“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” said William Morris, the 19th-century English designer, artist, writer and father of the Arts and Crafts movement, and his advice remains a good rule for our overly cluttered lives.
Cheryl Link, architect and owner of Mountain Modern Timber Frame Studio, thinks that “soft minimalism,” as she calls it, is a good and worthy goal, and clearing the room of excess furniture and tchotchkes is a good start. Link and John Brown, architect and founding partner of Housebrand, both known for their modern, uncluttered, liveable spaces, share their expertise in organizing and paring down possessions to the essentials.
The benefits of decluttering
C.L. “De-cluttering clears our minds – we feel so much better and lighter when we purge and tidy up. Often, when I start a new project, I begin by tidying up my studio from the clutter and chaos of previous deadlines.”
J.B. “We lead busy lives and our houses do multiple things. We might use our dining room many times a day as a place to eat, but also for homework or as a work table or for craft projects, and so it becomes a multi-faceted space, as all of our rooms do. If you have a lot of clutter, it can get in the way.”
Where to start
C.L. “A good room to start with is the living room. It’s the easiest, typically, and gratifying to have that space look and feel great. That can give one a boost to move to the more difficult rooms, like the bedroom and kitchen, closets and garage. A bedroom should be just that – a room with a bed – a calm oasis for better sleeping patterns and no TV, which is the ultimate visual and mental clutter.”
J.B. “There are experts in de-cluttering, of course, but where this intersects with the world of architecture is often when our clients are moving. There’s a point of transition when you move houses that you should see as an opportunity to de-clutter, because you take everything out and have to make a conscious choice about where it goes and whether it stays.”
Displayed stuff vs. stored stuff
C.L. “I don’t believe in necessarily throwing out so much as giving away or editing and keeping the special pieces but maybe not having them all out at once.”
J.B. “We may not necessarily want to display all that we want to keep. A house should be designed to accommodate the way people want to inhabit the space. If you don’t have that match, then it can look minimalist and sad or the opposite, cluttered, because the house doesn’t accommodate the way people live … Achieving a de-cluttered look is about having efficient storage that is close at hand, and not having all that stuff out, particularly in bedrooms and studies. The idea in modernism was to have built-in furniture that could be used as flexible storage. Storage should disappear and integrate into the rest of the house.”
Curating your belongings
C.L. “Often, people become blind to their spaces and clutter takes over and they don’t know where to start, or they just give up.”
J.B. “As time goes on, we tend to accumulate things – from our youth, our children’s youth, our parents, our blended families. Things have meaning to our lives, but some discernment in our selection of those things may be necessary. For example, the art projects of your four-year-old may be special – but not six boxes of them. Instead, we need to bring some discretion to what we keep, which then raises the value of the object. In this way, you’re curating your past.”
Where to get rid of extra stuff
Alberta’s Recycling Hotline is the place to start. Run by the provincial government’s Recycling Council of Alberta, the website directs homeowners to a variety of donation centres (some offering pick-up service) and for-profit waste collection businesses, through a searchable list of household items. The referral list is not exhaustive, but it offers a good selection of alternatives to the city dump.