Creative Mess vs Clutter / Maximalism vs Minimalism

To get the house into sales-readiness lately I and my husband have been in declutter and clean mode. Being a creative I’ve always believed that I needed a messy desk and some clutter to keep my juices primed. Only to find that it’s my business-savvy husband who is the clutter-keeper around here. Trying to convince him to throw anything out is both stressful and long-winded. I swear that if he lived alone at an old age he’d have the hallmarks of a hoarder and his office would have overtaken the garden. He remarks how good the house or room looks after our clearouts, mind you, but the work to get there remains grueling.

It’s been ten years since we last moved house, and that time it was basically done by an international moving firm while we moved from the UK to Australia. It was done quick, like within a couple of days, with little time to clear out any junk – the movers simply packed it up and it arrived here for storage.

Now that we’re supposedly downsizing, and with the newer constraints of having a minimal de-personalised home for potential buyers to view, I find I’m fighting the clutter every step of the way both on a mental and practical level. Overwhelm is a new friend.

Home Offices are a major passion of mine. If you take the home office as a unit, it’s defined, has an obvious function yet can be designed in many forms and spaces. It’s a nice succinct space to decorate, and also one which can easily become the most cluttered and messy of all house spaces (save, perhaps, by our wardrobes).

My problem is that I had a home office which was my personal craft space for several years, but when Covid hit last year my husband took over the room as his WFH (work from home) space. He works in it at least two days a week, sometimes longer (as with Sydney’s current new lockdown).

The desk and printer areas have gone from cleared of mess to sporting piled up papers, old invoices, shredding piles, several computers and wires of all types, and handwritten scrawled notes as he sits on Zoom calls all day.

The office is one of the last rooms we must tackle in readiness for open homes and selling the house. In lockdown we can still have singular and private inspections, and have had several lots of people around, but when it comes to that office, it’s not a great selling point, despite it’s lovely tree-top outlook, or surround-wall shelving.

Which reminds me of my thoughts towards mess vs clutter.

I used to believe that a slightly messy desk lead to more creativity on my part. Having a whole heap of research articles, or even scene index cards on the desk often did produce some more ideas for me when writing. Having scraps of crafting papers, and accents scattered across the floor did help me put together scrapbooking layouts, and colour schemes.

There’s some scientific evidence and anecdotal history supporting this for idea generation.

In a study in the September issue of Psychological Science, Kathleen Vohs, PhD, of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, found that working in a tidy room encourages people to do socially responsible, normatively “good” things like eat healthfully and give to charity. But working in a messy room seems to help them try new things and come up with creative ideas.

Via: APA, 2013

Then again, let me bring up the recognised fear of the writer or artist – fear of the empty page. For many writers and sketch artists, myself included, opening up a word document, placing a new canvas, or opening a new journal to a glowing white page brings up all sorts of issues with starting. White unused spaces are perfectionism, and any attempt to alter this and mark it as your own pulls up thoughts of not being good enough, of making mistakes, and ruining things. This, we all have to get over.

In this respect, digital gives us leeway. Whoever invented the undo button should have patented it. Whoever later invented cloud storage to grant us the ability to keep multiple working copies and go back to previous versions needs an award as minimum, or maybe a statue.

So if we’re saying that empty pages now mean we have a place to explore and fill with our creativity we find a new issue with the decluttering and minimisation taking place in our homes lately. I just read several trend forecasts for 2021 suggesting that the minimal look of Konmari fame and decor style is disappearing, making way for more livable and practical maximalism curtailed by using as much storage as possible. Here’s one such forecast at Forbes.

I’ve also been doing some interior decorating and renovation courses by some well known ladies here in Australia.. Whilst the courses and facebook groups are brilliantly inspiring and knowledgable, most of these lady’s design moodboards and their own dream houses are white-on-white-on-white, and the ladies get a lot of underground criticism for that approach. But if they can live with kids and white, all kudos to them. I’ve also read quite a lot of comments and posts elsewhere admitting that the white-white-white minimal rooms are for instagram and not for living. My job is to decorate for the life that I and my family leads, and that’s with four pets – two dogs and two cats, who despite my best efforts, appear on my sofa most days. Previously when my daughter was at home that included lots of arty mess and sports muck. We still have a garage full of softball equipment to get rid of.

