Inside Design: Get rid of the clutter by ‘editing’ rooms

This article originally appeared in the Commercial Appeal on Jan. 24, 2014

I love the idea of living with less.

Design in 2014 is about crisp, clean contrast, and it’s hard to create a home that embodies that ideal when every surface is stuffed with stuff. But decluttering is a hard concept to pull off in everyday life, when everyone’s so busy that it’s hard to make time to sit down together for dinner, let alone make space at the kitchen table to do it.

Schoolwork, bits of mail, various computers and cords and devices used throughout the day — these are the things that litter the lives that intersect in my house. They might not be your problem areas, but I’d venture to guess your house does have problem areas. Every house does.

So how to solve them?

I didn’t set resolutions this January, but I did write down short- and long-term goals, and one of them is to pare down the amount of stuff in my house. When I buy something, it’s my goal to remove something. Likewise, it’s my goal to buy less — to make more thoughtful purchases.

This advice can apply no matter which way your design sensibilities lean. If your taste is Mid-Century Modern, staunchly traditional, rustic or minimalist contemporary, your house looks best when it’s edited.

Fashion icon Coco Chanel famously advised, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Following her rule when dressing and accessorizing results in a more sophisticated ensemble, and following the same rule when dressing and accessorizing a room has the same result.

Try it. E-mail me and tell me how it goes.

I put the advice into practice in my own house and pulled an item out of each of three rooms. In the kitchen, I removed a small silver tray on a stand. In the master bedroom, I pulled out one of a pair of framed antique manuscript pages. And in the living room, I removed five items from a cluttered bookcase (wow — what a difference).

It wasn’t life-changing, but it did breathe a little puff of fresh air into these rooms.

Interior designer Jill Hertz, a partner in Memphis-based Jill Hertz Interior Design, said she’s been working toward this goal in her own house for three or four years.

“I’m just cleaning out, closet by closet, shelf by shelf,” Hertz said. “Asking myself, ‘Why do I need it?’ Just paring down. We’re doing it with everything.”

The attitude might seem counter to an industry that’s all about updating things, upgrading things, buying things — but I’d argue that it’s not, not really. Great design is about longevity — investing in classic, well-made pieces and using them to create a timeless base that will look as good in 10 years as it does right now. This isn’t on my list, but it is one of my goals for my home.

It’s also the key to affording the trendy little upgrades — throw pillows, lamp shades, decorative accessories — that keep a space up to date, style- and color-wise.

Nobody should have to pull off a large-scale overhaul of their home every two years or even five years. Determine your style, use it to create your base, and do this as quickly or as slowly as your time, decision-making process and budget dictate.

And if, like me, you’re making it a goal in 2014 to get out from under the clutter, here’s my best piece of design advice for the new year: be judicious when adding items, and brutal when subtracting.

Stacey Wiedower is a Memphis-based freelance interior design writer. Contact her at


Image courtesy of the Commercial Appeal