Common Design Mistakes That Make Your House Look Cluttered

You clean your house all the time, but for some reason it still looks sort of messy. What gives? It could be one of the most common design mistakes: undiagnosed clutter.

When you live in the same space for a long period of time, it’s easy to accumulate a whole bunch of stuff, and you might not even notice all the little things that make your home visually untidy. Cleaning up the clutter can lead to some pretty positive benefits, such as reducing anxiety, reducing feelings of guilt, and inspiring deeper creativity. So it’s worth the time and effort.

We’ve put together a list of the common clutter culprits, so you can create a clean, mentally soothing atmosphere that you’ll love to live in.

1. Hang your curtains the right way

Modern retro style penthouse living room

Hang the curtains high and wide. | Jovy86/Getty Images

Follow any design blog, and you’ll see that they recommend hanging your curtains “high and wide.” But what does that mean exactly?

You might be tempted to mount your curtain hardware directly onto the trim around the window. But doing so could make your windows look smaller, which in turn makes the whole room look tiny and cluttered. Instead, install floor-length curtains, and put the hardware as close to the ceiling as possible. Also, put them a few inches wider than the windows themselves. This creates the illusion of larger windows, which makes the whole room look bigger.

2. Clear those countertops

Get everything off the counter. | iStock.com

Just because it’s a flat surface doesn’t mean you need to fill it with stuff. Whether you’re staging your house for sale or you’re just looking to live a more minimalist lifestyle, try to keep as few appliances on the counter as possible to avoid looking messy. That blender you only use once every three months? Tuck it away in a cabinet, and only take it out when you need to use it. It’s also easier to wipe down counters when they’re totally cleared off.

3. Let some light in

Bright small cozy room with sophisticated decorations

Reflect the sunlight. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Dark rooms naturally look more cluttered, no matter how much stuff is in them. To brighten up your space, consider hanging a mirror directly across from a window to reflect the natural sunlight. Some other tricks include choosing pale paint colors, adding tables and floor lamps in corners, and picking light-colored, monochromatic furniture whenever possible.

4. Hide the cords

modern living room

Visible cords look messy. | iStock.com

Nothing looks more cluttered than a tangle of cords. Televisions, game systems, lamps — all of these items require electricity. And when you add a limited number of outlets to the mix, it’s easy to wind up with a big mess. Rather than shove your cord tumbleweed behind a piece of furniture, try a few of these tips for camouflaging ugly wires. Your room will feel more put together with almost no effort.

5. Rearrange the furniture

Living room

Float your furniture. | Robert Daly/Getty Images

Resist the urge to push all the furniture up against the wall. This common mistake can lead to a cluttered look because it leaves fewer sight lines in the room and fewer uninterrupted paths for your eye to travel. It also leaves a dead zone in the middle of the room.

Short on space? Don’t worry. Even pulling your couch away from the wall a few inches and adding an accent chair can make a huge difference to creating the illusion of a bigger room. Ideally, the furniture should be at least a foot from the wall, and you should have 3 feet of walking space.

6. Leave a place for your eyes to rest

colorful vase with flower on wood table and sofa in livingroom

Group items by three. | Ben-bryant/Getty Images

You may have spent years collecting ceramic turtle figurines, but putting them all on display at once leads to a visually cluttered space. Instead, try grouping your knickknacks in groups of three, and never fill a shelf or mantle with too many items. The fewer trinkets, the better.

7. Get the right rug

Beautiful living room interior

Make sure your rug is the right size. | Hikesterson/Getty Images

One of the most common mistakes amateur decorators make is choosing a rug that’s too small for the room. This can make the room appear smaller, and smaller rooms automatically appear more cluttered. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Be sure you have at least 2 feet of your furniture on the rug, so you never leave a rug “floating” in the middle of the room.

8. Be mindful of negative space

Interior background of living room with wooden side table

Less is more. | Scovad/Getty Images

Just like with photography, what’s there is just as important as what’s not there. Leaving a certain amount of blank wall space and empty shelves can help to make your room look less cluttered in general.

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