House organization has only recently come to Russia. As a professional organizer, I can say that clutter problems of modern Russian homes are very similar to those in Finland and elsewhere in the world: too many things are being collected and saved.
Most Russians live in apartment blocks and have little space for storage. They start using extra spaces to save their belongings: balconies, the hallways and even the common corridors! Although it is obviously not permissible to keep your own goods in common corridors, people still build their own little storage spaces in the corner of the stairwell.
In Russia, like in many other countries mainly women are responsible for organizing and keeping order in their homes. In most families, women stay home on maternity leave and since that moment they take the responsibility of home care while cleaning and arranging the house.
Even though the time of the Soviet Union (1917-1991) strongly influenced gender equality: both men and women pursue education and work outside home. The income is shared and the spouses decide together how to use the money. However, I believe that Russian women have always been more interested in interior design and home decoration.
To understand the modern Russian style of living and the organization of the household, we must return to history that has shaped today's traditions and style as they are.
"Byzantine decorating" dominates the taste.
Historically Russia has long been culturally and economically very different region than Western Europe. The difference was great even before the Revolution and the Communist Party's rise in power in 1917. Since 1991, the new democratic system and the opening of borders have given Russia a whole new set of opportunities for access to European lifestyles, copying and applying them.
However, for the time being, most of the Russian population has not adopted a European design culture. The diversity of markets and lifestyles is still very high, and in small towns far from the influx of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the number of breakpoints is growing significantly. European culture and design trends are distant or even irrelevant for majority of Russian people.
The Russian culture and the organization of the home still rely heavily on a decorative, impressive so called “Byzantine decorating” (in Russian “византийское украшательство”). This is a very descriptive term, which I heard in a talk from a nice Russian lady when I traveled to Moscow a few years back.
The Russians themselves are aware of and acknowledge this Byzantine identity. It is derived from old religious and social norms whose values and prestigious things are reflected in gold, riches, splendor and glitter, as well as bright, striking colors.
Originally, all of these colors, materials, and sparkles originated from orthodox religion where they symbolized God's power and beauty, and eternal life and well-being. The role of this mentality in Russian thinking is still strong. It comes from history, and remains in Russian society for a long time.
Soviet times and forced minimalism.
The Soviet culture, on the other hand, was very minimalist, at least partially emerging from the real scarcity and poverty, and not just the reflection of values and ideals of the system.
The poverty of the Russian people has continued historically far from the Middle Ages, through the Russian Empire and the Revolution, the Stalin regime, the Second World War, and the subsequent years of poverty. In all these centuries a couple of good shoes, a warm jacket and a hat were a dream for many millions. The survival relied on the solid social networks formed by friends and relatives. Russians has had a chance to enjoy better and more comfortable times later in the 1970s and early 80s of the Soviet Union.
Owning a house or apartment was a dream for many people in Soviet Russia. The Soviet Union gave birth to a special form of housing in Russian cities, a "kommunalka". This type of housing reminds of a roommate dormitory, where many families live in a shared apartment, owning one (or several) of their own rooms and sharing the kitchen, bathroom, toilet and corridors.
People living in kommunalka’s could spend decades in the queue saving and waiting for a chance to move to their own home. Housing commune was a very social form of housing, in which I spent my first childhood years. Many people, with whom we shared the housing (and our lives and destinies) have become the best friends of our family.
Limited spaces and decorations are a strong alliance.
These two historical facts - Byzantine style and kommunalka’s - form the basis for the values of the Russian home. Firstly - the love of a byzantine mentality to gloss and bright colors; secondly - the availability of very limited space to live. That's why most people still want to decorate their home with "Byzantine ornaments", whether it's a single room, an apartment, a datsa (holiday home) or a cottage (private house) protected by large walls of fences.
The home's walls determine the space in which the household care of the Russian mentality is centered, thus common spaces are often excluded entirely from everyone's attention. That is why many of the apartment buildings have miserable condition of facades and unpleasant staircases. But after this neglected area one can find the most beautiful little homes in which everything is beautiful, orderly and thoughtfully placed.
The decades of scarcity have left their mark, and people are reluctant to get rid of items, instead they store everything possible. However, I do not want to call it “hoarding”. The terrible trials of the several generations installed the fear: next disaster can happen any moment and everything you want to de-clutter now will be can soon needed again. In Russian thinking, money can be worthless tomorrow, so it is not desired to store large amounts, but rather to invest in something more stable to maintain its value: apartments, clothes, appliances. "Money can not be eaten" nor can it keep you warm.
Russians appreciate warm clothes like fur, they store clothes because history has taught them the value of the goods and the uselessness of money. Gold and silver can be sold and they help in times of need, so they are stored; money in cash or bank accounts (which is even worse) does not help and does not give security.
History and great events also shape home organizing and priorities. The current culture and ideals were shaped by the older Russian generations of the Soviet Union and partly by the age group of those born in the late 1970s when consumerism was a distant notion for Russians. Due to a very limited market variety the happiness of Soviet people could not be about material abundance, but about shared joy of your own community, such as singing, poetry and storytelling. Sharing and helping were then a prerequisite for good life and survival in common people houses.
On the other end of Russian population are rich people. Brilliance and abundance have reached in the homes of today's Russian “nouveaux riches” enormous dimensions. The decoration of the oligarchs, businessmen and rich celebrity homes can make you feel unwell. When the Byzantine mind and its tendency to glitter meet the illusion of immature mind and boundless resources, the result is this.
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