A Minimalist Decorates

Some trinkets multiply.  One figurine becomes a set.  One photograph becomes a gallery wall.  People collect cameras, globes, vintage signs, ironstone pitchers, old tools, dolls – almost anything.

Even if you put together a collection over many years, and pay only a few dollars for each item at a thrift store or tag sale, you still need shelves and curios to house it all, and you'll be dusting it forever.

In traditional Japanese homes, décor is kept to a minimum.  Usually just one or two items are displayed in a small alcove called a tokonoma.

The tokonoma often holds a calligraphic scroll or painting, along with a bonsai, an orchid, or a simple flower arrangement.  The items are appropriate to the season, like spring blossoms or fall foliage, and express an appreciation for both art and nature.

You don't have to create a Japanese interior with tatami mats, translucent shoji screens, and square low-slung furniture to put the concept of a tokonoma into practice.  You don't need a special alcove, since a table or mantel shelf will do.

My style is not Japanese, but I have a coffee table in my living room.  On it, I sometimes display a pitcher holding roses or agapanthus from our garden, or a branch from a tree.  Other times I use a platter to hold a candle and some pinecones collected on a walk through the park, or shells and sea glass picked up at the beach, or some of my husband's mineral specimens.

On the wall over the couch I've hung a large painting that I love.

Except for a framed photo of our grandsons on the bookshelf, and a couple of green plants, that's the extent of our living room décor.

As a minimalist, I'm drawn to the tokonoma concept for several reasons:

  • It puts a spotlight on one or two special items, letting them shine rather than compete for attention in a crowd of knickknacks.
  • It discourages over-accumulation of decorative objects.
  • It provides an easy opportunity to celebrate the beauties of nature and the changing seasons.
  • It allows for a little change and a fresh look on a regular basis.
  • It's personal rather than mass-produced and factory-made.

Could you limit yourself to just one collection?  Could you let a single item be the focus of a wall, tabletop, or mantel?  What would you put in a tokonoma?

Photo by Oriento on Unsplash


  1. On our living room wall we have a huge blueprint of the railroad tracks near where my husband grew up dated the year after we graduated from high school. On the opposite wall we have black & white photos he took years later along those now abandoned tracks. On an end table we have a model of a motorhome made out of Lego blocks which represents two eras of my own history. That's it. That's us.

    1. Linda, it sounds like you've chosen minimalist ways to express you and your husband's personalities and backgrounds. Very cool!


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