The joy of minimalism: how to achieve a calmer, less cluttered home
Like the idea of a minimalist home but not sure how to create it, or make it work in your life? Here’s a practical guide to choosing less, and choosing better...
By Diane Trembath
What is minimalism?
To trace the origins of minimalism, we need to go back in time, to traditional Japanese design, which brought the concept of Zen into the home and garden, stopping off en route to consider the work of architects like Mies van der Rohe. But the concept of minimalist homes probably started to take root in our everyday lives somewhere between the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Sunday supplements began to feature the work of architects and designers such as John Pawson.
Minimalism offered us clean, uncluttered lines; the use of natural light and materials; simple designs; neutral colour schemes, and an all-pervading sense of harmony and calm. It was as far removed as possible from the neon-bright, psychedelic dream world of the 1960s and the oddly discomfiting interiors of the 1970s – ‘the decade that style forgot’ (another helping of brown and orange anyone?)
So, assuming that you like the idea of a minimalist home, how do you go about creating one and making it work for you? Many of us stumble at the first hurdle because most of us have far too much stuff, embarrassingly large quantities of stuff. (In fact, over the past 30 years our reluctance to part with our staff has spurred the growth one of the UK’s most successful new industries – the self-storage business - now worth well in excess of £500 million a year. It’s a sobering thought.)
And what to do about all this stuff has triggered a reactive industry: the rise of the professional declutterer. None is more high profile than Marie Kondo, author of Spark Joy – now published in 42 countries - and presenter of the hugely popular 2019 Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. Whether the Marie Kondo approach works for us or not, sooner or later we have to set to, with a good heart and an open mind, to tackle the stuff.
How do create a minimalist home – eight key steps
For a straightforward guide to help you work towards a minimalist home, these eight points suggested back in 2007 by Leo Babauta, in the early days of his Zen Habits blog, are still as relevant and could be a good way to start. And we’ve added some tips of our own:
1) Tackle one room at a time – less overwhelming.
2) Begin with furniture – keep pieces to a necessary minimum. What do you need to be comfortable and for day-to-day living?
3) Stick to the essentials – keep what you need, remove what you don’t. You can reinstate individual pieces later.
4) Clear the floors – no piles of anything. Put things away, give them away, or, if they’re disposable, dispose of them. But do this responsibly, of course (see ‘Declutter the responsible way’ below).
5) Clear the surfaces – same rule as floors.
6) Clear the walls – remember Mies van der Rohe’s oft-repeated but still true maxim, because less is definitely more when it comes to walls. Unless you live in an art gallery, stick to one or two artworks per room. You’ll start to look at them with a fresh eye and appreciate them more, and you can always rotate artwork, as galleries do, so that you don’t have to say farewell forever to particular favourites.
7) Storage – the key. Aim to have a place for everything and everything in its place, out of sight, in drawers, cupboards, cabinets or storage units.
8) Declutter like you mean it – find a system that works for you and go for it. For practicality, honesty and humour try Debora Robertson’s Declutter: The get-real guide to creating calm from chaos. Retaining a sense of humour when decluttering is essential. If you find it too overwhelming to tackle the piles o’stuff on your own or en famille (one person’s useless object is another person’s most cherished possession), rope in a sympathetic but determined friend. They’re understanding but one step away from attachment. If you have a friend who’s a life coach, even better!
These are the first eight of Leo’s 16-steps approach, which you can read about in more detail here.
Declutter the responsible way
Whichever decluttering system you choose, you will be saying goodbye to stuff. There’ll be stuff you give away, to friends or family, on Freecycle, or to local housing charities, maybe; there’ll be stuff you sell (if you’re lucky) on eBay or local social media selling sites . . . and then there’s the rest.
This is where responsibility kicks in. Don’t simply unload all your unwanted bits and pieces onto your nearest charity shop. Make sure that what you donate is worthy of selling. If you’re taking old but still useable items to a recycling centre, choose a centre that has an on-site shop, rather than just chucking things into those mega-skips. For possessions you have fallen out of love with or no longer need, see if there are any local upcyclers who might be interested in your old desk or armchair. The aim it to keep usable items in circulation and out of landfill.
Furnishing your minimalist home
Whether you are starting from scratch or replacing furniture, opt for simple, uncluttered lines and styles, and natural materials. Choose well-crafted, well-designed furniture for a timeless look that won’t appear dated when trends shift and which is robust enough to withstand years of family life. Aim for a few key pieces that complement each other and only as many items of furniture as you actually need. Liking or wanting something is not the same as needing it. You can reflect changing trends without breaking the bank, with a few carefully chosen accessories.
Getting your storage right is the foundation for a minimalist home. Your storage units should be:
- capable of stowing everything that needs to be put away, whether its on a shelf or in drawer or cupboard
- space efficient
- unobstrusive but pleasing to the eye.
Take a look at the full Raft storage range for the kitchen, living area, bedroom, and home office. It includes bookcases, cabinets, chests of drawers, desks with inbuilt storage, TV stands, shelves, and sideboards, all made of 100 per cent reclaimed teak.
Stylish pieces like these, handmade by skilled artisans, make tidying up far more satisfying and much less of a chore. (Our blog post, Declutter in style: 6 beautiful but practical teak storage solutions, will give you an idea.)
The benefits of minimalism
There are some sensible and practical reasons to aim for a more minimalist look. Less clutter means:
- less cleaning - your time is valuable; less time spent on housework means more time for the people you love and for the things you love doing and, above all, more time to enjoy your home
- less distraction - you’ll find it easier to focus on what really matters in calm, uncluttered surroundings
- less embarrassment - no need to go into panic mode when the doorbell rings or someone calls to ask, ‘Is it OK to pop round?’
Can anyone be a minimalist?
The simple answer is yes, anyone can be – if they want to be. For some of us though, minimalism may remain an aspiration that we never fully achieve. But if that sounds like you, do not despair: in his book, Messy, behavioural economist Tim Harford argues that we need a certain amount of disorder - for creativity and resilience to thrive.
So that’s all right then . . . although we suspect that the pertinent words are ‘a certain amount.’
More about minimalism
If you’re interested in applying the principles of minimalism to your life, as well as your home, try:
- Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog – ‘finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives.’
- The Minimalists – Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus have been inspiring millions worldwide over the past decade through their website, books, podcast, and documentary.
- For a daily touch of visual inspiration try following hashtags such as #minimalisthome or #minimalistdesign on Instagram or Pinterest.