5 Shelf Styling Tips for Uncluttered Shelves

The shelf styling struggle is real!  I’ve stared at empty shelves and rearranged accessories over and over, chewing my lip, struggling to come up with the combination that looked right. It all felt like some cruel Algebra problem I couldn’t quite solve. But through all this haggling, I discovered tried and true shelf styling tips and methods that make it easy to create pretty, modern shelves.  

shelf styling tips for easy, minimalist shelves

5 Shelf Styling Tips

1. Start with an Anchor Piece:

When styling shelves, it can be easy to just let loose and throw everything up there. I think it’s helpful though, to choose one item to be center stage. This is your anchor.

Maybe it’s the largest and boldest or the most interesting. Or, it might be the most special.

5 tips for step by step styling modern shelves

2. The Rule of Threes:

The rule of threes changed my life. Books, plants, candles… almost everything looks better in groups of three (or any other odd number). This golden rule of design makes shelf styling much less overwhelming.  It’s easy to go overboard and have 3 of everything: 3 books, 3 candles, 3 plants, 3 knickknacks. This can result in a bunch of random groups and a cluttered shelf. I find it helpful to look at the rule of 3’s in the big picture, maybe 3 main objects or 3 tall items and then singles of other items.  (In the shelf above, I grouped 3 plants spread out across the two shelves). 

3. Mix Up Materials:

Mixing materials keeps shelves (or design in general) from feeling too forced and tired. That matchy-matchy decor train of the 90’s (and still?) brainwashed us all, I think. Stepping away from this, I try to mindfully mix materials like metals, woods, ceramics, plants, glass to pure shelf delight.   Now, I sort of have a mental checklist (metal? Check. Greenery? Yes. Wood? Of course.)

Of course, my favorite shelf brackets are from Cascade Iron Co., the metal is a good foundation for styling.  ( I work there too!

tried and true step by step guide for easy shelf styling for modern minimalist shelves

4. Style Each Shelf with Intention:

If you’re styling kitchen shelves, this is pretty obvious. Plates and mugs are very purposeful. They might be the sole reason you put up shelves.

When looking at other items to add to shelves, I like to hold each item individually and determining its purpose.   I ask myself if it’s important enough to have a spot on this shelf?

This is opposed to just putting crap on shelves to take up space. Resist the urge.

easy to follow tips for styling the perfect shelfie for simple shelves

5. When in Doubt, Go for Neutral Shelf Styling:

Those first shelves I created made me cry. I put everything I loved on it however so it had to be beautiful. Right? Wrong. It was messy, cluttered, and made me itch with anxiety. Stepping back, I realized that even though each item itself was pretty, together it looked like an explosion of color and chaos. I’ve since found that going neutral (and maybe adding one big pop of color), tames shelves and keeps them from looking busy. And neutral doesn’t have to be boring! Neutral can be all sorts of beautiful like wood, glass, amber, metal, line, etc.

Ultimately, Go for Shelf Styling You Love:

Forget the rules. Yep, even the ones I just told you. Maybe you try them out and they work for you. Great. But in the end, they are your shelves. You have to love them. For a while, I tried recreating those farmhousey shelves I saw all over Instagram. They were pretty. But you know, they just weren’t me. I’m as country as they come, but I’m also a little more edgy and I’m also on a budget. So, in the end, I create shelves that I will love every time I walk by them. That’s the best tip ever. 

How to make wood shelves?

Check out my tutorial on how to make open shelving!