The Undecorated House

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

My house is not decorated and it never will be.

No one has ever come to my house and said, “It’s beautiful” or “I love what you did with it.” Guests have never focused on a feature or a colour, and I’ve never developed a style like “French Country” or “Mid Century Modern.” I have read decor magazines for years and I could probably name every home trend for the past three decades. I’ve just never adopted any of them. I bet you’re thinking that my house is actually decorated, but it is just an eclectic, personal blend of styles. Nope! It just isn’t.

How did this happen? How could I have lived on my own for over 25 years and not developed a look for my home?

When I left my parents’ home I drove 2700 miles in a panel van to bring some hand-me-down furniture to my 500 sq ft apartment. I bought some furniture and window coverings from the previous tenant. When I could afford it, I bought stuff from IKEA. But I was more concerned with creature comforts – a bed and a TV! I wasn’t able to afford anything new for my next two apartments – it was all I could do to afford a work wardrobe and the occasional trip across the country, back home. I spent any extra money on things to do, like craft supplies, or renting movies.

My first house was a like-new suburban split level with off-white walls and beige carpet. The existing appliances were perfectly OK. My white IKEA flat-pack furniture looked fine so it stayed. With the addition of a sofa, chair, and coffee table, I had everything I needed! I admit I did aspire to creating a “southwest” look back then, but since I didn’t buy anything, the style didn’t evolve. Money was spent on cars and a barbecue, and a couple of pesky weddings 🙂

As decorated as we got!

As decorated as we got!

Baby Link actually got a fully decorated room, in primary colours. I loved it. I didn’t know the gender of my baby (still don’t, LOL!) and I got some flack for not changing it over to pink when Link was born. I claim victory on that one!

My next house needed neutralizing. It had garish wallpaper and carpet. Much energy was spent on getting it back to a blank box state, like the previous house. It ended up being sold within a year.

Stairway niche that begged to be decorated

Stairway niche that begged to be decorated

House 3 was a large colonial style. I didn’t have enough furniture to fill it, and left a couple of rooms empty. It was a very attractive house, which demanded decorating. But I always felt like I was clattering around in that big house. So that Link and I weren’t isolated from each other, we ate in the eat-in kitchen and turned the adjoining, seldom-used dining room into a work space/office. Half of the nearby living room became a play space. There were so many bathrooms that Link had their own, and I bought some kid-friendly pieces for it, like a “fish themed” shower curtain. I had an A-Ha moment in that house. It had a lovely curved wooden staircase. Halfway up was a nook that was crying out for a sculpture about three feet tall. Maybe a vase with curly twigs in it? I shook my head and decided that no, I was not going to spend money on a decorative object that was bought only to fill the space. Instead Link got a trike and a sandbox. Score!

House 4 was a special favourite of mine because I was able to afford it on my salary alone, and it helped me feel independent. It was comfortably scaled at 1200 sq ft. I successfully ignored the inoffensive wallpaper. It had vintage wood floors. In keeping with the cozy look, I invested in a farm house wood table and chairs. It was a sturdy, homely “eat meals and do your homework” table which I still use today.

All of our stuff accompanied us back to Canada where we rented a similar house for two years.

Now here I am in House #6 and it has been 10 years! Is it my forever home? I’ll be honest. I don’t believe in such things. Jobs come and go, you need to be near your parents or your kids, or you need to change schools, or you get a dog and a yard, or your property is suddenly on a flight path…you move when you need to move.

That being said, 10 years feels pretty permanent to me! I expect to be here another 10-20, so I am not afraid to put down roots. But I haven’t decorated the house. It’s not because I’m afraid I’ll have to move. I’ve just become accustomed to making do with what I have. The rooms of my house are not aggressively bad looking. They are just serviceable.

