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.

You know what?  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.

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.

I love it that my home looks and feels bigger.

Dana K. White, author of Decluttering at the Speed of Life, says that the secret to creating empty space is to start thinking of your home, and each room, closet, cupboard, and drawer in it, as a container.

The purpose of a container is to restrain, to limit, to prevent the spread of something.  We can buy all kinds of containers:  bins, boxes, baskets, and more.  Then we fill all of those storage containers, and they fill all of our closets and cupboards.  This hoard of organized stuff creates the illusion that there is no clutter, but sooner or later all the containers are full.  Then we buy more containers to fill and organize (and eventually a new, bigger house).  Does that sound familiar?  It's what I did for years.

Once I realized that my home was itself a container, and that the secret was not to pack it as full as possible, but to use it to help me set limits on my possessions, I found that I had plenty of space.

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

But when 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, I found that more than half of those pieces were things I didn't even wear, and that probably no one needs six pairs of black sandals, and that button-down shirts always gap and pull, 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 see at a glance what was available and what I truly needed 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 that won't fit is less valuable to me than what's already in there.

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

The key to successful decluttering is to purge enough stuff that you only have what fits comfortably in the container of your home.  You don't have to question whether something has worth, but whether it fits your container.  Favorite things get first dibs on the space; things that don't have a current purpose don't.  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 to show it off.
  • If your kitchen counter is for preparing meals, don't crowd it with appliances, canisters, dishes, 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.
  • Don't let TV, social media, online shopping, or other distractions steal your time.  Create limits ("containers") to preserve space for activities you believe are more important.

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.


  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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