Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – Visual Clutter

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom

Imagine a big city, a huge, bustling city with no advertising, anywhere. The Brazilian city of São Paulo turned this imagining into reality in 2007. According to the Major:

“The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution … pollution of water, sound, air, and the visual. We decided that we should start combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector – visual pollution.”

Visual pollution, considered equal in importance to the physical pollutants of water and air. Amazing.

A Brazilian reporter noted that with the advertisements down, all sorts of ills in the city were being seen, virtually for the first time, since they were literally covered up with advertising before.

This got me thinking about my own house and my own life. I know if there are too many sounds around me, especially multiple conversations or a conversation and the TV, I get confused and feel irritable. Many odors such as air fresheners, scented candles, lotion and cologne are malodorous as far as I’m concerned. (An old boyfriend called perfume “stink” and I have to agree.) I’m probably not even aware of the impact that a big pile of clutter, or even being surrounded by stuff, has on my mood.

I was looking for photos of houses that had a bit of visual clutter, but were not really messy or deeply cluttered. Not easy to find. I did find this prize website, Let me tell you what, if your refrigerator is still covered with magnets and papers, this website will show you the error of your ways.

The first photo is a kitchen that most people would feel proud of. It is clean. It is functional. But it has a refrigerator that looks like a box of magnets was thrown on it and then the box and all its friends went to live on top. The counter on the left side is cluttered, as is the area between the microwave and the refrigerator. Just the stuff of everyday life makes a messy look.

Photo Credit ~

The second photo is eye-popping child’s bedroom. Look how neat the closet is! Look how organized the shelves are! Yet do you feel like you drank six cups of coffee with extra sugar when you look at it? I do! Organized, not decluttered, and aggressively visually cluttered.

Photo Credit ~

Looking at the photos of São Paulo and then the photos on the Ugly House website, I was struck by two things. The first is that visual clutter is disturbing, jarring, off putting and insidious. The second is, as Colleen and I have said before, a photograph is worth 1000 words. Think your home is peaceful and clutter free? A photo will tell you whether you’re right, or whether you’re deceiving yourself.

You can read a great article on São Paulo’s advertising ban and see photos here. Be sure to read through the interview with newspaper reporter Vinicius Galvao.

Today’s Declutter Item

Today’s mini mission was to declutter and item of clothing that no longer fits someone in your home. This is my offering, another item of clothing that no longer fits my thinner husband.

Something I Am Grateful For Today

Yesterday one of my readers, Snosie, had a scooter accident. I am grateful that she wasn’t seriously hurt. I hope your shoulder heals fast Snosie.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. This is a great subject. We have three areas of visual clutter as far as i am concerned. One is that we have too many things on the walls. Mom thinks that every blank wall “needs something.” I, on the other hand, feel there is nothing wrong with a blank wall. Two, I am still struggling to get my studio under control. I still have too many things that are stuffed neatly in corners because there is nowhere to put them but they are clutter to me. I am working on this. The last place is the side of our refrigerator. The front looks all nice and blank. The side is a mess. My Mom insists everything there has to be there. It drives me nuts. So I am working on that too. Gradually.

    • I’m not sure why or when Refrigerator = Bulletin Board began, but it certainly is popular. I’d guess more people have stuff over the front of their fridges than do not.

  2. Goodness me Cindy, i could in no way live like that, there is far too much visual distaraction and i would want to run away and hide under a stone. I would love to share photos of my house with you all, not because i am smug, just beacause i would love to show you how a house with 4 kids, 2 adults, 2 dogs, 2 cats can be uncluttered AND functional. I will load some up on photobucket and post a link!!
    Sharron x

    • Cannot wait to see them! 🙂
      How old are your children? Mine are 9 and 10 and I just felt recently that I can reclaim the house and not have crafts displayed every where, and toys/games lurking in every rooms.

