My husband and I just sold our townhouse and moved into our first single family home. I’m relieved to be able to start over with extra space and a blank slate because our townhouse was so cluttered. Every crevice was filled with stuff. I blamed the problem on the lack of space, but really it was from the lack of good design on my end because it is possible to have a stylish, small home.
For a while, I’ve been into decor on the aesthetic side, but I hadn’t taken the time to learn about true design principles. So, I filled my house with pretty things that really had no purpose. Then I filled my house with more and more things I liked, even when it was already too full. I didn’t think about how to best use the space and instead just crammed in wall art and knick knacks — and I thought this was considered good design.
For this new home, I was determined to use my opportunity to start over properly and really learn how to design a home in a way that was not only less cluttered, but well-optimized for how my family lives. I wanted to take a step beyond the principles of minimalism to also learn about the principles of function.
I had no idea where to start.
I don’t possess any of these skills on my own. So I found some books that could teach me and found four that revolutionized how I approached designing my new house. Check out the books I relied on for help below and keep scrolling to see the eight lessons I learned about minimalist design.
Cozy Minimalist Home: More Style, Less Stuff
Remodelista: The Organized Home
The Home Edit: A Guide to Organizing and Realizing Your House Goals
1. Keep frequently-used surfaces clear
Don’t decorate surfaces that you use daily, because you will just have to keep clearing the items off to use the space and then needing to put them back. And if you don’t keep up with putting the decorative items back, they will just clutter up another part of the house.
I am now learning to embrace the look of an empty countertop. I keep my kitchen island clear because that’s the hub of our kitchen and where we prepare and serve our food. I also keep any extra items off the kitchen table and coffee table.
Similarly, I am resisting my urge to over-decorate furniture. I love the aesthetic of tons of throw pillows on the sofa, but if I have to keep tossing them on the floor to sit down and then put them back on when I get up, it’s probably best to leave them out altogether.
2. Leave empty space
Don’t fill every corner.
Leave extra space around so there is room for family activities, like doing an exercise video, completing an art project, or playing with Legos. This space should exist without having to move furniture out of the way to create it.
Think of it this way: if you’re filling every area with stuff, you’re essentially pushing your family out of that space. I try to leave at least one corner or wall space empty for balance and resist my urge to add one more houseplant to the corner or frame to the wall.
3. Place bins everywhere
Invest in good bins to keep items corralled throughout the house.
Place woven storage bins in living areas so you can have toys around without it looking cluttered all the time. Keeping trash, recycling, and donation bins in multiple rooms instead of having just one spot for them ensures that they get put where they need to instead of just gathering in corners when you don’t have a free minute to run to the kitchen or basement.
I now keep a box for recycling upstairs, so there’s a place for bathroom items like toilet paper rolls and shampoo bottles without having to bring them down to the main bin. I also keep bins for giveaway items in various closets around the house. That way, when I come across an item to purge, I have an easy place to put it and I can continually keep up with decluttering.
4. Think of furniture as functional
Choose furniture that is functional as well as attractive when picking out pieces.
Furniture gets a lot of daily use and love, especially if you have kids and pets. Don’t pick out items that have a color or material that you will constantly be worried about.
Pick something that can hold up to the dirt and wear and tear of daily life. Microfiber and canvas material are very durable and even most leathers can be wiped clean. Wool blends are also a great option. Darker colors like gray, navy, and brown hide every day stains well. I’ve had a microfiber sectional sofa since 2011 and it’s still holding up well after a baby and two pets. It cleans really well, and I’m super happy with how low maintenance it is.
After all, what good is furniture if you’re constantly having to shoo your kids away from it?
5. Store items effectively
Consider the category of the item when finding a place to store it, but also consider how often you think you’ll be using it. Store items you barely use out of the way, either in the basement or in the hard-to-reach cupboards. Store items you use all the time at an easy point-of-use spot. You’ll want to pick a spot that makes it easy to grab the item and also easy to put away when you are finished.
For example, I store commonly used cooking appliances like the KitchenAid mixer, blender, and slow cooker off of the countertop but in a cabinet directly below where I prep food — I can easily get the items out and put them away. Paring down your kitchen items/utensils to the things you actually need and will use on a semi-regular basis is also essential. It’s much easier to find more places for storage when there is less stuff to store.
6. Don’t overfill closets
Using a big closet as an opportunity to jam all of your stuff in there out of sight is something we’ve all done. But the problem is that you’ll completely lose track of what you own.
Keep it just full enough where you can see all your items when it’s opened and have a bit of extra space for new additions. If it’s too full, that’s a good indication that you may have too much stuff.
Remodelista suggests limiting piles of jeans and shorts to only six high to maintain order and prevent stuffing. They also suggest leaving a gap the size of three fingers between hangers so everything is not squished into one place.
7. Don’t be burdened by heirlooms or gifts
We all feel the guilt from wanting to toss those heirlooms or gifts you don’t want, but feeling like you have to keep them. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to.
You are free to release these items instead of feeling forced to keep them around your house if you know you won’t use them. Enjoy the sentiment of these pieces, but thoughtfully pass them along.
I recently got rid of a bunch of tchotchke souvenir items people had brought me back from trips. I appreciate the nice sentiment, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have to display these things on a shelf forever just because someone bought it for me.
8. Design an effective entryway
Think of the items you always drop off right away when you get home — design an entryway that has places for all of these things to go.
There will be less instances of mail piles on the kitchen counter, coats draped over the couch, and shoes in the middle of the room. Don’t forget to account for handbags, backpacks, shoes, and random things you need at the door (like, weather-related accessories).
What is your favorite home organization tip?