Tips for Decorating Small Spaces: Throw Out All Your Stuff

Living in a tiny house is easy, just get rid of most of your stuff! (Dwell)

Living in a tiny house is easy, just get rid of most of your stuff! (Dwell)

These days, for interior design tips, the tiny house-obsessed can peruse books, movies, countless online tutorials and message boards, even dating websites—lest you want, or demand, to share your passion (and your 400 square feet) with a paramour. America is besotted with small spaces, or at least, besotted with the idea of living in monkish tranquility and order in small spaces. Nor does the affair does seem likely to wane any time soon; many middle class people have no choice but to live in cramped spaces and they gravitate toward shelter porn that is, if just as unattainable as ever, at least less obviously so. The movement offers an alluring blend of Thoreau-like asceticism and glossy-paged consumerism, presenting as it does the idea that the best way to “simply your life” is to replace most of what you own with a select number of “curated” pieces. There are, after all, few greater pleasures than shopping sprees that simultaneously allow one to feel sanctimonious.

But alas, the tips to attain one of those petite, pristine, expertly-arranged interiors, all basically boil down to the same piece of advice: get rid of all your clutter and anything that looks like clutter. Get rid of anything inelegant or unlovely to the eye, anything not of a piece with your charmingly spartan new way of life. This seemed particularly true to us as we examined Dwell’s most recent “smart design for tiny spaces” and “ten tips for clutter-free bedrooms” slideshows. (The bedroom: “the space that is arguably the most important to keep clear of all visual noise.”)

Among the tips offered:

1. Use the same material for your walls and your furniture to make the space feel “seamless”: “Our desire was to have the spaces appear as though they were carved from a single block of wood, with the movable pieces an integral part of the overall composition,” says the designer of a 520-square-foot “backyard retreat” in Portland. Also helpful? Having a full-sized house to store the rest of your junk.

2. You don’t need “mirror tricks” to make the space feel bigger. Only use mirrors to “temper the severity” of spare, concrete walls if you have an austere Swiss pre-fab. Or as “a holding spot for final touches” like hats and scarves—this via Refinery21.

3. Buy “furniture that folds flat.” See also: daybeds, futons, murphy beds, and/or all items that can be pressed into “double duty.” Also, “nesting tables.”

4. As quoted from Lloyd Kahn, the editor of the 1973 DIY classic Shelter in Dwell:if you live in a decent climate, put your bathroom outside.”

5. “Incorporate thinly outlined furniture pieces into your small space and cut the visual clutter.” (This doesn’t come cheap: the small, wire-frame shelf they recommend costs $500.) See also: “see through surfaces for maximum visibility.” Note: this method can only be employed by those who have already achieved an enviably clutter-free life, otherwise, embrace curtains and cabinetry to hide your clutter. Or sheer panels to create a “sleeping pod.” Just remember: “What’s most important is not to over-compartmentalize. Allow for flexibility.” If this is confusing…

6. Get rid of your clutter, get rid of your clutter, get rid of your clutter. In the words of one architect who lives in a studio. “Editing is a big part of the design process.” Describing the bedroom of another exemplar, Dwell writes, “the room contains a bed, a pair of boots, and a selection of books.” Another bedroom stores “all necessities” on a low, horizontal shelf beneath the bed. All necessities in this case are 15 books and three tchtockes.

7. Or hide your clutter under your floorboards. Yes, really.

8. Get white everything: bedding, walls, cabinetry, bathrooms. White is serene and will help broadcast both your physical and spiritual cleanliness.

9. And finally, when you have painted everything white and thrown nearly everything you own away save for 15 books, three tchotckes and one pair of boots, you may find that your space feels a little severe. Try wood paneling, curtains or gray paint to “add texture.” An accent wall with framed art may also “make the space feel open and soothing.”