      • My children are aged son 16, son 15, son 11, daughter (nearly) 9. We have always lived in fairly small houses so i have always had to be ruthless with what’s kept and what’s not, but your right it’s only the past 18 months or so that i have been able to scale it right back. As they get older they are more into gadgets, and they take up less space 🙂 however i am ruthless with those as well, as a new gadget is brought in the old/redundent one is found a new home or recycled, sometimes recouping a bit of money too. I read somewhere that you have to be a good ‘gatekeeper’ .
        Sharron x

    • Hi Sharron,
      How exciting, I am looking forward to seeing those photos. Perhaps instead of loading them up on photobucket you could write a post for me for Simple Saturday to show your declutter success story. I can give you my email address so you can send me to photos along with the story.

      • It would be an absouloute honour 🙂 I should tell you that i am not that technical and don’t (yet) know how to put pictures in an email!!! My darling son will show me the way i’m sure…..
        Sharron x

        • Thanks Sharron,
          I look forward to receiving your contribution. You will learn something from the experience. Make sure your son goes nice and slow so you can actually follow what he is doing and will know how to do your own attachments in future. I don’t say that because I think you are a slow learner I say that because if he is anything like my hubby he will go too fast so that you can’t keep up.

  3. This post has convinced me that when I go home tonight I will take photos. I have relied on my own senses but that refrigerator makes me see how I may have become jaded.

    Best news is that our town is holding a community garage sale this weekend. We have reserved a table and I expect to take a pickup load of things we have been waffling about or too lazy to sell. Purging nightly and can’t wait!

  4. Great weekly post Cindy. We get so use of seeing stuff at the same spot everyday that we don’t notice it anymore. I am not to the point where I need to take photos, yet. Looking at it is enough. 🙂
    After reading your post, I have not uncluttered my fridge since it is still spotless from an earlier weekly mini-mission, but it looked much worse than the one you pictured above! My husband and children had a shock entering in the kitchen, but then after a couple of weeks we don’t even remember how it was decorated/cluttered. And nobody misses it.
    I did unclutter two areas after reading your post. It took only a few minutes and now looks so much better. Thanks.

  5. The ugly houses website had me in tears of laughter. Perhaps interior decoration should be a compulsory subject in school!

    • There were some pretty awful rooms, weren’t there? If people only realized the impact their furniture and other items have on the speed of the sale of their house and the price they can get for it….

  6. Cindy,

    I mentioned to a friend on the phone recently that I was trying to go more minimalist and my husband started laughing and said, “In no way is this room minimalist!” referring to our family room. I am making progress, but SO SLOWLY! I am trying to keep Colleen’s wisdom in mind – it matters not how fast I go…

    Today, I decluttered a control box to a video game chair that doesn’t work anymore, a box and user manual to a Nintendo DSi, because we have at least two or three of those in the house, and an armful of trash from the basement that I noticed when I was changing the cat litter. It didn’t feel like much, but if I keep plugging away, just a bit at a time, maybe I will eventually have a slightly more minimalistic house. I’m never going to be completely clutter free and my kitchen is probably about where the first picture you posted is…but I did declutter my magnets after one challenge. I noticed yesterday it’s starting to get crowded again, so time for another sweep!


    • Chelle, Your husband laughed? Shame on him! How about this for a good story on minimalism? My daughter’s archery coach has three storage units, and refered to herself as a minimalist. I was completely stumped as to what to say. As you can guess, that rarely happens!

      One day at a time will get you there, just like it did me.

  7. I just LOVE this! I was helping my mom declutter last week, and after a couple hours, she said she was done. I said she wasn’t because all of her surfaces were still unseen. I’m someone who also gets stressed out by too much visual or noise clutter. I keep finding that I don’t want to visit my parents because their house just seems overwhelming. I’m curious to see if I took some pictures if they would feel differently about how their house looks. Thank you for this!

