Decorating with Knick-Knacks: What Turns a House into a Home

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Knick-knacks, trinkets, baubles… call them whatever you like. These items generally refer to small household ornaments that hold no practical use other than decorating the space they’re in. Perhaps you used to see grandma’s trinkets all over her cozy house or are familiar with other people’s travel souvenirs. Or, maybe your dad’s sports memorabilia was on full display growing up. For many of us, it’s these tiny things with seemingly no purpose that make a home.

There’s a misconception that knick-knacks create clutter when, in fact, they can actually help tie a room together. These small items can also reflect someone’s personality far better than whatever color they choose for the walls. Plus, they’re also more renter-friendly because they rarely require modifications to a rental in order to be displayed.

Any decorating guide will tell you that less is more. And, with today’s minimalist approach to interior design, knick-knacks have become somewhat rebuffed. But, what to do with all of them, then? Below are some quick tips on how to successfully decorate with knick-knacks — without looking like a hoarder.

Start by curating your trinkets


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Curating doesn’t necessarily mean throwing them away. Rather, Marie Kondo’s approach works pretty well here: Part ways with whatever doesn’t spark joy. Decluttering and slimming down the trinkets works wonders, especially when you’re trying to incorporate them into studios or smaller rentals. At the end of the day, we keep knick-knacks because they mean something to us. So, if a certain object has lost its meaning or you can’t even remember why you have it in the first place, then maybe its time with you is up.

Scatter them, but not on their own


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If you love your trinkets — but don’t necessarily pick them based on anything other than a gut feeling — chances are that your items are unrelated to one another. And, while most designers advise keeping most of your knick-knacks together, if there’s no connection between the items, it could create an unwanted effect.

Instead, the easiest way to display miscellaneous trinkets is by scattering them around. The obvious choices are bookshelves or side tables, but the trick is to still find a way to group them. Whether they’re tied together by theme, color, size, material or anything else, create small vignettes and find ways to pair off your trinkets.

How to tackle collectibles


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If you’re a collector, you’re probably itching to display your collection for everyone to see. And, of course, collections look best when the items are all together, so avoid the scattering method for this one. This works perfectly for like items, as well, such as figurines or travel mementos.

Then, depending on what you collect, determine how much space you need to properly showcase every item. For tiny items, consider encasing or grouping them in transparent jars. And, if these are precious items to you, place them somewhere that’s out of reach, high up or enclosed — whether you’re thinking of shelving them or mounting them on a wall.

How to showcase important items


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Creating a special place for items that hold significance to us is important — particularly if we want to show off prized possessions, such as family heirlooms, antiques or valuable items that have been passed down from generation to generation. You can even dedicate an entire corner, wall or floating shelf to them to be admired by guests.

If these items are expensive and hold more than just sentimental value, consider encasing them or finding ways to keep them safe. But, if you want to display them, you might as well go all out and use them as a centerpiece wherever you usually entertain.

Give your knick-knacks a purpose

Knick knacks might not fit an essentialist decor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a purpose for them. In fact, some items can become multifunctional, especially if they can hold other objects. For example, a beloved ceramic piece can turn into a vase. Others can become useful due to their weight or size, like a bauble that doubles as a paperweight or a flea market find that works as a door stopper. Just experiment and see if your beloved trinkets can go beyond their visual appeal.

At the end of the day, decorating is personal. No matter how minimalist we are with our interior design, we can’t dismiss the sentimental power of knick-knacks.

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Alexandra is a creative writer and researcher for RentCafe. With a background in e-learning content writing and a passion for knowledge-sharing platforms, she's covered topics from prop-tech to renters insurance to interior design tips. Very familiar with the renter lifestyle herself, Alexandra enjoys researching and writing about renter demographic shifts and residential real estate market trends as much as she loves writing about how to get along with roommates. You can connect with Alexandra via email.

Alexandra’s work includes collaborations with financial and business publications. Her articles have been featured in several national and international online publications, including the New York Times, Barrons, Inman, Forbes, Architectural Digest, Marketwatch, Bisnow, and Curbed. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Japanese and English and an M.A. in Journalism and Cultural Studies.

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