Mess Vs Clutter - One is necessary, the other isn’t…

With National Organising Week in full flow I thought I would take a moment to work out something that my partner and I often disagree on. We can both agree that neither of us want to live in a dirty house but we both take a different view on what is a “mess” and what is “clutter”. So I thought I would pen a simple guide to what the difference between the two is in my mind.

Messy Spaces

The simplest definition of messy is untidy. Picture a space where personal objects live side-by-side. When I think of messy spaces, I think of families with small children where the parents are struggling to balance childcare and full-time jobs along with daily chores and haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. It’s not that objects don’t have a home, it’s that odds and ends are strewn around in these spaces as well. In messy spaces the common problem is that there is not an effective process in place to discard waste or tidy away the mess of life - thus restoring the balance. Solutions can be as simple as putting more trash bins around the house, it can be about creating new habits, such as tidying up spaces every evening once your home has settled down, or perhaps hiring a house cleaner to come give the place a good tidying once a week.

Unorganised Spaces

Disorganised spaces lack structure. Think of people moving into a new space and starting a new job at the same time: they’re in a rush to get their bearings in this new environment quickly, and have little time to unpack with much intention. Individual objects are not grouped with those of similar need. The hydrogen peroxide may be under the bathroom sink, while the BandAids in the first drawer to the left under the kitchen counter. Disorganised spaces make accomplishing tasks time consuming and frustrating; things are never where you want them to be, or where you last saw them. Overcoming a disorganised space takes effort: it requires first pulling everything out of its hiding place, putting like items with like items, and then identifying the best space for them to live (and that may mean purchasing and/or building new storage devices).

Cluttered Spaces

Cluttered spaces typically occur for people who have lived in the same space for a long time. Over the years they have continued to bring new stuff into their home without discarding any of their old stuff in the process. This happens when we don’t make time to go through our closets, cupboards, drawers, garages and storage units. Much like disorganised spaces, in order to declutter one’s space one must pull everything out, put like items with like items, and then focus on pairing down. Challenge yourself and ask of each object, “does this bring me joy?” If the answer is “no” then bye bye. If the answer is “yes” then put it back.

Mess is a healthy and natural part of life...


  • Mess is a healthy, natural part of life. It’s a sign that your space is lived in and enjoyed.

  • Mess is temporary, and relatively easy to deal with.

  • Mess is usually composed of items that get a lot of use and/or love, can be tidied up and put away because everything has a “home.”

  • Mess does not get endlessly ignored.

  • Messes move and are used often, allowing energy to flow.

  • Creating a mess often energizes the home and brings joy.

  • Mess is an inherent part of the creative process.


  • Clutter is excess stuff that takes up space and saps energy.

  • Clutter is long-term to permanent, and does not clean up quickly.

  • Clutter is composed of items that are not used, wanted, or loved. Clutter takes up space and does NOT have a real “home.”

  • Mess can become clutter if ignored for too long!

  • Clutter usually stays put, blocking energy in your space.

  • Clutter drains energy and has no redemptive qualities.

  • Clutter is a massive block to creativity.


So what category does your space fall into? Make an action plan: do you need a house cleaner to come in every other week to help you get a handle on your mess? Do you need to call on your fix-it friend to help you build that IKEA dresser to hold all your undergarments? Or is it time to finally go through your downstairs closet and donate those old jackets to the thrift store? The first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem. What do you need in your space?

Kerry Pocock