it, because someone might steal our personal identity. So we have to shred it. Which means you are turning your paper into more paper, or letting it pile up in bags until your community has a free shredding day. In the meantime, it’s part of the clutter problem, especially during tax season, when you realize you have way too many years of old data stored, and probably lots of unnecessary records as well.

We’ve gone to smaller computers, smaller desks, smaller homes—but somehow haven’t ended the clutter. There’s even a backlash against Kondo’ing, with the usual social media criticism mounting up about how living with blank space can be just as depressing as clutter…not to mention how difficult it is to sustain the momentum.

I’m not alone in having a mantra these days of “reduce, reduce, reduce,” with the spectre of our descendants hanging over me gleefully tossing my memories into the trash when we die. “Why did mom keep this?” they may ask—although they are more likely to just toss and turn away. Because the next generation, wherever you are in life, doesn’t want anyone’s else’s clutter either.

Sure, the stereotypical Millennials love a bit of kitsch, and they might love coming across a stash of toys from McDonald’s kids meals from the 80s. That is no reason to keep your grandmother’s Carnival glass, random pieces of china, or the salt and pepper collection that you found in the attic (with no one claiming knowledge of its origins). Unless those things bring you joy and you have room to display or use them, the idea is to reduce, reduce, reduce.

Brands are taking this into account, moving beyond the idea of sustainability in packaging and into a reduce and reuse mindset that seems here to stay. It will be interesting to see brands (besides Ikea’s storage solutions) innovate around a lack of accumulation, rather than buy, buy, buy.

Is this the year we’ll see movement, or are we still too fond of our “stuff”?