19 Aug 2015

Declutter: To Clutter or To Declutter

iris apfel photographed in her new york apartment by thomas whiteside decluuter by vicki archer

I have been considering the whole clutter and declutter question.

Apparently it is a hot topic now.

There is a bestseller on the waves that is having a big moment. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising, is an international bestseller.

I haven’t read Kondo’s book as yet, I will, but despite that I have been having a rather significant flirt with decluttering myself.

iris apfel photographed in her new york apartment for architectural digest decluuter by vicki archer

My desire to declutter started in London.

We have moved many times and the packing and un-packing is a big, big job. It becomes easier and you get better at it. Ruthless becomes the new way of indecision and for me, that is a very good thing. Time is too short to belabour whether something deserves to be kept or discarded. If I don’t have the answer in the first thirty seconds then whatever it is not important enough to hold a place in my heart or in expensive storage.

Why do we feel the need to declutter?

I am convinced it is an age related mood. I feel differently about life and how I live and enjoy my days. I want to be surrounded by what I love, my environment is very important to me, but I am aware that what I visually and emotionally require is vastly changing. In the past I wanted to collect, to create to change my interiors with belongings. My surroundings ruled me not the flip side. Now I am determined to live with what has meaning and what I feel wholeheartedly committed to.

iris apfel photographed in her new york apartment for architectural digest decluuter by vicki archer

I am not suggesting that by decluttering we destroy and deplete our emotional connections for we do gather those through our possessions. Possessions can anchor us, comfort us and define much about who we are. I see nothing wrong with that as long as our possessions are an extension of who we are, a description. It is when possessions become the ultimate goal and life driver that we get into trouble.

To declutter in a controlled way is therapeutic.

We have all tossed too much in a fit of rage and regretted the outbursts at a later date. Temper tantrums never make for cathartic cleansing. A good declutter is almost healing but requires proper planning.

I have spent the last six weeks decluttering our home in France.

I feel fabulous, light in spirit and free from so much un-necessary baggage. It was an emotional experience as I unearthed memorabilia that sent me barrelling down the rabbit hole of my past lives. I removed only that which had no meaning. How could so much have accumulated? I thought I was more a minimalist than a maximalist; not so.

Determining what was clutter and what was valuable became easier as I worked through our rooms. It was as difficult to be decisive over my children and husband’s possessions as it was my own. Clothes were the easiest and trinkets the toughest. How much of the inconsequential do you keep? I compromised and could have been more ruthless. Round two will be the answer for that.

iris apfel photographed in her new york apartment for architectural digest decluuter by vicki archeriris apfel photographed in her new york apartment for architectural digest decluuter by vicki archer


There is a freedom to declutter.

For a start so much can benefit others and then there is the opportunity to re-invent yourself and surroundings. Removing parts of the past makes way for more in the future. Saying yes to how you see the future is refreshing and healthier than being locked in to what was decided long ago. We all deserve the chance to change our minds. Why should we live with the same furniture that we chose ten years ago? Paintings should be shared, why not sell and start over? None of these ideas are obligatory and some would find them nonsensical, they don’t enjoy change and would never ever contemplate parting with their history. I see nothing wrong with doing so if a fresh start is what you crave.

For some, living with clutter is their only way to survive, to be happy and content. For others they can only feel well if their surroundings are pure and streamlined. My problem, I wax and wane between the two and sit happily somewhere in the middle.

To declutter our lives requires a kind of bravery, a salute to the past and big thumbs up to the future. It is a beneficial move and I think…

at least I hope… I’m all for it, xv.

Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

images iris apfel for achitectural digest

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Vicki, I am all for less clutter! One of my daughters lives in Colorado with her family. She is the queen of a simple and calm home, which is so inviting. Yes, the beauty of the outdoor scenery helps but the moment you walk in, there is a serenity. We are a building a new home and my goal has been to keep it simple. Thanks for encouraging us to treasure what is truly important and cherish the past but embrace the future! Life is a gift everyday we are blessed to live it!


That is what truly counts and when I look back on my life what I actually remember and cherish are people and places and not much else.

… Well…. maybe a bit of Prada… no, no, I am kidding and making silly.. ;) ;) ;) ;)


I’m afraid that I prefer clutter. Dogs, books, trinkets, magazines, pillows, photos, maps, blankets, stuffies, and kids are all welcome. No trash or food though, we don’t want critters.


