The Hands-Off Approach to Decluttering Your Living Room

Wednesday November 30, 2016

Yesterday, we talked about my hands-off approach to decluttering, learned by the wise branding folks at Apple who’ve figured out that merely touching something triggers an emotional response. Just think about all those times you’ve tried to weed through your closet…and end up right back where you started because of all the memories and what-ifs and maybes and but-I-love-its. Right. We need a new method.

So, let’s talk today about how to apply this to your living room. I’m starting with the living room because it’s the easiest room to declutter in your house. Mostly because living rooms don’t necessarily have to store anything. No pantries, no wardrobes, no supplies. A living room is fundamentally some furniture + lighting + decor + some electronics. TA DA, living room.

To start decluttering your living room, go ahead and sit on your sofa or chair. Have a small box and large box ready. Take a look around. Do you see the clutter? There are many kinds of clutter, so let’s break it down.


Obvious Clutter

As I sit on my sofa, I see a stray New York Times from two weeks ago on a tray. Clearly, we just need to walk it the 20 feet to the recycling bin. I also see one of Bean’s hairbands, a glowing spider toy, a silver tin of Legos, and an art project she brought home from school. None of these are purposefully there, and the only reason they are there is because we’re being lazy.

This is the easiest clutter to get rid of. Most of it just needs to go to the trash. Some of it (the hairband, toys) needs to go back to where it belongs. This is what you put in the small box. Anything that is just misplaced goes in the small box, to be put away properly later.



Chronic Clutter

You may not even see the chronic clutter anymore. Look at a horizontal surface of your living room (the floor, the coffee table, a side table, a sideboard, bookshelves). Do you see the stuff on top of it? If it’s not useful (and supposed to be in the living room, like a coaster) or decorative (purposefully there like a plant or vase), then it’s clutter.

Right now, our sideboard is covered in two nice stacks of books. These are neither books that we’re currently reading nor are they coffee table books. It’s just a stack of books. They need to go away, likely back to the shelves they come from.

Horizontal storage is the worst kind of storage. It mucks up your pretty floors and tables.

Ready for my take no prisoners advice? If I were you, I’d put anything on a horizontal surface that’s not living-room-useful or decorative into your large box, no matter what it is. Get it off your horizontal surfaces so you can see how pretty your living room looks without it. Figure out what to actually do with it later, if you even want to keep it.

There is an addendum to this section, though. Chronic clutter often appears because there’s nowhere else for this stuff to go. To fix that kind of chronic clutter, you need to figure out a place to store those things, that is not an open horizontal surface in your home. (Toys is a prime example of this kind of clutter. We’ll deal with toy decluttering another day.)


Decorative Clutter

Yeah, I said it. There is a thing as having too many decorations. Vases and candles and photo frames need space to breathe. When they’ve completely filled up your horizontal spaces — like, a guest can’t put a glass of water down — they go from sweet vignettes to clutter.

Even more, our style changes over time. So, yes, you might have bought that vase when you were setting up your first apartment (memories)…but does it really reflect your current style?

So, sitting on your sofa, look around and decide which decorations you actually love and which are meh and you might be able to live without. Anything that isn’t knocking you over these days, put it in the large box.

Remember, you aren’t getting rid of it. You’re just putting it in a box and putting the focus on the pieces you really love right now. Maybe this will end up being part of a decoration rotation for you, bring some things out, put others away, like shopping your closet. (This may go triply so for photos. It’s nice to display them, of course, but there is a thing as too many. Showcasing just a few photos packs more punch.)



Furniture Clutter

Yes! Furniture itself can be a source of clutter! Once a friend wrote to me lamenting the state of her cluttered living room that she just couldn’t fix. Between the sectional sofa and the coffee table and the Eames chairs and all the stools, it just seemed so cluttered all the time. So, tell me more about these stools, right? I believe midway into explaining why she owned so many stools, she realized the stools were actually a key source of the problem.

So, sitting on your sofa, look around at your furniture. Now, granted, this is more of an issue in larger homes where furniture seems to collect in the corners. (I could only wish that was our problem.) If you aren’t using something, or if something is broken and you haven’t bothered to fix it yet (which my friends IS A SIGN), or if you just have like, a lot of small things like stools and sidetables and magazine racks filling up the space and you aren’t in love with them. Large box it. If it doesn’t fit in your large box, put it in a closet or garage.

You can always bring them back if you decide you really do need that decorative stool after all. Otherwise, I’m guessing you won’t miss it.


Clutter Hiding Behind Closed Doors

And here we are, down to the stealth clutter. Since all of you are likely storing different things in your living room, and I have no idea what that is, because, after all, living rooms don’t really need to store anything, I’m going to address these issues elsewhere. Coat closets will be dealt with when we talk about clothes decluttering. If you’re storing linens in your living room, I’ll get to that when we talk kitchens.

Weeding through books is NOT my forte (keep em all!) but I can probably tell you your CD or DVD collection should probably just go somewhere else.

Unless you don’t have an issue with DVD clutter (aka it’s not visible and you have plenty of space), in which case, fine you might keep it. If your DVD clutter is visible…find somewhere else for it or hide it behind a cabinet door. There is no fixing visible DVD clutter.



The point here is to make the decision of whether something is going in the large box before you touch it. In a month or so, take a look in your large box and re-evaluate how you feel about those things. I’m guessing you will not miss most of it at all. Other things, you may decide to keep, but maybe not display, just for the memories.

In either case, your living room just got a refresh, with almost minimal effort on your part.

Next time: the kitchen.


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