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Welcome Visitors to a De-Cluttered, Familiar Home

Design can help us feel comfortable, very comfortable, in a space.

Before any holiday when guest may pop by to visit, we pick up and spruce up.

Picking up is always a good idea. It’s important for our self-esteem that our home is a pleasantly clean and orderly environment—and to some extent pleasantness and orderliness are definitely in the eye of the owner/beholder.

Getting rid of those piles and piles of magazines on the coffee table and tucking all but a few of those school art projects away in memory boxes, etc., brings the visual complexity in our home down to comfortable levels. Too much visual complexity—the technical term for clutter—stresses us out because of the ways we use our visual system to scan the world around us. A moderate level of visual complexity is desirable.

What’s a moderate level of visual complexity? The interiors of homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright are moderately complex visually—keep them in mind when you’re pruning “extra things” from tabletops, shelves, walls, and wherever else they might be lurking in your home.

Cabinets doors and drawer fronts that block the view of the contents of the cabinets and drawers behind them help to keep clutter levels down. So do solid sided baskets with tops and storage cubes with lids. To conquer clutter, we need to keep the majority of the objects we choose to keep out of sight.

Sprucing up is where lots of people get really carried away. They decide to change everything. Immediately. The drive for change can lead to a lot of hassled planning, which rarely ends well. There are other reasons why making lots of changes in a space stresses us out, however. And who needs more stress before the in-laws and in-siblings and nieces and nephews arrive?

Environmental psychologists have found that we favor the familiar in the physical worlds that surround us and prefer gradual evolutions of our physical worlds to dramatic ones—even though that’s not what you see on TV design shows.

Being around and experiencing familiar things generally makes us comfortable and boosts our mood. We prefer to look at art we find familiar, for example. Familiar doesn’t mean exactly the same, however. It means that most of the elements in a painting, for instance, are predictable, but not all of them. If paintings of the British countryside are your thing, add new art that features rolling hills, etc., but do feel free to purchase that piece with green rolling hills and a few purple cows.

Adapt the form of your living room gradually—first change the color on the walls, then the rugs, then the curtains, for example. Slowly changing a space—not shocking it into a different form—keeps us from getting bored and helps us feel calm and secure in our home. And when hosts are comfortable and relaxed, it’s more likely guests will be also.

Physical things that are familiar can bring to mind all sorts of positive memories. But object-associated memories can, on occasion, be a reason to make a few changes. If something really negative happened somewhere—you learned of an unexpected death while sitting in your breakfast nook—some changes in the décor of that space may be in order – for example, reupholstering that nook’s seats.

Let your home evolve gradually and keep it from becoming cluttered. If you do, both you and your guests will enjoy the time you spend in it.