Never critters Patty… ;)
And knowing that you love your clutter means it’s not really clutter… Right?


Dear Vicki
So funny, the contrast between your text and the pictures. The amazing Iris is probably one of most extreme maximalists in the western world (I’m not counting in this context people with severe psychiatric disorders who are compulsive hoarders). It’s also interesting how her lovely interiors look rather less cluttered in your photographs than when seen as background in the fabulous documentary “Iris”. Still no-one could miss that she has many/many things in her apartments and many/many clothes and accessories. Probably some would be driven mad by what they’d see as excess – clutter – but Iris and her husband seem as happy bees in honeysuckle, despite their advanced age.
I think the lesson is each to his/her own! Do what makes one happy! Keep what you love. Give away anything you really don’t want. Possessions and clothes should not be the controlling factors in life. If you feel they are, there’s a problem. But don’t let others’ “rules” force your hand.

Recently watched another wonderful and entirely contrasting documentary called “Walking the Camino”. The individuals (quite ordinary people of different ages) gave up their normal lives, for many different reasons, to walk the Camino. As they walked all those kilometres in all weather conditions over sometimes difficult and taxing trails, those carrying big backpacks gradually shed some of their load and discovered they could walk more freely and happily with fewer possessions. One of my former colleagues completed this walk and told me it was the most wonderful experience of his entire life, despite the hardships. On his own, walking through often beautiful countryside, he had time out from his busy life to contemplate – life, the meaning of life, what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, what happiness was. So many things – and it gave him great peace. Best wishes, Pamela


A great parable Pamela…
I would love to do this walk one day… I only ever hear incredible stories about this..


Vicki, there is a fine line between keeping what we cherish and brings us comfort and letting go of “stuff” that can bog down our life. It seems I am always working on this!!

The Arts by Karena

Heather in Arles

You are right, this definitely seems to be much in the air right now. My friend Ally at From the Right Bank was just mentioning the same thing and what I wrote to her is that I think a lot of it is linked to our mental well-being and how we think about things (both literal objects and life issues). The stuff is just an extension of all that.

While I haven’t read the Kondo book, a long time ago I was given “Clear your Clutter with Feng Shui” by Karen Kingston years ago and have found it helpful on both a super practical and philosophical level (even though it is very accessible). Having had no choice but to seriously down-size twice in recent years…well, I needed a gentle push in the how to department but also found it incredibly freeing.

That said, I know for certain that there are bona-fide maximalists out there like our beautiful La Contessa and I wouldn’t want them to be any other way!! To each his own but it is definitely worth thinking about… :)


It is interesting where we find ourseves on this topic…
I am changing and I think it is a good thing. I can feel my mind wanting to be free of clutter and some responsibilities (although it never can be) but the simple process of weeding out and making the effort really does make me feel in better shape.. :)

Heather in Arles

I think it is interesting that you talk about being “in better shape” because I almost mentioned a book that I read MANY years ago (and so with my bad memory that means that I can’t begin to remember what it was) that said that often weight gain can be seen as a way of building up an armour against the world (and that rings true to me with my own stress and weight gain) and I think that a lot of us also do that with bulking up with things around us in our lives as a form of reassurance. So conversely, your letting go of things that you really don’t need, armourless (well, or armour-lighter ;) really could make you feel lighter and in better shape. Sounds kind of loopy but it makes sense, non?

Heather in Arles

That is what I am saying…you just might!

And ps. Guess what I did because of this post? A beauty declutter! Whaaaaa!!!! Oh dear me, that was so needed and made me SO happy. Throwing out the half used perfumes that were gifts but really aren’t me was the hardest.

Anita Rivera

Vicki, I am with you all the way. I have been decluttering now for about 2 years and it feels WONDERFUL. I think, and this is just me, but when I start to clutter my world, I think it is an attempt to find my identity, what I want to surround myself with, try it out, live it out. Of course, most of the clutter is my own doing, and many a friend have gifted me with wonderful keepsakes that I will forever keep. But I finally found my style, and it is of a sparse nature. I have gotten rid of any reproductions that I have purchased, I just sold a few pieces of furniture to a buyer and my bedroom is FINALLY free of extra things I don’t need.

As a thinker, writer, even educator, I try to focus on what is essential for the moment, for the lesson instead of cluttering up my mind and that of my students or readers. IT FEELS GREAT because in the end (I know, I’m always so maudlin!), we can’t take it all with us, just our character and how we lived.

