Originally from Matt Baier’s Organizing Works Newsletter, May 2008

Negative Space?

As an Organizer, I find the term “negative space” misleading.  In design, negative space is the white area that falls between the dark “positive spaces.”  Perhaps the most familiar example of negative space can be seen in the FedEx logo.  As many of you have noticed by now, there is an arrow in the white space between the “e” and the “x.”  That forward pointing arrow is negative space, but since it is such a perfectly POSITIVE symbol for FedEx it is hardly negative, in the bad sense.  The same holds true for staying organized.

I often hear clients say they don’t mind if everything is packed in tight as long as it is organized.  This line of thinking is a big part of what has gotten them into trouble in the first place.

Consider the wonderfully efficient circulatory system of a healthy human body.  There must be an open path in your blood vessels for your blood to flow and circulate oxygen and nutrients throughout your body.  When there is a build up of plaque in your veins your blood can’t flow and your situation can become critical.  The same is true with a build up of clutter on your desk and your floor.

It is not enough just to have a place for everything.  You must also make a serious effort to limit your everything.  Just as we know it’s not healthy to eat without limits, we must realize that it is not healthy to accumulate without limits.  In this way, you will not only have enough space to store everything you own, you will also be able to maintain a healthy space in between, a so called “negative space”.

Why is negative space so positive?  Take a nice deep breath in.  Aren’t you glad your airway is clear?  It’s the same with your home.  When your home can breathe freely, you can function more comfortably in it.  A clear desk means you can spread out your bills and process them more quickly.  A clear table means you’ve got a comfortable space to fold your laundry more quickly.  A clear floor means you can get from your desk to table more quickly without tripping over clutter.

The Chinese have understood the importance of the space between for centuries.  It is a key component of Feng Shui.  Feng Shui is all about channeling chi or energy.  For chi to flow freely throughout your home there must be open channels.  This can’t happen if every nook and cranny is clogged with excess stuff.  To learn more about Feng Shui, I highly recommend reading Karen Kingston’s Clearing Clutter With Feng Shui.  It’s a quick read.  Even the size of the book demonstrates that less is more!

Clients often panic when I have emptied a bookshelf.  “What am I going to put there now?” If you’ve got control over your stuff, here’s a radical idea.  Maybe you can get rid of those shelves entirely!  Free up some breathing room in your home office and maybe bring in an oxygen-giving plant.  Or get those framed photos off your critical desk space and on to these empty shelves.  I know this idea takes some getting used to.  In our super-size society, we are constantly encouraged to fill up.  To truly stay organized, however,  resist the urge to fill up and celebrate the space between.

On a train we often find it crowded and we put up with it because we have to.  In the comfort of your own home, however, you do not have to feel crowded out by your clutter.  If you do, you have to ask yourself, do you truly own you possessions or are you possessed by them?  If you need help telling your clutter who’s boss, please give me a call at 203.428.6294 or email me at matt@mattbaier.com.