Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.
I can’t claim that my home is completely minimalist, but it surely isn’t cluttered, and most people I know would call it a pretty minimalist home.
One recent visitor saw my kitchen and remarked, “I’ve never seen a kitchen that looked so clean, so clear of stuff!” Well, I do my best to keep it clean, but the key is to remove the unnecessary stuff.
For example, on the floor of my kitchen/dining room area are just a few essentials: dining table (clear of any clutter), chairs, some counter stools, a high chair, a step stool for the kids. On the counters are only the toaster, coffee maker and microwave.
Is this kind of minimalist home devoid of character and fun and life? Some might think so, but I get a strange satisfaction, a fulfillment, at looking around and seeing a home free of clutter. It’s calming, and liberating, and just nice.
Benefits of a Minimalist Home
I could probably go on for awhile about this, but let me just list a few key benefits:
- Less stressful. Clutter is a form of visual distraction, and everything in our vision pulls at our attention at least a little. The less clutter, the less visual stress we have. A minimalist home is calming.
- More appealing. Think about photos of homes that are cluttered, and photos of minimalist homes. The ones with almost nothing in them except some beautiful furniture, some nice artwork, and a very few pretty decorations, are the ones that appeal to most of us. You can make your home more appealing by making it more minimalist.
- Easier to clean. It’s hard to clean a whole bunch of objects, or to sweep or vacuum around a bunch of furniture. The more stuff you have, the more you have to keep clean, and the more complicated it is to clean around the stuff. Think about how easy it is to clean an empty room compared to one with 50 objects in it. That’s an extreme example, of course, as I wouldn’t recommend you have an empty room, but it’s just to illustrate the difference.
What a Minimalist Home Looks Like
This would vary, of course, depending on your taste and how extreme of a minimalist you want to be. I am a minimalist, but not to any extreme. But here are some characteristics of a minimalist home:
- Minimal furniture. A minimalist room would only contain a few essential pieces of furniture. A living room, for example, might only have a couch, another chair or love seat, a coffee table, a minimalist entertainment stand (not a huge one with a bunch of shelves), a television, and a couple of lamps. It could even contain less (couch, chairs, and coffee table, for example). A bedroom might have a simple bed (or even just a mattress), a dresser, and perhaps a night stand or book shelf.
- Clear surfaces. In a minimalist home, flat surfaces are clear, except for one or two decorations (see next item). There are not a whole bunch of knick knacks, and definitely not stacks of books or papers or other items.
- Accent decorations. A home completely clear of things would be a bit boring, actually. So instead of having a coffee table completely free of any objects, you could have a simple vase with a few flowers, for example. Or a clear desk might just have a family photo. An otherwise empty wall might have a tasteful piece of art (I use my dad’s artwork, as he’s a great artist).
- Quality over quantity. Instead of having a lot of stuff in your home, a minimalist would choose just a few really good things he loves and uses often. A really nice table, for example, is better than 5 pieces of press-board furniture.
- Examples. The photo at the top of this post is a nice example of a minimalist home (it’s not my home, but I wish it were). See more photos of that lovely home. Traditional-style Japanese homes are another great example of minimalism, as is this nice spread.
How to Create a Minimalist Home
There are actually no set steps to making your home minimalist, except to change your philosophy and shoot for the ideals in the previous section above. But here are some tips that I would offer to anyone trying to shoot for minimalism:
- One room at a time. Unless you’re just moving into a place, it’s hard to simplify an entire house at once. Focus on one room, and let that be your center of calm. Use it to inspire you to simplify the next room, and the next. Then do the same outside!
- Start with furniture. The biggest things in any room are the furniture, so you should always begin simplifying a room by looking at the furniture. The fewer pieces of furniture, the better (within reason, of course). Think of which furniture can be eliminated without sacrificing comfort and livability. Go for a few pieces of plain, simple furniture (example of a minimalist coffee table) with solid, subdued colors.
- Only the essentials. Whether looking at your furniture or anything else in the room, ask yourself if the item is truly essential. If you can live without it, get it out. Try to strip the room down to its essentials — you can always add a few choice items beyond the essentials later.
- Clear floors. Except for the furniture, your floors should be completely clear. Nothing should clutter the floor, nothing should be stacked, nothing should be stored on the floor. Once you’ve gotten your furniture down to the bare essentials, clear everything else on the floor — either donate it, trash it, or find a place for it out of sight.
- Clear surfaces. Same thing with all flat surfaces. Don’t have anything on them, except one or two simple decorations (See Tip 9 below). Donate, trash or find an out-of-sight storage spot for everything else. It will make everything much, much more minimal-looking.
- Clear walls. Some people hang all kinds of stuff on their walls. No can do in a minimalist home. Clear your walls except for one or two simple pieces of nice artwork (see Tip 8 below).
- Store stuff out of sight. This has been mentioned in the above tips, but you should store everything you need out of sight, in drawers and cabinets. Bookshelves can be used to store books or DVDs or CDs, but shouldn’t have much else except a few simple decorations (not whole collections of things).
- Declutter. If you are clearing flat surfaces and the floor, and storing stuff in cabinets and drawers, you’ll probably want to declutter your storage areas too. You can do this in a later stage if you want. See How to Declutter for more.
- Simple artwork. To keep a room from being boring, you can put a simple painting, drawing or photo, framed with a subdued, solid color, on each wall if you want. Leave some walls bare if possible.
- Simple decorations. As mentioned in the above tips, one or two simple decorations can serve as accents for a minimalist room. A vase of flowers or a small potted plant are two classic examples. If the rest of your room has subdued colors, your accents could use a bright color (such as red, or yellow) to draw the eye and give a plain room a splash of energy.
- Plain window treatments. Bare windows, or simple, solid colored curtains, or simple, wooden blinds are good. Too much ornate stuff around the windows is clutter.
- Plain patterns. Solid colors are best for floor coverings (if you have any), furniture, etc. Complex patterns, such as flowers or checkers, are visual clutter.
- Subdued colors. As mentioned in Tip 9 above, you can have a splash of bright color in the room, but most of the room should be more subtle colors – white is classic minimalist, but really any solid colors that don’t stress the eyes is good (earth colors come to mind, such as blues, browns, tans, greens).
- Edit and eliminate. When you’ve simplified a room, you can probably do more. Give it a couple of days, then look at everything with a fresh eye. What can be eliminated? Stored out of sight? What’s not essential? You can come back to each room every few months, and sometimes you’ll discover things you can simplify even more.
- Place for everything. I’ve discussed this in other posts, but in a minimalist house, it’s important that you find a place for everything, and remember where those places are. Where does you blender go? Give it a spot, and stick with it. Aim for logical spots that are close to where the thing is used, to make things more efficient, but the key is to designate a spot.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy. Once you’ve simplified a room, take a moment to look around and enjoy it. It’s so peaceful and satisfying. This is the reward for your hard work. Ahhhh. So nice!
Read more about simple productivity, focus and getting great things done in my book, The Power of Less.