Cluttercore is the new, maximalist aesthetic taking over TikTok

Step aside Marie Kondo, move on cottagecore; this is a messy, actually lived-in lifestyle we can get on board with.

by Marianne Eloise
18 August 2020, 4:47pm

A messy bed; half-dying plants; books crowding one another, fighting for space on the shelves; kitschy ornaments; these are, for most people, the signs of a lived-in space. The markers of ‘cluttercore’ — the latest aesthetic taking over TikTok, Instagram and Twitter after the bucolic fantasy of ‘cottagecore’ exploded in popularity — are ones that many of us identify with. So what is it? Where did it start? And what differentiates it from ‘messy’?

Last month, TikTok user @mDugy, posted a video featuring the Howl’s Moving Castle soundtrack clip that accompanied many cottagecore videos with the caption, “people always ask me what my aesthetic is, may I present: cluttercore”. The video was interspersed with shots of borderline-gothic rooms that Micah, 18, found on Pinterest: books, anatomical drawings, green couches, plants, paintings. The rooms look like they’re probably thick with dust, but they also look cosy, lived in, human. They look like homes.

“I really have always been a fan of Victorian and Edwardian decorating styles, as well as Art Deco and mid-century modern styles, and that’s really where most of the inspiration for my personal brand of cluttercore comes from,” Micah tells me over Instagram. “Something about rooms that have pictures and paintings on the walls, books stacked, knick-knacks on the surfaces. It just gives a space a sense of security and cosiness.”

The word “cluttercore” evokes images of, well, clutter. Teenage bedrooms full of empty pill packets, half-drunk mugs of tea, toast crusts under the bed. Some tweets called it “stressful”. It’s stuff-centric aesthetic, however, has little in common with careless hoarding. I was surprised to learn that my own very tidy home counts as cluttercore: the dried flowers, old books, Hello Kitty plushies, records, religious kitsch and plants reveal who I am and what I like. Micah is keen to reiterate that cluttercore has little in common with accumulating stuff thoughtlessly: “Cluttercore is in no way a promotion of unhealthy hoarding of material objects and garbage, but rather an appreciation of things we can call our own.”

Other TikTokers followed, and the cluttercore tag is full of soothing images: crystals, drooping plants, well-read books, records stacked precariously. Where it differs from being messy is in how lovingly and artfully everything is arranged: these videos just feel cosy. You can tell that the objects have been chosen and displayed with love, their owner keeping them for reasons that may not matter to you, but matter utterly to them. Messy shows a lack of care and a lack of attention: everything in a cluttercore video is supposed to be there.

Marissa, 22, posted a video of her witchy, museum-esque home under the cluttercore tag after realising that the term fit her own decor. With flowers, creepy dolls, anatomical models and sage, it’s an eerie embodiment of the aesthetic. “I personally drew inspiration from Victorian gothic styles. I love collecting antique photos and prints from local artists and I had a lot, so it just made sense to display them all,” she tells me, adding, “It’s very relaxing to have a room that feels as though it’s entirely made for you, because you’re surrounded by things you enjoy. I also think it’s a little bit like paying homage to my teenage self,” her sentimentality for her space extends beyond her own life, too, as she collects objects with a history: “It’s crazy to me that people would donate something that was once so important to someone. I’m passionate about history and I love to display it.”

While many cluttercore videos feature those more antique vibes, as Micah tells me, the beauty of the trend is that it’s a broad aesthetic. Amanda, 18, posted a video of her home under the tag, but it differs from the others, with bright colours, fun images, and loud prints. “A lot of people could walk into my room and think, ‘Wow, this is just one big junk pile,’ as if it was an episode of hoarders,” says Amanda, but she feels like the line is drawn when you give the items you value a home. “To me, it’s about maximising your space and creating an organised mess where you can let your creativity flow. Having weird knick-knacks and other items I’ve collected is one of my main motivations to even create and make art on a daily basis,” she adds.

As well as embracing “stuff”, cluttercore also seems to be a rejection of the minimalism that’s dominated Instagram for years. There are different kinds; normie grey sofa, chrome surfaces, ‘Live Laugh Love’ signs, or a Made furniture set-up with maybe one or two of the Cool Books on the £500 coffee table to show off something approaching personality. These Instagram approved accents are aspirational, but they lack heart. “Cluttercore can serve as a rejection of modernism and even mainstream interior design, and by extension minimalism,” says Micah. “Sleek modern homes are filled with whitewashed walls inside and out, creating a cold unwelcoming environment,” he adds. Amanda agrees: “I dreamt of having less than twenty items in my bedroom and keeping it super clean and tidy like all the girls on Tumblr, but during that process, I let go of a lot of meaningful things.”

For Lianne, who calls her cute, anime-oriented cluttercore bedroom “organised anarchy”, there’s a psychological aspect to cluttercore too. “It makes me feel safe and comfortable in my own room,” she says. “The pictures and personal belongings that clutter my walls gives me something to look at and think about when I try to fall asleep. When I first moved in, I found it pretty difficult to sleep because I would look at the blank walls and start to feel paranoid. Lianne explains that her rejection of minimalism is about more than just aesthetics. “In all honesty, a minimalist room makes me feel a bit uncomfortable,” she says. “It gives me the sense of being alone and isolated. I would often find it difficult to sleep in hotel rooms or when I first moved into my house. The pictures and belongings that surround me in my room make me feel less alone.”

Marie Kondo
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