Lisa Dahl, in progress photo of Suburban Export, household cardboard, 1.5 x 2 x 2 inches (each), installation variable, 2011-12. View the installation Suburban Export here. (Photo by Lisa Dahl courtesy the artist)

Lisa Dahl, Suburban Export, household cardboard, 1.5 x 2 x 2 inches (each), installation variable, 2011-12. View the finished installation Suburban Export here. (In-Progress photo of installation by Lisa Dahl courtesy the artist)



“Everyone, rich or poor, deserves a shelter for the soul.” -Samuel Mockbee


The Click & Clack of Clutter


I am fascinated by how houses succeed or fail to shelter us, body and soul, ” says writer Howard Mansfield in his new book Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter (Bauhan Publishing, 2013).

“The mystery that holds my attention is that some houses have life—are home, are dwellings—and others don’t.”

Since 1970 the American home has grown 60 percent, from an average of 1,500 square feet to about 2,400 square feet today (and people still have to rent storage sheds). The 700-square-foot Colonial house of the 18th century is about the size of the two-car garage on a suburban “Colonial.”

Americans are suffocating in clutter. “Our houses have grown stuffy with stuff,” writes Mansfield.

The American obsession with home improvement is at a fever pitch. We have HGTV, shelter magazines, reality TV shows about hoarding, organizing experts who tell us that cleaning our closets will change our lives, and a thriving self-storage industry. (“That odd name, ‘self-storage,'” writes Howard, “is revealing: people aren’t just storing excess; this stuff is a part of their identity.”)

The urge to discuss “stuff” is strong, as Mansfield discovered during several recent radio appearances. “I’ve done several call-in NPR shows and listeners ask so often about clutter that I thought a few of the shows were going to become ‘Clutter Talk’ with me as the ‘Click and Clack’ of over-stuffed houses,” Mansfield jokes.

“I do think that the cluttered house is representative of our crowded minds. Less is more, but that too can become a trap, yet another way to postpone living your life.”

“I’m averse to giving advice,” Mansfield told me via email, “but here are two short suggestions to deal with clutter:”

  • If you’re happy with a mess and feel vital, go forth and be merry.
  • If are feeling overwhelmed, then set a modest goal. Start with a room or a closet, and try to throw out a dozen items in each session. Any number will do. You just want to get things flowing out the door. Once you start, it does get easier.


The Most Hated House on the Block