Minimalism When Your House Isn’t Picture Perfect

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Can you be a Minimalist even if your house isn’t new, white, full of windows, empty or neutral colored? Here’s why I wholeheartedly say YES.

When I first heard the term “minimalist” my eyes were drawn to the gorgeous white, glowing beauty of nearly empty spaces and natural beauty. I desperately longed to have a house that looked just like that: picture perfect.

Only my house didn’t.

minimalism when your house isn't perfect

It still doesn’t.

Some of our walls are white (or maybe it’s some kind of off-white…), but it’s far from new, modular, or empty.

Built in 1920, there’s a lot of dark wood pretty much everywhere. There are also quite a few unique built-in features–also dark wood. (See our house in pictures here).

And I love those charming built-ins. But they aren’t cookie cutter minimalist.

rocking chair and sentimental picture on the wall

We have a good number of windows, but our house seems to have more shadows than the even, bright light of the famous YouTube Minimalists. And I’ve had to adjust my expectations.

The examples we see are staged. They are literally curated to look the best they can be.

While some people’s homes actually do stay like that, their kids do dump toys, dust collects and the floor still needs vacuuming. Their house might look empty, but what’s behind that entire wall of cabinets? Closets? Garage?

sewing table and backdrop

Most modern homes are incredibly large, so they automatically will look empty when you place one couch, one chair and a small table in them. Put that couch, chair, and table in a room in my small, older home and it will look cramped. Does that mean I’m not a minimalist?

Minimalism is Unique to You & Your Life

There is no list that makes you a minimalist or not. It’s a mindset, lifestyle and intentional way of life. It’s not legalistic, despite what some may say.

Some people say your rooms must be empty or you must own less than 300 items. I’m calling it friends–that’s not minimalism–that’s legalism.

I didn’t choose to be a minimalist for a set of rules–I cut down my clutter for freedom.

decluttered dining room table

Certainly, a book or checklist of things to declutter can be helpful as you work towards living with less, but please, do not let that define you.

If you’re a part of Facebook groups on minimalism or watching YouTube videos that make you feel like you’re failing at this because your house doesn’t look like that–stop watching, turn off notifications or just leave.

You get to define what’s important to your family. You get to define what minimalism means for YOU.

And I guarantee that it won’t be exactly the same definition as everyone else!

Why White and Gray Are Not Always Best

Search Google images for “minimalist” and you’ll be scrolling endlessly through those shockingly white spaces with accents in black or gray. It’s incredibly monochromatic. At first glance, many of us find that appealing. But let me ask you a question.

Would you really want to live in that space all day, every day?

What about your family? Your spouse? Your kids?

While appealing to the eye, there’s something incredibly important to consider here.

It’s your heart.

Please hear me. Some people love the colors white, black and gray. They are comforted by them. If that’s you, awesome!

But, there is scientific evidence that for most people, that’s not the case.

I watched Ingrid Fetell Lee’s TED talk on “Where Joy Hides and How to Find It” and was utterly surprised by her research. What she found was simple: if you want to feel joyful, you have to uncover something that sparks it.

Simply put, she discovered that universally, childhood is joy. Color sparks joy. Pattern sparks joy. Confetti and balloons and blossoms. Wavy lines and circular objects, especially when multiplied, create a feeling of abundance and calm.

So what does that mean for a minimalist?

Well, that’s up to you. I’m firmly determined that kids need color in their life. I want my home to be warm and meaningful, not drab and depressing. My walls are still white (mostly because I’m too lazy to paint), but I choose accents with colors–teal, blue, purple.

We need color in our lives. Kids need color. Families need color. It doesn’t have to be the main focal point, but include pops of color and pattern in your life.

Four Empty Walls or A Design You Love

Along the same lines as including color, is the idea that blank, empty walls and floors make you a “true minimalist”. If that really makes you happy, go for it.

But for the rest of us, feel free to put some meaningful photographs and artwork on your walls. Add a rug, put pillows on the couch and a lamp. Certainly, most of us have extra things around us that we can edit out and declutter, but going to the extreme of a bare room is probably too far.

Final Thoughts on the Picture Perfect Minimalist Home

Rather than picture perfect, I’d rather have a home that makes me happy. A place where I feel comfortable and cozy. A clutter-free space that has intentional design and pieces that resonate with my heart. This is about less is more.

If minimalism is a heart issue, then shouldn’t our homes be full of just that–heart? Let your passion and style show. Undoubtedly, the less clutter that surrounds them, the more your true style will shine!

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  1. I love this thought that color and simplicity can coexist. I personally love color – it’s definitely a part of my heart! My husband would totally go for a white and grey house with two pieces of furniture and no Knick knacks. Maybe there’s still hope for a compromise!

    1. I totally agree, Sara! I know some people enjoy the monochrome colors, but I think adding more color really does make an impact on mood!

  2. I love adding color in accent pieces and I do have a few rooms with bold colors on the walls. My husband and I are going to be empty nesters soon and we are are going to sell our house next year. We will be downsizing and definitely simplifying! But, I agree that doesn’t have to mean no color.:)

    1. Absolutely, Tammy! Color is so important! Downsizing is a difficult process, but so worth it. Enjoy the journey!

  3. I completely agree with this, such great insight on minimalism! I’ve been trying to become more minimalist, but still don’t want to have empty walls!

    1. Thank you, Maira! Yes, it’s so important to remember that we don’t have to declutter everything, and we can still keep our style!

  4. Amazing job on the pins. And I loved the tone in your article so much. It really spoke to me. I have been in the situation of feeling overwhelmed or bad when seeing pictures of other people’s home. I made it into a goal to make it look like that. But after reading this I realize I have to follow my heart more than anything. That being said, I do think white walls or home are a good choice, but that’s only because you can then go crazy with the colors everywhere else in the house haha. Great post, really!

    1. Thank you, Delia! I used to watch all the home renovation and design shows and all I wanted was a brand new, stunning home, but I’ve realized that isn’t going to make me happy–a cozy home with my family that meets our needs is where true comfort lies. I agree, I personally like our white walls, but they aren’t empty and there are plenty of color accents everywhere else =D

  5. Love this Laura! I wish I could be a minimalist but I absolutely adore color too much being from the islands so the closest may have to be white walls in certain rooms with bright airy space and not too many things crowding the space ???? this article offered a lot of food for thought where being a minimalist is concerned. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Stacy, I totally feel that! I think it’s important to think of minimalism as a mindset where the important things are valued, and the distractions are intentionally taken away. It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t have color or stuff (goodness knows, I still have a lot of stuff, haha!). Thanks for reading!

  6. My new year goal was to downsize and get rid of things that I haven’t used.

    I completely loved this post, such great and valuable insights on minimalism. Color accents are my anytime favorite!

    I am saving this post for inspiration

    1. Thanks Chhavi! Downsizing is a huge task, but so worth the effort! Even if it’s a little bit at a time, each cleanout makes a difference.

  7. This is such a great post! I love that the pressure is off. I often feel ashamed of my overly-cluttered house and am working toward de-cluttering, but I do not want to be a minimalist. It’s very true that your house should reflect you and what makes you happy.

    1. Melissa, it’s certainly not something that everyone wants (I think it may have to do with personality types as well), but decluttering is universal and we all feel better when there’s a little less stuff around. =) At the same time, I totally agree that if we’re comfortable in our homes, it shouldn’t be a source of shame either!

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