Empty, White, and Beautiful

For the first time in months, I feel like I’m back in my element. Let me explain…

My husband and I have been drifting since February—living in a succession of hotels and sublets—because we’re reluctant to commit to long-term housing. It’s an interesting, and liberating, way to live; the only downside is that most short-term housing is furnished, leaving you with little control over your visual environment.

One thing I’ve learned from this experience: my surroundings have a big psychological effect on me.

My last two “homes” both had brightly-colored walls, plenty of pictures and décor, and lots and lots and lots of furniture. Now, don’t get me wrong—these were lovely places that most people would find delightfully warm and charming.

I, on the other hand, could never quite adjust to all the visual stimulation—especially while trying to work from home. How I yearned for one blank wall to rest my gaze upon! It got to the point where I’d close my eyes, and imagine myself sitting in a stark white room—just for a few moments of mental peace and clarity.

Lest you dismiss this as the rantings of a crazy minimalist, scientists have found that a visually chaotic environment restricts your ability to focus. I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree!

But before you worry that my blog implodes because of this turn of events, I have happy news to report. This week, we moved into our latest abode, a small one-bedroom sublet in a converted factory. Oh, what a wondrous sight—high ceilings, huge windows, and glorious bare white walls!

Summer sublet

And since we’re finishing out the lease of the current tenants, we got a great deal by taking it unfurnished. After four months of navigating around other people’s sofas, tables, chairs, and desks, the emptiness is heavenly.

Overall, the effect is airy, ethereal, and serene—and makes my spirit feel the same.

I’ll admit, an unfurnished sublet is not the most practical choice. Since we’re only here for three months, and have no idea where we’ll move next, we won’t be acquiring much. But you know what? I’m looking forward to living this summer with the absolute minimum—a coffee table and a mattress, to be exact—and having plenty of space to do yoga. It’s a little like camping indoors. :)

Over the next few months, the property manager will be showing the place to potential new tenants. I can’t imagine what they’ll think of our sparsely-furnished space (that we’re strange? poor? on the lam?), but I honestly don’t care. Because at the moment, I am staring at this empty room, with its empty walls—and I can’t stop smiling.

Does anyone else have trouble concentrating in a cluttered room? Do you share my love for an empty, white space? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Furniture Update: A Couch and Table and Chairs, Oh My!
  2. Radical Downsizing
  3. My Tiny Apartment Tour: Minimalist Bedroom

67 comments to Empty, White, and Beautiful

  • Apple

    I so agree with you Francine. One reason why I love having our own house is the comfort our simple white/solid wood contrast interior gives.
    Have you not tried to find a longer term rented acclomation, where you negotiate with the landlord to remove some furnitures and to paint the walls white (at your cost)?

  • Julian

    I was once working on a project at a customer’s site and often the only place available to work was their board room. The building was far from luxurious but the board room had a high ceiling, one large table and pale blue walls. There was natural light but no windows to look out of. It was the most inspiring place to work and I’ve never forgotten it.

  • Wow… Another great post. I guess I should take the challenge to make my home like this sublet of yours. White walls and two pieces of furniture.

    Loved the place very much and your drifting adventure too. :)

  • Karen T.

    Oh my goodness, Francine. It’s not just the glorious white walls, but the fantastic natural light, and the view of trees and sky! I’m like you — just not happy amidst clutter and chaos — but I’ve also learned over the years that I need to be able to see the natural world to be really happy. I bet you’re going to love living here. Enjoy!

  • Anja

    Yes! I can live in a cluttered environment, but not work in one. At least not well. I can’t wait to be able to have my own place to enjoy clear surfaces and empty walls. Love your new home!

  • Wow! This place looks perfect. I love the huge windows, white walls and the view of trees. I certainly agree with you that a cluttered environment leads to a frustrated mind.

  • Sara

    Looks amazing. You will be wiggling your asana all day girl!

    OOhhhhh I can see that wall on the right in the photo, great place for handstands.

    Enjoy.

    Sara

  • Holly

    I definitely agree, I can’t think properly amongst a lot of clutter – I like a really tidy desk and anything that’s needed to be stashed away in drawers.

    That apartment looks amazing! In our current rental my boyfriend and I have some empty walls which would be lovely painted white. Unfortunately they’re an awful shade of magnolia at the moment, so I’d rather have some pictures up to detract from that I think!

  • meg

    All things considered, I’d want the same–uncluttered, white, airy, serene. Great windows–nothing puts me in the best creative frame of mind than a view of the treetops; I miss painting in upper-story studios! But for writing, the space cannot be cluttered, and must be white; the view, if any, cannot be distracting. Again, treetops are fine, but water views are too soothing, street views too busy. Enjoy your stay–maybe you’ll get lucky and get to stay longer!

