Clutter in domestic spaces: Material vibrancy, and competing moralities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decluttering discourses position clutter as meaningless things as well as, seemingly paradoxically, morally problematic – as signs of laziness or an individual failure to organise the house. This article addresses the lack of academic research on the topic and challenges the mischaracterisation of clutter as meaningless by drawing from ethnographically informed research into clutter in people’s homes in Manchester. The article is situated in, and contributes to, the sociology of ordinary consumption, the unmarked and unnoticed, and materiality. I draw from the theoretical work of Mary Douglas and Michael Thompson that outlines the vibrancy and potential of the unnoticed materials and matter of everyday life. I centre materiality in thinking about the material vibrancy of clutter and draw from Jane Bennett’s notion of assemblages to think through the capacity of clutter to become morally potent. The article makes four main arguments; first, I challenge ideas that clutter is trivial as it includes both meaningless and meaningful things. Second, I argue that clutter is a way people negotiate, reinforce and manage social relationships. Third, I argue moralising discourses around materialism and decluttering interact with existing everyday moralities around consumption, finances and family life which are brought to bear when people deal with their clutter. Fourth, through its materiality, clutter forces people to engage with moral discourse of wastefulness, usefulness, materialism, and everyday familial norms.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
Early online date5 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2021


  • materiality
  • material culture
  • clutter
  • consumption
  • everyday


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