Design for Life: Making Space and Clearing Clutter

Make space in your home by clearing away physical and mental clutter.

| July/August 2004

  • Photo By Robert Reck

"Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make them useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there."

—Sixth century B.C., Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching (Wildwood House, 1991), translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

I dreamt the other night that a friend told me she’d found some wonderful vases to put in her home. They were six feet high and four feet across, voluptuously shaped like Ming vases. The vessels’ entire purpose was to remain empty, and they were highly treasured.

I awoke knowing exactly what the dream meant: I need more space in my life. That doesn’t mean I need to add a room or push people away. It means I need more unstructured time, less junk, more peace. I suspect you know what I mean.

In traditional Chinese terms, we tend to be a yang culture: action oriented, mental, hard rather than soft. We think more of objects than of the space around them, more of being in motion than of being still and reflective. When we want something, most of us set goals, make lists, and work hard to make it happen. But we also need yin qualities in our lives: reflection, quiet, softness, receptivity. We can restore our balance by learning to allow space for things to happen rather than always forging ahead toward them.

Physical and mental clutter

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