Minimalist Home: Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff

The most frequent criticism I hear about minimalist homes is that they’re “cold,” “sterile,” or “uninviting.”

Of course, such criticisms usually come from people who aren’t minimalists; and in the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about your home but you.

However, sometimes our decluttering efforts can suck the warmth out of our space. We’re so focused on elimination, that we forget about our aesthetic needs—those little visual cues that make us (and our families) feel comfortable in our homes.

Never fear: your living room doesn’t have to look like Pottery Barn to have charm and character. Here are some ways to cozy up your space without adding more stuff:

1. Choose natural materials. When your furnishings and décor are few, natural materials convey a wonderful sense of warmth. For example: a reclaimed wood table, a wool area rug, beeswax candles, linen napkins.

2. Add texture. This is a great way to add visual interest, especially with a monochromatic color scheme. A chunky handknit throw, nubby wool upholstery, or hammered metal bowl are subtle, elegant alternatives to chintz and frills.

3. Decorate with nature. Skip the home décor stores, and decorate with a plant, vase of flowers, cluster of branches, or unusual rocks you’ve gathered on a hike. They’re inexpensive (or free!), and add a beautiful, organic look to your space.

4. Use light as décor. During the day, throw open the curtains or blinds (or consider letting your windows go naked) to maximize natural light. In the evening, a few candles or string of white lights can create a romantic, magical glow.

5. Use color. A coat of paint is the easiest way to liven up a room without adding stuff; even a single wall of color can have a dramatic effect. However, if (like me) you’re a devotee of white walls, you can still benefit from a splash of color—simply choose fun hues for your practical stuff, like pillows, placemats, towels, or upholstery.

6. Choose vintage or recycled materials. Not only are upcycled items more eco-friendly; there’s just something infinitely more charming about stuff with a patina or history.

7. Use glass jars. Longtime readers know I’m a big fan of mason jars. Maybe it’s just me, but I think some of the consumable stuff in our homes—spices, beans, coffee, pasta, cotton balls, bath salts—are pretty enough to serve as décor.

8. Use personal items. Stuff with meaning—like personal photos, artwork, or travel souvenirs—are so much more interesting than store-bought décor. The key is editing: highlight just a few important pieces, to give them the spotlight they deserve.

Remember: adding warmth isn’t about adding stuff. An empty room with weathered wood floors and a single vase of flowers can be absolutely delightful. Rather, it’s about choosing our stuff with care, so that our homes are welcoming havens for our families, our guests, and ourselves. When you come home at the end of a long day, your space should always make you smile. :)

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

49 comments to Minimalist Home: Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff

  • Carli

    Awesome post. Thanks! I also am a devotee of white walls. Add wood floors and white distressed painted furniture and it’s my idea of heaven. I love your pics. Very nice.

  • Karen (scotland)

    Lovely and true post. I totally agree.
    At the moment, I am still clearing out the excess from our living room (furniture (empty display units), ornaments, frames) and my husband keeps telling me it’s too bare. I don’t plan to keep it so empty but I want to start with a clean slate and add things that we find truly beautiful and life enhancing (if that doesn’t sound too poncey). I’d like GOOD photos of our kids, some healthy plants, some splashes of colour.
    Clutter and chintz itch me mentally but things that mean something to me should actually make me physically smile when I look at them.
    Karen (Scotland)

  • The soft edged minimalism is my style. I love natural materials, soft muted colors, things that get better with use. I don’t “decorate”, I think beautiful household objects, a few personal photos and a couple of cherished objects are enough. Pillows and throws are a great way to add coziness, but only if they are actually used too, not just a decorative addition. I hate scratchy froufrou throw pillows that you would not want to put your face against or that get stuck in your sweater…

  • This is a great post. I consider myself to be a moderate minimalist haha I don’t own things I do not use and I go through my things once a week usually to see if there is anything that needs to be eliminated but I do agree a home needs personality. I like decorating with flowers and pictures of family and friends, I like a lot of neutral colors that can transition into anywhere I might move to, but in the bedroom I like a bright, happy, bedspread that serves as the main source of color/decoration in my bedroom, that way it can be very orderly without much actual stuff but still be stylish and inviting for me.