  • I do better in uncluttered spaces too, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about. My husband and I also have very little furniture — a table and chairs, an air mattress, an empty bookcase. People walking through our house can’t imagine what it’s like, but I love it. It’s better than camping. Much better.

  • Heather

    OOOHHHH!!! I am so jealous. : ) I used to actually hate all white apartments but now I have come to appreciate them. I do have pops of color in my home, in turquoise, lime green and some dark sea blue. Kinda simple beachy but most of it is 95% white. I love it. I need my eye and soul to rest in a home. Otherwise I just feel chaotic.

  • JET1980

    This sounds absolutely wonderful! I love the picture in your post…just looking at it makes me feel a bit more free, unburdened. I have only come into my minimalism over the last several months and am looking forward to being able to repaint my home. When I moved in about 3 1/2 years ago, I was so tired of the white and beige walls of rentals and decided to use earth tones that were warm and inviting. Every room is a different color (not bright colors, but still rather over-stimulating sometimes). I’m giving myself a bit more time to figure out what I want to do, but soon I’ll be making some changes.

    Enjoy your new place!

  • Rebecca

    I’m not a big fan of white, but I do love off-white (or cream or antique white). It just feels warmer to me and less sterile.

  • What a lovely place! After several years of beige walls, I have recently taken the plunge and had my bedroom painted white and I absolutely love it. Wish I had done it ages ago. I have oak flooring and the minimum amount of furniture. I really, really love it and it is so relaxing. I cannot think or relax in a chaotic and cluttered atmosphere either. You should be in your sublet right over summer so I hope you have a lovely few months there. And then, who knows?

  • Sarah

    Oh Francine, it’s lovely, I’m happy for you!

    I must agree that I work – and simply exist – better in a non-cluttered environment and I also don’t care if someone thinks we’re poor or just odd :D when they see our home. I’ve always loved the look of Japanese rock gardens and I now realize that I feel the most comfortable in clear, airy, light surroundings when it comes to both natural and built settings.

    When I need to find my center to do something important – or be still in myself – I also imagine I’m looking at a white wall and it really helps me concentrate. I treasure this practice, since I’m easily swayed off balance by the places and people around me.

  • Francine,
    Your space looks so restful and peaceful! I love the emptiness, the windows, and the tree view, but I have to admit that I prefer warm earthy colors on the walls. Terracotta, ocher, soft marigold orange, deep autumn red make me feel warm and cozy (I live in a part of the world with 6-9 months of grey skies per year). I know this is nosy, but I’m curious why you have been moving so often. Will you not be in the UK long term? Whatever the case, I hope your home is conducive to blog and other writing. I’m a big fan of your books and blog.

  • Funny how some peope see a big void, where we see beautiful, peaceful, glorious space…
    Enjoy your new home!

  • teresa

    I understand completely! We have had many people ask us about “finishing” our home over the years because we do not have any wall hangings, some empty built-in shelves, and sparse furnishings…but we are done! I love having no visual clutter and can almost feel claustrophobic in others’ homes navigating around so much furniture. Congratulations on your new home (albeit temporary)! Enjoy the serenity….

  • JLouise

    Thought I would surface (it’s been quite a while since I’ve commented) and just tell you what a magnificent place you have found. Those windows are wonderful.

    I find unadorned walls to be more creatively inspiring, my mind can think better when it is not being tugged towards outside stimulation.

    Thanks for once again sharing your world Francine and I hope you enjoy your summer in such a lovely environment.

  • Debbie M

    My surroundings also have a big psychological effect on me, but it’s not so one-sided for me. Once after living with a bunch of my roommate’s boxes piled up in the living room, I visited a friend with a large living room/dining room/kitchen area (and no boxes) and had that same fabulous, relaxing feeling I think you’re talking about. Enough space to do yoga is fabulous (even though I don’t do yoga–but I do dance and I do sit on the floor and I do play board games on the floor and do sewing projects on the floor, etc. so I love all that space).

    On the other hand, I don’t deal well with plain white and emptiness. When I move into a new place I feel lonely and pathetic until I can at least get some pictures up. There’s nothing that makes me happier than a big bookcase, mostly full of good books (but also with some knick-knacks). And I love color. (Only specific colors, of course–I’d rather have all white than ugly colors.) All these things make me feel like a real person who is living life to its fullest.

    So my ideal place is a large room with windows and clear space–and also with lots of interesting and comfortable things pushed up against the walls.

  • Another inspiring post! I’m a total book addict and definitely tend to accumulate clutter in the form of books and papers, but there’s always a point where I start to hate it with a passion. Suddenly I just can’t THINK straight, and all that’s pressing on my mind is the need to clear the clutter and get back to a cleaner space. I can’t read, I can’t work, I can’t clean the darn place, and I get restless until it’s sorted. I’m right in the middle of purging right now and it feels GREAT!