  8. Great post Cindy. The photos are great “visuals.” The fridge one just needs 2 minutes and a paper bag. The kids bedroom photo practically made my eyes bleed. Even just a little bit of visual clutter makes me frustrated and irritable in my own house. When I encounter excessive visual clutter (like in some of my coworker’s offices) and in other people’s homes makes me want to grab a trashbag and start tossing stuff in. It also makes me want to go home and get rid of more stuff so my house doesn’t ever end on websites like that. 🙂

    • Donna you talked about excessive visual clutter at work. When I was working everyone kept tellling me my cubicle looked so vacant because I one picture on the wall, some type of seasonal arrangement on my back counter, and all my files and things in drawers. When I went home I never left anything on the desk or counter tops. It drove them nuts. Most of them had the gray walls covered with all sorts of notes and pictures and whatnot lapping over each other and the desktop and things like that piled with stuff. Drove me nuts.

    • A goal for all of us: Not to end up with our living room on

      Yes, that bedroom is one of the most ghastly I’ve ever seen, in part because of the eye-popping (almost literally) paint. I’m sure the owners felt really proud of the cleaning and organizing job they’d done.

  9. I was recently talking to my sister about the state of my kitchen, she didn’t believe me that I had clear benches, so I said I would post some photos online for her to see. She did agree that I had done a good job of clearing the benches.

    I will admit though I did have to move a few things around as I took shots from various angles to get the “clear” benches, so after reading this I can see that I still have a way to go.

    I did clear the fridge door of all the stuff, with my daughter making comments about how bright it now was in the kitchen, but some things have made their way back on the fridge – calendar and fuel dockets as well as a few other magnets I just didn’t want to get rid of.

    So it look like I need to do another clear up in the kitchen, it is a continual job!

    • I’m laughing Wendy because, inevitably, when I take a photo of my house, there is at least one thing that I have to move out of the photo. My dirty little secret!

      After cleaning my refrigerator, I returned four small magnets that I think are really pretty and my shopping list. I try to keep them nicely lined up and not higgly piggly to reduce the visual clutter of what is there.

  10. I find the easiest way to see what’s really out of place is to take a picture. It seems to be the only way I see the cables, the fridge magnets, the clean laundry waiting to go away, etc… great reminder!

  11. Sarah-Mae @ Eat, Run, Knit

    Great post, it’s amazing what over stimulus can do! On a side note, I recenty took the THREE items we had up on the fridge down (a dry erase board, a small magnetic calendar and a magnetic notepad) and oh my goodness the difference even three small items had once they were tucked away in a drawer – I am lovin the clean white box 🙂

    To catch you up with MY mini missions so far: Monday I decluttered TWO sweaters that I never wear, one was a lime green polar fleece with my university’s logo on it, the other was a sweater I received upon graduating basic military training, I was holding Onto them as souvenirs and proof of my past achievements. Buh-bye ugly sweaters!

    Tuesday I Went through our cd and DVD collections and got rid of ALL the packaging – placing all our media Into one large cd wallet. I parted ways with several old CDs that I can’t even remember purchasing or ever listening to!

    Wednesdays Mission is also in the form of a sweater – a zip up sweater I received as a gift from my sailorman when he returned from a deployment. Unfortunately it wears like a belly shirt, even on my small frame, but i havent had the heart to let him know it doesn’t fit well. He’s currently on another deployment and doubt he’ll notice the sweaters absence when he returns!

    Thank you again for providing such a motivational blog 🙂

    • Hi Sarah-Mae,
      trust me he will have forgotten about giving you that sweater by now. If I know anything, he probably didn’t put much thought into buying it in the first place. Let me guess he was probably deployed for at least six months and in the last week he thought holy shit I had better find something to bring home for Sarah-Mae or I’ll be in trouble and bought the first half suitable thing he laid his eyes on. It’s not that he isn’t thoughtful it’s just that he had a lot on him mind and isn’t very good at shopping for women. 😉 That is the problem with gift giving even when we think we are getting it right we are often wrong. That is why I have got everyone I know to agree to not buy my me gifts and like it or not I am doing the same for them.

