Decorating Project: Get Rid of What Doesn't Work

My favorite line in a movie was delivered by actress Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias: "The only difference between us and the animals is our ability to accessorize." Now that's a woman after my own heart!

Accessories are the jewelry of a room. It helps to think about accessories in wardrobe terms: Earrings add sparkle to the head, bracelets draw the eye to the arms, and shiny shoes bring the focus down to the feet. Well-placed jewelry adds interest and luster to an outfit, and the same principle applies to rooms. Brass candlesticks on a mantel, a brass bauble on a coffee table, and a touch of gold leaf on a mirror add eye-catching glitter and together create a well-accessorized space.

It sounds simple, yet after fear of color, our greatest resistance is parting with our stuff. Most people are drowning in clutter, which can create visual confusion, rob a room of its allure, and kill the atmosphere. It’s alarming how we get used to having things crammed everywhere! Clutter is like fast food -- it’s not good for you, but you can’t help yourself. It’s remarkable how we suffocate ourselves with clutter rather than draw comfort and peace from a few terrific accessories.

I know that many people are sentimental about their stuff. That bowl from a grandmother, the beginning of a statue collection that was never completed -- piece by piece these items add up and take over valuable storage and surface space. Streamlining means confronting change, and I realize that this can be difficult. Perhaps there’s a piece on your mantel that has been there for the last decade. You may not even remember exactly what it is, but you’re loath to part with it. You’ve become so used to that bauble taking up that particular space that you can’t fathom getting rid of it.

Don’t be afraid to pare down. If you can’t bear to part with a sentimental but not-so-great accessory, try putting it away in a box in the garage for a month. If you really miss it, then maybe it does belong inside. I’m willing to bet that after clearing out the majority of your clutter, you won’t miss but a few items and your rooms will be better for it.

Now is the time to practice the art of restraint. Let’s go back to your wardrobe. Would you open your jewelry box and put all of your jewels on at one time? Not unless the look you want is a tacky Las Vegas lounge act. You’d probably choose one or two pieces because you know that your jewelry should accent and not overwhelm your outfit.

In the closet, this makes perfect sense. Then why do we completely contradict this principle when it comes to our rooms, where everything we own is everywhere?

Text and images excerpted from the book, Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Design, © 2000 by Discovery Communications, Inc. Used with permission.

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