Current living room, hosted by Gigi

Current living room, hosted by Gigi

When I moved in, the house was 7 years old and still had its original thin coat of builder’s paint. It is now crying out for a proper paint job and I look forward to doing that. In off-white, of course! I do have one feature wall. I painted the living room end wall in in a colour called Pyramid which is a gold/ochre/tan. Link’s old room is a rather gloomy teenage cave that needs to be put right. I had all the flooring in the house replaced, from cat-unfriendly carpet to easy-clean laminate. I was mortified when I moved in and my 1990-era sofa and chair would not fit through the door and around the corner where they needed to go! So they were replaced by another pair. Otherwise, everything I own was collected over 25 years and moved 9 or 10 times.

Since Rom moved in, we have covered a wall with custom-built bookshelves, and bought 5 more book shelves for his complete library! Otherwise, we have spent our money on everything else but decorating: a power washer and a lawn mower, guitars, cameras, computers, concerts and plays and vacations.

My kitchen, pink counters and all. As you can see, it is dedicated to making coffee!

My kitchen, pink counters and all. As you can see, it is dedicated to making coffee!

Meanwhile, the house is remarkably functional and is packed with useful things. It is mildly cluttered, deeply organized and relatively clean. We have space for cooking and eating, reading and music, exercise, and sleep. We have to scramble to make room for entertaining or to have overnight guests. That could use some work.

I suppose the only truly undecorated homes have no personal touches whatsoever. I have some pictures on the walls, a few family photos, and plenty of collectibles (robot toys, candy tins, books, CDs, DVDs). But the overall look is simply “lots of storage.”

I have a few rules for my space. They are mostly adapted from my favourite household guru, Peter Walsh:

  • Display things you care about instead of packing them away
  • Keep surfaces (such as table tops) clear so you can – ahem! – use them (i.e., for eating off of)
  • Give stuff a home and let it live there
  • Finish jobs – put the laundry away, put the dishes away
  • Make the bed, pick up towels and socks, shred junk mail…it reduces psychic angst!
  • Give things away if you know others will use it far more than you will. Guilt helps!
  • Never pile so much stuff on the floor that you can’t bear the thought of washing, sweeping or vacuuming it
  • File things if it would cause distress to lose them (passport, unpaid bills, unused tickets)
  • If your head says, “I might use this someday” and your heart says, “Not really” – listen!
  • If you need to buy something, does it have to match anything? Would avoiding a nasty mismatch be good enough?

All that being said, I like nice things. My house is not dramatically random and ugly. It’s just sort of “there” doing its job, and I am happy with that. Yay shelter!

Inspired by this remarkable post

You can see more of my house here:

Massive Uncluttering Project



  1. EcoCatLady

    I am so totally with you on this one. I figure if it’s functional and not horribly ugly, it’s fine. There are just so many other things to which I’d rather dedicate my time, energy & money!

  2. When you said ‘undecorated’, I was imagining bare plaster walls!

    I like the idea of having a beautifully coordinated house where everything goes together…but then I realise that it involves too much money and effort, and is wasteful!

    Having said that, I’m going to redecorate our house after four and a bit years…by which I mean replacing the wall paper that the cats have ripped, and repainting everything as it’s starting to look grubby. It’s all going to be the same shade of off white with white ceiling etc. I’m not bothering to replace stuff like curtains (which were here when we moved in) because they are fine (and not visually offensive, thanks to the good taste of the previous owners of the house!)
    Our furniture is a mixture- mostly given to us by friends and family, with the sofa and wardrobe coming from charity/ second hand shops.

    Oh, I am also going to replace the handles on the fitted furniture in the spare bedroom as several of them are broken (and ugly!)

    I may also declutter a bit more to make moving stuff to decorate easier 😀

    • I would put replacing torn wallpaper and basic painting down as “home maintenance” rather than decorating. If you were selecting wallpapers or putting in a colour scheme, that would be decorating! I am not at all opposed to home decorating if it isn’t wasteful – I just don’t choose to do it myself!

