Experts tips for lightening up and decluttering

Home Improvement

Christina Poletto -- Globe Correspondent

August 15, 2018 1:14 pm
It wasn’t so long ago that the lion’s share of serviceable — and ridiculously simple — advice for cleaning and organizing the American home could be found in the glossy pages of magazines like Good Housekeeping and Family Circle. Fast forward through the advent of the Internet and the launch of infinite organizing blogs, and curious consumers were, and still are, rewarded with helpful hints on how to clean, store, or DIY just about anything.

But for some, having a lovely and livable home is much more than grabbing a scrub brush and vacuum and dedicating your Saturday morning to chores. For many, achieving the perfect home environment is a full-fledged lifestyle. In fact, nowadays, it seems like the methods we are supposed to employ to keep our homes tidy and tolerable are more often than not tied to a trend that isn’t always easy to practice, much less pronounce.

It’s possible that we can thank Marie Kondo for this interesting disruption. Four years ago, Kondo tidied her way into the public eye with the KonMari Method, her joy-based philosophy that put the spotlight on organizing clutter with mindfulness, and subsequently shook up the contents of millions of closets, drawers, and bookshelves around the world. If something didn’t spark joy, Kondo’s advice, as outlined in her best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,’’ is to thank the item for its service and get rid of it. The end goal is to surround yourself only with things that you truly cherish.

Other trends have since appeared on the scene, including Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh’’), which places high value on invitingly warm, cozy environments and good interior acoustics. There’s also the fascinating-yet-severe method called Döstädning, which is Swedish death cleaning, or the act of meticulously organizing your belongings before you die so that others won’t have to be burdened with your clutter.

Perhaps the trend we should all strive for is Lagom (pronounced “lah-gom’’), a linchpin in Sweden’s way of life. According to Linnea Dunne, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living,’’ “Lagom has no equivalent in the English language but is loosely translated as ‘not too little, not too much, just right,’ ’’ which the author equates to such things as the right amount of milk in your coffee or the perfect pressure of a massage.

While it’s truly intended to be embraced as a lifestyle, Dunne’s book delves into slightly effortless ways to bring Lagom into your home: “Swedish design is known for minimalism and clean lines, and storage and decluttering are crucial components of that sleek look. Open spaces provide a sense of space, not just in the literal sense, but for your mind, too.’’

How so? “From wall-to-wall bookshelves to clever understair storage units, Swedes really know how to declutter the Lagom way. This means providing perfect displays for plants, flea market finds, and favorite books while keeping tables and other surfaces clean, simultaneously making sure you stow away tables, keys, and other items that are easily left lying around to cancel out your best minimalist efforts,’’ Dunne shared in her book.

The majority of Americans are anything but minimalist. So how do we create living spaces that feel like they’re not too little, not too much, but just right? To find out, we asked a handful of US-based design and organizing experts:

Switch it up, don’t add

“No amount of white paint is going to make a dark room feel light or make a small room feel large. . . . Freshness can be added to a dark or small room with accents of saturated color layered on tone-on-tone neutrals, mixed metallics, and interesting styled vignettes. Yellow, especially, when used in small doses, can really seem to brighten even a dark space.’’ — Kelly Rogers of Kelly Rogers Interiors. Find her on Instagram @kellymrogers.

“Living in New England, we have the gift of four seasons. I always keep two or three sets of curtains that I change out seasonally. For winter, I have a set of deep gray velvet drapery. In the summer, light crisp linen. In the fall, I get excited to put up my gray-and-white plaid prints! It completely changes the look, the feel, and the weight of the room.’’ — Taniya Nayak of Taniya Nayak Design. Find her on Instagram @taniyanayak.

“I am a big fan of using what you have around the home to change up the energy, and for inspiration, I usually start at the back of my cabinets. Usually there are glasses, vases, or bowls that spark a memory of the person who gave them to me or remind me of a fantastic home-cooked feast with friends and family.’’ — Chadwick Boyd, food and lifestyle expert, “Reel Food’’ TV host. Find him on Instagram @chadwickboyd.

Keep it simple

“Store sheet sets inside the pillow case.’’ — Karen Spiridakis of One Small Home organizing service. Find her on Instagram @onesmallhome.

“It’s easy for kitchen cabinets to become stuffed full and cluttered with ingredients and spices that we may use only once or twice a year. Have your five most used spices at the front of the cabinet. Then, store all the infrequently used spices at the back of the cabinet. This way, they are out of sight and the way, but still accessible when you need them.’’ — Will Taylor, author of the “Bright Bazaar” blog. Find him on Instagram @brightbazaar.

Bring in an expert

“We often tell clients that investing in custom closets is worthwhile, because it creates a space designed around the way you live. It’s a great kicking-off point, since you’ll likely need to go through your things and edit as the closet is being built, and then the space is customized to how you like to stay organized, not someone else’s system.’’ — Erin Gates of Erin Gates Design. Find her on Instagram @elementstyle.

“My clients, most of whom are families with children living at home, are seeking practical solutions with great style. We deliver this by developing spatial plans and decorative schemes in tandem — both are equally important, each depends upon the other to be successful, and working them together maximizes creativity and ensures each imperative receives equal priority.’’ — Rogers

Pick a time that works for you

“Truly, doing a total declutter every six months will make every home — big or small — feel lighter and fresher.’’ — Ann Lightfoot, founding partner of Done & Done Home. Find them on Instagram @doneanddonehome.

“Do a little at a time. Just as you make time to shower and brush your teeth, make the time to tidy up and clean one small space a day. It keeps your home clean and manageable.’’ — Spiridakis

Embrace space

“Don’t be afraid to leave a blank space or void in your rooms. Not every inch of floor space . . . needs to be covered with furniture, nor every wall plastered with artwork. Negative space is important in interior design.’’ — Rogers

“You can always sneak in some extra storage by pulling the sofa away from the wall or angling it. Add a beautiful woven basket or storage trunk behind it and store your winter blankets in there. It’s an especially great spot for the kids’ toys when your guests drop by unannounced!’’ — Nayak

Adopt a mantra

“Ask your friends and family to respect our personal gift-giving mantra, which is ‘Burn It, Eat It, Spend It, Drink It, or just Do It.’ That means gifts of food, wine, candles, gift cards, or tickets to a show are great!’’ — Lightfoot

“If you absolutely love it, you’ll find a space for it.’’ — Gates

“Does it make you smile? If not, it’s out!’’ — Taylor

Christina Poletto lives just outside New York City, where she writes about unusual old homes and interior design trends. Follow her on Instagram @dovetailordesignstudio. Send comments to Subscribe to our newsletter at