Designing and organizing a home is no easy task. Many of us are busy students, working professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners, or some combination of the above with parenting or owning pets. The list of things that need to be done or considered in order to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult seem to be ballooning to ever larger proportions: exercise, healthy home cooking, meditation, reading, keeping up a healthy social life and work-life balance, and, again, parenting responsibilities, among others (although parents already know that parenting means you have to pick and choose from the list above). Thanks to what has likely become a pervasive feeling of existential dread among the professional class, services have begun to spring up to help the unfortunate (but wealthy) masses manage the process of getting, or keeping, their life together.
Marie Kondo is at the forefront of a growing home organization movement that certainly existed before her arrival but nevertheless seems to have adopted her as a sort of mascot or patron saint. Her method of not just organizing, but decluttering, putting possessions in garbage bags and tossing or donating them unless they have some specific and defensible meaning or value (‘does it spark joy?’ goes the mantra), has struck a chord with a younger generation that prefers life on a smaller scale, houses included. Her method of tidying up is just that: it’s about decluttering, cleaning up, and finding places to keep your wallet and keys, not necessarily about overhauling the design of your home. Even so, her contagious fervor for simplifying life and living spaces has sparked a renewed interest in the minimalist home design philosophy.
Minimalism has many different meanings across various disciplines, but as far as home design, its proponents espouse a ‘doing less with more’ approach furniture choice, home organization, and aesthetics. It shares many key tenets with Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy, especially the idea that a simple, decluttered home with have a similar decluttering effect on the mind and spirit. Objects should have dual functions, to maximize usage of items in the space to avoid minimizing the open space itself. Aesthetically, furniture and decoration should be chosen in order to reduce strain on the eyes. The idea is that the things you see most often, and the first and last things you see during the day – your bedroom, bathroom, living room, etc – should be calming and help you collect yourself for either the day ahead or the following one, rather than assaulting your senses and giving you a headache, or even distracting you and cluttering your mind.
That’s not to say, however, that minimalism necessarily means throwing out everything you own and living in an empty house. It’s a common misconception that misses the central concept of minimalism. It’s not about punishing yourself and living like a monk, but rather freeing yourself from the tyranny of all the stuff you own and letting you flourish in your own space. A well-designed space that’s free of clutter can help to reduce stress in addition to the aesthetic and financial benefits.
The popularity of Marie Kondo has helped to bring a number or other similar lifestyle gurus into the limelight, especially for those who find her methods too extreme; not everyone is likely to get on board with the idea of thanking their socks, for instance. The surge of decluttering wizards is assisted by a growing trend among younger people to be conscious of sustainability in their lifestyle choices and social media trends that allow them to post photos of uncluttered living spaces, clean bathrooms, and the like.
If you want to get into minimalism but are still put off by how extreme it seems, don’t be. It’s possible to take tips from minimalism, like the ones mentioned above, without becoming a minimalist yourself. If there is a single main idea behind the minimalist home design ideology, it’s that homes are living spaces above all else. If you’re thinking of decluttering your home, keep this in mind. The first things to get rid of are the things that serve no purpose. Remember, after all, the stereotypical cry of the hoarder: “I might use that someday!” If you don’t have a use for it now or in the very near future, just get rid of it. You can find a use for it later. Similarly, when designing living spaces, start with the key pieces of furniture and work out from them. The focus of a bedroom, for instance, is the bed, so start by finding a good quality mattress, and then base the rest of your room design on what works with what you have. If you focus on utility before aesthetics, it may actually make the eventual aesthetic choices easier, as the key components of your living space are already in place, and you no longer have to try to compromise between what looks nice and what works in the space that you have. And it still doesn’t spark joy, you can always get rid of it.