With the knowledge that I would be selling my home to make a sea change, a few months ago I purchased a lovely cream-white duvet cover, so as to display my master bedroom in it’s best neutral glory for sellers. Despite having had a few buyers visit, I’ve not yet put that cover on. It’s just impractical at this point. Especially in mid winter when washing and drying it isn’t easy.

Instead, I’ve concentrated on minimising and decluttering the spaces to depersonalise them, and bring out the spaciousness. As anyone who has sold a place recently knows, staging a house is important. The decluttering and minimalisation of furniture and colour schemes has really opened the spaces out. However as I have hit a threshold of minimalism, our high gallery ceilings now cause the place to echo. Something to remember if ever staging another house – taking away too much soft coverings causes issues.

Contrarily I find myself looking at these big lovely spaces now, and thinking how – if I were staying here – I might decorate them. And what of my precious collections and things, I might display there to make me happy when I glance them.

Between my husband’s past-facing approach of keeping everything and the kitchen sink for memory’s sake, and cluttering his space with “should-file these papers when I find time” and my future-dreaming approach with throwing or donating everything out that hasn’t been used in months; there is a middle-ground.

As with the lifetime changes which came to all of us with Covid 19, we sit at a transitional time where what is minimalism and what is maximalism in design is not completely understood or agreed by anybody. The eclectic or boho decor style is often referred to as collective aesthetic or maximalism, but even then, what is cluttered and what is not is still debated. For example, here’s a Modsy post called Style Spotlight: 7 Ways To Nail The Discerning Collector Look. Note the “Discerning Collector” label (if only we as a family were as discerning, is what I say). It’s an attempt to look at an eclectic minimalism style, which when you consider it, is almost an oxymoron. The key, however, is in the word “discerning”.

Even then the Modsy blog shows several images. Here’s a couple –

Both images above show us the style I particularly love myself, that of the scandi-inspired tones of natural woods and textures on a monotone or neutral base of charcoals, black and white. Scandi minimalism is very much still trending if you look at many of the latest vision boards submitted in courses like I am taking.

Of the collector involved here, Modsy is introducing the eclectic and normally maximalist style but this time reduced down by some discernment. Liking the tones and neutralness already, Again, this is partly a contrary notion – if you are a collector, you want all the things, that’s the point of a collection. Drilling it down to a few good examples to showcase reduces a collection to, um, not a collection?

However, I grasped hold of the Modsy mockups, especially as they show places for a collection of books. Except – wait, nobody I know has a collection of grey-toned books on display – book covers come in all kinds of colours. But maybe I’ve stumbled onto something here for the book industry – multiple covers in different colour tones to allow for showhome display purposes (and collectors!).

Big breath. Anyway, in those images above, what are those collections of bottles and vases placed so specifically on the shelf unit for? And what does that black bust arranged in the bedroom tell me about the person living there? That they want their bedroom to be profiled in a home beautiful magazine, or collected onto somebody’s Pinterest board? Maybe, just maybe they’ve been to Italy and hauled back a genuine bust?

But we don’t really live like that – in reality the bust is replaced by a worn jewelry box which their Great Aunt gifted us and which once was owned by our great great grandmother, and has both antique and personal value, even if it’s as ugly as sin. And the bottles? If that was my home, the bottles would be a much-loved but ill-conceived smorgasbord of plastic superhero action figures (some of which are valuable enough to not dispose of, like with any good collection) or our Mr Potato-Head collection (which probably isn’t valuable at all, but there’s always hope…). None of which are black or white and fit the neautral colour-scheme.

Yes, I know that Modsy is only supplying mockups and example accent pieces in those rooms. But once again we have met that interim space between one point of maximalism and another of minimalism. Clutter versus empty space. The middle ground.

That middle ground – which we are still working to – is towards livability and beauty. With enough and temporary mess there comes creativity and ideas. Clean this away from time to time and you have made space – a neutral and fruitful zone for business and strategy and celebrating the goodness of having space to breath and rest within. And to fill again.

I like that middle ground of eclectic discernment. It’s full of potential and livability, beauty and flow. It’s organic and moves with us, without making us feel guilty about our mess or our emptiness. It’s a space which we will love to live in.

Footnote: The Header image is not our office. If only.

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