By Shauna Gold
My mom says there’s a gene for decorating: Some people were born with it, some were not. If that’s true, it definitely doesn’t run in our family. If a houseware item doesn’t keep me warm or hold food, it’s not worth my drinking money. People who used to come to my apartment would always assume I’d just moved in, no matter how many years I’d been there.
But somewhere along the way, a wonderful thing called minimalism happened. And now I can pretend that my complete lack of decorating instinct is a cultural statement about how I’m beyond the need for material possessions, and not just completely ignorant about the use of throw pillows.
There is a fine line, however, between an artfully spartan loft haven and a stark institutional ward. As someone with the décor game of your average frat boy, I speak, unfortunately, from experience. Learn from my failures so you don’t have to make your own.
First, start by taking away all the unnecessary things. Even if you consider your home a blank slate, there are still probably some things you can remove.
A lot of what ends up in our first apartments gets there because it’s “better than nothing,” and only serves a purpose until we can afford real furniture and décor. But often, nothing is actually better. You’d be surprised at what you don’t need and how much better your space feels when you take away the plebeian placeholders.
When you get rid of the crap though, you’re still only halfway there — now your apartment just looks like the dorms before everyone moves in. Add a few carefully selected pieces, and the emptiness will magically look artistic and intentional.
Get Rid of All This Stuff:
One thing you’ll notice about beautiful minimalist homes is that they’re always immaculately clean. No piles of clothes, no dirty dishes, no adventurous bobby pins out to see the world. It sounds so obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. Keeping everything tidy is the single most impactful thing you can do for your home.
When you’re poor or nesting-challenged, milk crates can stand in for everything: shelving, seating, laundry baskets, moving boxes. Milk crates are super useful, multifunctional, and free. They are also the fastest way to make your bedroom scream “alley behind the 7-11.”
Exercise equipment is one of the most insidious kinds of clutter, hoarded even by people who consider themselves minimalists, like this author. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, the number of weights, balls, bands, and gadgets you need in your home is approximately zero.
Scotch-taping things to the wall is basically the vertical equivalent of milk crates. Please take down the Vogue magazine pages and Audrey Hepburn poster. I’ll wait.
So Much Better:
A Well-Kept Space
Spend less time looking at Pinterest and more time tidying up. Take a few minutes every day to put away your clothes and accessories. Deal with mail as soon as it comes in. Examine the piles of detritus that tend to accumulate. Do you really need to keep everything? If so, can it fit under the bed?
A wood or metal garment rack gives sort of an “urban loft” vibe, and a cleaner look than shirts spilling out of crates (plus, less ironing). Hang your clothes by color, and line up your shoes underneath.
If you were using milk crates as bookshelves, stack the books right on the floor, with the spines facing out. I don’t know why, but this looks super bohemian chic and is actually kind of a thing – so run with it.
YouTube workouts are one of the internet’s greatest gifts, and there are plenty of great ones that require no equipment. Exceptions: Get a yoga mat for floor work, although if you have carpet, you can just use a towel. A pull-up bar or modular weight set is worth having if you want to lift at home, but only choose one —– you don’t need both.
This is actually a grey area. Nicely done prints taped or clipped in a cute way can actually look pretty good. Get some prints made from your favorite Instagram shots, or cheat and download images from the internet. Nobody will be able to tell.
If you have a friend who’s a budding artist or photographer, ask to buy a piece or two and have them framed — the art, not the friend. It’ll be cheaper than going to a gallery (unless your artist friend is a baller) and will be extra meaningful to you. As with the books, minimalism makes it okay to set framed pictures on the floor, leaned against a wall.
Next, start to think about what else you can do without. Start with the easy stuff: clothing items you never wear because they look awkward on you, plates at the bottom of the stack that never get used, worn-out sneakers, and so on.
Keep a bin in your closet that you can pitch all this stuff into, and donate it to a charity when it gets full. Once you’ve gotten rid of enough stuff, you can start getting rid of the stuff that holds the stuff – the boxes and bins and plastic rolling carts – and stop having to figure out where to store things.
Welcome to Your Minimalist Dream Home. Eventually.
Okay, so at this point your place should look a lot less like a sad flophouse and a little more like an actual grownup home, where you wouldn’t feel completely embarrassed to have company. You still might need to continue paring down to make it feel really sleek (this should be an ongoing process), or find some personal touches to make it more “you.”
And none of these have to be throw pillows. Another great thing about minimalism is its utilitarian aesthetic. Décor is simple. It can be a worn-in pair of boots, a plant, or a bottle of perfume. Or, of course, nothing.
Shauna is a writer based in Boise, Idaho. Her interests include frittata, ‘60s soul, and finding new ways to injure herself outdoors. She also enjoys expensive cocktails.