A Practical Guide to Simplifying Your Space

Space is a beautiful thing. Yet it's often seen as something to be filled rather than something to be left alone. All that inhabits the space we live in, work in, play in - it's all visual stimuli. We're engineered to be visual people and as such, are easily distracted and consumed with the visual stimuli around us. Though we may not think something catches our attention, it does. If only for a split second, our mind is filtering through dozens of things before it can rest on the task at hand. Knick-knacks, keep sakes, gifts, crafts, junk, trash, long-forgotten memos... over time, little things begin to build up. Simplifying the space that we live in is an important step toward enjoying that space.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, suggested that you take one room each week until you've simplified your home/work. This gives you plenty of time in the evenings after work and on the weekend to sort through everything and decide what to do with it all. Here are a few keys to keep in mind:

Determine objectives:

It has been proven that certain spaces can trigger physiological responses if we associate that space with an action. For example, if we use our bedroom only for sleeping, when we walk into that room, our body is more inclined to begin preparing itself for rest. Likewise, if we use our workspace either at the office or at home as a place of focused work with minimal distractions, your mind will gear up for a period of intense productivity and mental effort upon entering that space.

By determining the objectives of your space, you'll have a clearer vision of how that space should look and feel to support a particular function. Having a computer in your workspace would be more appropriate than in your livingroom and having a television in your livingroom would be more appropriate than in your kitchen. Segmenting your home into functional spaces allows for clear distinction of spacial purpose and helps your body and mind adjust accordingly. I promise, it's not new-agey voodoo.

Limit distractions:

Within a particular space, the objects that fill it should motivate a particular set of actions. For example, your bedroom should include your bed which would inherently motivate sleep or rest. By default, when you enter that space, you are presented with a clear action. When making choices, one of the easiest ways to motivating change is to eliminate all options except the option that you want yourself to choose. This way, whether you want to or not, it's the only option that you have thus allowing you to accomplish your goals. In our space, though it may not be as action-oriented as a goal, it is helpful to limit the paths that might distract you from doing whatever you came to that room to do. Force that action by default and give yourself the tools to do it.

Open up your space:

Cluttered space distracts, is visually unappealing and causes stress. Open up your space and give yourself room both physically and mentally. By limiting the objects within it, you'll automatically gain more space; rather than fill that space, enjoy the openness and freedom that it brings. Don't underestimate the value of negative space. In design, negative space can often have a greater impact than positive space by simplifying the message for the viewer. The raw, visual impact of an open space is created by focusing the attention of the occupants on a few high-impact things that work well together rather than a crowded space full of too many distracting elements.


If you're unsure where to begin, here are a few ideas to help you declutter your space and give it a renewed purpose.

Out

The simplist, quickest and most effective method is to begin by taking everything out. Pack it all up in moving boxes. Then, as you see fit, that which adds functional or aesthetic value can be added back in. After a set period of time - say, a month - whatever has not been unpacked can be given away or sold.

Up

If you look hard enough, you'll find a lot of wasted space. All of that vertical room can be utilized to conserve horizontal space. We have a tendency to spread things out around us. But what if we began making use of all of that space between the top of the furniture and the ceiling? You might find a nice home for some things there that would allow you to open up the floorplan of your space just a bit.

In

Give every item a home of some form or fashion whether in a drawer of similar items or on display on the coffee table. Whatever the case, make sure it has a home-base to which it can return after being used. If a particular item doesn't have a place where it belongs... it doesn't belong. Get rid of it.

This will allow you to curate a prized, functional, cohesive collection of possessions that not only have a purpose and a place but an aesthetic home in your space as well.

Style is an individual thing so really pay attention to the way your space feels. Some people want the hyper-functional, nothing sentimental, sterile environment. Others prefer a unique collection of sentimental knick-knacks. How you fill your space is up to you, however, I would encourage you to keep your space simple. You'll find that you enjoy the space you live, work and play in if you're able to inhabit that space with a purpose and carry out that purpose free of distractions, equipped with the proper tools and set with the proper mood. As in all areas of simplicity, remove the excess and unimportant and focus on the meaningful.