At some point in a person’s clutter clearing journey, clear space starts to emerge in their home. Some love it. Some feel so uncomfortable that their clutter clearing may stall.
Clutter clearing brings an exhilarating sense of new-found freedom and space. But if you’ve become used to living with a certain quantity of stuff in your life, it can take a while to get used to not having it there anymore.
One person described it to me like this: ‘Each time I enter my home and see the empty spaces on the bookcase, I feel shocked and then immediately feel very relieved. It’s so good to have some empty spaces. It’s such a new sight. I will get used to it.’
Another client I worked with reported similar emotions. Together we cleared about a third of the items on his three small shelves, which still left leaving about 100 decorative objects still in place. But the first time he arrived home after going out for a few hours, he was so taken aback by how bare his shelves looked that he thought he’d been burgled.
The connection between clutter and suppressed emotions
Some people find it difficult to tolerate any unfilled space at all. It makes them too uncomfortable. They use their possessions as a protective layer, so any clear space makes them feel emotionally vulnerable and exposed. They feel compelled to fill it as quickly as they can.
A teenage girl I once met gave me some deep insights into this. She lived at home with her parents in a very tidy house, except for her bedroom, which was filled halfway to the ceiling with piles of clothes and personal belongings. For six months or more, she hadn’t opened the windows, changed the bed sheets, or allowed anyone in there. ‘I don’t like it like this,’ she confided. ‘And I did tidy it up once. But so many emotions came up that I had to clutter it again.’
She was going through a very difficult time in her life and this was her way of coping, using clutter to suppress her emotions. It didn’t resolve anything. In fact, it made her situation worse, because the stagnant energy surrounding her clutter made her feel even more stuck. But there it stayed until she was ready to face her problems and found a capable therapist to help her move through them. After that, she didn’t need the clutter anymore. She tidied it all up and got on with her life.
The truth is that everyone who has clutter uses it to suppress emotions in some way. It creates a numbing effect that allows you not to feel things you would rather not feel.
But when it gets to the stage where every shelf is full, every surface is covered, and even the tiniest unfilled space feels unbearable, there are some serious issues that need to be looked at and you may need help to do so, such as working with a professional clutter clearing practitioner or a therapist of some kind. Or both. If left unchecked, this can lead to full-blown hoarding, where every space in your homes becomes full. That’s very difficult to reverse, so it’s a road you really don’t want to go down.
How you look at it
The photo near the top of this article of a solitary vase of flowers on a shelf will feel artistic and pleasing to some but not at all so to anyone who sees clear space as empty space.
However, the concept is well known in graphic design. The area around the subject of a picture is called white space and is just as important as the subject itself. It’s what makes it stand out. It’s also why the text in advertisements is usually in upper and lower case rather than all capitals because the space around capitals is not as easy for the eye to read.
Rubin’s vase is a famous example of white space. One person may see it as a black vase against a white background. Another might see it as two human silhouettes in white against a black background. The choice is in the eye of the beholder, and you can view any clear space in the same way.
So if you want to change your relationship to space, take a playful approach. Clear a shelf in your home, put a single item on it, and keep it that way for a day. Each time you see it, look at the item as well as the space around it. See how they fit together. If seeing the space triggers uncomfortable emotions, let them surface, feel them, and let them go. You’ll discover it gets easier each time you do it.
Repeat this exercise one day at a time until empty space becomes normal and holds no fear. Most people find it doesn’t take very long. You just have to be willing to give it a whirl and begin.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2014, updated 2023
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