      • I’m taking the opportunity of needing to paint and re wallpaper to choose things to my taste rather than the taste of previous occupants…but I’m never going to be one of those people who changes the decor every year or two just because…waaaay too much effort! (I assume these people exist, as I am not sure that I actually know any!)

      • I have known people like that in the past, but not since the recession! It seems like the tide has turned on wasteful spending. I agree; whenever I have to replace something, it does give an opportunity to choose the “look.”

  3. Just like my first time I moved out, when I move out my studio flat is going to be new bones and functional, just the essential creature comforts 😉

  4. I think your authentic, you have what you love, rather than buying into a trend or style. I rebel against a set style or aesthetic, but as you well know, still have established my own preferred items of decorative value – the art and the cushions, things like that, I like them to all go well together. When I say I rebel, I refuse to buy a non functional decorative item, like a vase that couldn’t hold a bunch of flowers (solely for it’s colour or form). That being said, I have a collection of three blue glass bottles – all were previously holding alcohol, and now hold water to refill the iron!!

    I’m with you though – if you don’t display it, and it just languishes in a cupboard, it’s hard to justify why you have it! So if I have art, it must be hung/displayed, not ‘awaiting framing’…

    • I love art and design but I haven’t put a priority on purchasing it. I do have pictures and home made items and “ornaments” around the house which have sentimental value. I’m not immune to design; for example, if I needed a cushion I would think about the colour and fabric, but I don’t have a master plan it would fit into.

  5. Great post and fabulous link, I am so with you. My home is a mismatch of predominantly 2nd hand worn items, replaced on a need to basis. But my home is filled with love and comfort, the boys get what they need not want and are thankful for the occasional extras.xx

  6. In our house, almost every peice of furniture gets moved a few times a year. Bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms get swapped. Our friends are antiques dealers, and there are always items being traded.
    Which is fine until you trip over furniture in the dark.
    There are a million ways to make a home.

  7. krisalex333

    If a home has books, it has style! 😉

  8. Your kitchen is huge, I love it! Our house is the same, it needs several layers of paint but it is so comfy and I love it.

  9. I love your rules at the end. We have a problem with empty flat tops – counters, tables, etc. Right now, my dining room table is covered with Halloween stuff, which is over a month away.

  10. Fiona

    I love your rules and that wonderful link. It’s interesting to read the sequence of homes you’ve lived in and furniture changes – that was a lot of moves for a while there! Our house is the same era as yours and we have no plans at all to ‘update’ when everything is perfectly functional. The garden is a different matter, though. I am still taken by all those English window boxes! I do definitely see window boxes in my future, lol!

    • Oh, that’s funny. I have window boxes but they are so high from the ground (see house photo) that they are extremely difficult to fill. And going around trying to water them is too hard, too, even with an extension wand. I tried to plant them with a perennial, but under the eaves, they didn’t get enough light! So they have been empty for a while. I hate to buy artificial flowers but…

  11. We’re living in our first “owned” home and I’m desperate not to have it full of clutter in 10 years time so I’m following the rule: “only buy things that are useful or beautiful both”. It’s helping 🙂

  12. We learned (from the school of hard knocks and lost money) that ALL the decor a house needs can be found at the Goodwill. All of those cool decor pieces you find at Macy’s and Saks for umpteen dollars can be had at 10% or less of retail just a season later at a thrift store (right after all of the fashionable people get rid of it in favor of the *new* decor that is so next season).

    • Do you find that is still true, April? I would have thought that with the economy as it is, people would be reigning in their spending. But maybe there’s a tier of society that always keeps up to date.

  13. Karen

    Garage sales are the perfect places to find great decorating items. I usually only go to ones in expensive areas as those folks tend to redecorate more often.

