Empty Spaces. Just that title alone makes you assume that this is going to be a sad post, mourning a loss or space that was once full. The words themselves are sad. They make you think of an empty crib that was awaiting a new baby, or an empty room after a kid goes off to college. When your favorite restaurant shuts down. An abandoned building. The empty journal never used. The empty chair your grandfather no longer sits in. An empty school in the summer. Empty refrigerators. Empty bank accounts. Empty gas tanks, baby bottles, and swimming pools. Even empty cereal boxes when you’ve already poured the milk.
And then, there are the intangible sort of spaces. An empty mind, free of obligations, responsibilities, worries, anxiety, depression, loss, and heartache. Or an empty, blank mind, devoid of thoughts all together. The empty-ness in your life when you break up with someone who occupied a place in your heart and no longer is in your life: perhaps a friend, partner, spouse, child, sibling, pet, or parent. The empty-ness you feel after giving your everything or pouring your heart out.
And yet, there are pleasures to be found in the empty spaces. The empty amusement park on a day of forecasted thunderstorms that never arrived. The empty grocery store with no lines. The overseas airplane ride that was so empty you got to choose first class or a whole row of five seats to yourself. An empty home as a treat to a busy mom of toddlers. An empty movie theater where you get the big screen all to yourself.
What is talked about much less—and what this post is actually about—is one of my favorite things: All the possibilities of empty spaces. Where others may feel intimidation and overwhelm, I feel excitement. And that isn’t to say that I don’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed when I enter an empty space or stare at a blank page I need to fill. I do feel them as they are certainly swimming around in my feelings pool. But I also have space in there for wonder and creativity and excitement and prospects and capability and potential. They are louder and stronger feelings for me than fear, intimidation, loneliness, overwhelm or despair others may feel acutely.
This weekend, I held a yard sale in my driveway. We were amassing all kinds of items in our home that we had outgrown and were taking up space for all the potential items and furniture that actually fit:
– The kids clothes that ride up their ankles, bellies, and arms take up the space in their closet for clothes that will fit them.
– The styles in my own closet that have changed over the years that I never wear nowadays, taking up room and allowing me to have space for things that I might fall in love with and wear frequently.
– Toys and books the girls are too old to enjoy anymore.
– Outdated DVDs and video games we don’t even have equipment to play them on anymore.
– All kinds of pieces of furniture in my home—mostly in the basement these days—that were purchased for other spaces:
– The whitewashed dresser, the Serena and Lily rattan dining chairs and bar stools, palm trees, the white dining table, and all the jute rugs and baskets were meant for the beach house apartment we rented to get through our quarantined time together. They went to homes of people who were crazy excited about them or those just looking to get a good deal.
– The small black, fake leather office chairs and long work tables made from IKEA countertops, framed art and modern couch set were meant for our studio/office basement in our previous home.
– The childish mirrors that adorned the girls bedroom walls there.
– A round black table and the brown settee that fit great in the country-ish kitchen. A woman returned for the brown settee after thinking about it for an hour, and was gleefully excited at taking it home even though she knew she didn’t have a place for it. She declared she would make a space for it.
– The shabby chic pew bench my mom painted a sage green that was meant for her French country styled home before she retired and moved to the islands. The same woman who took the settee originally came to the yard sale for this bench. She left with a huge smile on her face, a sweet obliging husband, and a hint that she wouldn’t mind moving in since she loved my style so much.
All these things don’t have a place in our new home. But they have people willing to make space for them in theirs, and I love that! It’s like a new life for them. It’s like the plot line of Disney’s animated Toy Story movies.
I’m happy to say twenty-four hours later, I don’t have any regret at letting them go. In fact, I’m waiting on a young couple to purchase a few accent chairs in an hour that I’m excited to get rid of and make some money back from. It helps that I’m not a particularly an attached-to-things/sentimental person. I just like to think that everything has a season, and doesn’t need to be around for me to continue to enjoy it or remember it well.
Which brings me to my empty spaces. My heart flutters a little when I go down to the basement now. I have more space to play. More room to imagine what it could be. What is a better way my family can use this space or enjoy?
Perhaps I will turn it into an apartment for my parents to stay whenever they visit. It has certainly housed a few visiting friends and family. It even became a hotel of sorts for an old high school friend suffering an unexpected loss and needing a place to crash for a few extra days.
I might turn it into a lounge to escape to until my kids turn into moody teenagers and take it over. I would cover it with dark wallpaper, velvet couches, and soft pendant lights. I might even keep the palm trees. Or, it could be my husband’s music room where he can play whenever he wants and record music if he was so moved. Ooh! We could have killer karaoke parties down there.
Did I mention the emptier storage rooms? How will I design my house so that I don’t fill these up again with absolute Homegoods nonsense? I want to design our rooms so beautifully and planned ahead of time that there just isn’t room for a tchotchke or another set of pillows. I would like to not be embarrassed every time I have to move a mountain of pillows for the electrician to get to the electrical boxes.
I would like less things, and more space. The emptiness creates more room in my head, because I have less things swimming around in there to manage. With less nonsense in there to manage, I have more time to create. I have more time to design beautiful, experiential spaces for myself and others to enjoy, or more time to imagine rich, lush worlds and write about them. My hope is to spend more time on these things and less time buying nonsense that makes me feel good in the moment, yet leads to long lasting busyness and an unsatisfied spirit.
I didn’t realize how much work goes into a yard sale, and it’s not just the heavy lifting of furniture up and out of your house. It’s not just the negotiating with strangers or parting with some of your treasures (which my kids were unsurprisingly terrible at some of the time, and surprisingly excellent at in others). The hardest part was making a million tiny intentional decisions.
Similarly, the most difficult thing about this journey of making space is to take a look at what took up the space in the first place. How did it get there, why is it staying? What does it mean if I keep it, what is its purpose? What if I replace it with something else, what would change? This is a lot of work.
And what about looking at what takes up space inside of you that isn’t working anymore? Mentally, physically, and spiritually. Questioning all the things that take up space inside of you means questioning who you really are, and that is scary. Yikes. I know, I know…this got deep, but it’s worth the exercise and work of doing it to be able to enjoy your life and live the way you want to. Or maybe to enjoy the second part of your life and live the way you haven’t been able to because you have never had the space. There’s something that feels so satisfying when you are able to reject or leave the unwanted stuff behind and choose the wanted and intentional.
It’s like a fresh start. And ohhh, the possibilities. The ways you can choose, and design and plan to fill the empty spaces. It’s freeing. It’s creating. It’s beautiful.