The 10 commandments of minimalism

Often considered a simplistic or even austere design trend, the truth is that minimalism can create much-needed space in both your home and your life, allowing you to curate your belongings and the space you live in in a more intentional way, says Claudia Askew

‘We go on multiplying our conveniences only to multiply our cares. We increase our possessions only to the enlargement of our anxieties,’ wrote philosopher and feminist Anna C. Brackett in the 1800s.

She was right then, and she is right now.

Our consumer culture, coupled with an increase in unhappiness, isolation and expectation, has seen us purchasing more than ever before. Even before the era of Covid – and certainly after – we have filled our homes with ‘stuff’ to overcome some of the challenges in our lives, to create a sanctuary, a hideout from the world. We buy things to look good, to impress other people, because we think we have to. But this consumer culture really just ends up suffocating us and filling our lives with more and more pressure.

More is more is celebrated as a warm-hearted embrace of all the beauty in the world, while minimalism is considered dour and repressed, lacking in joy. But in actual fact, it’s really the other way around.

In a minimalist home, there is space to grow. And there is also time. Time to sit, time to be present. One of the symptoms of our excessive consumerism is the time it takes to care for everything that we have. ‘All these things eventually turn on us; we become slaves to our belongings, forced to spend time and energy caring for them,’ explains Fumio Sasaki in Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism.

For minimalists, every single item is there because of a conscious, heartfelt choice. Minimalists have connected with who they are, what they love, and – most importantly – what they need. Not what they think they need. ‘A minimalist is a person who knows what is truly essential for him or herself,’ adds Sasaki.

The truth is, the less we possess, the more we have – be it time, space, money or flexibility.

Adopting minimalism into your home won’t be an overnight process. It takes time and intention, but it can be a beautiful way to reconnect with what matters to you, and to create a space that truly speaks to who you are.

Neutral base

The first place to start with any minimal approach is to pare back your palette and start with a neutral tone. This doesn’t, however, mean that you have to pick plain white. Any neutral tone of grey, brown, yellow or even blue, pink or green can be the base from which you start. Check out Portland Stone, French Grey or Silent White from Little Green Paint Company; while Ammonite, Salt or Skimming Stone from Farrow Ball also offer a unique neutral base.

Accented Colours

Luckily minimalism doesn’t mean you have to use only neutral colours. There is plenty of scope for bold tones and signature shades – it’s just about being intentional and mindful with it. Decide on one or two colours to accent a room and use cushions, throws, accessories, pictures or one piece of furniture to carry this through. And don’t forget about metallics – use golden-streaked decor on shelves or metallic hanging lamps to add another element. You can do the same with patterns and prints.

Textures

This is another really important way to not only open up the palette, but also to connect with the natural, earthy quality that you often find in minimalism. Leather, velvet, wood, metal, stone, wool and silk all offer a richness that will give a space depth and character. Remember only to pick textures that you like, shapes that intrigue or inspire, colours or tones that make you feel good. The joy of minimalism is that you absolutely adore everything you have in your home.

Natural Light

We know how good natural light is for our wellbeing – but it’s also a key tenet of minimalism, which favours bare windows and the shifting changing light throughout the day. Many Nordic countries don’t have blinds or curtains, preferring to make the most of the limited daylight in winter months. But it also helps to focus the eye on clean lines of window frames, and allows your windows to function as virtual pieces of art. If you’ve got to have blinds, be mindful of accent colours and try to make a feature of them.

Clutter-Free

This is a big part of minimalism and something that is often a work in progress, but continue to make efforts to reduce your clutter. Start out by following William Morris’ advice: ‘Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ Keep cycling through the process every year. Secondly, work on storage, clutter-free means things put away; everything has its place. If something doesn’t have anywhere to live, do you need it? Finally, to avoid the issue of clutter, introduce a ‘one in, one out’ policy for anything that you’re starting to collect or buy too much of. ‘Your home is living space, not storage space,’ author Francine Jay reminds us.

Go Green

Less is always more, except when it comes to indoor plants – which are a must in any minimalist home. Aside from looking great, they have a double function in breathing life into what could otherwise be an austere palette or space. Go for a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Nicolai), its symmetry is so beguiling, or the much beloved Swiss cheese plant (Monstera), which is large enough to make a real statement. For kitchens and bathrooms, you can’t beat a String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii) whose tumbling stems are both whimsical and striking.

Clean lines

It almost goes without saying that clean, elegant lines are a key tenet of minimalism – but it can often be harder to do than you think. When buying pieces or designing a space, focus on clearly defined lines and/or bold, swooping curves, but stay away from ornate detailing and too much unnecessary colour. You want a room to feel peaceful, settled, not shouting for attention but rather strikingly pared back.

Empty Spaces

To a minimalist, empty space can be the greatest of luxuries (Michael Corthell). Perhaps one of the most important elements of minimalism: don’t be afraid of empty space, as it creates a sense of calm and also draws to the eye to hero pieces of art or statement furniture. The same goes for white spaces on walls – not every wall needs a picture. Be mindful about where you place things and remember to enjoy the simple pleasures of a smooth-lined, neutral wall, meeting the earthy floor, flanked only by a well-chosen armchair or a beautiful side table. There is a simple pleasure in this.

Functional Furniture

This is an excellent way to minimise the amount of space your furniture is taking up, and help with reinforcing that idea of clean lines. Coffee tables that double as blanket storage; shelves that have a fold-away desk; beds with drawers or side tables in the frame, and so on. And remember that functional doesn’t have to mean ugly. The likes of Ikea, Scandiborn, Habitat and other high-end or design-savvy brands have pioneered the way functional furniture looks, allowing for style as well as practicality. As Fumio Sasaki, author of Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism notes: The qualities I look for in the things I buy are (1) the item has a minimalist type of shape, and is easy to clean; (2) its colour isn’t too loud; (3) I’ll be able to use it for a long time; (4) it has a simple structure; (5) it’s lightweight and compact; and (6) it has multiple uses.

Large Artwork

The absolute epitome of less is more – focus on one picture, not ten. Gallery walls are very ‘on trend’ at the moment, but in a minimalist space you want to love every single piece of art or picture on your walls, and never let them compete with other pieces. Use floating frames to draw attention to a smaller piece of art, and create a striking piece that takes up half a wall. They also help maximize display space and let photos take centre stage