Back to Basics

Do you know why the “after” photos always look so good in design shows?

I think it has less to do with the budget and the furnishings and a lot more to do with the lack of clutter.

How do you get the same transformation in your own home – and for free?

That’s what I hope to talk about today. And hopefully at the end of this we’ll be inspired not just to declutter our homes, but to second-guess why we hold onto things in the first place instead of the things that really matter.

Because the most important things in life aren’t things.

Clutter Diminishes; Minimal Elevates

How to you elevate your space to look like an “after?”

It starts by getting rid of clutter. Plain and simple.

You’re probably tired of hearing me talk about decluttering. But I believe it’s the single most effective transformation tool in your tool belt.

Let go of the things that no longer serve you. Pass on the items you’re done with. Recycle the paper clutter and the broken toys. Donate the clothes that don’t fit.

You may not need to spend thousands on professional decorators.

It’s quite possible that the difference between your home’s “before” and “after” photos isn’t a fancy remodel, but a serious purge.

Yes, there’s something to be said for good design and a floor plan that makes sense. But those things will be easier to look at once the clutter is gone too.

The first thing they always do on those shows is move everything out the space. So we’re dealing with a blank palate, not a filled-to-the-brim mashup of stuff.

Removing most of the items in a home instantly elevates the things that are left.

This is one of the design principles from New Minimalsim.

The impact of just a few carefully-chosen things is greater than a room full of things with no main focal point.


What Is the Purpose?

Get back to the basics first of all. What is the purpose of each room in your home? What is it used for? This is one of the questions Frannie Jay asks in The Joy of Less.

You should be able to define the purpose of every space in your house and work backward from there using only the essentials.

Decide what every room has to have in it and see if you can purge the rest. For instance, a bedroom should have a bed and a way to store clothing. Everything else can leave and the room would still serve it’s main purposes.

You can add in a few extras here and there like a reading nook, for instance. But as long as those main purposes are served, you’ve got the essentials.

The dining room should have a table and chairs. Unless you do other things in your dining room than eat there, that’s really all it needs to have. If you don’t use your dining room for eating, maybe it’s your craft room or school room or music area. Find those purposes and go from there.

Sometimes working backward is easiest.

  • Identify the purpose of every space.
  • Identify what must stay.
  • Then ask yourself if the other things can go.

Working backward guarantees that the home will still function smoothly, even if we decide to be drastic with our purging.

Use It or Lose It

If you were to pack everything you owned into boxes and only unpack items as you needed them, how long would it take for you to unpack your house? (This idea is from The Minimalists.)

Would you have the courage to get rid of the boxes that were still sitting unopened after 3 months? After a year?

If you’re no longer using it or displaying it proudly in your home, maybe it’s time to pass it on to someone who will value it.

I realize that not everything in my home serves a purpose, like my plants. (Although they do purify the air and elevate my mood, which is pretty purposeful.) But those things are in my life because I carefully chose them and I think they are worth the space they take up.

I’m always evaluating whether or not something is worth keeping. Something that served me in the past may no longer serve me and it’s time for me to let it go. This goes for hobbies that I’m no longer interested in, and of course for things that can be literally outgrown, like kids’ clothes.

As soon as an item is no longer serving a purpose of being either useful or beautiful, I consider getting rid of it.

What Will You Leave Behind?

Maybe this is morbid, but bear with me. Keep in mind, that one day you’ll pass away and your children will be left to go through all your stuff. Do you really want them to do it for you? Or would you rather put forth the time and effort now and get a head start?

The way I see it, things aren’t meant to last forever. They are meant to be fluid, to have several owners, and to be shared.

I’d rather pass on most of my earthly goods before I die so that they are actually being used by people, not just sitting in my basement, growing mold and collecting dust. That’s not the legacy I want to leave.

Hopefully my legacy will be more than just things.

I hope to leave a legacy of values, of traditions, of a lifestyle – not just stuff to be fought over. 

After all, things won’t last. Things will let us down. Things will decay and break.

The legacy I hope to leave is one that will not tarnish.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

-Jesus, Matthew 6:19-21


Photographs by Breather 


Add yours →

  1. Great post today! I always say to my husband (who tends to hold on to items longer than me), “let’s not leave this stuff for our nieces & nephews to sort through, let’s get rid of it now!” I always have a bag or pile to drop off at the thrift shop, so I’m constantly evaluating my things & whether I need them or not.

    • That’s exactly what I do! I have a spot in my basement for outgoing donations and a basket by my door of borrowed things to give back to people. It really feels great to only hold onto what we need!

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