We crave space, but then rush to fill it with stuff. What’s behind this urge to fill our spaces, and why do we resist an empty space?
I am sitting in my living room. It is mostly empty.
I spent most of this past month engaged in a massive declutter project, the first step to getting my apartment ready to sell. I’ve spent a decade helping others sell their homes and I’ve been taking my own medicine: clearing things out, to make space for another person’s vision.
I went away last weekend while the apartment was painted. I expected to return home to find it newly furnished with staging furniture. Instead, I returned to find most of my old furniture gone, but delays mean that the rental furniture won’t arrive until next week.
The living room is sparse. A few of my pieces, some rental pieces that are going back, and some boxes with remaining items I still need to sell or discard.
The only part that is finished is a corner with my stripped-down bookshelves and a chair: a cozy reading nook.
So I am sitting here, in the comfort of my books, looking around at my living room.
My empty living room.
Even after a decade in real estate, I never get over how different spaces look and feel without furniture.
Space. It is the thing we crave more than anything. Moreso, even, than time. (Of course, time is just a form of space.)
The predictability of the human desire for more space is what keeps real estate agents in business.
A funny thing happens when we get the space we crave: we fill it.
We fill our physical space with furniture and clothes and books and toys.
We fill our time space with busy work, activities, errands, web surfing, social media and email.
We fill our mental space with news and information and other things we don’t need to know.
We fill our emotional space with toxic emotions that drain our energy and our ability to focus on what’s truly important.
All of this leaves us no space for connecting with ourselves and nature and other humans in a meaningful way.
As I sit here, I can’t help but wonder whether we really do want the space we say we want.
What if more and bigger space isn’t really what we want? Or what if it is, but we just don’t know what to do when we receive it?
I’ve learned that the thing we most desire is also the thing we fear the most.
Fear may be a strong word in this context, although some people do suffer from kenophobia (fear of empty spaces). But, it certainly seems that many of us have a discomfort with empty spaces.
So, as much as we crave space, we rush to fill it as soon as we find it.
Why do we fill our spaces? What about an empty space is so uncomfortable?
When we are seeking to fill space externally, it’s because we are seeking to fill a hole that we feel inside ourselves.
The external reflect the internal.
We fill our physical space the same way we often fill our schedules: with a lot of meaningless clutter that we don’t need, that only serves to show how “full” we are, but that really just masks the emptiness we feel inside.
For so many years I lived surrounded by the clutter of my possessions. I wasn’t a hoarder, but I liked my stuff. Books. Memorabilia. Odds and ends. Stacks of things. Awards and trophies. They gave me comfort.
Even when I surrounded myself with that stuff, I often filled my space with sounds: from the television, to give myself some company, or with music.
It helped me feel less alone. Less lonely. Less empty inside.
Today, I feel different.
The space looks empty. But it doesn’t feel empty. I don’t feel empty.
The external reflects the internal.
We see things as we are.
I’ve spent the past few years learning how to hold space for myself: traveling the path of personal growth, spiritual practice, meditation, emotional inquiries. I was aided by a brain injury that forced me to learn to be in space with just myself.
Somehow, this feels like a graduation ceremony. A final test:
Sit in an empty space and notice how you feel.
How I feel is free.
I feel free from the confines of furniture I didn’t love. I feel free to move around: to dance, to lay on the floor, to strut around, like my entire living room expanse is a runway or a dance floor or a yoga studio.
I feel free to be fully expressed as myself, in however I choose to manifest that expression.
This space, and I, are filled with possibility and potential to be anything.
That’s the beauty of an empty space.
I realize how long it took for me to get here: to be able to sit, by myself, in an apartment empty of furniture, surrounded by blank walls, without the sounds from the television or music.
Just me, with myself. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I was enough to fill the space. I didn’t feel worthy of so much space. I had to learn this. I had to teach myself, to make it ok. To be able to sit here, in this space, and feel ok with spreading out. I’ve lived here for twelve years and I hardly had artwork on the walls. A friend last year observed: you never claimed your space.
She was right. I own this space, but I never claimed it.
So today I am here. Noticing. I am not fidgeting. I am not escaping. I am just here with myself.
This space does not feel empty. It is filled with me, and my presence.
And I am enough.