  • Lovely post, as always! My mother and I often have this debate: she claims my house is too “cold”. Of course, I don’t agree with her :). I’ve always loved vintage furniture and mismatched pieces and have discovered that this style choice is not at odds with my minimalist lifestyle: I just now own fewer things, which lets the character of what I do have really show.

    PS. Couldn’t agree more about #3. All the best decorations are from nature!

  • Jennifer Thompson

    I agree heartily with all of your points! I love your blog in part because we share a similar aesthetic — except for the bit about white walls. For me a big part of living minimalism has been painting my formerly white walls bold colors. The entryway is a deep red, the living room has deep blue accent walls, the kitchen is a warm yellow and a lovely cameo blue, and so on throughout the house. It probably sounds chaotic, but it’s lovely, and it’s inexpensive to do and effortless to maintain. My heart lifts when I come home and I see carefully chosen colors. I’m also a huge believer in original art. If you buy things that you truly love from friends and local artists, it is incredibly inspiring.

    I hate clutter, and I work 11 hours most days, so I need my home to be simple. Luckily, simple doesn’t mean cold or generic.

    • I loved this post! As a wannabe minimalist with maximalist tendencies it really helped me to understand how I can start working toward having fewer ‘decorations’ without losing character and charm in my house. And I couldn’t agree more with you, Jennifer, about original art! It really warms up any space!

  • Fawn

    Placemats?!? What self respecting minimalist has placemats? (wink)

    Cat’sMeow–I have to agree about the throws and pillows on the sofa. They *must* be soft and functional.

  • Danny

    As long as I have food, water, a blanket and somewhere warm to sleep I’m happy.I’ve got better things to do than mince around worrying about the right color scheme.

    • Heather

      Just re-reading this blog and I LOVE this comment. I don’t worry about having a stylish or decorated home. I rather spend time with my feet in the sand, chasing the dog and my son, sipping on a margarita.

  • kris

    Wonderful post, as always, Francine.

    To elaborate on a couple of your suggestions:

    First, branches. Pussy willow branches, the real ones, not the fake ones, look great and last practically forever! I have some in a simple white pitcher and they still look wonderful many springs after I purchased them at a farmer’s market. (And spring, of course, is when you can find them.)

    Second, glass jars. I once had a collection of stones gathered from the shores of Lake Michigan. I put them in a glass jar in our bathroom. To make the details of the stones stand out, I added water. And to keep the water from becoming cloudy, I added a few drops of bleach.

    It does seem that natural decorations are often the least expensive as well as the most soothing.

  • JET1980

    I’m a minimalist who likes earth tones. I don’t have much in my living room, but the walls are a warm yellow/beige, the furniture is brown/green, the coffee table is wooden, and I have a couple of plants as accents. Most people do say that my home looks bare, but they also admit that it feels very warm and cozy. For me, minimalism doesn’t have to mean white/black; it just means being very pragmatic and practical with the space you have.

  • I’m so glad to see you mention color – so many minimalists seem to have sworn off color altogether. There’s no reason why !

  • Certain subtleties can easily add life to a living space. My loft, although sparsely decorated, has a few elements (e.g., a few picture frames, some flowers, etc.) that make it feel, as you say, warmer. I posted a pic and wrote a bit about it here:

    Take care,

    Joshua Millburn

  • This post is just what I needed. We are moving from our tiny apartment to a small house in less than two weeks. In preparation, we are going through the process of stripping down our things to the essentials while simultaneously considering what we want the new place to look like. Over the next year, we will be replacing almost all of the furniture in our home. I know it doesn’t sound very minimalist to do this, but really we don’t have much and it is all beat down holdovers from graduate school. Anyway, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how to execute what I call “cozy minimalism” in the new place. I love this post because it serves a great checklist for all the ways we can do that in an uncluttered, creative and economical way. Thanks!

  • What a helpful, inspiring post! Thank you for including all the little touches that help make a home cozy without costing a lot of money!

    “An empty room with weathered wood floors and a single vase of flowers can be absolutely delightful.” – I couldn’t agree more!

  • Great reminders. I am not a pure minimalist (yet), but my “freedom room” (the room that is the most minimalist)is my livingroom. And no one would call it cold or barren, sure enough it has natural furnishings and a few practical, natural accessories. Now I know why it works!