  12. Hi Cindy, great post. I am happy to say that where l am living….the fridge is not cluttered….ONE photo of the dog…ONE photo of my niece… I grew up in a household where my mum had everything, possibly including the kitchen sink, stuck on the fridge… drove me insane. Plus stuff ON TOP of fridges…please….you can’t tell me that it is an easy place to retrieve things from…..unless you’re 6 foot tall. You have to get a chair, then move the chair to the fridge, then stand on the chair…..etc….
    Wow didn’t realise this would strike such a chord …
    Anyway l do have clear benches………except for the toaster.
    I love clear bench tops…….
    That kids room is too busy for me…..but it is a kids room so you can get away with it l reckon.

    • The only people I know who can reasonably store stuff on the top of the fridge are my friends who are 5’11” and 6’4″. The two of them have no trouble reaching. As for the rest of us… Great job keeping your fridge clean.

  13. Double ouch! No way am I going to post any photos of my horizontal surfaces right now! At least my refrigerator front is completely cleaned off…
    Great post, Cindy, and a great motivation for me to keep at the decluttering.

  14. Hi Cindy,
    isn’t amazing how we manage not to see things right in front of our noses. I find the best way to detect any visual clutter in my house is to have an intention to blog about it. When I start looking and thinking what will my readers see if I put a photo of this room on my blog everything out of place suddenly becomes very obvious. Sometimes it isn’t until after I take the first photo that I see things and then not only do I have to declutter it but then I have to take another photo.

  15. I’ve used to photo trick to view my paintings. Sometimes the small scale helps, you instantly see what the painting needs.

    Kids like color for sure but I think a little bit here and there works so much better than having every single color under the sun all in one room. What ever gave us the idea that kids ONLY like loud colors? They can like grey and brown and white too. Make it sound attractive to them, like “grey cat” or “brown bear” or chocolate brown or snow white or pearl grey…

    I hate visual clutter too. I cleaned out nearly every knick knack (we have like two) and we have nothing on the walls currently. I will frame some of my daughter’s art at some point to switch around. We have a handful of the most gorgeous magnets on the fridge and sometimes there is nothing but the magnets, sometimes there is a note or a post card or a water color from DD, but just for a while. And only one or two things at a time.

    We are minimalist (and I still get a kick out of people coming to our place and marveling at our small amount of stuff) but we still get some visual clutter.. DH’s desk (and mine too) can get cluttery. There are toys strewn all over.DH wants to keep boxes of cereal at hand on the kitchen counter and they are too big to fit in the shelves anyway.. I want to decant them into glass jars so they’d at least look pretty, but the rate at which DD and DH go through cereal I’d be doing that constantly.. Oh well, life is too short to stress over some cardboard boxes and piles of cords. For some reason when I know we only have the essentials and a few truly cherished things, then the occasional mess doesn’t bother me so much. Serenity is always just a quick clean away, instead of the overwhelming loom of “I don’t know what to do with all this crap”.

  16. Cindy,

    THANK YOU! What an eye opener this post is today! The photos really make the post, too (I love it when photos are included).

    Seeing that kids bedroom just about sent me to the looney farm. However, UNDERNEATH ALL THAT CLUTTER I truly believe there could be a really cute, peaceful, calm, sweet girl’s room waiting to be discovered! LET ME AT IT!!!!!!!!!! (Hee hee hee, I thank Cindy and Colleen for turning me into a declutter freak!!!!).


  17. This post resonates strongly with me. I know how overwhelmed I feel in each of the situations you described. Before we decluttered a great deal (don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty left to do) there would be days when I would tell my dh that I couldn’t take it any more because there wasn’t a clean/blank area for my eyes to rest. That is when the whole family would pitch in to help mom feel better. It is amazing how such things can affect a person so immensely.

    • Hi Anne,
      wow it has been a long time since we last heard from you so long that I thought you were a new reader who had snuck under by radar. Thanks for dropping in again to leave a comment and thanks for reading. It was day 110 that we last heard from you.

