Reduce visual clutter

Even when you have a place for everything in your home and everything is in its place, you still might feel like your home (or part of it) continues to appear cluttered. The article “Measuring visual clutter” in the Journal of Vision explains how this is possible and ways you can reduce visual clutter in your already tidy spaces.

How to reduce visual clutter

Create one focal point in each room. When you walk into a room, your eye should be instantly drawn to one object/area in the space and that object/area should be where you want attention to be drawn. In the bedroom, the focal point is most likely the bed. The table is most likely be the focal point in a dining room.

Keep the floor clear. Obviously, keep stray objects from impeding traffic patterns throughout a room. Also, remove small area rugs and replace them with one larger one, which will make the room/area feel more open because the eye sees a large unbroken space. (In other words, don’t have four area rugs in your television watching space, but one large rug under the couch, chair, media center, and coffee table.)

Avoid having too many conflicting patterns in the same room. Patterns draw attention and if there are numerous patterns, it’s difficult to visually process all of them. For instance, if you have patterned wallpaper, do not have a different pattern on your curtains and another on the carpet and yet another on every cushion on your couch.

Display only small groups of collections. If you have a collection of items, keep what is on display small in number. Either keep the collection small or only display a portion of it each season (and be diligent about switching it out, properly storing what isn’t on display, etc.). This will allow individual objects to stand out because they’re not hidden amongst other pieces. Some interior decorators suggest opting for larger, single pieces because decorative accents that are smaller than a cantaloupe can make a room look cluttered.

If for display purposes only, organize books by decorative elements. It is much easier for the eye to look at straight lines and blocks of colour than zigzag lines and bits of colour here and there. At Unclutterer, we don’t recommend people in small spaces store physical books for purely decorative purposes, but if your home is large and you can properly care for a book collection, size and color organizing will create less visual clutter in your space.

Make labels extremely legible. When making labels to identify the contents of bins or binders, use one, easy-to-read typeface. (Such as: Helvetica, size 20, regular, all caps.) Ensure the labels are the same size and shape and aligned at the same height on the bin or binder. The same rule should apply to labels on file folders in your filing cabinet.

12 Comments for “Reduce visual clutter”

  1. posted by Kelson on

    I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of having books “for display purposes only.” If you don’t actually care about the content of the books, why not give or sell them to someone who actually does want to read them?

  2. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    Our books for “display purposes” include books we are keeping for sentimental reasons such as my grandmother’s hymn book and a set of the Narnia books given to me by my Godmother. We also have some reference books such as dictionaries, atlases, and some university textbooks. All of these books we have read and can’t bear to give them away or we are looking up information regularly in the reference books.

  3. posted by Pat on

    Cupboards with doors to hide the contents are much better than open shelving for reducing visual clutter. Also, a drawer on a coffee table or end table hides TV remotes, drink coasters, and pens. There is something soothing about seeing an empty horizontal surface. Finally, minimalist design, with its lack of moldings and other trims is all about celebrating the space between the items that grab our attention.

  4. posted by Tara Munoz on

    Great clarification on the “display purposes boojs”, Jacki! As the website implies to it’s many dedicated readers, we all constantly aim to purge the useless, crowded, or worn possessions in our home. I just recently finally let go of a huge book collection that I had known for a long time that I no longer needed. Even as a English major, teacher, and bibliophile, keeping more than a few bookshelves full to the brim in our small family home made me feel like a hoarder. After purging and parting with the majority of it, I feel so much better not having to constantly look at those messy shelves. But my real secret to success? Picking out all of the beautiful hardcover books (sans book jackets) and displaying them around my home in places I get to admire them everyday benefits me two-fold. First, I am reminded of my wide range of interests and my culture. Second, I was able to fully customize each vignette with size and usability options before I donated the remainder of my collection, (i.e. Life quotes, Bible, and philosophy book by my bedside; then short stories, artist collection, and travel photography book on my sofa table, etc.) I’ve found that I pick up the books and look at them far more often than the lifetime they spent jammed together on a shelf with a million other random literature books I picked up over time. And really, how many time will we re-read a fiction piece if it’s not on our top ten favorites list?

  5. posted by Christina Designs on

    Fantastic advice! will definitely keep all of this in mind when dealing with planning house renovations & designs. 🙂

  6. posted by abigail on

    This was one of the saddest posts I’ve read in a long time. Books for “decorative purposes”? Is the idea just to LOOK like you’re literate when you’re not? To look like you have anything in your head but stuffing when you don’t? How pathetic. As for the patterns, sure, if you don’t collect art (god forbid your paintings should clash with the carpet) or photography. Display only portions of your collection at a time? Where’s the passion and the joy in that?

    Sometimes, homes are for living in – not just for being seen.

  7. posted by Organize Mindfully on

    I agree with everyone about books as decorative. It does seem silly. I bought a book from 1928 on Etsy that the seller was offering with another book…because they were “blue antique books.”

    Little did the seller know but the book had some real value…AS A BOOK! haha. It was a fairly rare first edition book from a set. I wish she had the entire set and I could have picked it up for that low price.

    I’ve recently been weeding through books that have been sitting on the shelf that have no value to me for either reading in the future or as a collectible. Selling them on Amazon and giving the lesser value ones away has been both fun and profitable.

  8. posted by Pat on

    Abigail, while I agree that books-as-decoration is a sad concept, I have to disagree with you on collections. I think that sometimes having too many things out at once results in things getting overlooked and not appreciated. Swapping out a small group of things for another every once in a while keeps things fresh. We tend not to see things that sit on the same shelf year after year.

  9. posted by Julie on

    I’m frankly surprised by the hostility to the suggestion that people keep books for display purposes, especially after Jacki explained further in the comments. I’m a professional organizer, so I spend every day of my career helping people let go of things they no longer need or want, but with which they have difficulty parting. But how is having a book for display purposes any different than a decorative sofa cushion, a painting, a sculpture or anything else that is visually pleasing?

    The purpose of decluttering (or “uncluttering, here at Unclutterer) seems to me to be less of the requirement to live an ascetic aesthetic and more to be comfortable, functional and happy in one’s environment. I have no children in my home. And yet, I have a small cache of clean, brightly-colored, well-loved children’s books on display in my home. It’s doubtful that I will read them, but just seeing them gives me delight. The same area, bare, would be unappealing, and I’ve no desire to put flowers or a plant there just to conform to an aesthetic that feels books are less attractive or deserving than other decorative items. Perhaps we need not be so judgmental about what others find beautiful in their OWN spaces?

  10. posted by dixieflyer on

    Folks, if you’ve read it, then it’s NOT for decorative purposes. Jacki, you didn’t acquire or keep those books because they looked nice, but because you enjoyed their content, at least once, and now they’re old friends.
    SWMBO and I, along with our son, suffer from being book lovers/bibliophiles, and yeah, we feel like hoarders. However, at the same time, we’re information freaks. With both of us being teachers, historians, etc. we just can’t bear to part with a lot of old friends. A lot of our books are long OOP and unobtainable, etc.
    However, I do get it. 🙂

  11. posted by Wolf on

    I feel a vague desire to decorate my kitchen with a cantaloupe after reading #4.

  12. posted by Gina on

    In my house, books are given a pass on anything related to clutter. I remove visual distractions on the regular, and adore an empty corner or a clean surface. Books though get whatever they need in their designated space. Mine are cataloged ( and organized for use by author or subject. All I’ve read at least once. If I end up not liking a book or won’t be re-reading it again, I give it away.

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