  • I previously worked so hard to get my house *warmly* decorated, but now I am working towards minimalizing my stuff. I am not planning at this time to change colors, just to reduce what I have sitting around. If I choose to add anything else, I will look for something from nature instead. Hubby loves old stuff as well, so we may find a few pieces at a flea market.
    I love the pics, and would love to have my home feel that cozy!
    Reach out and take a hand

  • Ruby Dellson

    I’m in the odd minority of minimalists who adore the cluttered homes of others (in movies and blogs). Of course, much time, thought, styling, and upkeep are required in these homes. Considering that I’m a clean/neat freak who very much values my time, I could never have a home like this myself.

  • LOVE this post!! I can use these tips for my home… Thank you!!!

  • I like simple color schemes and love mason jars too! They are the ideal storage container: easily obtainable (so they coordinate), available in a variety of sizes and have a classic look.

    Sometimes less is more, and makes it more attractive. Great pics!

  • heather

    I absolutely agree. I do not have much in my rooms but a great color on the way really helps. Also, pick your pieces with love. I have 2 huge vases in turquoise pearl. They are stunning and all I need on one wall. I also will say to add your own photography. Much more personal and warming than something you can buy at a store. : )

  • Layla

    Great post.

    Decorating with useful things in jars sounds like a good idea. It would definitely reduce the amount of time squinting in to the back of the cupboard trying to find something, and makes it easier to go shopping when you know what you’re running out of.

    It bugs me when I have cupboards/drawers/things stuffed full of stuff I can’t remember. I guess that’s why I’m here, reading your blog on minimalism :)

  • I love the idea to use mason jars. I’ve never understood why everyone wants to hide everything away in a drawer or cupboard. Metal + glass + white cotton balls are lovely!

  • Karen

    Great post as always, Francine!

    I’m not a fan of the chrome/glass/black/white/modern aesthetic, but I think almost any decorating style can be made minimalist. My living room has minimal furniture (a couch, two natural wicker chairs, wrought iron linen-shaded floor lamps, built-in bookcase, and an old distressed tavern table) and minimal pattern (blue/cream tweed upholstery, throw pillows made from old quilts, blue checked window valances). I have candles in a pair of brass holders forged by my grandfather, and a couple of plants in Blue Willow cachepots that belonged to my mother (I store teabags in a Blue Willow teapot that was hers — except for a wooden fruit bowl and red checked dish towels it’s the only “decor” in my kitchen). On the walls are three special family photos and one large watercolor by a local artist. Minimal compared to most people, but still the warm “country Colonial” style that I prefer.

  • With a background in commercial & residential design, you can imagine how I enjoyed this post! I’ve designed high end homes for people of decidedly not minimalist backgrounds and still never fail to be amazed at how much more I enjoy the challenge and ultimately the finished product of a space that uses creatively placed simple (especially natural!) materials and textures and line to draw the eye and make those that enter feel drawn in, made to fee at home. Minimalism never has to mean cold, stark or uninviting! It should mean restful, enjoyable, easily maintainable, welcoming. Thanks for a wonderful post!

  • Tracy G

    Tanja of Minimalist Packrat has kindly featured photos of my home and office in her new Community Spotlight feature. I like a lot of color and a little art.

  • […] are filled with life. But for more information on how minimalists decorate their home, check out Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff by Francine […]

  • […] life – a recent post directed me to Miss Minimalist’s Decorating tips post, Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff.  Yeah, I know, link, link, link, but it’s worth it. She points out how to put together […]

  • […] like! At this point, I am happy to refer you to an extremely useful blog post I read recently from MissMinimalist on how to add accessories to a minimalist flat to make it […]

  • Vicki

    My minimalist decorating involves using just 2 or three focal points, and splashes of color. I have dark wood paneling on 2 of the 4 walls of my living room (the nice paneling, from the 1950s, of solid, carved wood, not the seventies ticky-tacky paneling). So, I have a few pieces of 60s milk glass on the white mantel of my white painted fireplace, which is on one of the panelled walls. The white against the dark wood looks both minimalist and warm. I agree with using color. you can paint a wall, or just hang a colorful quilt on a drapery rod (which is what I do against the rather large expanse of white wall in my living room). Using one large piece as a focal point, instead of collections of pictures on the wall keeps “wall clutter” to a minimum. I also decorate for the holidays this way. I have one bright red throw for the sofa, one or two table top decorations and a fabric creche my Mom made me from one of those panels you get at the fabric store with all the pieces pre-printed on it. Stores easily. You’d be surprised how bright and cheerful and warm a room can look with just one or two bright colorful throws or focal points.

