The difference between decor and clutter is essentially space, but I don’t mean the size of your apartment or house.

To move past a cluttered look, we suggest a simple process: reduce items, chose the most special or meaningful items, consider each object’s relationship to another in each grouping, and curate blank space between your focal points, collections, and furnishings.

Clutter is a problem for many of us with busy schedules, even the most minimalist of us, and it is really easy to accumulate–maybe you just put the new vase that came with your birthday flowers on the mantle with the others that you carefully selected, or perhaps you decided to add one more print to your artwork wall.

Reducing the decorative items in your home can be a challenge, so that’s why I have developed six rules you can follow to make sure your decorative impulses don’t get out of hand. Check it out!


 Rule #1: Leave Blank Space

You don’t have to go ultra-modern or totally minimalist if you prefer another style. Choose the decor that works best for you and your home and then showcase your favorite decorative items. Just make sure you leave a little blank space!

In the image below, there are several decorative items like art, plants, and dried coral, but look how evenly dispersed each decorative item is. The room has a sense of decorative cohesion, but there is a fair amount of empty space.

The number one principle of this rule is to make space around plants, wall hangings, and on shelves. Be sure to leave walls unadorned in some areas. Just because you love plants or art doesn’t mean you have fill your entire space with these decorative items.

Open space is important because it gives you room to breathe.

Rule #2: Display Meaningful Decor

Remember that decor should be comprised of meaningful arrangements of decorative items like heirlooms, sentimental objects, utilitarian items, and artwork. Think of it this way–when a guest asks you about an item you have on display, you should be able to explain what makes the item so special and why you’ve given it the prized position on top of the mantel.

Maybe the pineapple in the image below reminds the homeowner of a trip she took to South Carolina, while the succulent is reminiscent of the years she spent in college in California. Not every item has to be so meaningful, but you should have a reason for displaying each piece.


Decor is the intentional, artful arrangement of visually appealing items, whereas clutter is unthinking. 

Your decor should be meaningful as well as inspirational. Maybe an image you display reminds you of a trip you’ve always wanted to take to abroad, instead of a place you’ve been.

Rule #3: Coordinate Colors

Another rule to tie in the decorative elements in your home is to make sure each item is color coordinated. All the items in the image below complement each other and, even though there are a lot of items in this office, they all go together so nicely, giving the appearance of harmony.


You’ll notice, however, that decorative items do not have to be identical to complement each other. For example, the pillow and the rug in the image above are both black and white, but they have a completely different pattern.

Rule #4: Incorporate Warmth

I like a cozy look myself, but I cannot relax fully if the house is cluttered. On the other hand, it seems like an overly minimalist home is too cold and empty to feel at home in.

Most homeowners aim for a happy medium, which can be achieved by reducing decorative items,  adding warm touches and textures, and, of course, leaving space in between items.


Flat surfaces, like the countertop above, should be kept clear of decorative items. Once you clear off a flat surface, you should set up a routine to maintain a clutter free area.

Tip: Keep flat surfaces that you use everyday clear of stacks of paper, decorative items, and an overabundance of plants.

For example, if you have a kitchen island it should always get tidied during kitchen cleanup and at night before bed.

Rule #5: Compartmentalize

Another key to reducing clutter and maintaining a sense of order in your decor is to designate baskets and bins for scattered items such as shoes. But don’t have too many baskets lying around! The key is to only have a small number of visible baskets and hooks for containing clutter, not several visible baskets and hooks for storing clutter in the open.

Hallway photo, from

Hallways are havens for clutter. In our home, we keep a small ceramic plate on the entry room mirror shelf for all keys. Since your foyer is the first place you enter when coming home and when leaving it can really set the tone for your day as well as your guest’s, so it is important to keep it organized.

Kjellestadsgatan Apartment @stadshem._1

Keep your entryway neat, but give it personality and convenience. Make it easy for your family to put away their shoes and have a spot where people can sit down.

Rule #6: Make Tidying Easy

The most important rule of the six is to make tidying easy! It is simply too easy to accumulate items and display them unnecessarily. That being said, don’t hold your family and guests to stringent rules that can’t be followed (think: “O no, that’s not the hook for rain coats, that hook is over here.”).

If your rules are too strict, the homey appeal you are trying to achieve in your decor will come off just as coldly as if you had no decor at all!
Photo Johanna Laskey_2

Remember to decorate meaningfully, but to keep items nicely spaced and comfortably organized.

Image courtesy of Catherine Kwong Design and Bess FridayCourtney KingHouse Beautiful MagazineAEstateInspired Wonen, Johanna LaskeyBinti HomeBobodreHus o HemEckland, Bo Bedre, StadshemTiffany, Savor Home, and Simon Bajada


About The Author

Art+Design Consultant

Art historian by training, curator, writer and design lover. Principal of Art +Design Consulting. Lover of all things well made.