  • Diane

    My first home-specific design book I ever purchased was called White By Design. I’ve alway loved the look, but have come to realize I love serene colors too and the uncluttered part is the more important part for me. Last year I painted our bedroom and bathroom white with white bedstands and a white headboard. My husband often jokes about needing to wear sunglasses when he wakes up!

  • It looks wonderful! I am not quite so minimalist, but I agree wholeheartedly. When I lived with my cousin her stuff was wonderful, but to me there was so much of it at times it was overwhelming.

    Less is definitely more.

  • Marti

    I guess I am the lone dissenter. I prefer a room with a lot of visual stimuli, color, and objects that pull the eye for my creative work. Not clutter-filled, not messy, but filled with organized stimuli, I guess I would say. A room such as you describe I find deadening, dull, and dampening to any creativity on my part.

    Different strokes, and all that.

    • teresa

      Marti – I too love color! I like the look of white but my own house has lots of color in it. I just don’t like many ‘things’ around. I like open spaces (some may say empty) and think that actually helps my creativity. That’s what makes us all unique though I guess! ;)

  • leonard waks

    Hi,

    Yes, a room with visual stimuli is also an impediment to focus for me. I also find any ‘domestic’ situation impossible as a work place, because my life has many dimensions and all of the domestic visual stimuli are also markers of these other dimensions. I see pots and pans — cooking. I see sofa – cleaning or resting. I see workbooks and financial notebooks — investing. How to focus on a single work task?

    My response is to keep the home as life-central, and assign either very special and isolated places in it (financial workspace, art studio, reading space) for many tasks.

    Work, on the other hand, I assign to outside spaces. I write (both my journal and my essays) in the library or in Dunkin Donuts. These spaces have the great advantage of life + very few distractions that have my name written all over them. In the library I can see all of the books, but they have little meaning for me (compared to my own books, which stimulate ever so many thoughts and recollections and aspirations). In Dunkin Donuts I feel the energies of the ‘regulars’ but am not engaged in their daily predicaments.

  • All I can say, with a deep sigh is “Ah”. I long for such a bright, open, airy space. We’re moving back to our little one bedroom condo next week, and I think I’ll repaint the whole thing back to white.

  • I have been working on minimalizing a lot of aspects of my life – my calendar for one! But decorating has been a tough one for me. I really love ‘stuff!’ The way you like to look at a blank wall, I like to look at a painting. I’ll be setting up a new home office soon though, and I’m going to keep it as sparce and plain as possible! I had no idea that we work better in an uncluttered space. Although it makes perfect sense now that you’ve told me!

  • Caroline

    I could never start any major project / paper if my stuff wasn’t all cleaned up and put away. Yes, I definitely think my stuff is a distraction. I’ve gotten rid of so much in the past couple years but I need to go further so I can stop thinking about my THINGS and get on with my LIFE :P However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I need plain white space.

  • Linda Sand

    I don’t like clutter but I could not live well in an all white world. I need natural wood around me– preferably the red tones of teak. My favorite color is burnt sienna; red-browns comfort me.

    I would like for our couch to go away but have not yet been able to persuade DH to allow that even though I promised he could could take his piano keyboard out of storage and put it in that space. He’s not as likely to pile stuff on his keyboard as he does on the couch. :)

  • Looks great! I especially love the huge windows; lots of natural light and a view of the trees. I’ve always though it would be neat to live in a big industrial building like that with big spaces and walls of glass. I imagine it as being both calming and invigorating, if that’s possible.

    – Mike

  • JessDR

    It’s funny: it took me a long time to learn to focus in a *non*-cluttered space. I suspect it has to do with my upbringing: my mom is a neat freak, and I was a VERY messy child, so tidy spaces always made me feel like I had to be “on my best behavior”, lest I mess them up.

    It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve been able to properly relax and focus in a non-cluttered space. I think the change happened once I accepted that it’s MY space, and it can be as messy or as tidy as I want it to be. So it no longer had to be messy to feel like home.

  • Meg

    I love the new space and all the windows. My place is lacking windows right now. It can make you depressed sometimes to not have the sunshine beaming in. I am working on de-cluttering my life and it feels great. I have a long way to go before I have white open spaces.

  • I can’t function in clutter, for sure. I do like having open, clean spaces full of air, but I enjoy filling them with pops of color (it’s the artist in me). It doesn’t mean that the color has to be STUFF so much as just color somehow. Like a painting I’ve done, or my simple desk that has a design on it or something.

    Currently my glass desk that serves as a desk/easel/computer holder/gaming center/dinner table has a floral black pattern painted on the underside. Keeps things clean and minimalistic without being boring for my tastes. Plus it holds some of the necessary STUFF for being an artist. (And glass cleans easily… messy art supplies) :)

    This place looks perfect for you! Congrats!