  • […] Minimalist Home: Adding Warmth and Charm Without Adding Stuff – Francine Jay at Miss Minimalist does a great job at showing how minimalistic doesn’t mean cold and uninviting. […]

  • […] from Miss Minimalist: Adding Warmth Without Adding Stuff […]

  • Kim

    I’m a minimalist. I go to other people’s home and see too many dead fake flowers and knick knacks. It makes me dizzy. I love blank space.

  • […] really helpful when I  started out and equated a minimalist home with a sterile and cold one is this great post by Miss Minimalist. Highly […]

  • Mecarla Downie

    Thanks this article really cleared up my worry about starting to live like a minimalist, over the years I’ve been trying to live this way but always ended up ditching it. I discovered you blog last night and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. THIS IS WHAT I’VE ALWAYS BEEN SEARCHING FOR! Now I know the name of my what society would put as my heartless approach to ‘things’ finally I don’t feel like a freak

    I do love having photos and small keepsakes from loved ones and at first I figured you had culled these from your life too…..thank god you didn’t otherwise I would totally be put off.

    I have a four year old and I find toys to be a real concern, she has already collected so much stuff. Last year I asked guests to her birthday party to pay for a movie ticket instead of buying her a present which turned out to be a success. Most ppl scoffed at the idea of not buying her a birthday gift but they didn’t bring one, well some still did much to my dismay.

    How do I avoid Christmas??
    She has countless aunties and uncles who all want to join in the gift giving

  • […] would not encourage you to go adding stuff to your home but these tips give good clues as to how to use the already lovely stuff you already own to achieve a warm yet […]

  • Jan Noelle

    I am a minimalist who has lived with a collector/hoarder for 32 years. It is a constant battle.
    Clutter makes me anxious, but he feels secure with all of his stuff. Our new house has a basement over which he is given free pass. His habits leak into the bedroom closet, the garage, and the refrigerator. Does anyone else live with a person whose “needs” are so different? How do you handle it?

  • […] if the winter weather outside is cold and blustery you can ensure your home is warm and cozy by making a few simple design upgrades. We’re certain there’s no better way to spend a […]

  • Tina

    I like the look of wooden beads with a sweater or buttons on strings. I look for the unusual to have as accents always. A few pieces of hand thrown pottery always look good.

  • Tina

    keeping surfaces clear of clutter is the hardest thing for me. I constantly throw things out and give them away. I’m finding so much craft material in so many places.

  • Tina

    Sometime back there was a question on living with a hoarder. My husband likes to keep his stuff in 2 bathrooms. I tease him about marking territory. Although just lately, he has realized he doesn’t need all the old magazines and books he’s saved. I keep encouraging him to get rid of his oldest T shirts and when he gets rid of 2, just to buy 1. A true hoarder, like my mom, doesn’t understand at all. She is in a nursing home and still trying to build towers of clutter. I keep taking home old magazines and newspapers, but she saves things and the staff has cleaned out her drawers a few times.

  • […] basic colors – white for the walls, crème for the furniture. We wanted to have a functional but cozy and comfy space. The change was amazing. In our living room, we only kept the couch and the sofa and covered them […]

  • Tina

    I have a few pieces of hand thrown pottery from rummage sales. I have a few plants. Basically my home is empty except for pictures of my children and grandchildren. I am still getting rid of more as I find I need less as time goes on.

  • Tina

    I have throw blankets on my couches, that’s where the cats sit.

  • […] If you want more ideas to help you to enhance the look and feel of your minimalist home, without adding too much clutter, go here. […]

  • We go on a cruise once a year. To Canada, Alaska, or around different European countries. We take very little, bring back very little and watch people spend an awful lot of money and drag huge suitcases around. When I read your blog, I find kindred souls. None of the people I know, except maybe my son and his wife, seem concerned about the environment or the problem of scarce resources.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>