Two Words for Simple Home Decor: Functional or Personal

Organizing coach Michelle Traudt has a strategy to simplify her home decor:

Every decoration should be functional or personal.

Functional items are useful things likes books, mirrors, and clocks.

Personal items are photos and artwork that she or her husband made (though I consider more things personal, such as favorite things from my childhood and handmade items.)

She said taking this approach has helped her to buy fewer things and avoid knick-knacks that do not mean anything to her.

I look around my home and see that my favorite things on display could be described  by those two words.

The clock that I’ve had since I learned to tell time.

The shelf by the front door that my great-grandfather made that holds my keys.

The ceramic bowls I made in college.

And if those things on display can be both functional and personal? That’s the sweet spot.

See more about how Michelle does this in her home at Creating Peace.

What are some ways that you do this in your home? I’m trying to think of more ideas to use functional or personal things as home decor, like hanging quilts or a pot rack in the kitchen.
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Thank you Rachel! I always love reading your blog and what an honor to be mentioned on it today!!

  2. I think you need one more catagory: “Makes me smile.”

    This would be something like decorating your door with a store-bought seasonal wreath. It’s not functional, and I didn’t personally make it, but it brings a smile to my face and I enjoy the color and flair. There are many things in my house I didn’t make, but I simply enjoy them.

    This might have to do with me not being the crafty type, but I’d have a pretty barren home if everything had to be functional or personal! :-)

    • Yes, this isn’t meant to be a rule for everybody; this idea is for people who like having less in their homes (because having less is what makes them smile).

      I love going to my friend’s house (she collects vintage stuff) and seeing all of the things she has to look at, but my own decorating style tends to be more minimal. Even pillows, quilts, and lamps are functional though, so it doesn’t have to be sparse.

      I love clear spaces with a few chosen things (functional or personal, with maybe a few more that I just happen to like), but it’s certainly possible to have a welcoming home without following this idea.

  3. Kathryn Fenner says:

    I have a stack of nice hardcover design books on my coffee table so I will and do actually look at them, instead of having them on the shelf. I have a decorative box beside each of my two favorite places to sit with a nail file, clippers, lip gloss and pen and note paper in it, so I will have them handy (I will fiddle with any rough spot on my nails unless I deal with it right away.)

    I have lots of functional, air-cleaning plants, which soften my otherwise modern decor nicely, I’ve been told. I also have a home made table fountain (a wide, flat bowl, with a pump submerged beneath river rocks), ambience and humidification!

    …and an owl feather I found in my back yard, just because I love it.

  4. Thank you for this post! I recently moved and have gotten rid of a lot of things that were just taking up space. I have taken the last six months to really live in my space and figure out exactly what I want and need.

    I do not find it necessary to have multiples of items and don’t want to purchase things just to fill up shelves. To me bare shelves are better if you don’t love what you have on them.

    Functional and/or personal describes almost everything I have in my house and will help me get rid of those last few things that I just haven’t been able to.

    Thank you!

  5. I am gradually replacing all of our functional items with beautiful well designed tools. We recently moved cross country, leaving more than half of our possessions behind. I’m enjoying replacing the things we miss at thrift stores and from craigslist in the upscale areas of the city. Also enjoying the space left by what we don’t miss! Such beautiful useful things makebric-a-brac seem silly.

    • I love that idea! I have been trying to do the same thing, mostly with kitchen items. I have a couple of large ceramic mugs that are ugly but we use them all the time for eating soup; I’d like to replace them with other large mugs that I love to look at as well as use.

      Same with my little ramekin-sized bowls — all mismatched cheapo ones. I wish I had some lovely little bowls that served the same function, but with more style. They don’t have to be expensive, and can be thrifted: I just want to love them.

      ps: we recently moved cross-country as well, and got rid of about half our stuff to downsize into a smaller urban apartment (from a large 4-br house with full basement). The process of de-stuffing has been challenging, but freeing.

      vegeater´s last post…Newsflash- Breastfeeding Saves Money

  6. I agree with Anna B about the “makes you smile” category.

    I have this old poster from college from the movie Dumb and Dumber of Harry and Lloyd on the scooter…even though my tastes have definitely progressed since my college poster days that one poster still hangs in the pantry as a pick me up!

    And though I’ve tried to get rid of superflous knick knacks, I found a severe lack of color in our new place after our big move. A few vases in bright colors brought instant pop to the area and tied the room together. Wasn’t personal or functional…except maybe functional to my tastes!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Last Week of No Spend Month!

    • like your poster, I’ve also started hanging things in closets that I like to look at occasionally, but don’t necessarily want hanging in a main room. For instance, a Mardi Gras masque my husband made in 7th grade — it makes me happy every time I open the closet. If you can’t see it, you can’t enjoy it…

      vegeater´s last post…Newsflash- Breastfeeding Saves Money

      • I’ve got posters hanging in my closet too… ones my husband and I couldn’t agree on, but that I thought were pretty.

  7. I like less. I have no decorating veins in me, so I feel I am lacking in this area. I need to add more warmth and personality to our home, but I am knick-knack averse. Maybe, like you said, I could just look around at what is useful and/or personal and make it have a new life as decor. Hmmmmm . . .

