Clutter vs. Decor

5 Strategies for Winning the Ongoing Battle

There is a fine line between clutter and décor.

I think you know what I mean.  You’ve been to a collector’s home, or maybe you are a collector.  Every available inch of space is filled with knick-knacks, collectibles, keepsakes and kitsch.  While such an environment is fun to explore, it can be challenging to live in, especially for any non-collectors who inhabit the space.  

It is possible to eat your cake and have it too, so to speak.  In other words, one can surround oneself with beloved objects and keep clutter to a minimum, but it takes a little effort and in some cases, a bit of compromise.

Words to Live By

William Morris (1834 - 1896), an English textile designer (among other things) associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, once said:

Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

How much more applicable this is in our day than it was in his! These are wonderful words to live by. 

Try these five suggestions for preventing your décor from becoming clutter.

Pair Down

OK, I know; this one is a bit of a n0-brainer. That doesn’t make it any less applicable.

If you have a large amount of stuff, chances are you like some things better than others.  The first and best way to declutter your décor is to identify those pieces in your collection which you are willing to part with. 

It can be challenging to know where to begin in the pair-down process.  Try identifying the following:

  • Gift Items – You know what I’m talking about; it’s the stuff you keep because you love the giver even though you may never have cared for the gift.
  • Outdated Items – If you’ve been accumulating stuff for a long time, chances are you’ve outgrown some of the things that occupy your space.  Either they are out of style or they no longer appeal to you in the same way they did 5, 10, 15 years ago.  Tastes change over time; make sure the stuff in your home is a reflection of who you are today, not who you were in 1996.
  • Worn Out Items – This can apply to any number of things from clothing to dishes to art and décor. If it’s dingy, faded, stained, or has lost its effectiveness, it’s time to let it go. 
  • Duplicate Items – If you’ve got more than one of something, consider keeping your favorite and passing the extras along.
  • Broken Items – Often we keep things we have loved long after they break with the intent of fixing them.  If it’s been broken for more than three months and you haven't fixed it, it's not likely you ever will. It's probably time to give it up.
  • Incomplete Items – Puzzles, games, toys, household appliances, electronics or other gadgets with missing parts or pieces – these are all candidates for elimination.  Make an honest assessment regarding the item's functionality, and then say goodbye to those things that have outlived their usefulness.
  • Unused Items – If an item is still in the original packaging months or years after you obtained it, you’re probably never going to use it.  Let it go. 

While it may be difficult to let go of things, it can also be liberating and refreshing. Give it a try! You’ll see what I mean.

One In – One Out

When it comes to making new purchases, make a deal with yourself that you will not add a single décor item to your home without getting rid an already existing item.  Establish a policy of replacing old with new to prevent clutter from taking over your space and to keep your collection manageable. 

Share the Wealth

Another great way to reduce clutter from décor is to apply that simple lesson we all began learning in preschool: share!  Before sharing anything, just make sure the intended recipient wants whatever it is you’re offering!

Some suggestions for sharing include:

  • Share children’s artwork, framed photos, memorabilia and keepsakes with family and friends, particularly those with whom you have a shared memory associated with an item.
  • Share outgrown or unneeded clothing with friends, family, or a local charity.
  • Share unneeded household items with college students, newlyweds, members of your church or a local charity.
  • Share knick-knacks and other décor items with fellow collectors – either gift them or loan them out.
  • If you have items of an appropriate quality and type, consider sharing them with a museum.

Rotate Favorites

If you can’t bear the thought of parting with things, consider storing some items and displaying others. This is particularly useful for collectors who may have numerous related items.  Keep a select few on display and pack the others away.  Whenever you feel like a change, pull the items out of storage and switch things out.  This allows you to enjoy your entire collection and maintain a clutter-free environment at the same time.


Look for new ways to use or display old stuff.  This can be accomplished in a couple of ways.

  1. Repurpose old items to serve a new function, thus creating a two-for-one scenario.
  2. Convert 3 dimensional items into wall displays in order to reduce surface clutter. 

Here are just a handful of suggestions for ways to multipurpose items you simply cannot part with in a way that will help to reduce clutter.

  • Use decorative pottery, old tea cups and other serving pieces as containers for storing office supplies, small craft embellishments, hair clips and pins or cosmetics.
  • Create shadow boxes for displaying seashells, medals and awards, souvenirs or small collectibles.
  • Frame old sports jerseys, special children’s outfits (such as a Christening gown) and other keepsake clothing.
  • Make (or commission someone to make) a quilt from favorite t-shirts or other keepsake clothing.  This is a great way to remember a loved one who has passed away.


  • Use the wood from old furniture to create display/storage shelves.
  • Use decorative containers as planters.

If your décor is starting to look more like clutter, employ the five simple strategies outlined above to reclaim your space.  Remember the words of William Morris and only keep those things that are of real use or that you really love.  Find a happy home for all the rest.

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