Clutter and the layering of everyday life

17th EASA Biennial Conference, EASA2022: Transformation, Hope and the Commons was held in Belfast 26-29 July. Eerika and Anna from the SENSOMEMO team participated online. This blog text is a version of our presentation “Clutter and the layering of everyday life: reflections on autobiographical materiality”. 

In the spring 2021, we conducted interviews for the SENSOMEMO project. We asked respondents to tell us about their important or cherished material objects and let us know what exactly these objects are and what kinds of feelings or memories they attach to them. 

Many respondents defined cherished objects as those they would try to save “if the house was on fire”. We talked about childhood soft toys such as teddy bears, old game consoles, houseplants, jewellery, souvenirs, a piano, an old lamp, and photographs; all carriers of memories and/or family history. In addition to these irreplaceable things, many also mentioned they cherish objects of interior design. Decorative items, carefully selected wall papers, lamps and furniture such as sofas and armchairs were important pieces of home because they created aesthetic and functional spaces and cozy atmospheres. These objects expressed identity, taste and values and created feelings of home. 

The respondents also talked about another if not an opposite side to their material things. The cherished and emotional objects form a part of our personal assets, but mess and abundance of quite meaningless stuff form another. We talked about clutter, or “sälä” in Finnish.  It consisted of small unaesthetic objects and was a nuisance especially for those taking responsibility of tidiness and order of things in a household. For instance, papers such as bills and old tax or insurance papers, plastic objects such as small toys or kitchen items, electric wires, old smartphones and computers which were not in use anymore were mentioned as clutter. It piled up to places but did not have a specific place at home.  

Clutter was mentioned as stuff, which was not really usable at the moment, but at the same time, often contained a possibility of later use. It was often close to but not entirely junk, waiting for decisions whether it should be thrown away, recycled, given to someone or stored. Some clutter was problematic, because it seemed to clash with ideas of an ecologically sustainable way of living. The respondents hated the idea of throwing unbroken and still usable things to waste, although keeping them increased the stuff in their homes. Another problem was that some items, e.g. small plastic toys, old books, magazines or even old coffee cups or other dishes were clutter for one and cherished things for another member of the household.  

Based on these interviews, clutter can be defined as stuff without a specific place or use. It may divide opinions or take different roles within a household. People are not emotionally attached to clutter, yet clutter may provoke emotional reactions, for instance feelings of frustration. Some respondents gave the impression that all members of their families were not equally concerned about clutter. This was connected with division of household duties and ideas of tidy and organized home. For those who were concerned about it, clutter made an impact on the atmosphere of home.  

For a researcher clutter is an interesting perspective on material culture, which we hope to analyze further in our project. It reveals the different layers of meanings, attitudes, expectations, modes of action and power connected with material objects within the context of home.   


Löfgren, Orvar (2017) Mess: on domestic overflows. Consumption Markets & Culture, 20:1, 1-6, DOI: 10.1080/10253866.2016.1158767  

Woodward, Sophie (2021) Clutter in domestic spaces: Material vibrancy, and competing moralities. The Sociological Review, 69 6, 1214-1228.