Open Shelving Is of the Devil: 5 Reasons To Avoid the Horrors of Shelf Styling!不

A Semi-serious Manifesto Against the Shelf Styling Movement!

Will the gates of my home be stormed by Open Shelf-loving villagers with torches and pitchforks? Maybe! But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time. Mostly because I had the title “Open Shelving Is Of The Devil” pop into my head months agoand it makes me laugh to myself every time.

(And when something still makes me laugh after months, I gotta see it through.)

Furthermore, I’m writing it for those of you who aren’t yet confident enough in your design style and beliefs to stand up to the tyranny of “What Everyone Else Says” or “What ‘Everyone’ is Showing On Their Page.” You haven’t fully learned yet that it’s okay (and even healthy!) to be a Questioner, who asks,

“But why are we doing this?”

“Open shelving is of the devil!” I thought to myself with a laugh. And clearly, I needed to write a blog post to support this title!


Why is open shelving of the devil, Jess?”

Here’s the deal: I like to save my time and my money.

And all I see when I consider open shelving is


Wait, I spoke too soon. That’s not all I see. I forgot the most important thing: I also see

a LOT of objects.

And in my world, more objects I’m responsible for = more stress.


Consequently, I see three things when I see open shelves:

  1. Sucker of my time.
  2. Sucker of my cash moneymoney.
  3. Sta-REH-ss.

Let’s break this down a bit, shall we?

Open Shelving PROBLEMS

Reason #1: It’s a Time-sucker!

There are thousands of blog posts, social media posts, and videos out there showing you “How to Style Shelves!”

A cute pic of your perfectly styled shelves is commonly referred to as a “shelfie” (a play on the word “selfie”a photo taken of yourself with your phone). Now shelf styling is famous enough to have its own moniker.

(Just FYI, I will not ever refer to these as “shelfies” in this post. I just can’t do it. It makes me want to bury my face in my hands and shake my head. So I’ve educated you, but on a term you won’t see here. It will only be used in “the outside world.” )

OK. Have you ever actually styled your shelvesand styled them beautifully?


Everyone has their “formula” but really it all boils down to the same things:

“Decor 101: How to Style Shelves”

  1. Vary your heights!
  2. Vary your shapes!
  3. Vary your textures!
  4. Vary the sheen on all your objects!
  5. Work in groups of threes, but not together! Make triangles!
  6. Alternate how many objects you have on each shelf, while keeping in mind that you still need groups of three, but not too close!
  7. Use books for heightbut they have to be pretty books with nice covers and bindings and oh they also need to coordinate with the color scheme you have with all your other objects.
  8. Vary your colors, but not too much!
  9. Switch up your textures, but not too much!
  10. Vary your heights, shapes, textures, and colors perfectly evenly within your triangles!
  11. If you have more than three shelves, your triangles will blow up in your face, so please rebuild your bookshelves to allow your groups of three.
  12. If you are unable to do everything in groups of three, and vary the number of items on each shelf (some with one, two, or three groups of items that make up a larger group), you will need to do some high-level math to figure out how many groups of groups you will need to keep all your groups of three together, yet not together, and varied.

via Driven by Decor & Jenna Sue Design

I could continue, but at least this gives you the general idea (and saves you from having to go lookup all the internet articles on “How to Style Shelves”). However, if you really want one, here’s an example.


Shelf Styling: How Does It Feel?

Even if you’re a design professional, it can take you at least 2-3 hours to properly style the average set of bookshelves. Major designers have shared videos they sped up of themselves doing shelf stylingand they had all their objects ready and pre-planned to some degree, which took them more time not seen on cameraand it was 2 or more hours of video sped up.

Style style style. Stand back and analyze. Go back and restyle. Stand back and analyze. Style style style, restyle. Stand back and analyze…this is the the whole video. No wonder they sped it up for us!

I’ve had/been forced to style shelves on too many occasions to count, and I’ll admit

its extremely satisfying when you get the shelves to look good.

You want to just stand back and gaze at it for hours. (Sidenote: this standing around to admire your styled shelves also takes up more of your time.)

via CHS Blonde & Style by Emily Henderson

But my theory is that if you find this satisfying, it’s not because the actual process was enjoyable but

because you’re so blinking grateful to have gotten those shelves done!


Reason #2: It’s a Money-sucker!

For decorating these gorgeous open shelves, you will need to buy:

  1. Objects in varying heights.
  2. Objects in varying shapes.
  3. Objects in varying textures.
  4. Objects in varying colors, as well as objects in similar colors.
  5. Books with the right size, color, binding, font and print size on binding, but in a variety of these so they don’t look too matchy-matchy, yet they still need to coordinate.
  6. A combination of artwork, vases, sculptures, plants, framed photos, pottery, and bowls.

Etcetera, etcetera.


At some point

you will get tired of how your shelves look

and you’ll want to restyle them all over again! (See #1 “sucker of time.”)

via,, & CHSBlonde .com

On top of that, keep in mind that if you’re tired of looking at all the same objects and it’s not enough for you to simply regroup the existing objects you’ve been looking at for months,

you will need to buy more items.

(And then you will need to store all the items you took off your shelves to replace with the new items, or find another place to put them, orLord forbid!create a new area of shelves somewhere in your home to house these “old” items plus some new ones to decorate the extra shelves you’ve created for that purpose!)

Which brings me to my 3rd and final point…


Reason #3: Visual clutter = stress!