      How lovely that your family could see your distress and did what they could to put things right for you. They must know that when Mom isn’t happy nobody’s happy. It sounds like you have a great family around you. I am glad that now an oasis is appearing now that the clutter has been reduced.

  18. Excellent post!

    I live in Vermont, where billboards are not allowed. Imagine the “culture shock” the first time I visited New York City with all its advertising everywhere.

    Thanks for posting the Ugly Houses link. That sounds like a fun one to check out.

    • I went back and look at the Ugly House site last night. I was laughing out loud. I think the 12 days of Christmas post (including 10 collector plates and 6 taxidermied animals) was hilarious.

      How lovely to have a state with no bill boards. They’re such a eye sore.

  19. Wow Ugly houses was interesting. I’m looking to buy (yet again) and realised ‘styled’ photos (ie someone came in and furnished it minimally) are far more attractive, and probably worth every penny the seller spends on them! Now how to make ones home ‘sale ready’ all the time – cause let’s face it, us here want our houses to hopefully look close to a magazine shoot or a sales brochure – pretty, but calm. It’s an ambitious goal – I should take today as a day to work on some of my hidden clutter, so I can put the storage to better use with the out and noticable clutter.

    After working yesterday, and being utterly exhausted at about 2pm, i decided to take today off (except for a meeting which is more local than normal work, so it’s easier than going to work). It’ll also give me a chance to rest, and declutter and prepare to buy the lovely place i saw on ‘accident’ day.

    • Hi Snosie,
      I am glad you took some time out to recover. It can be a lot more tiring trying to function when nursing and injury. I also hope you find the home of your dreams. Good luck!

  20. Colleen, if any of your readers are interested, I’ve posted my decluttered photos on the ‘decluttering before and after’ stream (set up by people from the Unclutterer Forum on Flickr under hollyg354. Not sure if this link will work :

    Snosie, I totally agree about making a home sale ready. Hopefully all my decluttering will help sell our home in 2 weeks. And best wishes for a speedy recovery after your accident!

  21. lol – ugly houses are so going in my bookmarks. thanks for sharing that! 🙂

  22. Hi Cindy & Colleen, oohh what a fab topic, VISUAL CLUTTER let me count the ways I can’t see you! Can you give me advice as to how I can “visually clutter” you with my befores and afters and everything inbetween. OMG! I checked out that Ugly Houses site and once I dragged myself back onto my chair after hitting floor for laughing uproariously I thought hang on , I think one of the pics is my place hahahaha. Straight to my photo collection to give myself a much needed kick in the butt! It made me realise that if my friends & visitors think my place (back then) was so together & tidy and organised WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY LIVING IN ‘THE DUMP’ After looking at a few pics I realised that back then I wasn’t together I was always awaiting the next move! Be it house or job (we did move about a bit b4 we bought). Now I don’t want to go all radical etc etc but really look at your pic collection 2day 2nite 2moro and look beyond the smiling faces etc. Honestly I had to think what the hell is there to smile about when I look at the backdrop of the photo. Do it Guys and Girls, it is an eyeopener to see what we were like. I am well on my way to recovery and I loved the opportunity to flick back! Thanks so much for the kick!
    love Dizzy x

    • Hi Dizzy,
      I think that tomorrow I will pull out the old photo albums and check out what my house was like. I don’t think I will see much because it was well hidden in the closets but I might be surprised.

  23. this made me laugh! does my mustache on the fridge count? i have some visual decluttering to do, things just creep into your home, don’t they? i have one trick i like to help me. i almost always clean and tidy my home before going on vacation, because i do not like coming home to the opposite. when we pull up in the driveway after being gone for a while, i ask everyone else to stay in the car while i go in first for just a few minutes. taking a few moments to see how things look after being away gives new perspective, much like a photograph would, i suspect. i can tell pretty quickly if there’s something bothering me or if it’s all good!


  1. […] questo post sul visual clutter mi è venuto in mente che dal quel punto di vista sono sempre stata piuttosto sobria: non ho mai […]