If you want to have fun on a Tuesday evening, you ought to join Minimal Quest. This is an online, free, monthly meet-up of anyone who is interested in learning more about minimalism. It is facilitated by three professional organizers, including me! This week we had our first meeting of the fall, and we had a great conversation about the similarities and differences between styling, organizing, and minimalism. These three concepts overlap, and it was fun to talk about what each of them is and is not.
During our meeting, we shared some images to get us talking. Using these images as a jumping off point, we clarified what each of these disciplines includes. Here’s an overview of each of the three.
If you are active on TikTok or Instagram, you are probably familiar with styling. This is when objects are arranged in a specific way to be visually pleasing. There are countless examples of beautiful closets, appealing pantries, and gorgeous offices all over the internet. Spaces that have been styled often:
- Highly prioritize the way things look (i.e. with attractive containers, precise folding, artistic labels, etc.)
- “Hide” useful items that are not necessarily attractive
- Feature atmospheric lighting
- Utilize beautiful labels
- Accessorize with attractive décor, plants, and accent pieces
Spaces that are styled are very appealing. They invite you in, and make you want to stay.
The top priority of organizing is functionality. Items are grouped and stored in ways that facilitate ease of access and use. Organized spaces ideally allow for safe storage of items that warrant keeping, even if they are rarely used.
Organized spaces tend to feature:
- Prioritization of storage systems based on frequency of use
- Accommodations for belongings that are used, needed, and/or loved
- Containers and structures designed to keep like items together
- Labels that are easy to read
- Hooks on the walls and the backs of doors
- Precise storage locations
- Floor plans that are designed for efficient movement
- Functional lighting
Spaces that are organized make it easy to get things done in a timely and efficient manner.
Minimalism is more of a life approach than a visual or functional design. Minimalists focus on:
- Acquiring and owning only what is necessary
- Removal of low-value belongings and activities
- Focus on experiences over possessions
- Simplicity and predictability
Minimalist spaces tend to emote a sense of calm.
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While each of these three concepts is unique, there is a lot of overlap. For example:
- Color can be used to organize files and clothing. (Styling + Organizing)
- Decluttering and simplifying make a space easier to both style and organize. (Minimalism + Styling + Organizing)
- Beautiful containers can keep items organized. (Styling + Organizing)
Alternatively, it is possible for someone to be very strong in one of these areas and care little about the others. For instance:
- A collector may have a warehouse of pieces, stored in labeled boxes that reach from floor to ceiling. (Organized, but not minimalist)
- A room might feature layers of décor, artwork, and throw pillows, but the closets and drawers are stuffed with mismatched belongings. (Styled, but not minimalist or organized)
- An office may have nothing but a desk, a computer, and three monitors sitting on a desk in front of a chair, but cords and cables stretch across the room. (Minimalist, but not styled. The level of organization cannot be determined without examining the contents of the screens.)
The key here is to not add a value judgment to any of the three options. Each has its own strengths and benefits. Rather, it is helpful for each individual to consider what is most important, and then to mindfully design a space (and calendar) that reflects these priorities. A single female may highly value styling her apartment with the latest trends, while a busy stay-at-home parent may be more focused on having a space that is washable and childproof. One family may choose to keep their schedule clear to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities, while another requires a system for keeping track of their children’s many sports and activities.
To reiterate, these disciplines are not mutually exclusive. There is a common element of predictability and peace to all three. In fact, embracing one may make implementing the others easier. As an organizer, I know it is always easier to organize less than more, and that it is fun to style a space with beautiful containers if the budget allows.
One question may be what to do when one family member has a different proclivity from another, or perhaps does not care about any of them. This is a separate question, and ultimately comes down to communication, negotiation, and delineation of spheres of influence. Age and life stage also play roles (e.g., children can be instructed in how things should be kept, while live-in parents most likely cannot).
Might your priorities change over time? Absolutely. Tastes, circumstances, experiences, and relationships can all impact what matters most. It is important to live in the “now.” Everyone deserves to have at least some influence over their environment and will be more content when it aligns with their values.
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Have you ever considered the difference between styling, organizing, and minimalism? Which is top priority for you?