LIVE WELL and clutter-free! Anita


Another great word, “essential” to add to our list..
Edit, evolution and essential… The “E’s” are working well today… :)

Mimi Gregor

Even as a minimalist, I am still finding things that I can discard. I borrowed Marie Kondo’s book from the library recently (something I am doing to avoid book clutter AND save money!) and read it in a day (it’s an easy read). I took notes as I went along, because even an experienced de-clutterer like me learned a few things. First of all, she doesn’t declutter each room in turn. She declutters by category, since most categories are kept in more than one location. For instance, she starts with clothing, because she says that it is the easiest to part with. One gathers it from all over the house, then decides what to get rid of and what to keep. Her criteria for getting rid of things is simple: does it bring you joy? If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, release it with gratitude for whatever part it played in your life, but no longer fills. The next category is books… then papers… and each category is treated similarly. She starts with the things that are easier to decide about so that you can become more discerning as you go along, making it easier to release things. The difficult things, she saves for last: sentimental items and photos.

I thoroughly recommend her book as a source of inspiration when getting into tackling clutter… or even just starting the fall cleaning. She has a very zen approach, and it has been translated from Japanese, which explains some of the things that I was taken aback by (shoes kept in a cubby in the entry way??? Oh, yeah… they take their shoes off when they enter the house….) As with any book, take what resonates with you and leave the rest.


I like the idea of “joy” being the reason to hold onto something… I think intuitively that was how I decided what to cull and what to keep… And yes, starting on clothes is by far the best way…
Mind you, I did save two suitcases full of old “designer’ clothes and shoes… still thinking … “one day”… I have a way to go to reach my Zen place… :)


I too am decluttering, Vicki. As an antique dealer, I’ve had to get really, really good at determining what I want to surround myself with at home, since I’m constantly buying beautiful things. I’ve decided only to keep what I truly love, like you. Not having clutter doesn’t mean not having anything, it just really sets a high standard for the “keepers.” I’ve heard Marie’s book is really good, I ordered a copy.


I’m a neat freak. Drawers in order, wardrobe alphabetized (according to my man), cupboards with dishes all lined up in little rows. It makes me happy. I do have things packed away and I go through it maybe once a year. Each time more things are donated from the treasures. I’ve come to realize that the attachment to some things wanes as my life changes, not to mention that there are new additions each year.

We had the arduous task of vetting the home of a family member this past year. Fifty-five years in the same house – raising a family and collecting memories. So much of the crystal, dishware, and fine furniture had considerable value; but sorting and breaking down the rooms was a sad process.


I felt the same when I emptied my parent’s home and it was then that I really understood that the sum of possessions does not equate with life…

Angela Muller

Vicki, I love the juxtaposition of your theme against Iris’s life! As for me, I like to consider it “editing” my life. For years I’ve been a collector of many things and the owner of a fine art gallery. When I decided to close the gallery, those items on consignment went back to the artists, but that still left me 75% worth of wonderful things to rehome. Some things came home with me, others ended up in climate controlled storage for a few years, until I decided I hated the ever increasing monthly bill. At the same time, I was downsizing my living space…double trouble. At first, everything came in…some rested in closets, others became ceiling to floor wall art, and many things remained “at large”. I am now in the process of “editing”…giving beautiful things, as well as myself, room to breathe and be seen. Those that I feel I can part with are being sold, donated or shared. Editing is a slow process, requiring many “go rounds”; it takes time to settle on the fact that you are able to let go of things that share your history. Some are born to it, like my daughter, who has never been a collector, except for the things I’ve collected for her, which are now mine; but for me, maturity and space has been the prime motivator. Now when I look around, I see things in a new light, with a new appreciation; and I finally understand it’s simply the evolution of a life.


Edit and evolution… these are exactly the right words to describe declutter…

Donna A.

I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book yet, but boy has it changed my…dresser drawer! I first read about the KonMari Folding Method on Goop.com. Their animated demonstrations on how to fold lingerie, socks, tees and sweaters were compelling…like Folding for Dummies. I got right to it and within an hour, had all six drawers in immaculate shape. I was so excited, I immediately “Konverted” my husband’s dresser. I should probably order the book – It may change my life! ;)


Sounds like it!
I am going to strat reading this weekend… but that whole way of streamlining really does make you feel good… :)

Libby Day

We downsized about eight years ago into a Garden Home. With that move, Hubby and I decided to keep only what we loved and toss, give or donate the rest. It has been a liberating and enjoyable experience. Perhaps the most determining criteria as to what to keep was invisioning my children at some point down the road, look at an item and say, “What were they thinking?” That helped put things into perspective.

