Organize Your Clutter

By Christine Brun

March 2, 2016 5 min read

Clutter is visually noisy. What does that mean? It means that when you walk into a room and there are too many things competing for your attention, the visual result is like the equivalent of listening to an orchestra tuning up for a performance. It's not really a pleasant sound, and though what will come in a few moments will be gorgeous, you are stopped by the dissonance.

Not only is clutter basically ugly, it takes away all hope of a small room rising to the level of feeling welcoming and serene. One of the secret weapons for a small room is to gather all your "stuff" and attempt to sift through what you have with two things in mind. The first is to eliminate unnecessary and duplicated items. The second is to question whether any of it is important enough to want on display. That is the question! Is it mere junk or is it an object worthy of showing to the world?

This is at the heart of any effort to streamline and create a new look. Granted, this room example is blessed with an extra high ceiling, but notice how effective the wall unit is because it runs from the floor to the bottom of the impressive crown molding. Even in a room with a standard eight-foot high ceiling, this technique will work. It's kind of a counterintuitive concept. If you want to make a room feel taller, run things floor to ceiling, such as drapery or built-in components. Here we see a very modern, Italian style unit broken up with decorative drawer fronts. Books, small photo albums, tiny objects and picture frames are assembled in one huge wall of rhythm. Beyond the confines of the display, there is nothing other than a plain and quiet painted wall.

There are loads of ways that you can accomplish this approach. One might be to hunt for a piece of furniture that offers both some closed storage and some open shelves. Frankly, you might scour vintage furniture malls for an old buffet or china cabinet. These often don't reach the ceiling, but can get fairly close. The positive quality is that an old school china cabinet offers lower closed storage. If what you find is funky — perhaps French Country — try painting it in a neutral color that might blend into the background. Another idea is to check to see what modern Scandinavian design has to offer in terms of stacking modules that might come close to the ceiling. Go to resources such as IKEA or Room + Board. Be aware that it is important for safety that you anchor the top units to the wall. Top-heavy pieces of furniture can be a hazard in even a very small earthquake.

For example, if you are working on a bedroom that is being converted into a home office or TV room, consider removal of the old closet sliding doors. Then get rid of the header that was over the doors and bump the opening up all the way to the ceiling. You can continue to create a custom shelving storage unit in the former closet cavity. Imagine cannibalizing an old dresser or two for the drawers and replicate the look of this shelving unit with those drawer fronts. What a fun way to create storage for tiny office supplies such as printer cartridges, staplers, paper clips, note pads and tape. When working with a cabinet shop, tell them up front what you hope to accomplish, and be prepared with a file of ideas when first engaging in conversation about your design goals.

Finally, be committed to the fact that in a small home, you must periodically and consistently organize. Maybe it is simply organized chaos, but if a viewer cannot move past the initial impression of too much clutter, no matter what you do, the space will be unattractive. Reduce and force yourself to look at your area as if it were the first time you are seeing it yourself.

Photo Credit: Boca do Lobo

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego based interior designer and author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at [email protected] To find out more about Christine Brun and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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