I wrote two years ago about how visual clutter equals stress for me. I’ve explained it to others, “It’s like every object is talking, calling out, or yelling something to me!” And SO VALIDATINGLY (lest you think I’m a nutjob whose number 2 pencils talk to her), I recently listened to a podcast by The Minimal Mom where she shared the exact same thing = our stuff TALKS!

It’s reminding us of what we have yet to do! It’s reminding us of what we haven’t done yet/failed on! It’s reminding us of so muchand all at once!

via Ella Claire Inspired, CT In Style & Home Edit

This is one of the reasons why I like hiding things. Not only does it make my house look clean to the naked eye, but it also helps me to focus on the present! Not what I haven’t done in the past, or what I have got to do in the future…but

focusing on the present!

I need more of this in my life, and so many of us do!

I’ve also often said, “The less stuff I have, the happier I feel!” Pretty sure there’s a scientific study that’s been done on this, because I’ve heard something of that nature on so many podcasts over the years, but you’ll have to look it up and send me the link because I’m in the middle of writing a blog post right now.


Reason #4: They Create More to Clean!

Two words for you: DUST CITY!

I’ll pass.

Do dishes, glasses, and decorative items on open shelves get dusty? Yes.

Also, if you want open shelving in your kitchen, and you want to store cups and dishes on those shelves, they’re exposed to everything floating through the air! Everything that floats through the air will travel onto your clean dishes and settle on them.

That’s another hard pass.

Open shelving is just another thing to clean. (Or should I say “100s of things to clean,” depending on how many objects are kept on them, totaled up throughout the home.)

via Gem Cabinets, Design Sponge, & Modern Glam

Open Shelving CONS

Reason #5: They’re Going Out of Style

My professional opinion is that open shelving is becoming a dated look.

It came in as a trend; that means it will go out as a trend.

Will people continue to have some form of open shelves in future? Sure. I’ll talk about that below.

But whether open shelves are still in style in 2023 and beyond is a controversial topic, many of its supporters being fierce adopters of the open shelving trend!

Now, as I’m only halfway kidding my title about open shelves being of the devil, I’m not actually berating anyone’s choice to get them, but I know I’m saying (out loud) many valid points that resonate for many of us! (And that many of you have been too scared to speak out against because it’s such a trend!)

Open Shelving problems

BONUS REASON #6: They’re Cheap!

This could be a pro or a con, depending on your perspective. (In a kitchen, one of the pros of open shelving is that it’s usually cheaper than full upper cabinets!)

The downside is…

…everyone knows it’s cheaper.

Even in this article about open shelves, they mention that open shelving can “look cheap.”

I don’t 100% agree because I’ve seen some open shelves done well…but I also get what they’re saying. Some open shelving can look tacky if high-quality materials aren’t used, and they can warp or sag over time.


Open Shelving Is of the Devil!

More than “shelves”…

Another important point to remember: it’s not just shelves that need styling. Your fireplace mantel, your console table, your dining room buffet…all of those count as “shelves” that have to be styled!

Basically, ANY SURFACE can be a “shelf”! My desk is kind of acting like a shelf right now, and let me tell youit is NOT styled! Paper, pens, water cups, my phone charger, a plant, worksheets for my kids, an oil diffuser, and one of my Moso bags that needs to be put out in the sun…it doesn’t feel fantastic to have all this stuff “out” around me while I work.

So now that I’m thinking about that (and I think my work is done here! ), I’m off to organize my shelf-desk and see how much I can get out of my line of vision so I can function with maximum

creativity + present-mindedness!

Now is the time to open up the floor for everyone to give me their take on open shelving. I fully expect to get feedback from every part of the spectrum. Many of you feel the same way, so…

…you have FULL PERMISSION to not have to embrace the open shelving trend!

Need guidance on your own home project? Get instant help with our Design Guides + Plans!

For design tips + our complete list of home projects, you can browse our home by room HERE!

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. GEO

    Perfect summary of what happens AFTER the perfect “shelfies” have been completed … the moment when you discover that perfection is fleeting and that it commands you to do it again.

  2. Mimi

    Thank-you for putting into words what I’ve been sensing for years around open shelving and visual clutter. Most photos I see of styled rooms read to me “there’s a Lot going on here”, not a relaxing room that I would want to spend time in. A select few objects are Okay, whether on a shelf or table. What I do: I rotate items, and the rest of the year they are behind a sliding barn door on shallow shelves, out of sight but easily accessed. That way I get to appreciate and not tire of them while maintaining a serene look. Win-win ;-). I think it comes down to visual restraint and regular editing. Plus- not trying to fill every open space with something.

  3. Boyaci

    Thank you too much for sharing this nice post.

    1. Jess

      You’re very welcome.

  4. Jess Lopez

    I tend to agree, open shelving is an invitation for dust. However, I have a design dilemma with a wall niche in my butler’s pantry that I’m about to renovate. It’s tall and deep, but it look so dated, and it’s right next to my laundry room door. I keep going back and forth over whether or not to wall it up, or add shelves and make it into open shelving (gasp!). I kind of hate to wall it up and cover storage space…but there’s nothing I can practically store there. Do I go the evil open shelving route?

  5. Richelle

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes AND yes! Totally agree. I so wish you were not booked through the year!

    1. Jess

      Aw, thanks Richelle! Happy to hear you connected with this fun post!

      – Jess

Leave a Reply