In Praise Of Empty Spaces


I have always been attracted to empty, clean, uncluttered spaces. The kind of spaces that make a lot of people go “Oh, it’s so empty, it’s so bare, it needs something!”. Many years before I even learned of the existence of minimalism as a design philosophy (way before it was applied to to other arenas), I felt very much at ease in stark, streamlined places. Just the clean lines and the lack of adornment made me feel at peace and relaxed. It was like a natural stress reliever. I didn’t know why I felt this way, but at some point I became aware of this feeling every time I was around a place that was clutter-free. I felt like I could actually breathe and be at peace.

I’ve always admired John Pawson, and what he calls “the excitement of empty space”. Of course, at first I thought minimalism was all about white walls and no furniture, and even though I did like that, I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to live around. I couldn’t see myself living in a stark white environment. Too sterile, I thought. Too antiseptic, lifeless even.

Hmmm, really?

I’ve been in houses where every nook and cranny has been filled with “something”. Sadly, most items are cheap trinkets with no intrinsic value. Everything is important, therefore nothing is important. No space is left unadorned, no horizontal area has been left uncovered by a figurine or a souvenir or a coaster. Why? What is the fascination with clutter? I can almost hear Alanis Morissette singing “Why are you so petrified of silence?” Why are they so scared of empty spaces? I’ll tell you why: because empty spaces force us to focus and they make us think. We’re not distracted by the chaos of colors and shapes and textures; our brains are forced to engage with the here and now. And that scares many people. You can see them fidgeting and almost squirming. Why not just BE? Why not just surrender to the emptiness and breathe? I wish I could help more people see the beauty and feel the peacefulness of empty spaces.

Of course, emptiness is a concept that can be applied to our schedules, our relationships, our careers, almost anything. Having a clear plate is a beautiful thing. I am always pursuing what I call this “zen state of nothingness”, and I shall continue learning along the way.

In the meantime, I will keep loving empty spaces, even if all my friends think I’m crazy. And you know what? I think they’re right. I’m crazy about “nothing”! 🙂

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22 thoughts on “In Praise Of Empty Spaces

  1. I can’t remember the book now, but I once read an opinion from an author who said that the people with too much insecurity are the ones who can’t stand to be in silence. They get in the car and immediately adjust the radio. The go for a walk, they can’t leave without their iPod. And if someone else is in the room, they’ll fill every silence with awkward conversation.

    I had never drawn the connection between this an minimalism before. What you said makes a lot of sense: “empty spaces force us to focus and they make us think.” Now I understand why so many people fear minimalism; the thought of being trapped in their own unhealthy thoughts must be paralyzing!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Randy. Now that you mention the car and the radio, I remembered something. Years ago when I lived in Puerto Rico, I would go on long drives (an hour or 2) and never even think of turning on the radio. I loved to just think while driving. And when I run, I can’t stand being “jacked in”. I love to hear myself breathe and also hear the sounds of nature and the city. Your comment reminded me of that and it’s also a great example of an “empty space”. Thanks!

  2. I’m so with you Rick! I’ve long enjoyed empty, clutter-free spaces. When I first realized my preference for this kind of space, I wasn’t aware of minimalism. I just knew I felt uneasy and anxious in cluttered, noisy spaces.

    You really nailed it when you describe the level of focus that can be achieved when we’re not distracted shapes, textures and visual noise. Our brains can only process so much stimulus, why not remove some of it so we can more easily chose what we want to focus on?

  3. That’s right, Jenny. The brain can only handle so much before it starts blocking things out, probably to avoid overheating. LOL!

    I always remember this bookstore that I used to love to shop at because they had so many books and the employees were bona fide book connoisseurs, but there was something that made me feel uneasy whenever I was there and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me: there were so many books and so much paper clutter that I felt like they were going to collapse on me, and at one point it felt like it was hard to breathe whenever I would walk in. I have never been (nor am I now) claustrophobic, so it wasn’t that. I ended up not returning. The clutter just killed the experience for me.

    Thank you, Jenny!

  4. Hello Rick! Thanks for this excellent piece which resonated with me on so many fronts. It is so true that many people are scared by a home not cluttered by extraneous stuff. I also appreciated your statement about emptiness being applied to our schedules, relationships, etc. I love living a minimalist life and maintaining a minimalist house and really appreciate that I am not alone and that someone else “gets” this! Thanks again for a gem of an article.

    1. Thank you Rachael, for your kind words. I’m glad you could relate to this. There are more and more of us out there that have finally found a way to break free from the madness of “stuff”. We can help others, too, and I’m glad my writing helped you. Please come back soon!

  5. there is a still, fresh beauty unlike any other… that of patterns of sunlight and shadow in an almost empty room. it’s sort of a symphony for the spirit. i cannot breathe in over-filled rooms. it’s like visual loud sounds striking from all angles. terrible! i love your site. thank you for sharing.

  6. Hi Rick,
    I can so relate to this. I almost cringe at the thought of visiting my mother-in-laws house and when I do go there (she lives in another state) I make sure I only stay in her house for a few days. She has stuff everywhere, organised stuff but stuff nevertheless. Dolls and bears adorn nearly every room including the guest bed room. It’s enough to give a person nightmares.

    It is like a breath of fresh air when I walk back into my own home at the end of a trip. I still have a ways to go before my house is decluttered to the level I want (and that level keeps changing) but I enjoy the space I have liberated.

    1. Ahhh, I know the feeling, Colleen. I’ve been there so many times. I try my best to ignore it when that happens, but it’s so hard. And so true – coming home to peace, serenity, and emptiness is just a moment filled with joy. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  7. I am very much affected by what is around me and a simple, clean open space is very important to my mental health. I can breathe, concentrate and just relax. Clutter un-nerves me after awhile. I think this is why I have a natural aversion to stores. : ) Helps when you are a minimalist. What I laugh at is when people come to visit me and tell me they are much more comfortable in my simple home and WISH they could be like me. Minimalism is not a wish, it is a do and it gives you a life.

    1. Heather,

      Your words are gold. Everything you wrote is so true. I also find myself loathing to do any shopping, and I only go to stores when I absolutely have to. It’s not fun at all to me, with the possible exception of the Apple Store, LOL!!! I do hope your friends realize that they too can pursue minimalism in their own way and find that comfort in their homes as well.

      Take care!

      Rick

  8. Reblogged this on Ideas For Sustainable Living and commented:
    While many people may feel that clearing space in your environment and your life is a loss, it can also create an opportunity for fresh opportunities and relationships to emerge. If we are looking for a breakthrough, sometimes all we need is a little space to make room for new possibilities.

  9. Great post! You mentioned:

    “I’ve been in houses where every nook and cranny has been filled with “something”. Sadly, most items are cheap trinkets with no intrinsic value.”

    I can definitely relate. I have talked with people who need bigger houses to store all of their stuff. They even ask me when I will get a big house to fill with stuff. Being a minimalist myself, I enjoy space. I’m not against “stuff”. But I’m selective in how much and what kind of “stuff” I choose to have in my life and my space.

    I think it becomes clutter when the “stuff” is broken, useless, and somehow drains resources, energy and space while no longer providing any real value or enjoyment. I have found myself sometimes trying to convince myself why I should hang on to something that I no longer want or need. For example, I might tell myself I will wear someday a pair of shoes that look nice but are very uncomfortable. I think about it, if I haven’t worn those shoes in 2 years, what are the chances I will really use them? Very low. I give them away to charity and I feel much better.

    What do you think motivates some people to fill their living spaces with things?

  10. There is clearly a bundle to realize about this. I suppose you made some good points in features also. eebddgcefdee

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