  14. As long as you like your house, it’s all good. And I’d say displaying all your books and music gives visitors a peek into who you are the same way a cohesive decorating style might. As for me, I wouldn’t necessarily call what I do “decorating” but I do have photos of us, our families, some art, and my diploma on the walls. Most of the furniture in my home is second-hand (I bought our table and chairs and bedframe new) and I don’t think anything fits a certain design aesthetic. But they’re all functional!

    • That’s it – I don’t really feel the need to make a statement about who I am with furniture or colours, when someone could know everything about me by scanning my books, music and movies! Maybe I’ll have to change my ways when they go all-digital 🙂

  15. Gam Kau

    Newly married, I set up decorating our first home (waste of time and money). I subsequently changed furniture (always 2nd hand, because by this point I dissevered thrift shops) along with homes quite a few times. Nothing ever seemed to coalesce into any particular style and in the end (by our 5th home), I realised it wasn’t that the furniture wasn’t right, it was that I really didn’t want to own much of anything. So, as an experiment, in our 5th home I gave/sold away most of our furniture and then replaced it with Freecycle items. When we moved to house #6, I Freecycled the furniture to others so we moved with only our favourite items. I’m practical and I don’t like things that are purely ornamental (though I do own things that are), so no particular style or decor for me. Just functional.
    I do still have too many boxes of kids toys that I struggle to part with so they occupy a box room.

    • Hi Gam Kau, I do struggle with possessions and especially sentimental items. One thing that works for me is knowing that others would actively make use of them. If I’d had a strategy since Day 1, I could have brought in only items that matched my design aesthetic, whether new or used. But I wasn’t so forward thinking!

  16. Your article made me realize our house isn’t ‘decorated’ but we do have nice things. Mostly family pictures or my husbands art work on the wall. We have 3 couches, 3! none of which match, but they are very comfortable. We are currently working on paring down so we can live more simply, easily and enjoyable. This is interesting considering my mother was huge on decorating from “Home Interiors,” I prefer art by my friends/family.
    Enjoy your house, good for you to realizing that you don’t need decorations. Our environment plays a big role on our lives, yours is nicely filled with the things you DO! That’s awesome.

    • Hi WT! We like nice things too – like technology! And just made a big investment in heat pumps this year. If I were starting from scratch with a heap of money, I might choose a look and decorate, but life didn’t happen that way! I realized from your comment that one thing I dislike when visiting other people’s homes, is seeing a pretty space and having no idea what they like or what they do.

  17. Dar, you and I are complete opposites when it comes to our homes. I love to decorate, which means I paint, hang art and make curtains etc. But I don’t ascribe to any particular style, its just mine with lots of color.

    Whether or not you see your house as decorated, it looks welcoming and most important has that lived in look that I find comfortable.

    • I think that making things for your own home (especially from found or thrifted items) is a perfect solution because then you can personalize your space while being kind to the planet 🙂 Hope your move goes well!

      • Thank you, Dar. The move went well and now it’s just a matter of finishing the cleaning and making the necessary changes. Thankfully the plumbing and heating issues have been sorted out finally. 😉

  18. Ginger R

    We built this home in 1985… thru 1995. Well… we had the shell built and finished the inside with our own two pair of hands… while we were living in it. Took years to complete. It’s amazing what you can get used to when you see it every day. Soon – you no longer “see” it. I was happy to have real floors. I was ecstatic to have new furniture that wasn’t speckled with paint. Now I find it difficult to give up furnishings that no longer work. The bamboo game table and club chairs are too big for our kitchen. But…. it’s bamboo! It just doesn’t wear out. I’ve had it since my single apartment life began in 1982. No – I wouldn’t say our home is “decorated”. But, it’s mostly to our liking – and we’re the ones who live here. So…we win!

