For years I hated the plastic bins under my bed. There was something cluttered and frustrating about it that I couldn’t identify. It was strange because to anyone else the space would have seemed very organized. All the objects were intentionally sorted. The bed was just over 54 inches wide, so there was the perfect amount of space for a couple rows of 18 inch bins directly in front of 36 inch bins. Everything was in a bin, and every bin fit under the bed. I was making the most of the space available, so what was the problem?
After years of slowly downsizing my possessions, I was able to permanently get rid of enough stuff that I no longer needed the 18 inch bins. I still used the bigger bins under my bed for storage, but suddenly I was happy about it. Suddenly it seemed right, suddenly it worked. Suddenly I had several inches on either side of the bed for just…space. Nothing was sticking out at all, and the remaining bins were barely visible when I walked into the room. I could slide them in and out easily because there was a little extra wiggle room. There was more space for my toes when I was changing the sheets. That seemingly empty space was still being used, but for action and activity rather than objects. I didn’t realize that the space I had been using for storage was space I needed to live my life.
When I’m touring a client’s home for the first time they often point out a few places that they are hoping to “utilize better”. What this often means is they want to be able to fit more stuff into a spot that is awkward and difficult to use, such as a very high shelf or tricky corner cabinet. But sometimes those awkward and difficult spaces are not meant to be filled. Because the space isn’t ideal, leaving a little extra room is the only way you’ll be able to see what you have and grab what you need easily. The more you pack stuff in, the harder it becomes to use any of that stuff. There is value in empty space.
There will be times where circumstances dictate that you have to Tetris a space to make it work, where the amount of items you need to keep just barely fit into the space available, and there’s no practical way for you to keep these items anywhere else or change the furniture or space to better accommodate them. But in those times, know that you are making a choice. You are saying that the current volume of stuff is worth more to you than being able to live with it easily. You would rather keep all your current possessions even if it means that every time you need one thing you have to pull three things out. There are times when this is the right choice. The important thing is to never let it be your default choice. Don’t assume that the solution to an awkward space is to figure out the best way to use every square inch of it. The solution may be to store less in that space, either by moving lesser-used items to less-convenient areas, or preferably by having fewer items in general.
Empty space is what allows you to eat dinner at your table every night. It’s what allows you to sit several feet away from your TV screen and enjoy a movie. Empty space is what hallways and backyards are made of. The empty space of your home is the only part you ever actually get to live in. Protect it, honor it, make room for it.