    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…this is us- preserving summer mornings

  8. What a simple way to keep your home from being cluttered. I always struggle to fill spaces, and find I end up throwing things out because of my impulse buys.

    Unplanned Cooking´s last post…How much space do you need in a house

  9. I have been working very hard to achieve this, but my home STILL has a few useless knick knacks! Some are so difficult to clear out or give away, but I am progressing… Anybody want a glass kitty with a votive candle in it?

    Susan being Snippy´s last post…My Backyard in Summer and how I occupy it

  10. Rachel,

    I love the way your life looks and is organized. I think if I have to choose a word for my style it would be comfortable and eclectic. My house is no where near organized or clean (after kids), how do you do it?

    Preeti @ Heart and Mind´s last post…The 7 link challenge

    • Well keep in mind that on this blog you mostly get to see the pretty side of it. My kitchen definitely gets messy. And right now my desk is messy too. We have to keep up with messes (almost) daily.

  11. Vanessa says:

    I hate knick-knacks in general so don’t have them around. I agree with Anna B and Kait Palmer about the “makes you smile” category. There’s so much beautiful artwork out there and inspirational things or just things that “make you smile” that it’d be a shame (personally) to live by too many rules even if those rules are meant to help. Life’s too short! I also like a bit of color and find the functional items I have aren’t always also aesthetically pleasing enough for that. But, whatever works for you!

  12. I have small children and a small budget, so simple has become a way of life. I’ve found getting rid of things (and not buying more) frees me up from a responsibility. It all about stewardship, of money and things. Rearranging furniture and picture frames is my release for decorating.

    When things seem a little TOO clean and clear, I do have this one thing that I do. We have a mantle mounted on the wall (no fireplace). During Easter I put up a few chickens my Aunt had given to me in a box of yard sale stuff. I coaxed my family into a craft where I used food coloring, sweetened condensed milk and their fingerprints to paint and egg, then framed that. I wouldn’t decorate the whole house, but I can manage a mantle. It freshened up the place enough for me. I’ve rotated the picture in the frame for other seasons, but always with something free.

    Someday my life will be different, and I may find joy in having more things around. Right now it would just be more stress.

  13. Rhiannon says:

    I really like this criteria for decorating, rather than “everything should be functional with as few decorative items as possible” (because its only clutter anyway) philosophy that seems to happen once you have kids. I have many things that are very sentimental and not at all functional and some of them are even packed away or are about to be packed away for years because of sweet, curious fingers. But they are still special to me, no matter where they are located.

    As for the functional items, my husband and I are trying to learn how to built, craft, sew, etc so our functional belongings have a more personal side to them. The investment of time helps us find that sweet spot.

  14. One item I have and use that fits 3 categories (functional, personal, and makes me smile) is a magnetic chalkboard from IKEA that I turned into a menu board. I always like walking into restaurants where they have the specials of the day written on chalkboards, so I got this one from IKEA for about $15. I also happened to have some small 2″x3″ clear acrylic magnetic photo frames, enough to make a label for each day of the week. I picked out some pretty scrapbook paper for the background, then made abbreviated days, and put them on the board vertically, leaving space to the right for each day’s dinner plan.

    There was also some space below the chalkboard to put small pieces of artwork that I either like or have been made for us (my brother-in-law is an artist).

    It’s fun to post the menu for the week – it creates a sense of anticipation for others in the family as to what we’ll be eating, and reminds me what I need to get prepared for that day or the next few. However, I have to admit that sometimes I have crazy weeks where I’ll look at the board and realize that it was a menu from several weeks ago! :)

    Jenni @ Life from the Roof´s last post…How less can you dress

  15. I love this post. My husband and I are getting ready to move from a very small apartment into a bigger one and we are still wanting to decrease the amount of things we take with us. This post will be very helpful in doing that.

  16. I am SO with you on this. Functional and personal has always been my home decor style. This drives my extended family crazy. My dad often likes to gift what he believes to be clever jokes or sayings mounted in picture frames and I always roll my eyes and think…what a waste, because this will NEVER be on my wall.
    My family is also the type to gasp whenever I get rid of things at yard sales or to goodwill because “they’re in good shape” or “It’s perfectly good.”
    Growing up with people like this has made me so averse to “stuff” that I wonder if one day I won’t be sad at some of the things that I neglected to keep.

  17. This is exactly the rule we’ve embraced in our own house! If it’s not functional, sentimental or smile-inducing, it’s gone. We have gotten rid of hundreds of items in the last few months. We’re heading toward 1,000. Where it all came from, I have no idea! We’re also highly allergic to getting free stuff just because it’s free. If it doesn’t fulfill one of those three criteria, it’s not coming through our door! I LOVE your blog. LOVE it!

  18. Great post – I am very anti-clutter, but I still have decorative things in my home that are neither functional nor personal. I think this is the perfect way of weeding out the unnecessary.

    But the real reason I am commenting is that I used to have the same exact clock. My grandmother gave it to me when I was a little girl and seeing the picture of yours just brought back good memories, so thank you for that as well! (Now I wish I still had it…)