Cathy C

Hello Vicki,
I tend to de-clutter around the beginning of both Spring and Fall. I have to; my house is small. Reading this reminds me it is time again. I won’t let my hubby know that this well timed post is why he will be helping me clean the garage this weekend and not golfing…he will hide my iPad. Thanks for little push…I wonder if the book is available for kindle, speaking of less clutter.


The pictures are so fabulous, but I would lose my mind in that room! My mother loves to have ‘stuff’ around her; I do not. I keep the things that I love, but very little extra–retired military and now overseas with the State Dept, we have moved 5 times in the last 9 years. Still we “purge” before and after every move. Do we use it? Do we need it? Do we love it? Those are my questions. I was in the States last week, visiting my mother. She is 83 and wanting to start ‘taking care of ‘things”. Knowing I love them, she asked me to take her collection of Royal Doulton figurines and some antique teacups from her mother. They arrived in perfect condition, and I smile every time I look at the lovely ladies in my curio. “Keep what brings you joy”. I love that.


Several years ago we went to a beautiful home for an estate sale – I had never seen such an accumulation of clothing, jewelry, china, etc. in my life. The lady at one time owned a ladies’ apparel shop and must have brought it all home with her. I bought one plate – which I later donated! I felt sorry for her family having to contend with so many things. I have always had a neat and tidy home, but even more so as we have gotten older. I want to make the aging process as easy on us and our daughter as I can. I go through the house several times a year to eliminate those items we just don’t use any more. I have even simplified the artwork in our walls over the years. I feel we can breath better without clutter!

Maria Reals

Simplified and deleted stuff. So happy. It’s amazing how much we keep that really isn’t necessary. I like William Morris quote “Have nothing in your home that is not beautiful or useful.”


Vicki,goodness I have had patches in my life where I have sent box loads off to charity or auction house.
There was much moving in our earlier married life,but we have been stayed put for nine years now,and with four children it is very hard.
The more I get rid of the more seems to turn up….
Our eldest has ping ponging with Uni,so has returned for a few months before starting a new course.
Unfortunately her younger sisters where sharing a room and now are not,but our youngest still has a lot of the eldest son “stuff “, in her now room,the rest is in the garage.
I’m loath to clear it out as it’s not mine,but she just won’t or can’t get stuck in and I’m going to have to.
I do admit we are not even close to minimalist,but some order is necessary.
Children do compound things ,literally!

Karen in VA

Iris Apfel is just such an icon … Loved those photos. She used to live in the old Carnegie Hall building near Bill Cunningham … Before they generously relocated the last few tenants.

Karen in VA


Interestingly, when we bought our house in the south-west of France, we maintained a relationship with the family. Now the grandchildren may in fact one day buy the house when we are ready to sell and return to Canada. The “stuff” in the grenier stays there because we think that it would be lovely for the great-grandchildren to find pleasure in those things. And so we leave the all that is in the attic to rest as it is. I guess that really isn’t clutter since it does not “clutter” our every day lives. One man’s junk, another’s treasure.

La Contessa

I am the BLACK SHEEP Of the group………as I have STUFF.GOOD STUFF…….it all gives me JOY.I realized along time ago people do not understand what makes me TICK.They gift me things that are “MADE IN CHINA”not my kind of STUFF!I feel I am so easy to shop for yet I find myself re-gifting items………they just don’t make the GRADE!When I saw IRIS in her movie it gave me strength to CARRY ON! There is JOY In GORGEOUS things……not clutter but BEAUTY.Is she in this months AD Magazine?I must GO GET IT!These photos are MY INSPIRATION!I keep hearing about inspiration boards……..I don’t have one.I inspire MYSELF on a daily basis by the clothes and accessories that are visible to me!IN my HOME and all that surrounds me.NOT CALLING THE GOODWILL TRUCK NOPE NOT NOW NOT EVER!!!XO


Interestingly I find Ms Kondo with her surroundings and dress mode uneaay for the eye.
Perhaps, she may need more work on the matter of ‘de-clutter’……..

