Living with white space

It’s 1997. My early teenage bedroom is plastered with magazine pages; boybands and song lyrics fight for space across the walls and ceiling. Fast-forward a few years and it’s Vogue fashion shoots, punctuated by friends’ graffiti. Every surface is piled high with things I can’t bear to part with: half-painted canvases, bulging sketchbooks, used up paints and stacks of papers (and one forgotten goldfish who miraculously survived being buried underneath it all for weeks).

I’m a collector, a hoarder, a gatherer. Maybe I should also add ‘messy’ to that list. As a teenager (and well into my twenties) clutter comforted me. My filing system was my floor and it worked. It made me feel safe.

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Areas that are left unmarked or empty are important elements in design. White (or negative) space hasn’t just been neglected. It’s purposeful, deliberate – created. It’s task is to welcome you in, take you by the arm to skirt the distractions and guide you gently to a front row seat.

I’ve always had a compulsive desire to fill gaps (and silences!), but I’m slowly learning that to let go of things helps me focus better on what is left. (Don’t get me wrong, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if you walked into my house on an average day!). Our modern lifestyles have a habit of overwhelming and overstimulating, and often my reaction now is to crave less. Less stuff, more space.

For a long time I thought that my materialistic tendency towards collecting things, always thinking about the next thing I ‘needed’, was because I put too much value on stuff. It took me a long time to realise that this attitude actually came from not valuing things enough. The more I bought, gathered or hoarded, the less I appreciated each individual thing. And the more I wanted more. 

But it isn’t just physical spaces that I have a tendency to fill. It’s equally true when it comes to time. Filling every white square in my diary, crowding my mind with information, lists and expectations. It leaves no margin to absorb unexpected emergencies or last minute commitment changes. What I end up loosing is time without agenda or pressure, to fully commit to people, projects or to just to do things that keep us sane. Space to be creative, to process emotions and ideas, that can just be about the process, not the results. Room for imagination.

Stepping back or stripping things down rarely feels like a natural response, especially when I’m busy or craving more. But being purposeful as we fill our lives and our houses can have a significant impact, both on the way we end up spending our time and on our relationship with stuff. It allows a bit more control; to make conscious choices, instead of acting (or reacting) out of convenience or necessity. It gives us more freedom to decide where we want our attention to be, and it feeds our creativity.

Chasing ‘more’ can be eternally preoccupying, filling time, space and sometimes our brains, with clutter that dilutes. Creating white space on our shelves and in our diaries shouldn’t be about austerity or legalism. There doesn’t need to be rules – you decide want you want that to look like.

Editing out the distractions and dead ends is about distilling the busyness of life. To stop living on the fringes of wishful thinking all the time and instead to enjoy, appreciate and be satisfied with the good things we have already – experiencing them in their full, vivid colour.

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