That Clutter in Your Home? There’s a Story There

Friend, you can skip the cleaning before you pick up your camera. Confession: my house is almost always a mess.

It’s not that I like it that way or that I don’t care about it. It comes down to three simple facts:

  1. I want my children to have access to lots of materials with which they can create.
  2. I knowingly married someone who does not care for cleaning, picking up, or organizing, nor does it irk him if things around him are in disarray.
  3. There are only so many hours in a day and I chose to spend them doing other things like preparing meals, tending to my children, and making pictures of real life.

I’m all about letting kids be kids.

I’m learning, sometimes painfully, that picking up each piece of lint from the carpet in between vacuuming, like my father taught me, isn’t necessarily the best use of my time for either me or my family.

Most of the time my house isn’t dirty, per se. It’s just cluttered. There’s stuff scattered all about, and, at times when I do pick up, I just feel like a Sherpa, schlepping junk from one room to the next. So, in general, I try to make peace with the clutter.

But trust me: it’s an ongoing struggle.

In the early days of my photography journey, I took an online workshop about making beautiful images of your everyday. There were many priceless nuggets of learning in the course, from composition to editing techniques.

One section of the workshop focused on preparing the scene. For example, if I wanted to photograph my daughters doing a craft, I’d position the craft supplies at the table in such a way that the kids would sit in optimal light. I’d also clear all distracting objects from the frame in order to make a clean composition.

“Clear out distracting objects.”

Hmm.

This posed a problem for me (see list above).

Still, I craved those gorgeous clean images. I was also afraid that if I showed the world my messy house in my pictures, the world would judge me. So, if I didn’t have time to prep the scene, I didn’t shoot.

Which meant I wasn’t shooting at all because I NEVER had time to prep the scene.

For myself, I had to dispel the nasty myth that one must have a picture-perfect house in order to have awesome photographs. Let me tear down that sham for you:

You do NOT need to clean or even “prep the scene” before you make pictures in your own home. And, certainly, your in-home clients don’t need to do this either.

The truth is, most of the time, I’m working really hard to make clean compositions of my subjects as they go about their lives. That’s what we do as photographers, right? So, often, if there’s clutter that doesn’t add anything to the picture I’m trying to make, I find a way to get it out of the frame.

Sometimes, the story is actually IN the clutter. And that’s OK.

No, really. It IS.

I’m capturing the essence of my family: where we are right now. If where we are right now includes piles of laundry and scattered toys and books, it’s all a part of our story.

Don’t run from that. Embrace it.

Here are a few stories in my clutter: Come. Let me share my messes with you…

Post-holiday mess.

Holiday fallout lasted for almost two weeks this year. My daughter was so into playing with her new treasures that she asked to eat breakfast in the living room most mornings.

Hence: the plate of pancakes amid the toys.

Snack mess.

She asked me and her dad to open the chip bag about five times and we kept putting her off. Clearly, she didn’t want to wait any longer.

There are tortilla chip crumbs all over the floor by the way.

Backyard mess.

Buckets, bowls and scoops in the sandbox-turned-mudbox from a big rain.

Personally, I like the pops of color from sand toy clutter.

Baking and general kitchen mess.

My youngest and I made muffins. She was proud she filled the muffin pan herself. She got much of the batter on the floor behind the counter, which is why there’s a dirty dish towel on the right. In the background, in front of the sink, are several sippy cups waiting to be washed. My girls still use sippy cups for water at night.

Part of our nightly routine includes my husband or I shouting to each other across the house, “Did you make waters yet?!”

Often those cups don’t make it out of their rooms the next day and then we have a collection of them by the sink at the end of the week.

After-school mess.

My oldest gets off the bus, has a snack, and does her homework in the dining room. This day my youngest was busy creating a card for a relative in the playroom. Both were trying to finish quickly, so they could play with the village of Polly Pockets that lay on the floor between them.

The Polly’s live next-door. Though my neighbor has offered them to us permanently, having them on loan for a week every few months is much more exciting.

Fleeting mess.

Ok, so sometimes it becomes more than I can handle. I work better, think better, and live better when things around me are organized. So, when a space reaches my personal Defcon 1, I’m forced to take action before I get super cranky. BUT, I know that this time is temporary, and sooner than I wish, my kids will grow up, move out, and the messes won’t be a struggle. So someday, maybe, just maybe, I’ll miss all this clutter.

And if I do, I can always go right back to it with my photos.

The reality is, if I waited until my house was completely organized to make pictures of my memories, I’d never get them…

…and wouldn’t that would be a damn shame?

P.S. If you happen to be a parent of little kids and can miraculously keep a clean and tidy house, don’t worry. I won’t judge. 😉

Story and photography contributed by Christine Wright.

About Christine Wright: I’m Christine, a documentary photographer, specializing in birth, kids, and families. I live in central NJ with my politically incorrect husband, two wildly creative daughters, and a pair of spastic male cats. I believe that birth is awe-inspiring, that children should be asked rather than told, that mothers need to lower the bar for themselves, and that real life is art. I’m addicted to coffee, podcasts and encouraging my kids to play messy.

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Author: Eboni Rivera
Fearless and Framed's Course and Community Ambassador + Self proclaimed "Memory Giver". Eboni is a Family Documentary Photographer and Film Artist at Luxe Art Images, LLC located in Long Island, NY. She provides emotive, heart-tugging, feel good photography and films for families who give a damn about the preservation of their memories. Her approach to photography allows families to leave behind a legacy of who they are, how much they love and just how awesome their lives truly are.

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  • Lovely story!! My kids are still very young but older enough to make lots of mess and most of the days I just let it be!! I do also work better when there is no clutter, but as you mentioned, I keep reminding myself that is temporary and try to embrace the reality of now.