An empty tank of gas is not a good thing, nor is an empty bank account. But empty storage space is very good — for the look and function of your home and for your well-being.
It’s human nature to fill the spaces we have, but I would argue it’s unnatural to have every space jam-packed with possessions we don’t want or need. Ever wonder why staged homes and the big reveals on home-improvement shows have minimal clutter on shelves and surfaces? Because not only does it look fresh, clean and beautiful, the effect is calming.
Numerous studies have shown that decluttering reduces anxiety and stress and helps improve mental and physical health. It can also save you time and increase your productivity. Physical clutter and an overabundance of possessions to manage, organize and clean prohibits us from doing other more fulfilling projects.
My organizing clients often blame a move from a small apartment to a larger house in explaining how their clutter got out of control — as though it happened without their involvement. And while that’s obviously not the case, I understand and empathize with their predicament.
When people move into a larger space, I tell them they shouldn’t feel compelled to fill every space immediately. And I advise them not to run out and buy everything they’ve ever dreamed of having just because they now have the space to store it. You don’t need to go out and buy multiple sets of linens just because you finally have a linen closet. And, more importantly, it’s better to have an empty shelf or two to give you room to grow in the years ahead.
In fact, one of the best times to closely consider your possessions and how you use your storage space is during a move. There’s nothing that makes you hate your stuff more than packing it all up! Once you’ve unpacked and put things in their designated spots, it is much harder to take them out and rethink whether you actually need them. A transition is the best time to start fresh and embrace having a few empty drawers, cabinets and shelves.
But even if you’ve been settled in your house for decades, you can still clear out unwanted items and create empty space. While you’re asking yourself whether an item “sparks joy,” also try to envision how you would like to use the newly cleared space. Use the cleaning-out process as incentive to rethink the possibilities of how to use a particular space in a way you may not have been able to when it was full. With some empty shelves, maybe you could use that linen closet differently, perhaps for craft supplies. And with an open bookshelf, you could set out a vase, picture frame or a treasured piece that’s been tucked away.
Even when things are neatly stored, having a jam-packed home causes emotional strain. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a fallacy. You may not see all the items in your basement or attic every day, but their mere existence can affect your productivity, mood, physical health and social life.
So this spring, try to live with a few empty spaces. Start small, with a single bookshelf, the surface of your coffee table, or your kitchen counter. It might feel awkward initially, but the value of those spaces will become more appealing and clear over time, and eventually make you feel less overwhelmed, more in control and more thoughtful about your possessions. Clear the clutter, clear your mind.
Nicole Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik.