Embrace Empty Space

Up until recently, I always thought the point of cleaning was to get as much stuff as possible into my closets and cabinets. I would clear out and give or throw away items we didn’t use and then, there was all that empty space just burning a hole in my proverbial pocket. I would plot things I could put in the newly cleared area (whether stuff we currently owned or stuff we were going to currently own) and sure enough, within a week or two, that space would be jammed full of stuff and I would have to clear out crap again.

It was as if I was physically incapable of having any “wasted” space in the house. In my mind, if I had an empty cabinet or shelf, I wasn’t efficiently using my house. My possessions were like gas molecules, expanding to fill the whole space of my house. That, and apparently my nature (not the actual Universe) abhors a vacuum. (Nerd alert! Two, count ’em, TWO science allusions in one paragraph! Whooo!)

In reality though, the point of clearing out my house is to have more SPACE.

This concept blows my mind.

In the same vein, before I got a smartphone and kids, I was always late. I wanted to maximize my time and use it as efficiently as possible. Therefore, I hated being early. I always plotted ways to arrive as close to a meet up or start time as possible. Of course, because I never built in a time buffer, inevitably I was quite often late. Apparently it was ok to waste time as long as it was other people’s.

Once I had kids, I realized I hated using my children as an excuse for my poor planning even MORE than I hated being early with nothing to do. (And with kids, I now never have nothing to do.) So then, I started to build an extra half hour to my travel times and still I sometimes run late. (Amazing how quickly that half hour gets eaten up. My favorite is when the kids are all strapped in and ready to go and somebody poops. Explosively.)

Plus, on the rare occasions I go out without my kids, my incredible fears of having the dreaded “Nothing to Do” is ameliorated by my joining the 21st century and finally having a smartphone with internet capabilities. Now, I rarely have Twiddling Thumb Time. (No, I am not talking about texting. If I were, it would be a lie. I text practically every waking moment.)

But now I have to wonder, just what is my problem with empty space (be it literal or figurative)? What is so horrible about being bored or mentally unoccupied?

In regards to the actual physical space, it is hard to break free from a hoarder’s mentality. The overarching fear that as soon as I get rid of something, I will need it. If I give away this toy or this fondue pot (never used after 7 years), what will happen if the kids should all of a sudden want to play with that toy again? Or OMG, if I NEED a fondue pot?

But the truth is, my kids would only think about that toy if I take it out (and even then, they’ll briefly play with it and seem to be ok when I tell them we’re giving it away). Plus, I have NEVER needed a fondue pot. I wish I did. Or more likely, I wish I weren’t so lazy that I would’ve actually used it. Mmmm… fondue…

As for mentally unoccupied times, for awhile, since I was actively avoiding thinking terribly deeply about my life and only living on the surface of things, I hated those still moments where my brain would inevitably go find the one thing I didn’t want to think about and then think about it. Nowadays, I don’t mind the stillness so much since that’s when I come up with blog ideas or insights into my life. However, I don’t make nearly enough room for myself.

I find that when my house or my life is crammed near bursting, I can go weeks (or months, even) without a single deep thought (or if I think it, no time or desire to pursue it). When I am surrounded by things and the stress of finding places to put these things (and the new things I keep buying), I feel crowded and cramped and boxed in. But when I clear out my house, I feel fresh, clean, and free. As if my things no longer own me.

Unfortunately, it seems as if I never learn this lesson and each time I make room, after a few days, I pile on the stuff again. Now in some sense, I suppose that is just the way of things. Clean spaces will eventually accumulate the detritus of five people going about doing stuff and I will have to clean them again. (I try to do a monthly sweep in all the corners of my house. This is clearly an ideal and does not happen once a month, but I do try!) However, other times, I use the clean spaces as an excuse to buy another item since hey, I just de-accumulated – don’t I deserve another something?

Well, this year, I am actively going to try and keep empty spaces empty. I already wrote about not buying new toys in 2014 (that includes new to us toys). But I also think I need to make room in my mental space, too. Instead of always filling my time with reading, surfing the net, texting, and a myriad of other “white noise,” I will attempt to allow my brain to wander and God forbid, think.

What about you? Does your life need more empty space?

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One thought on “Embrace Empty Space

  1. As William Hazlitt said, “Grace has been defined as the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.” I think this applies to clutter as well. When you have too much in your house, it clutters your mind as well. Personally, I love when things are clean and clear and I love my quiet time (which almost never happens when I’m teaching first graders!), because as you mentioned, that is when ideas and deep thoughts have room to grow.

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