The trick to simple home decorating is to create a home that reflects and enhances your life. Unfortunately, clutter often creeps in and weighs our homes down. One couple I know has a nearly full wine rack above the refrigerator in their kitchen. From a decorating standpoint, I object because neither of them likes to drink wine! Another family has a large and very expensive stand mixer on their kitchen counter. I shake my head because I know they don’t bake, except maybe once per year. Another person has several beautiful, dusty, unused candles on a living room table. It bewilders me because I know she doesn’t light them for fear of causing a fire. All three situations are unauthentic decorating choices that clutter instead of beautify their homes. Decorating helps people when it enhances their home life, so consider decorating in ways that are authentic, functional, and simple for you.


Authentic decorating

Your home is your castle. It is not The Jones’ castle. Since this is where you nest, entertain, and hang out, let your home express your personal hobbies, interests, and color preferences. If you don’t like wine, why keep a wine rack with dusty bottles in your kitchen? People who like wine store most of it in a cool, dark place, like a wine cellar or basement. It is okay to decorate to reflect the potential for fun at home, but make sure it is your idea of fun.

Choose art and colors that make you happy instead of matching the current trend. This means the art might reflect your family’s travels, hobbies, or interests. This approach is authentic, frugal and more enduring–your preferences probably don’t change as often as the trends.

Buy art and decorations you like instead of worrying about whether or not they match your window coverings. Remove dusty faded valences and drapes. Make a conscious decision about whether or not you want your window décor and privacy options to block part of the window. Consider blinds or pleated shades if you don’t want to cover up the view. Notice what you like and keep a clipping file for your emerging personal decorating style.


Functional Decorating

Functional decorating means filling your dwelling space with things that work for you, not against you. Why move, clean, and wipe under a heavy stand mixer if you don’t regularly use it? Put kitchen tools you enjoy using frequently on your counter and store the rest elsewhere. Consider combining decorating and functionality. Use decorative baskets or boxes in colors and styles that excite you to store your magazines and hobbies where you can easily reach them. Put decorative mirrors in places you need them, and use them to maximize space and light in small dark places.

Don’t over-decorate in rooms that need regular thorough cleaning, like kitchens or bathrooms. Dried silk flowers and knick-knacks that get dusty and dripped on don’t belong in these spaces.

Remember the universal law of dirt: light items show dark dirt and dark items show light dirt. Most household dirt is light. At our house, we chose light-haired dogs (yellow instead of black labs) to go with our already light-colored carpet.


Simple Decorating

My favorite! People know their authentic personal preferences and they know what items in their lives are functional. Here are a few simple decorating tips, and when in doubt, go back to the first two thoughts–authentic and functional.

Decorate "Big." Use a few large pieces instead of lots of little things that must be moved around frequently to clean and dust. Use one large figurine or bowl to catch the eye instead of many little items that compete for attention.

Decorate vertically instead of horizontally. Put interesting items up on the walls instead of cluttering table and counter surfaces. Try large wall hangings and bright big tablecloths to make a change or reflect the seasons. Remember, if you miss the dusty candles or little stuff, you can set them back out again. This isn’t rocket science! It is just simplified decorating.

Go natural. Natural colors often look better than artificial colors. There is no substitute for using real fruit and flowers to add color to a home if you like them. Fill a pretty bowl in the kitchen with fruit–just make sure it is fruit your family likes to eat!

If you like flowers, buy a couple of potted flowers like azaleas or get a bucket filled with an assortment of bulbs that bloom at different times for the living room or family room. They will last for weeks and are a better value for your dollar than cut flowers. They can brighten your home and your attitude, especially if you are in a hurry for spring.

Enhance your home with scents you like–baked goods or any other cooking you enjoy. Try scented candles or oils, or a simple pot pourri on the stovetop–a pan of water with some cut up fruit such as oranges and apples tossed in with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Be careful. Don’t let it burn dry, wreck a pan, or become a fire hazard!

Show off your family and encourage discussion. Display family and vacation photos in attractive-to-you picture frames. If you are a parent, grandparent, or other recipient of "kid art," show it off in "real" picture frames. This will thrill the young artist, beautify your home, and make a great conversation piece. If, like me, you hate to move a lot of frames to dust tables, hang them on the walls instead.

Change a few simple things every few weeks to keep your interest. It isn’t necessary to go out and buy new stuff all the time. Sometimes shifting around what you already have will sufficiently perk up your rooms. These ideas can help you find a balance between "warmth and character" and "chaos and clutter" that works for you and your family. Most importantly, enjoy! This is your castle!

Lauri Ward, author of "Use What You Have Decorating" (G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York, 1998) and Trade Secrets from Use What You Have Decorating (Putnam Adult, 2002) offers simple decorating solutions that use the stuff we already have! Her many “before” and “after” pictures and her very specific and detailed ideas are very helpful. She has a website at

Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at


Easy activities to simplify home decorating:

1. Browse through the latest favorite catalog at your leisure without dragging your family to the mall.

2. Jot down and tear out ideas you like when you see them in a catalog or magazine.

3. Look at each room of your home. Create a decorating "wish list" for each room. Stick with the list and don’t create clutter by adding extras.

4. Remove clutter and create some empty spaces in your home. Wait to see what you really want to put in these spaces. Maybe you will discover the joy of having more open space!

5. Clean, repair, and appreciate what you already have. Be grateful for what you already have!