The Possibilities of Open Space: Loving the Stuff That's Not There

The Possibilities of Open Space: Loving the Stuff That's Not There

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Carolyn Purnell
Oct 24, 2014

I love art, textiles, accessories, and yes, even tchotchkes. My love of shiny things runs so deep that I've been called a raccoon on more than one occasion, and let's not even begin to talk about how many books I own or my constant obsession with throw pillows. That said, I'm still a firm believer that your home always needs some intentionally empty space.

In the Eight-Step Home Cure, Maxwell recommends leaving at least 10% of your bookshelves open, since it creates a space for new ideas. The openness of your shelves symbolizes one's trust in the future and in its many possibilities, giving your imagination some space to roam free.

I've never been good at this rule, given my love of books and my job as a history professor and researcher. Books find their way to the floor, become makeshift tables, and fill all kinds of nooks and crannies. But even if you can't bear to spare an inch of shelf, that doesn't mean that Maxwell's idea is null and void. Every home should have some kind of space that's intentionally—and maybe even glaringly—open. Maybe your 10% is a blank wall, a spare corner, a hidden nook, or an empty cabinet. Perhaps it's a box waiting to be filled or a drawer that's been recently emptied. Whatever it is, find it, embrace it, and just let it be. (Or, as the case may be, find it, embrace it, and try hard-as-you-might-with-the-brute-strength-of-your-will-and-never-faltering-intentions not to fill it with anything.)

Personally, I have one large wall in my office that's free and clear, and I have spent more time than I care to recount imagining the perfect bookshelves, the perfect art, or the perfect chair that could go against it. But truth be told, I don't want any of those things. I like having my open wall, and half the fun is in considering potential options.

As a perfectionist, I like having things "just so." Each item has its place, and I long for rooms to be complete (whatever that means…), but I'm gradually learning that perfection can be found in the incomplete. Potential is necessary for growth, and there are many ways to feel fulfilled in one's home, some of which may even require leaving it somewhat unfilled.

This is not a sharp call to minimalism or a rant against stuff. Far from it, my book-hoarding raccoon friends. But it is a small reminder that when it comes to building a home, sometimes the things that aren't there are just as important as the ones that are.

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