Design Lessons from Classic Russian Authors + Library Inspiration

I’m filing this under posts inspired by clutter currently in my little library as I shuffle things around while painting, trimming, and building in shelves. I can’t wait to show you the finished project! But in the meantime, I’m thinking about all the things I love and hate about decorating, clutter, and…well…stuff.

Even though it’s still August, I’m seeing a lot of the design and decor blogs and sites I follow roll out their ideas for beautiful fall mantels and pumpkin console table displays, entryway decor and door swags. They look so beautifully layered and cozy that I’m ready to start digging in the closet for my sweaters and scarves and grabbing some pumpkins from the dollar store to paint for the foyer or the front steps. But then I remember it’s August and still 82 degrees outside.

And then I look at the things on display and realize just how many of them will either go into the trash after they’ve run their course or have to be packed away in storage containers to sit in a closet for months until it’s time to trot them back out again. That puts the brakes on any shopping faster than the 82 degree heat. Because…I hate stuff.

See also this little post on “saying no to sales” because I do not need more stuff.

I feel like I am constantly at war with stuff. Stuff happens, even when you’re really trying to be careful about not bringing junk into your home, about not going crazy at the Target sale, about picking out meaningful pieces, and reminding yourself that blank walls and cleared, clean spaces can tell a story just as well, if not better, than staged and arranged spaces.

Stuff makes me sigh, because I look at it and think of the money it used to be, money that could go into building that closet organizer we need or saving up for new floor or getting away for the weekend to the vineyard bed and breakfast I am dreaming about visiting. And I think about it not really doing much for me besides collecting dust that I will need to clean before it goes back into storage. And I think about the space it takes up in storage.

You get the idea. I hate stuff.

But while I spend a lot of my designing time trying to improve the flow and function and efficiency of rooms, I also spend a lot of time figuring out how to tastefully store and display…stuff.

Why do we collect so much stuff?

Image via Freshome

George Carlin did a great bit on stuff, why we have it, why we cart it around with us, and the frustration. It strums that wanderlust chord in my heart when he says that if we didn’t have stuff, we wouldn’t need houses. And I laugh when he says houses are just stuff with a cover on it.

But he also touches on the sense of comfort it creates. Why do other people’s homes not feel like home to you? Because there’s no place for your stuff. Whether we have a little or a lot of stuff, we keep the things that make us feel comfortable and at home. Maybe you need a lot. Maybe you just need a little. Maybe, like in my case, your “stuff” is a familiar paint color and your favorite books on a bookshelf and a fuzzy blanket to curl up in.

Choosing what to keep and what to purge is always tricky, especially when it comes to decorating. In my case, I use a variation of the Chekhov’s gun rule of writing.

Writer and playwright Anton Chekhov stated emphatically in letters to his colleagues that every element in a story must be necessary to the telling of a story, with his famous example: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” This isn’t just a very important in writing stories or arguments, it’s an important part of setting the scene you want to set in a room.

Image via DK Decor

So thinking about the room you’re in, aside from improving the function, what is the story you want to tell? What are the necessary pieces of that story? You just might need some stuff to tell that story, to make the room feel cozy, to make it feel like home. And if you just keep it to the necessary elements of the story, the things with purpose, you can have a room that feels cozy and avoid clutter.

When I started learning about design and architecture, I thought I’d be learning about Zaha Hadid and Richard Meier, not learning from Anton Chekhov and George Carlin. But there you go. You never know what you can learn when you park yourself in the middle of a wonderful library.

How about you guys? Are you all about decorating – or leaning more minimalist?


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  • Laura

    My rule of thumb now for whether to keep something or let it go is, “would I pay to move this to (pick somewhere far away, or overseas).” When the navy was covering our moves, we kept everything, but these days we think very carefully about the expense to move or keep an item, and it has made it much, much easier to get rid of stuff. Sometimes one month we’ll feel like we could never let something go, but a couple of months later we realize we can, that it doesn’t get used or we don’t need it to remind us of memory or it was never practical to begin with. Downsizing is a long process, but one that gets easier as time goes on and you find yourself living and doing with less.

    • That is such a good rule! We had to think about that, and think about storing things when we lived in Hawaii. If the cost of storing it was more than buying new and if it wasn’t sentimental enough that we were willing to make room for it in the house – GONE! In the end, unless it has deep personal meaning, it’s just stuff – it can go!