The dining room in our apartment is probably one of my favorite areas in our home. It’s purpose is purely utility, yet is has taken on this relaxed, minimal look that I am really digging. Besides the kitchen countertops, the surfaces of the dining room receive the most cleaning of any area. 3 toddler meals + 1 toddler snack on a daily basis = a lot of wipe downs. So it makes sense for surfaces to stay clear. It also allows for the dining table to serve multiple purposes. Besides meals and snacks, it makes a great location for typing away at blog posts or rummaging through the mail. My husband has also commandeered the table on several occasions as a location to solder various projects for the truck.
After watching this area change uses over and over, it made me think about how so many areas of my home are more usable when they are clear of purely decorative tchotchkes. But a completely minimal home is not entirely my style. I want our lackluster apartment to feel like an inviting space, but I don’t want it to get to bogged down with stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose beyond decoration. Using the dining room space as my guide, I thought about a couple of ways you can make your house (or apartment) feel like a home without filling it with stuff that just sits.
Do you have shelves full of books that aren’t getting much attention? After you’ve KonMari-ed out the boring and only kept the ones that spark joy, find a better home for your paperbacks. Scatter your beloved books throughout your home in places that make sense for their purpose. Cooking and health/wellness books look great in the kitchen, especially behind glass cabinet doors. Photography or home decor make great coffee table or side table books. Beauty, fashion, and lifestyle books work well to liven up your closet. If you’ve adopted a capsule wardrobe, you might have some open space on a shelf. Small stacks next to some hanging jewelry can serve as inspiration when you’re getting dressed in the morning. I also choose to keep my very favorite books on my nightstand. When everything on my library waitlist is unavailable, I reach for one of these tried and true books.
Live plants have to be one of my favorite ways to fill an empty space. LIVE being the key word. Silk plants might require less upkeep, but they also provide a dead energy. Some great plants to start with are English Ivy, Jade, Snack Plant, Ficus, and Fiddle-Leaf Fig. Edible plants, like the Basil, Dill, Chives, Mint, and Cilantro on my bar cart, are all beautiful and useful choices, as well. Adding just a couple will greatly improve the indoor air quality of your home. It is also my personal choice to not buy cut flowers. While they are beautiful, the flower industry has a secret underbelly that I don’t wish to support. Aim to slowly replace all of your fake plants with real ones. Or remove them completely and enjoy the bare surfaces.
A lot of homes are already filled with candles as decoration. But are you really using those candles? If it’s not already soy-based and fragranced with essential oils only (or non-scented), toss it now. Choose a couple, healthier candles that you really love and place them in areas where they will actually be used. We currently have just two candles in our home – one in the kitchen and one in the master bathroom. After dinner clean up every evening, I’ll light the yummy peppermint vanilla candle to clear up some of the cooking smells. The master bath candle gets use about 1-2x/week when I do an exfoliant & mask.
I have never been one to collect artwork. I don’t have much of an eye for it and I’m also extremely picky about what I like. So instead of hanging something that might not match my seasonal decor or that I might grow bored with down the line, I’d rather hang a mirror! Maybe there is some narcissism behind this decision, but mirrors are beautiful and serve a purpose. I always like to check my appearance before heading out the door (in case there’s a rogue Cheerio stuck in my hair) so a mirror works perfectly in an entry way. A standing mirror in a bedroom or a decorative mirror over a fireplace mantle will help to make the space look bigger. But, please, whatever you do, don’t go crazy with the mirrors! If you can look around a space and see more than 2 mirrors, you’ve probably gone a bit overboard.
Hooks & Shelves
If you live in a small home, creating a space to collect personal items when you walk through the door is crucial. Beautiful and utilitarian hooks, shelves, and baskets are all a great solution for capturing bags, shoes, hats, jackets, and all of the odds-and-ends that end up scattered across the house. Along a small wall in our dining room, we have a console table with 2 drawers and 2 baskets. Storing everything I need when I leave the apartment exclusively in this area is so much more time-saving than if I kept everything in the bedroom or hall closet.
Most homes automatically have over head lighting when you move in. Luckily/unluckily when we moved into our apartment, the only lighting was in the bathrooms, dining room, and kitchen. Table lamps became our new best friends. And I’m actually pretty pleased with the outcome. Accent lighting makes a room appear so much more inviting than overhead or task lighting. 1-2 table lamps also give off way less heat than the 100W bulbs normally found in ceiling lights. And when it becomes dark enough outside that you need to turn on the indoor lights, you are probably getting close to bedtime. Keeping it a little darker in your home will help make it easier for you to fall asleep. And even if you have a 4:45am wake up call (like some people aka this crazy girl aka me), keeping the lights dim upon waking actually makes the wake up experience more natural and pleasant.
Sometimes the items we choose to decorate our home with don’t serve any purpose other than to make us happy. On the bar cart in our dining room, the top shelf holds fresh herbs and my recipe box, both of which are used almost daily. But the bottom shelf holds a handmade cake stand from my husband and I’s wedding. I’ve held on to about a dozen items from our special day, most of which are on display throughout our home. As far as decorations go, I don’t think it gets more special than things that remind you of your loved ones. If you have a box (or boxes) of items you are saving for sentimental purposes, it’s time to put those items to use! A photo from a vacation or your favorite childhood toy are so much better than the cheap, meaningless decorations you can find at Target*. But be scrupulous in choosing what should be on display. If it doesn’t make you happy every time you look at it, the item probably isn’t worth keeping.
After putting into action this guide to decorating my home, it’s made it even easier for me to see what my true style is. I also find it is so much easier to keep things clean and orderly when the only things you keep on display are usable and joyful items. I hope you have the same success with clearing your space of stuff that just sits. And if you think there is some other item category I missed, definitely share it below! Personal style is personal so I’m sure you all have different, utility items you love keeping on display. Thanks for reading!
*I almost feel bad disparaging Target’s home decor section because we actually have quite a few items from Target. Target’s items are sometimes beautiful, but most are cheaply made outside of the U.S. If your home has been completely decorated with sentimental items, but you still really need some other pieces of furniture or accents, try searching secondhand or contact a local artisan. The pieces in your home should tell a story. And wouldn’t it be more exciting to say “Oh, this artwork? It’s a limited run print by one of my favorite artists. You can only buy it in person at their Winter Park store so my mom picked it up for me this past Christmas. Every time I’m at the sink, it reminds me of my birthplace!” versus “I bought it at Home Goods”.