A Century-Old Mantra for De-Cluttering Your Home

living room with picture frame molding wall and ceiling beam and a picture of kerry after renovation

After posting last week’s look at interior design in NYC and scouting the photos our 50,000+ @SWEETEN_HOME Instagram followers love most, I have been thinking about the relationship between beauty and function in a home. Hat tip to Design Sponge for reminding me of this quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you don’t know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

~ William Morris, writer, artist, designer (1834-1896)

First thought: YES! So true! And such a smart antidote to our collective tendency for accumulating stuff. Second thought: perhaps if Mr. Morris had lived in 21st century New York City, he might have amended his statement to require that things be both useful and beautiful, and not one or the other. When you only have a few hundred square feet to yourself, you start to realize that beautiful things should be functional, and functional things should be beautiful. Whether you’re contemplating a renovation, enjoying a recently completed project, prepping your home to put it on the market, or just looking to make the most of what you have, may I humbly suggest a few ways to edit, de-clutter, and organize to get you out of your home and into the world this summer! With William Morris’s sage words in mind, here are three tips to get you started.

1. Take a look in each room of your home and separate clutter into two categories: things you can display and things you need to stow away.

Lots and lots of everyday household items are really lovely. You don’t need to buy pricey accessories to make your home welcoming and useful. Open up your cabinets and grab things that don’t need to be hidden away – glassware, tea canisters, books, jewelry, plants – you are probably using storage space for things that would add visual interest and detail to a room if you took a few minutes to arrange them. To be clear: my coffee table is hardly a model for a design vignette, but after rooting around for some items that were stowed out of reach, re-purposing a glass container from a neighborhood juice spot, stacking odd books I’ve collected along the way (a French comic book, an anthology of fairy tales, a design book that was a housewarming gift from an old friend), finding a succulent that needs zero care, and moving a serving tray out of a cupboard, I have a passable little gathering spot made entirely of things I already had.

Renovate to live, Sweeten to thrive!

Sweeten brings homeowners an exceptional renovation experience by personally matching trusted general contractors to your project, while offering expert guidance and support—at no cost to you.

Start your renovation


In the kitchen, I keep reasonably beautiful and functional items on the counter so that they are within reach, and so that they aren’t taking up storage space. Pastas are in glass jars on the counter along with olive oil, tea – all things I use daily (or, you know, when I cook on a quarterly basis) and don’t mind looking at frequently.

Now the reverse is perhaps a bit more challenging: are there items laying around that just don’t work as carefree design accessories? If those items are neither functional nor beautiful, consider getting rid of them. If those items are functional but not beautiful, find them a new home that is out of sight. Your dining table, kitchen counter, and floors are not options, so don’t even think about it! If you must, proceed to tip #2.

2. If your home’s existing storage options are bursting, invest in storage that is worth displaying. 


Some of my tea (enough with the tea? sorry!) comes in decorative canisters; some of it comes in messy boxes. I found these delightful white ceramic storage containers to store the non-glamorous tea and other cooking needs. They are stylish and functional and under $30. Below the coffee table, I stow….wait…I can’t remember what I keep in those boxes because I never open them. Nevertheless! I have easy access to things I might be keeping in those simple Muji boxes, without having to see those items daily. I also found these Ankasa trunks that double as a side table and as a guest-bedroom (extra bedding and towels in there). If you are looking to replace furniture or re-work the lay-out of your home, hiring an interior designer will help ensure that you find pieces and accents that are both functional and beautiful. Which leads me to the third and most extreme de-cluttering tip…

3. Find double-duty furniture and build custom storage.

If you are contemplating using the oven for storage (it is SO spacious in there!), please pause. There are a handful of furniture options that take our William Morris mantra to new heights and there are ways to maximize your home’s square footage with custom storage. Benches that double as trunks, trunks that double as coffee tables, media consoles that double as benches and trunks…behold: I found this Jonathan Adler gossip bench which expands seating in my eight foot living room and simultaneously conceals winter wardrobe options. Also, I have a vacuum stored underneath, because that seemed to be the best alternative to hiding it behind my living room curtains.


The goal here is not to have a home that looks like it found its way out of a magazine cover, the goal is to spend less time managing the things you have so that you can spend more time doing the things you love.


Sweeten experts spend all day, every day, creating smart and beautiful spaces that are unique to each homeowner. For inspiration from fellow New Yorkers who went all in with gorgeous and super-functional custom storage solutions, take a look at this simple Sweeten shelving solution in the West Village, our pricing guide to custom built-ins, and this swoon-worthy project by Sweeten Expert Daniel:



You may also like

Renovate with Sweeten!


We’ll match you with vetted general contractors and offer support until your project is done — at no cost to you!

Start your renovation

Customer review 5.0


“I liked using Sweeten! It gave me a great place to start, since I had no idea how to begin my renovation projects. I will be using them again.”

— Mary C. from Philadelphia, PA

Read more reviews —>
Start your renovation

Subscribe to our
renovation newsletter