Embrace Empty Space

Many people think they can't be minimalists because they don't want to live in an all-white room with a chair, a lamp, and a mattress on the floor, or with only enough possessions to fill a backpack.

But the majority of aspiring minimalists don't choose that lifestyle.  I live with my husband in a small apartment, but we have a couch and a coffee table and bookshelves and a queen-size bed and a dresser and a dining table with several chairs.  My kitchen has a dishwasher and a microwave.  I have art on my walls, houseplants, and hobby supplies.

But I also have something I didn't have when my home was more cluttered, and that's empty space.

I love it that my home looks and feels bigger.

Before I decluttered, I didn't realize how much I would love empty space, because I'd always filled every space I had.  Every shelf, every drawer, every cupboard, closet, wall, or shed was filled with stuff I was sure I needed (or would need someday) and valued (even if I didn't use or look at it).

Once I had more space, I realized that space made me happy.  I like a kitchen cupboard with only one set of dishes in it, or a bookshelf that doesn't have books stacked behind or on top of other books.  I like not bumping into or tripping on things, or searching for them in piles of clutter.  I can see, enjoy, and easily access the items I own.

The secret to creating empty space

The answer isn't a better organizing system.  We can buy all kinds of containers:  bins, boxes, baskets, and more.  We can buy the latest closet system.  But when we fill all of those storage containers – even if everything is stacked and labeled and just so – we don't have any more space than we started with.  And now we have a system that has to be maintained, neatened, and constantly reorganized.

Our hoard of organized stuff creates the illusion that there's no clutter, but our containers are full, and we keep acquiring more.  Then we buy more containers to fill and organize (and eventually rented storage space, or even a new, bigger house).  Does that sound familiar?  It's what I did for years.

Dana K. White, author of Decluttering at the Speed of Life, says that the secret to creating empty space is to let your house help you set limits on your possessions.  Instead of fitting in as much as possible, we need to make choices about what to put into the space we have.  When we set a limit, we find that we have plenty of space.

Take my clothes closet, for example.  I wanted to be able to store my clothes without having them all squashed together, wrinkled, or falling off the hangers.  I thought for a long time that my closet was just too small.  I added special multi-garment hangers, another clothing rod, and multiple bins.

But when I started to declutter, I took all of my clothes out of the closet, and put all of the pants together, and all of the dresses, and all of the skirts, jackets, tops, and shoes.  Once it was all out in the open, I discovered that more than half of those pieces were things I didn't even wear.  I saw that no one needs six pairs of black sandals, that button-down shirts always gap and pull on a full-figured woman, and that fitted jackets aren't my best look.  

When I removed all of that, and replaced the items I actually liked to wear, I had plenty of space in my closet.  I could easily put together outfits that were flattering and comfortable.  I could see at a glance what was available and what I might need to add or replace.  I loved the empty floor and the space between each hanger.

Instead of filling each space in my home with as much as I possibly can, even if it looks organized, I choose the best, the most useful, my favorites.  Those go in first, and when the space is full, I know that anything left over is less valuable to me than what's already there.

And by "filling" the space, I don't mean stacking things high and cramming things in so that every cupboard or drawer always ready to tumble out and bury me in an avalanche of junk.

The key to successful decluttering is to choose.  Choose only what fits comfortably in the space you have.  Favorite, most-used things get first dibs on the space, and things that don't have a current purpose don't.  

You don't have to question whether something might come in handy "some day," but whether it's valuable now and fits easily in the space you have.  It's not an emotional decision, it's a practical one.

You don't need a bigger house – you need less stuff.

  • If you love a painting, don't hang twelve other things on the wall.  Leave empty space around it so it's the center of attention.
  • If your kitchen counter is for preparing meals, don't crowd it with appliances, canisters, cookbooks, knickknacks, mail, or anything that will steal the space you need to chop veggies or bake cookies.
  • If your couch is for relaxing, don't cover it with laundry, cat toys, and eight throw pillows.  Leave empty space for more than one person to sit or recline.

Similarly, you don't need more hours in your day, you need to edit your activities and commitments.

  • If you enjoy a hobby, make time to pursue it.
  • If you value a relationship, leave space on the calendar for date night, and time during the day or evening to talk, listen, and cuddle.
  • If there are activities or responsibilities you believe are important, make time for them first.  Don't let TV, social media, shopping, or other distractions crowd them out.

Embrace empty space, in your home and on your calendar.  Release the things that don't add value to life, and make space for what you cherish.  Don't rush to fill empty spaces, but appreciate the clarity and peace they bring.

Updated January 2023


  1. Another enlightening post. Thank you for sharing this with us readers.

    1. You're welcome, and I'm glad you found it useful!



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