White space is the term I use for the artistic & design principle of negative space, or the area in the piece not filled by the subject. In my life right now I am using this term with the living spaces in my home as the metaphorical canvases. The furnishings, decorations, and other objects are all “positive” space or subject matter. The blank walls, empty floor and air space are “white” space.
So with that vocabulary housekeeping out of the way (just so that you understand that the way I am using the term is not necessarily mainstream), let me dive right in to how this is helping me in my home.
I am a recovering clutter-collector. I’ve learned to clean out and then I just collected more again. It took me many years to realize that the problem was that stuff requires decisions. If there is a pile to be put away, each object in the pile requires the decision to keep or throw. Where to put it away? (Where is its home?) If it is to be thrown out; do I recycle, donate, or send to the landfill? Is it too big or otherwise not able to be picked up by city trash collectors? Where do I take it? If it is still useable, is it worth my time to sell it? Which consignment shop or website? What does that process entail? If it doesn’t sell, what do I do with it? If I don’t want to sell it, will anyone accept it for a donation? How can I rent or borrow a vehicle to deliver it to the donation drop off?
As you can see, I get pretty overwhelmed by details. They are my superpower and my kryptonite. But, back to space. When each object in my home provokes this much distress and energy consumption, I can understand why so many are advocating paring down. So I read Marie Kondo and I’ve worked on a capsule wardrobe, (and I’m still working on those things); but the real shift came for me when I realized that I needed a certain percentage of a room to be negative or white space in order to feel comfortable. In other words, I could continue to donate stuff, but if I was looking at the “empty” space in my room as empty, that just set me up to fill it. Because that’s what “empty” provokes. But when I changed the term to white space, I had a completely different set of associations. Most of them were related to the fact that the space had been consciously and intentionally left without an object in it, for the purpose of being open. So I didn’t think of those places as needing to be filled any more, but started imagining myself protecting them from intruding objects.
(I am the knight in shining armor, protecting innocent spaces from being overtaken by villainous objects!)
I still have a long way to go before I finished clearing out all of the objects in my home that don’t belong, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how good the progress feels.
I have a friend who is a long way ahead of me in this process, and who inspires me so much. Several years ago I was visiting her in her apartment and I noticed something that made me smile. On a shelf lay a small piece of paper and nothing else. On the paper was printed the sentence: “This space intentionally left blank.” It was a reminder to her husband and herself to restrain themselves from the temptation to pile a stack of books, or mail and house keys, or any number of things on that lovely available spot.
As I ponder more on the white space in each room, I realize that this is my goal: to free up a certain percentage of the room. When I reach that ratio of stuff to space, then I start to feel good about the furnishings and the energy of the room as a whole. So therein lies my project: figure out how to clear more space and be mindful of how it feels as more space is available. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have actual numbers for the stuff to space ratio that is right for my home and me in it, but I can get to the point where I know, “This. This is the right amount. Anything new that comes in, something has to go or we are over-budget on space.”
I’d love to hear in the comments how you have found this principle at work in your own homes.