Styling, Organizing, and Minimalism

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.

Image by bedrck from Pixabay

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.

organized under bathroom sink
The Seana Method

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.

Image by KIron SajoL from Pixabay

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.

*     *     *

Have you ever considered the difference between styling, organizing, and minimalism? Which is top priority for you?

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22 thoughts on “Styling, Organizing, and Minimalism”

  1. I love these definitions! I have been thinking of these concepts for a while and how these intersect yet are different. Thank you for clarifying.

  2. This is such a great post, Seana. I had never before thought about the similarities between these 3 concepts. I love the idea of styling and organizing when (as you say) the budget and the client’s intentions align with this idea. Most of my clients are quite far from Minimalism. We talk about having what you need and use and that’s about as far as we get. I would love to know more about the group that is meeting monthly to talk about these topics.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…3 Steps To Purge Decorations You No Longer Use For The Holidays (Any Holiday)My Profile

    1. We had a terrific conversation about this topic. Lots of questions and thoughts were shared. 🙂 We meet virtually on the third Tuesday of the month, and the conversation is facilitated by me and two other POs. All are welcome. The Zoom login is always the same, and run from 7-8pm. If you follow the link to the website, you can get the link!

  3. Seana, you’ve done a great job of showing the differences and similarities between styling, organizing, and minimalism – and you didn’t even bring decluttering into the mix! I wonder if some people are confused about the role of a professional organizer, because some organizers focus more on style while others focus more on function. Lots to think about!
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Are you taking full advantage of your form plugin?My Profile

    1. I would guess that all organizers focus FIRST on function. Some have extra talent in the area of styling. Ultimately, I think all POs consider what their client’s priorities are, and then design solutions that meet their needs. Great comment!

    1. I think the three can weave together beautifully. I’m definitely becoming more minimalist as I get older. Function is always first with me, and visual appeal is important, but I can see myself moving more toward freeing myself of things. It’s interesting to watch this evolve in myself, and to talk with others about how they see themselves.

    1. I think it is good to be clear on these three, because sometimes people think they are hiring an organizer when what they want is styling and design (i.e. a space that looks like a photograph). I think clients can have whatever they want, they just need to get the right person for the job!

    1. I think I was less of a minimalist when my children were little because I was the one who always had to have everything on me “just in case.” As I get older, I’m valuing “traveling light” much more! (We’d love to have Cassidy drop in sometime!)

  4. You are doing such a good deed, and explaining the differences among these three concepts. I am all about the functionality of organizing; I told prospective clients that if they are looking for some thing that primarily looks good, rather than some thing that is effective and efficient, then they would be better suited with a designer than my kind of organizing services. I would say I am 95% focused on organizing, 4% focused on minimalism, and 1% leaning toward styling in my own life. As a professional organizer, it’s more like 85% organizing, 10% styling, and 5% minimalism I will always put function before form.
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Organizing A Fresh Start: Catalysts for SuccessMy Profile

    1. I am definitely all about function. Probably more about minimalism than styling, but I do try to make my clients happy. Their priorities are important. But if it is mostly about how things look, I’m probably the wrong wrench too.

  5. I love how you delineated the differences and similarities between styling, organization, and minimalism. It’s so true that you need to understand what’s important to the end user so that you can best match their preferences with those needs. Coming from a design background, when I can integrate form and function, I love to do that. But for some, the form (or styling/design) part is non-essential. Just like for some, color is a great tool for help organize. And for others, color is insignificant, making things like color-coded folders an unnecessary expense. A minimalist environment can be calming or agitating, depending upon your preferences. Love the discussion!

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