Finding Visual Peace

I am in search of visual peace. I did not realize this until I had spent an embarrassingly long time reading books about decluttering, orderliness, and interior design, and getting frustrated by how they weren’t helping me.

I don’t know about you, but I am not aiming for a specific number of personal possessions, and I have no particular desire to sort all my belongings into one of three to five piles, boxes, or bin bags. But I struggled to articulate what it was that I was looking for, until I eventually, by increasingly targeted blunderings, rediscovered the phrase “visual peace”.

The problem with most books I’ve read about improving the home environment is that they assume that once you’ve got rid of everything you don’t much like, you’re happy to keep looking at everything else. All the time. Forever.

These books air concepts like “styling” – e.g. styling a shelf – and “vignette”, a French-esque way of saying “a bunch of stuff”. (Interestingly, the Wiktionary entry for the English word vignette has nine definitions, and this is not any of them. The French word vignette could mean an image, illustration, or motif, or it could mean vignette. Which, as we’ve just seen, means practically anything.) The phrase “styling a vignette” basically just means “arranging a bunch of stuff together.”

These books may include mentions of the phrase “Pinterest-worthy”, particularly in relation to vignettes. Or lyrical descriptions of how much “throw pillows” (cushions, in my kind of English) add to your home. Or advice on how to compromise with your husband on how many decorative pillows to pile on your bed when it’s not in use.

#BeginRant: Seriously, this I do not understand. You style this vignette of purposeless padding on your bed, it all just sits there occupying space for the day, then you have to chuck it all off (where?) to actually use the bed for any of its intended purposes, and then you have to restyle it again the next day, just so it can sit there uselessly again? What’s the point?? Is this some kind of hangover from the State Bed, trying to convince passersby (who???) that you keep this bed purely for decoration???? #EndRant

A painting of a man richly dressed in gold-embroidered garments, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre and orb. He lies on a red-draped bed, propped up at the head end by a stack of four gold-brocaded red pillows. There are four tall white candles down his left side and four down his right. At the foot of the bed is a tall and ornate crucifix. The room and the bed's half-length canopy are draped in red and gold materials. There is a coat of arms on the hangings at the foot of the bed.
Sigismund III is actually using the whole pile of pillows. Why? BECAUSE HE’S DEAD, THAT’S WHY.

Anyway… I have not been able to find much about how to create visual peace in the home, but what I have found I have supplemented with the efforts of my own brain (now that it finally knows what it’s trying to think about). Suggested steps toward visual peace, then.

First, get rid of the extraneous. Whether you sort everything into a fixed number of bags, boxes, or anything else, is entirely your own business. But this stage is of paramount importance. Reconsider your assumptions. Do you actually still want that thing in your life, or is it purely habit, an entrenched assumption based on who you used to be?

Once you’ve pared things down to those two all-important categories: things you want to keep (favourite books, yarn stash, teapot…) and things you have to keep (tax paperwork…other government paperwork…), then hide it away.

Which is to say, allocate as much of it as possible to locations where you can get at it when you want it, but don’t have to look at it all the time. This particularly applies to anything that grabs more than its fair share of visual attention (lurid colours, splattered with text…), or, though necessary/desirable, is just plain Butt Ugly.

Keeping things in cupboards and drawers also has the benefit of ensuring that they don’t explode catastrophically all over your carpet in the event of an earthquake (#AskMeHowIKnow). Before deciding that an item’s home should be on a shelf, ask yourself the following questions.

1) Is it nice to look at?
2) How breakable is it in the event of an emergency?

There are some very elegant pieces of furniture out there with glass-doored cupboards. These are best reserved for things which pass the first test but fail the second. Leave the open shelves for your collection of rubber balls (bringing a much-needed moment of jollity to high-Richter situations) and breakable items given to you by anyone who will take permanent offence if their gift does not become a permanent fixture in your home.

Books are generally a safe option for open shelving, but while they are unlikely to leap off the shelf, there is always the possibility that the shelf itself will leap away from the wall if not properly secured. You may be willing to take the chance, but it is probably best to restrain any shelves likely to fall on your bed. Even if you have fleetly fled to the doorway, it can take weeks to find all the books that have skidded under the bed. (Again, #AskMeHow…)

The third step is to arrange what remains visible. What? I hear you ask. Could this be vignette-styling, creeping back in?? Well, no. A vignette is trying to get your attention. The aim of arranging what is left visible – with few exceptions, such as one might find in a tokonoma – is to arrange them in such a way that they don’t catch your eye.

A drawing of a Japanese room. Tatami mats cover the floor. To the left are sliding doors; to the right a broad window showing a view of trees. There is a large alcove back left, with a large decorative hanging and a tree in a pot. At back right are a number of built-in cupboards, leaving space for another couple of plants in pots.
Unobtrusive opaque storage, a few select ornaments…the Japanese are on to it.

For example, the aforementioned books can be arranged by the colour of their spine. But how will I find what I’m looking for, you wonder. If you’re anything like me – very visually oriented – you’ll look for a book either by its spine colour, or where you’re used to seeing it, either of which works just fine, once you’re used to the arrangement.

If you’re anything like the Caped Gooseberry, who is anything but visually oriented, your usual method of finding a book is to look along the shelves for a book the right size until you see the title you’re looking for, and to be honest, this method works pretty much the same regardless of how the books are arranged. Unless all the books are shelved backwards, or covered in identical blank wraps, in which case we all know you’re hiding something. (We suspect the guilty secret is that you don’t actually read.)

The shelved-by-colour method also brings some interesting combinations to one’s attention. The bookshelf nearest where I type this has Does It Fart? next to The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; The Compleat Loo next to Essentialism; and Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger sandwiched between Don’t Drop the Coffin and The Ethics of Smuggling.

A few more tips for visual peace in the home:
Avoid loud clashing colours in your furnishings. (Some people love them, I know. I’m prepared to bet they’re not the ones reading blog posts on how to find visual peace.)
Target things that settle on surfaces, including the floor: “nothing on the floor that doesn’t have feet,” I’ve heard it said.
Have a fixed place where papers go to be dealt with (and then deal with them).
And finally, tidy daily. The greater the visual peace becomes, the easier it will be to notice what is disrupting that peace.

What tips would you add?

4 Replies to “Finding Visual Peace”

  1. visual peace in reading – I suggest don’t italicise and underline the same text. I prefer italics myself as less cluttered.

    better to have one item of storage furniture than several different kinds cluttering the room

    it is very convenient to have little tables for each guest to put their coffee on but I hate the cluttered look they generate – I stack them in the garage when not actually in use

    don’t have so much kitchen stuff that you have to store things on the bench

    don’t have the TV on unless you are giving it 100% of your attention

    1. Those little matching tables that nest under each other are quite nifty.

      And I quite agree about the underlined italics – even more indicative of cranial underclothing than the classic !!!!!

  2. A timely topic! I seem to have reached a reasonable level of visual peace in the last few weeks. How I did it is not clear, but several times I have caught myself thinking, “I like this”, the general arrangement and vaguely colour-blending of a room, the combination of a recently-covered deck with the room it opens off, and even the basic bedrooms when they are tidy. I “like” when I have just cleared off the dishrack and most of the sinkbench is showing, looking as serene as a bench can do. Even the effect of vacuuming the carpet makes me think,”like”. Now, when I finally find replacement curtains for two windows, I will have proper visual peace.

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