  • tammy

    FINALLY! you’re staying somewhere for your own soul. I couldn’t do what you’ve been doing. I wouldn’t necessarily mind the moving part, but living with other’s clutter and chaos…NO!!! I not only would have trouble concentrating (to answer your question), I would literally have trouble breathing! lol. now that probably does make me sound weird. if you get to the point where you simply must have something to sit in (tho you probably won’t :) you could always just buy a couple of lawn chairs. and then leave them for the next weird ‘people on the lam.’ LOVE your site.

  • I like clean, uncluttered spaces. I find that uncluttered spaces allow me to relax and focus on the task at hand. When things are out of order or disorganized, I feel as if the room is nagging me to get it back together. This makes it difficult to do other work, even if it’s necessary.

    Some day I hope to develop the ability to focus on the task at hand regardless of distractions, but I’d prefer to save that skill for when I don’t have control over my environment. My minimalist journey is barely at its beginning, but keeping a tidy work space is at the heart of it.

    I’ve also found that when I’m not busy taking care of stuff, I’m available for other, more interesting activities. I wrote about this after coming back from long weekend vacation: http://housemojo.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/the-gift-of-no-stuff/

    Thank you for a blog that has a clear voice and a compassionate vision! I enjoy the posts.

  • I love your new sub let! Yes, I completely understand the difficulty of focusing in a cluttered environment. (Don’t get me going on elementary school classrooms!) I find that if my bedroom is cluttered and messy I can’t relax and don’t sleep well.

  • Wow, Francine, I’m so jealous!!! I love all-white environments! I recently wrote on my blog about empty spaces and how much I love them, and this picture just reinforces that love. I would love to see more pics. And those awesome huge windows and natural light and trees. Wow, just wow. I’m working my way to this very setup, and soon I’ll be there. Enjoy your asanas in that perfect white heaven, and hopefully you’ll get to stay here a little longer than expected!

    Cheers!

    Rick

  • I love your new place! I like warm colors on my walls, but I like white too, and I love a little decor, but when it comes to working, I have to clean first. If I can see clutter, I can’t focus. So all surfaces need to be nice and clear. Thanks so much for sharing your space and your thoughts.

    Dawn

  • Looks AMAZING! I understand how you feel about how an empty space feels like a breath of fresh air. :)

  • Thanks for such an inspiring post.

    I, too, am a renter and there is limited time and resources that I want to spend at my place. I would love to have beautiful white walls and huge windows. I love the look of a rustic floor :)

    Enjoy your new place!

  • Lorna

    I think your new summer pad is perfect for you, Francine! I’m not sure if I’d want my home quite that empty, but it would be close. Last year, my DH and I picked out two new sectionals (each one has two recliner-type chairs attached with a middle compartment for storing the remote, etc.(they stay empty except for the remote). Although the furniture is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever bought, it is quite large and takes up a lot of space. It didn’t look so big in the showroom.

  • Your new place is to die for. I love it. Congrats on a lovely home !

  • Karma

    I actually don’t like white walls, but that’s because I prefer colors that make me feel like I’m outdoors. The few times I’ve painted places I live, it’s usually a color that reminds me of being outside when it’s really foggy in the woods, a very muted blue/grey/green. That color is the one that makes me feel most at home and comfortable but the reasons behind it is the same. Otherwise I wholeheartedly agree that an empty open space is the best place for me to feel happy and creative.

    I LOVE the look of your place, I’ve always wanted to live somewhere with an industrial feel.

  • Kathleen Moscato

    Great post! I am loving your blog! I was raised by a woman that should have been a museum coordinator, because that is what our home looked like a museum. It was filled with beautiful things, tables covered in books, plants, dishes (dinning room table always set for 5 course meal for six), my mother loved her things and wanted to see them. There were no clear spaces even to study, and now I am wondering if it was a reason I did not do well in school. It has taken me 20+ years post leaving my mother’s home to realize that I don’t like stuff everywhere. I actually am remembering an apartment that I had when I was in college where we had no furniture, I wrote a lot there and I never had before and I have never done so again. Your blog is a great inspration to me and is one of the things that is helping me change my life. Thank you!

  • what timing! I just posted about a clean, spacious, organized apartment (http://sunnysblog.typepad.com/mornings_light/2011/06/clean-simple-pretty.html) and then I click over to catch up on your blog and there’s this post on your latest residence.

    I love it! Living with lack of clutter results in my mind being calm and at peace. Currently I have some tidying up to do at home so when I’ve been there this week, I’ve been a bit stressed and overwhelmed. Looks like the weekend project will be creating a calm, uncluttered living space!

  • Can I ask why you and your husband are only doing temporary living these days? Is it by choice or necessity?

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