Kim ????

Hello Vicki.
Oh dear…. One of my daughters like me holds on to memorabilia the other daughter, more zen.
So I too have moved many, many times. Living in a smaller space makes you cull what you don’t need any more. Yes keep what brings you joy. ????
Mainly for me its photos of my daughters, and their travel trinkets.

Kerrie in France

Hi Vicki, when we moved from Sydney to southwest France we decided to get rid of almost everything. We arrived with 12 boxes of paintings, books, favourite kitchen paraphernalia, music and movies. The rest we sold or gave away ( apart from small family items like photos, children’s bunnykins, things left to us by parents and grandparents, which are in a large box at my brother’s house). It has been a wonderful experience to start again and only buying what we need and what suits our french house. We have shopped everywhere from vide greniers and brocante dealers to Ikea, but nothing of any great value . Much as I love some of the things we have around us now I could easily just walk away from it all. At this stage of my life I believe that it’s people and experiences that matter most. Declutter away !


Hi Vicki,
I saw the documentary on Iris Apfel here in New York and would love an hour in her bracelet and necklace drawers (or more likely rooms). One of the things I did remark about at the end of the film was if you have enough money it’s called “having collections” and when you don’t it’s plain old “hoarding.” Having just cleaned out a cousin’s brownstone and only 45% at that, I have seen hoarding up close and personal and it’s made me appreciate my having nothing in my house that I do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful (paraphrasing William Morris here).
As a woman of a certain age, my goal is to not have to do major home clean-ups, be able to dress in a flash and spend my money on things that are important – spending time with family and friends, traveling. I live in a New York apartment so I have to cull things on a seasonal basis finding it’s gotten easier since I did a major decluttering five years ago and got rid of my storage bin. I’ve never been a big collector but appreciate more having a simpler and go-on-a-flash lifestyle.
BTW, I read Marie Kondo’s book and the one suggestion she made that I have incorporated and love is standing up clothing (t-shirts and sweaters especially) in my bureau instead of laying them flat. What a difference this has made.
And the adventure continues.

Our French Oasis

A fabulous right “on trend” subject and it’s interesting how you say we change, we do I am quite sure of it. When I was first married and had our first daughter I loved lots of possessions, momentos, ornaments, my house was full and it felt like a real home. Two decades and five children later and I am slowly getting more and more clutter free as the years pass. I love space. Most bizarrely I love it when my fridge is almost empty except for some vegetables and some yoghurt, the gleaming glass shelves are clean and shining and I open it up and it looks like perfection to me. Now what does that say about me I wonder? I am the only person I know who loves loves loves an empty fridge!!!

Carol Wayne

Having had to clean out my parents and the in-laws homes due to death or infirmity I have become quite the declutterer! My children have accused my husband and I of joining a cult where one has to give up our worldly possessions…..that said I find it hard to give up the things that stir a happy memory. So, as you said, we are works in progress. My first thought on seeing Mrs. Apfel in her home is …I bet she doesn’t have to dust all that….


Hahaha! I love an empty fridge too, like ‘Our French Oasis’! As well as the yoghurt and vegetables I might like a bottle of white wine there too – just in case. ???? Your post on decluttering is very timely for me Vicki as we are just this week downsizing to a small 2 bedroom flat with a little courtyard. Our current house is not really big but I always look forward to a good decluttering as it gives you a chance to pare down to the essence of what is really important to you. By the way, Happy New Year to you Vicki. I hope 2016 is a good one for you.

Jean Wethmar

Nothing like downsizing and decluttering to lighten ones spirit.. I can totally recommend it.. all that ‘stuff’ just weighs us down and keeps us down… Had great joy knowing that my ‘stuff’ is giving somebody else joy so.. move over dust mites.. there’s no place to hide anymore..x j

Blair Sorrel

You become the caretaker to whatever you own as possessions will begin to own you (your time, energy, and even the expense of upkeep). Utter clutter is claustrophobic and I will always remember the party I attended at a recreational shopper’s home replete with manifold objets d’art and having no place to set my wine glass amid the jade sculptures. Sentimental can be scanned nowadays and the Boomer population, myself included, must contemplate whether they wish to burden their children or grandchildren with the onus of contending with the welter of material goods they accumulated in their long lives. As for iconic Iris, I find her aesthetic in dress and décor to be rarified hoarding.


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