Decorating and Simplifying with Edith Wharton

I’ve been spending much of my time getting my house in order… literally.

Ridding my humble abode of clutter — whether it be via donating clothes to Good Will, selling items on EBAY, or listing vintage items on Etsy — has truly been helpful for me in terms of gaining a better sense of inner peace.

Less clutter in the house, less clutter in my mind! p1060900-1

It’s a win-win.

While organizing, selling, and purging, I’ve also been reading Edith Wharton’s first published book, The Decoration of Houses.

Although the book primarily deals with the history of interior design, it has some timeless truths on simplifying.  One could certainly say that she was ahead of her time in the minimalist design movement.

Here are some of her thoughts on interior design:

  • One of the first obligations of art is to make all useful things beautiful: were this neglected principle applied to the manufacture of household accessories, the modern room would have no need of knick-knacks.  


  • A well-designed bookcase with glass doors is a valuable factor in the training of children.  It teaches a respect for books by showing that they are thought worthy of care…


  • When a room is to be furnished and decorated at the smallest possible cost, it must be remembered that the comfort of its occupants depends more on the nature of the furniture than the wall-decorations or carpet. 

Yes, to all of the above!

The book is a bit outdated (with references to ballrooms, boudoirs, and drawing rooms), but for me…it’s the perfect read during this particular phase of my life.








3 thoughts on “Decorating and Simplifying with Edith Wharton

  1. Yes to simplicity, comfort, and the combination of beauty and usefulness – but I have to say no to books behind glass doors! I like what Kerry Clare wrote last week about teaching children to love books by letting them handle them and learn about them as physical objects. She says, “It is through loving reading that children will learn that books are objects to be cared for. Or maybe they won’t—some of us care very much for our books by reading them to pieces and scribbling in their margins.” (

    Wharton also wrote about the sad consequences of keeping books away from children. I think you’ve read my post about Paul Marvell ( — in his case, the books are locked up, and not just kept behind glass. But still, there’s a barrier between the reader and the book.

    However, I’d make an exception for a bookcase with glass doors if there’s a Katie Maurice ( in the glass….


    • Yes and no. Mostly, yes.

      I’ve been buying/selling old books (as part of my unclutter-process) and even a slight tear in the dust jacket can make a difference in a book’s value (not that EW was referring to selling her books).😊

      When my son was little, he loved to pull his books off the shelves to read or explore…and all children should have their own books to read….or demolish. 😊

      I think EW might be referring to very young children playing with precious books (“precious” meaning valuable or having sentimental value).

      I took her comment more or less that way. A way of teaching a child that books are just as important (if not more) than, say, jewels or gold, etc. I guess a lot depends upon the age of the child.

      Children should always be able to reach for and open a book (I did think of poor Paul Marvell when I read her statement too), so I’m thinking she was referring to her favorite stash/books.

      In that case… I agree with her.


  2. All good points. I guess I’d just keep my precious books on a high shelf, instead of behind glass. And you’re right, the age of the child is important here. Poor Paul Marvell! That is such a sad scene. More memorable even than that ironic last line of the novel.


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