To Clutter, or Not to Clutter

—Scott Williamson photo

To Clutter, or Not to Clutter

March 2024Let’s have a frank talk about horizontal spaces. More specifically, horizontal spaces on your layout that don’t have track or scenery or anything preventing you from putting something on it temporarily. Stuff like that kit you bought several years ago buried beneath a pile of other kits; that certain tool you need right now, that you just purchased and placed on the workbench while you searched for the buried kit; that certain photo you picked up as research for building the above missing kit and put somewhere so you could find it easily; that stack of RMCs with the article you need for guidance and inspiration, but you can’t remember which issue so you opt to look in an index, which is also in that pile located on what was once empty space.

There are local modelers in our group who have different philosophies about flat surfaces on their layouts. Dan, Mike, and Dick religiously will not put things or allow others to put things on their layouts that impede operations. Dave and Scott have so many buildings and vehicles occupying flat spaces that they can’t put other things on them even if they try. Jim and Bill have never seen an open, flat space that they didn’t use to temporarily hold items.

But it’s not just horizontal spaces that make their Siren call in the model railroad room. Yes, it’s true, the space under our layouts can be an impenetrable black hole so dense with stored material that nothing can escape. The chaos beneath your layout can make the clutter above look downright organized. Many modelers don’t even know what’s under the layout and are afraid to look! Many of us tend to put things into “temporary” storage under the layout because all of the flat spaces above the layout are already full. And it’s “temporary” because we want access to it when we need it… even if it is several years from now.

No, we’re not hoarders. We’re going to use this stuff! It may appear cluttered, but once upon a time, we knew where everything was and why it was there. And maybe we will again, someday. The Mayo Clinic defines a hoarding disorder as “an ongoing difficulty throwing away or parting with possessions because you believe that you need to save them. You may experience distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. You gradually keep or gather a huge number of items, regardless of their actual value. Hoarding often creates extremely cramped conditions (in) stacks of clutter. You may not be able to use some areas for their intended purpose.” But that’s not us… We know where everything is and where we left it. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Of course, there is a way to avoid this, and that would be to get organized. Maybe your paint bottles, styrene strips, tools, and plans are scattered because you lack proper storage spaces for them. Perhaps your projects are stalled because a half-finished caboose kitbash is taking space away from that craftsman structure kit that needs a roof, which is waiting for the steam locomotive to get out of the spray booth. An experienced modeler that I know says he always finishes a project before buying and starting another. To me, that sounds like it takes an awful lot of willpower, but the thought is nice. Having proper storage will go a long way toward helping you keep your layout room clean and inviting, whether it’s cabinets for tools, racks for supplies, or shelving for paints and glues. If you have a place to put things, you’ll be less tempted to leave them where they don’t belong.

Though it may not seem like it, there is a bright side! Treat a cluttered layout as an archeological expedition as you make your way down through the layers. Aha! So that’s where I put that O scale Baltimore & Ohio EM-1! I wonder what could be under all this Tru-Scale roadbed? Eureka! These are the rolled-up maps that show the layout of the engine terminal you are modeling. And beneath those? A trove of small tools left behind after a track repair a few months back…

If any of the above sounds familiar, remember that you’re not alone. We’ve all fallen victim to the clutter. Do your best to make your hobby environment a clean and inviting one. Eliminate the piles, and discipline yourself to keep those flat spaces clear. You’ll be surprised how much more you get accomplished! Also, no one is expected to maintain a spotless, sterile environment at all times. This is a hobby, and sometimes things get messy. Above all, enjoy yourself, and have fun.

—Scott Williamson

March 2024This article appeared in the March 2024 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Subscribe Today!

This article was posted on: February 26, 2024