There's nothing quite like the feeling of a freshly spruced space. While science suggests messy people are smarter, studies have shown that women who live in cluttered environments are likely to have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (Sound familiar?) For those of us who lead busy lifestyles, keeping our homes clean requires daily diligence, but we have a better idea: Become a minimalist.
Paring things down to the basics and ditching the superfluous can do wonders for your sanity—not to mention it looks super sophisticated and sleek. From monochromatic minimalism to laid-back luxury, this simple approach to interior design is one of our favorites. But just like the no-makeup makeup trend, it's not as simple as it looks. If you've been a longtime fan of the look but are unsure about how to get started, our step-by-step approach to minimalist design will help you kick things off.
Clear all surfaces of clutter
Look around: What do you see? If it's anything like our surroundings, there are piles of paper (mostly bills and junk mail), car keys, shoes around the front door, empty cups, sunglasses, and random objects that somehow made their way from our bag to the kitchen counter. And that's just the beginning. The dining table is another surface that tends to be a clutter magnet.
If you truly want to embrace the minimalist design look and feel, these need to be cleared, stat. Ask yourself what can be eliminated, what can be stored out of sight, and what items aren't essential; then organize according to priority. Be consistent with this process and come back to each room every few months with a fresh set of eyes. You'll find there's more you can simplify each time. To make sure your surfaces stay clear, give everything a special spot and stick to it.
Create a neutral base
Kristofer Johnsson; DESIGN: Pella Hedeby
When creating a classic minimalistic interior, it's all about the base color. Subdued hues rule here—from biscuit to greige and every ecru-inspired tone in between. Why? It's clean, fresh-looking, and inspires a sense of calm. But just because classic minimalism tends to be color-averse, it doesn't have to be bland or boring. In fact, minimalism at its finest is quite the opposite.
Naturally, we're big fans of a white room, but not all bleached-out paints are created equal. Just ask interior design and author Will Taylor. "Yellow undertones give a white paint a warmer and creamier appearance, while blue undertones give a crisper look," he tells MyDomaine. "A space with lots of natural light is likely to look warmer, so you can use a cooler shade of white to balance the room. Rooms that are artificially lit with LED or fluorescent lighting can look cool, so go warmer," says Taylor.
If you want to introduce some color, be sure to choose solid pigments that are easy on the eyes and fuse well with the neutrals, such as earth-tone browns, blues, tans, and greens.
Choose quality over quantity
Sharyn Cairns; DESIGN: Fiona Lynch
The challenge of working within the pared-back aesthetic is how little you actually have to work with. This makes the decision process even trickier than usual. You really have to consider each piece carefully before it enters the room, but this also means the end result is more thoughtful and considered. Your goal is to create a space that anyone would want to spend time in.
In this case, it truly pays to buy quality over quantity and invest in classics that will stand the test of time (and spark your interest). Impulse buys on trendy items that you'll tire of quickly doesn't work with minimalist design. Choose well-made pieces that are built to last, will withstand daily use, and look better as a result. Patina is everything. Besides, it's much better for the environment. (Landfills are pretty full these days.)
Live By the One in, One Out Philosophy
It's astonishing how much one person can acquire in a short span of time. The empty kitchen drawers, bedroom closet, and bathroom cupboards from when you first moved in are suddenly full of nonessentials and unused products that are now collecting dust. Even when you can't see it, this "stuff" is cluttering your headspace and taking up valuable room in your home. It's time to clear out that junk drawer.
To prevent this dilemma from happening at all, we recommend putting Colleen Madsen's "one in, one out" rule into practice. It goes a little something like this: For every item that comes into your home, something else should go out in turn. The 365 Less Things editor swears by this simple philosophy. "The one-in item does not need to match the one-out item, although to make a difference it would need to be of a least equal size or—better still—bigger," she says. "It generally works out that they are similar items because it is usually that you are replacing one item with another," says Madsen.
Use Different Textures in Similar Tones
Ragnar Ómarsson; DESIGN: Pella Hedeby
A minimalistic room with neutral tones can tend to feel cold or bland, but there's one foolproof trick that remedies this every time: texture. Turn up the temperature with knitted throws, beaded pillows, sheepskin rugs, and velvet décor for that much-needed comfort factor. While restraint is usually advised, feel free to go wild with these sensory touch points (so long as they're in the same tonal family).
We asked Stockholm-based freelance art director and photographer Sara Medina for her tips on getting minimalistic texture right. "If you mix too many textures, materials, and surfaces of all different colors, the result will surely be headache-inducing," she told MyDomaine. "If you have a white base, then opt for similar beige, dove-gray, and tan tones or any colors you would see together in nature. Generally, the colors that blend well are the ones Mother Nature intended," says Medina.
Invest in stylish storage
So you've cleared the clutter, applied the "one in, one out" rule, and chosen quality over quantity, but there are still a few stragglers hanging around. This is where you get sneaky and invest in stylish storage. Attractive storage allows the chaos to live inside while still appearing chic on the outside. This is great news for those who love the minimalistic look but are true maximalists on the inside. You don't have to completely forgo your collector past, but the hoarder mindset has got to go.
Keep it simple
Alyssa Rosenheck; DESIGN: Jennifer Robin Interiors for Rue Magazine
Now that you know all the steps to styling a minimalistic home, we want to take this opportunity to reiterate the underlying philosophy behind it: Keep it simple. Tone everything down, pare everything back, and abide by the "less is more" approach. That said, don't think your new décor has to be boring. As you can see from our image selection (when done well), minimalist design can be beautiful, warm, rich, and inviting.
When it comes to designing a minimalistic space, remember to just take it one step at a time. Then sit back and truly enjoy the peaceful, calming, clutter-free space you've created. It feels good, doesn't it?
This post was originally published on March 15, 2015, and has since been updated.