    I’m still working on decluttering. I have a spreadsheet…. with a declutter plan for each room. Seriously…Had to break it down by room, by closet, by dresser and sometimes by drawer. (Motivation – spend 15 minutes a day.) Our bedroom and bathroom are decluttered. One of our two living areas is done. Kitchen pantry is done. I even took a page from your book and did a complete clothing inventory – with pictures! I didn’t count the items before I did my first major declutter – but I’m now down to 219 items. (Including scarfs, coats, hats, gloves, etc.) And – I’ll pare down more in the coming months. Next up: Dear Hubby’s bat cave. I’ll be clearing out that closet and using it for craft storage. I have craft supplies stored everywhere. And – since our bedroom closet is now more than half empty – his clothing can be moved there.

    I really enjoy your blog Dar. I gain so much motivation here.

    • Thanks, Ginger. Nice to hear from you. I know someone who built their house while living in it – they seemed to get a lot of laughs from visitors, but it never fazed them much. I have (non-essential) repairs and maintenance that have been waiting undone for a couple of years and I stop noticing them…but nothing critical, just cosmetic.

      I did a huge declutter before Rom moved in and another one when I did my home inventory last year, so I’m not too backlogged. But my standards keep changing as to “how much is enough” and I keep going when I can! The final frontier is my paperwork/archives. Hopefully a winter project? 219 is an impressive number especially since you included little stuff!

  19. Ginger R

    Early in the building work – my brother visited. He said “My sister lives in a deer camp!” Our kitchen sink was an old cast iron sink sitting in a plywood deck in a 2×4 frame. I loved that old sink. Wish we still had it for the garden. I stood on scaffolding stacked double high and held sheetrock over my head while hubby nailed it up. Ah! Those were the days.

    And….argh! paperwork! I had a wonderful system. Then my mother came to live with us (7 years ago) and I never moved the filing cabinet out of her room. I just quit filing papers there. (“Procrastination” is my middle name.) I don’t even want to think about the stacks stored in the garage during Christmas stash and dash runs last year. But – I have a system for handling incoming paper. I have an “Important Papers” binder. And a plan for revamping my filing system to make it easier to purge. When I finish the craft closet… paper is next. Let’s not discuss photos. I have nightmares about photos…

    • Ha, I have done my share of holding up sheetrock – I found it miserable work (I was convinced that my low female centre of gravity was not suited for the job!) I have a system for important papers, too – it is the unimportant ones that trip me up…like when someone sends me a Christmas letter or I keep a program from a play I’ve seen – they tend to go into piles and aren’t sorted for a year or two!

  20. Can I just say… Your kitchen is gorgeous. I love the colour and how spacious it is! I love the stainless steel appliances and the white cupboards. Ours is a cramped space with dark stained wood. Barely two people can fit in it at a time. Ugh. I wish it was brighter. Our house is old and modestly decorated… Mostly a few knickknacks and a few paintings on the wall. Nothing else. The house really reflects my parents’ personalities: practical.

    • Thank you. I love my kitchen. It is about 17 x 10 with the table and chairs at one end; no separate dining room. I had always wanted white European style cupboards. I still have two white appliances – the dishwasher and range hood (fan) and won’t be replacing them until they wear out!

  21. Actually, I think order is about 80% of aesthetics (I am very disorderly, alas).
    Also, filled bookshelves–always beautiful.
    I think you’ve created a beautiful space.

  22. I’ve never understood why “normal” people would pay to have a decorator do their home, rather than let the house show how your life has developed. And I don’t like homes without books. Just look so soulless to me.

    I often get positive comments about my current house. But that is more due to the previous owners’ work rather than mine. I would like to buy some antiques to furnish the rooms and have ideas for other rooms. But, besides having no time, my money is going on mortgage and travel and other experiences. So like you, my home is undecorated.

    • I wonder if, if I were at home all day, I would want to “compose” my space more. Someday I will find out! I like other people’s decorated homes. I suppose an interim measure would be – every time I have to replace something, choose it as a step toward an eventual look.

  23. Your books decorate your home, I love peeking at bookshelves! I wish I could be as organised as you, I just seem to make little piles everywhere…

  24. Pingback: Mine, All Mine | An Exacting Life

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