Why Every Home Should Have Enough Space


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There is no space too smallThis is a column Laura FentonIt celebrates the idea you can live comfortably in a small house. Each month, Laura will share her practical findings from years of observing how people live in tight spaces, and her own everyday experiences of living small—from the hunt for the perfect tiny desk to how to manage clutter.

My apartment measures just 690 square feet. However, it is quite small considering that it was built in the 1940s when apartments were designed with larger proportions. Once a one-bedroom, we converted it to what New York City real estate brokers call a “junior two-bedroom.” Even though we altered the intended floor plan, there are a few other vintage elements to our home’s design that help make our space work, including our entryway.

The entryway measures 8 x 10 ft and occupies approximately half of our total square footage. It is however a relatively small room. It is empty room. We have a mirror, a bench and a sideboard in the space. The walls are adorned with mirrors and art, which make it feel decorated and inhabited, but it’s the most empty room in our home. Visitors love to imagine how they could make the space more useful.

Family members and friends suggested that we make bookcases, place it in a new location for the dining table, add a desk to it, or both. Install a Murphy bed for visitors—I’ve heard it all! And while the idea of a wall of custom bookcases is appealing, it’s just not in the budget (I settled for IKEA in the “dining room” instead). Besides, I’m in no rush to “make the most” of this room. Actually, it’s its emptyness that will make the rest of our small space function. Here’s why.

Photo by Weston Wells

Our foyer flexes to serve many purposes, including a staging zone for my photographer husband’s photo equipment before jobs (and also for packed bags before trips), a makeshift shipping center when My books have come out, costume-making central come Halloween, and parking for strollers, scooters, and other vehicles at different stages of my kid’s life (right now we’ve got a scooter and a skateboard).

This space is invaluable for those events that happen quite often. It keeps the rest of my apartment from becoming chaotic. I can say yes to the trash-truck costume made from three large boxes and the hand-me down skateboard without hesitation.

I’m not the only one luxuriating in my empty space: My friend Shira GillThe author of Minimalista, once described the empty shelf in her home as a “luxury,” and I immediately longed for my own empty shelf. Shira has one shelf that is always empty to store items that are temporarily in need of a home.

An empty basket at the entranceway can be used as an “outbox”.

Photo by Shira Gil

Monica Leed was also a professional organizer who helped me to organize my home. The founder of Simply SpacedThe secret to my success, he told me. her tidy home officeIt is a large basket she keeps empty on a low shelf so that she can quickly tidy up. This basket is also handy for keeping packages she hasn’t yet opened or returned. Shira also keeps an empty basket in her entrance, which she calls her “outbox;” permanently placed in her entryway; it’s a way station for anything on its way out the door (library books, packages, borrowed items to be returned).

Even if you can’t spare most of a room like I have, think about where you might be able to create your own flex space: Could you create an empty shelf, cabinet, or drawer, like Shira? Maybe you have a single empty basket you can use to fill in the gaps, as Monica did. We’re often encouraged to declutter to remove the excess, but I think there’s some value in going further, to leave a little blank space on our bookcases and in our closets. Clear space gives our future selves the freedom to grow and breathe.

If you’ve got a home that still has some empty space, resist the feeling that you should fill it with something. Instead, enjoy the possibilities of what you might fill it up with one day!

Are you a homeowner with an empty space? If so, I’d love to hear why you leave it unfilled and how you use it.


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