Space truly is the final frontier! Everyone seems to be on an endless quest for it...for space in their homes...on their desks...in their busy lives! Yet it eludes most of us. Just as soon as we find some....poof! It’s gone and the search begins anew. But what if instead of spending all of our space, we kept some of it….empty?!! Today, I’m making a case for space!
First, how is empty space even useful?
Preserving your empty space boils down to choosing space over stuff. You may be asking...if empty space is so valuable, then why do people tend to choose stuff over space? Good question! Clients usually call me when their lack of space begins causing a problem in their lives. They are aware that they need more space, yet still seem compelled to fill it back up again when given the opportunity. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons, along with my counterpoint for each one: Do any of these sound familiar?
Fear of being without something you may need (clothes, paper towels, shoes, serving dishes).
Counterpoint: If you run out of something, you can go shopping, do laundry, borrow from a neighbor, order online. If none of these are possible, you will likely find a way to make do in an emergency. Such emergencies will be very rare and far outweighed by the everyday benefits of having more space. Think up a back-up plan in advance if that makes you feel less afraid to part with something. (Personal aside: At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis when toilet paper was difficult to find, I came up with multiple contingency plans for if/when we ran out. I never had to use any of them, but now that I have them, I don’t feel a need to use up my valuable space hoarding toilet paper.)
Avoiding a deep-seated (and usually misplaced) perception of poverty and/or a misperception of “wealth”.
Counterpoint: Having more stuff doesn’t make you rich. It actually costs you more in the long run. Would you rather be “rich” in stuff that gets in your way, or rich in time and energy that can be spent on having new and meaningful experiences, learning more about the world, and forging/maintaining important relationships? Which will matter more at the end of your life? Remember, the old adage “You can’t take it with you” refers to your material wealth.
Unwillingness to make choices (aka decision deferral).
Counterpoint: Making decisions gets easier and quicker with practice and takes less time when you do it on a daily basis. Developing a habit of making decisions in the moment takes effort but will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Need to fill up the other aspects of life that feel empty (relationships, self-esteem, productivity, sense of control).
Counterpoint: Space gives us freedom. We need space to live in, move in, fill up with the people and activities that bring us joy. When we do that, we will not feel emptiness; we will feel fulfilled.
So how do we create and maintain empty space?
Simple: Choose space over stuff. Now that you understand the value of empty space and why you may have chosen stuff instead in the past, it will be easier to make more intentional decisions in the future. There are three key components to this:
With a little conscious decision-making and a few good habits, even holding onto empty space can be easy peasy!
When it comes to saving space - and money - nothing beats the power of multi-taskers. Getting in the habit of investing only in items that serve a double-duty function can yield some big dividends when it comes to creating more space in your home.
So what does this look like? Well, consider the many areas of your life where you can get double the usefulness objects:
The key is to get into the habit of brainstorming how you can use your belongings in more ways than one. Before you buy something new, look around to see if you already have something else that will fulfill your need. You'll be surprised how much space (and money!) you'll save...and trips to the donation dropoff too.
With a little creativity and a few multi-taskers, even creating more space in your home will be easy peasy.
Even if your house doesn't look like this, you may still have too much stuff. Every object you own comes with overhead costs. Too much stuff = steep overhead costs that lower your quality of life over time. Your stuff may be costing you more than you realize, and far more than you wish to spend!
How to identify it
Do any of these statements describe you in your home?
If any of these describe your living situation, you have too much stuff! Ideally, you should be able to easily find and access objects you use regularly and be able to verbalize why you are keeping any object in your home without hesitation or sputtering. There should always be a little bit of additional “room to grow” in your cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers so that new purchases or gifts can be put away as soon as you get them home. Most importantly, your home should feel like the calm, comfortable sanctuary you deserve.
How to fix it
Just like diet and exercise, decluttering and purging is an ongoing, lifelong necessity. I know, I know...that’s not a declaration most people want to hear. However, creating and maintaining adequate space in your home doesn’t have to involve endless hours of drudgery. The key is getting into the habit of streamlining as you go. As soon as you begin to see any of the signs that you have too much stuff, it’s time to take action. That action can be as simple as pulling out just a few unwanted items from your closet or cabinet and dropping a bagful of them off for donation or scheduling a pickup. You’d be surprised at what a noticeable difference eliminating just a handful of items can make. Think of it as a maintenance diet for your home.
Perhaps you have many “pounds” to lose first, though? Rest assured that even if your entire house is stuffed to the gills, you can still start small. The important thing is just to start! Pick a cabinet, closet, shelf or drawer that is really bothering you and spend 15-30 minutes identifying stuff you no longer need. Chances are good that there are a lot of deferred decisions and objects you’ve kept by default in there.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect, keep the process as simple as possible by breaking down the job into three easy steps I like to call The Three D's (Decide, Divide, Dispose):
Step 1: Decide - Pull everything out of the space (drawer, shelf, bin). Then pick up each object and choose between two options: 1) Yes, I need it and will use it; or 2) No, I can live without this. Don’t bend yourself into a pretzel trying to justify keeping it. Don’t think right now about whether or not this is the proper place in your home to store it. Don’t worry that you could maybe someday find an alternative use for it. Don’t puzzle over who else might want it during this step or agonize over how much money you spent on it or whether so-and-so would be hurt that you got rid of his gift. Just answer Yes or No to needing/wanting it. Put the Yes-es back in the cabinet or drawer. You can better organize them later or designate a new home for them another time. Step 1 is just about deciding between keeping and not keeping.
Step 2: Divide - Place your Nos into three categories: 1) trash/recycling; 2) donate; 3) sell. First, a word of caution: Do not even think about selling unless you are 100% sure you are going to invest the time and effort that involves and are willing to set a deadline for seeing through that goal. Selling requires you to have a game plan for when, where, who and how much. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the effort. Too often, you end up procrastinating and holding onto items with the best of intentions for far too long. My advice is to limit your sell category to only those items likely to yield enough money to make it worth your time. Place the sell items into a box or bag and write your deadline on it. If you don’t meet the deadline, these items should be donated as soon as possible after the deadline has passed.
Step 3: Dispose - Place trash and recycling in their proper receptacles. Drop off donations at a local charity as soon as possible or schedule a pick-up. Find an out-of-the-way place in your home to temporarily stash your “for sale” items after entering the appropriate action reminders on your calendar so you don’t forget about your deadline.
How to prevent it
Over-accumulation usually results from a combination of two things: Impulsiveness and Deferment. We buy things (or say yes to others giving us things) without first asking ourselves the right questions. Do I really need that? How/when (specifically) will I use it? Where will I store it so that it won’t be in my way? Do I really have room for it? What is my Plan B for it if Plan A doesn’t work out? Our default setting when it comes to acquisition is Yes when it should be No. That's the Impulsiveness.
Then when we are faced with tough decisions on what to do with something when its usefulness comes into question, we attempt to delay making any decision at all by keeping the status quo. That's the Deferment. What we fail to recognize is that merely keeping the status quo is a decision...it is a Yes when it often should have been a No. All these Yes-es eventually add up to clutter, disorganization, frustration, claustrophobia, discomfort, embarrassment, and stress and end up costing us time, money, and opportunity.
Make more purposeful decisions about what to keep and what to acquire, and you will soon find yourself with more space for living! With a little forethought and discernment on how to best “spend” your space, even clutter-free living can be easy peasy!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.