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.

70 comments to Empty, White, and Beautiful

  • I’ll proudly admit that I love having colored walls. I grew up with them, and I have to have at least a few pieces of art on the walls. As an artist i love visual stimuli.

    But over time i’ve been getting annoyed with clutter. I’m constantly selling or throwing away things to allow there to be more visual space. Extra stuff is definitely distracting. I’m working on getting to the absolute minimal.

    There needs to be a balance.

    Lovely interior! I’ve been contemplating the subletting route myself.

  • Kyndra

    Francine, I’ve been reading your blog and making great strides in minimalism for about 6 months now. With a full-time job and an infant to care for, I just don’t have time for our “stuff” anymore.

    Like you, my husband and I moved every year for 7 years. We took so much stuff with us! This time we own the house, so we are “staging” for the sale. It is by far the best thing that we have ever done for our minimalist aspirations!

    Your blog talks about taking everything out and then putting back only what you need… well that’s exactly what we’ve done. Over the past 3 weeks we took everything out of every room, put back only the essentials and sold/donated/gave away the rest.

    Now when I wake up in the morning, I have coffee in my favorite chair (the only one left!) while my son plays with a few of his favorite toys (the rest are gone!). No more living room covered with tacky toys, and no more feeling like I need to dust, wash dishes, put away clutter, clean out cabinets, etc. Best of all, we spend more time going out with friends because there are no distractions in our house. And they love coming over because it’s so “soothing.” It’s been amazing!

    Our commitment is to minimize even more – a small house, limited storage, no impulse purchases – and to keep up our “staged” lifestyle. Thank you for the inspiration and the tools to make it happen!

  • Tara

    I want to gather a collection of minimalist rooms for inspiration. But whenever I look online, the pictures of so-called minimalist decor are just cluttered rooms painted white and black. Your bedroom is the only one that really captures the sense of airy space I’m looking for.

    If you had a post dedicated to true minimalist rooms – white rooms stripped of nearly all furniture and no visual noise – I and perhaps other readers would be truly grateful.

  • What a beautiful space Francine!

    I love those white brick walls with those huge windows! And just a mattress and a coffee table. I bet that will be a beautiful, serene open space for you to spend the next few months in. :)

    As you know, we were contemplating white walls with one accent wall, and then when we saw the finished drywall we realized it had to be white all the way. So I’m with you on the all-white camp! Serenity. Ahhhh.

  • dawn

    I’m the same way.Too much too look at,even just a wallpaper pattern,as beautiful as it may be I can only take it for so long.It just clutters my mind and exhausts me mentally and emotionally.Not that I want to live in an empty box-I want beauty,too.I love the idea of white walls,wood floors,maybe an area rug,lots of windows and sunshine,and the occasional splash of color-a vase of flowers,a pretty candle,you know.I wish I could declutter to that point (I’m trying!).You’re so lucky,your place looks like my idea of heaven!It’s kind of cool that you’ll be there only 3 months.Long enough to enjoy it and make yourself at home,but short enough to look forward to the next place.You won’t have time to get tired of it.Can’t wait to dee your next place!

  • Gil

    Absolutely. Not only do I have trouble concentrating, but when my former apartment was cluttered and stuffed, I had trouble sleeping and being at peace in general. Then again, when I was living deep in stuff, I wasn’t even acutely aware of it until it was time to make a drastic change.

    Now when we wake up in the morning in our new and uncluttered home, it feels refreshing to say the least.

    I keep my cubicle at work down to the bare minimal items and my productivity has increased tenfold.

  • CoCoYoYo

    I love the look of white but find it impractical for day-to-day living. I find this especially true of linens.

  • Canis

    As I love the calmness of a white wall, I see it in my own abode as a prison; that is, white walls in my own room remind me of a cell. I live in a 260 sq. ft. converted hotel room, and I wanted to make it as aesthetically appealing as I could. I used to hang framed pictures but the little masses of squares on my wall were too visually chaotic, so I decided to store my photos in a box and hang large tapestries instead. Now, although they are “busy” print-wise, their colour schemes are calming and complimentary to me. They look like gigantic works of art and thinking about how easy it would be to take them down and fold them up and not worry about scratched or broken glass is a relief. For me, having four large wall covers instead of many little cluttered ones is my idea of minimalist decor. But like I said, if I walked into someone else’s house or store and they had white walls..I enjoy them as a refreshing change, but will always feel coziest and safest with my own place…as it should be.

  • Where is this gorgeous abode?

  • Lauren

    Yes I know exactly how you feel. Before I got down to bare walls in my bedroom (I’m in college and live at home), I would get distracted by things on the walls or surfaces, such as my desk. I would literally just stare at the item instead of doing homework or something and think about whether I really want it or not. That may be a little different, but I do feel that visual distraction/discomfort.

  • […] glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. And since I’m the type who’s interested in how other people live, I’m also brave enough to show off my own diggs. Let’s start with the closet, hmmm? […]

  • Kat

    I love your space and the white walls, but for me, only a coffee table and futon mattress would not feel like a home. Does your husband mind the lack of furniture? I need some place nice and comfy to come home & relax in–some sort of seating. And thanks to a very bad back from a car wreck, I can’t do the sit on the floor thing with no back support. And my husband would have me committed or leave if I wanted that little furniture. We have no coffee table–haven’t in over 10 yrs because we don’t have use for one. But we have squishy seating for five (5 in our family) and an ottoman that we use to prop up feet and it can do double-duty as a table to play cards on or for the kids to play/read/color on. I need some things on the walls, but currently have too many–still trying to find a balance point on that.

  • […] extreme end (without giving up our home!). It works for us because it suits our lifestyle. I love wide open floor space and have long preferred the floor to furniture, so it makes sense for me. Benjamin has a chair […]

  • farrah rose

    Hello Miss Minimalist.

    So sad that you don’t do posts like this anymore!! Just the monday sharing of real life minimalists. I so very much miss your own writing!

    I am rereading through TONS of your old posts and I thought I might comment on this one. Hopefully you still check out the comments!! I too very much enjoy expansive blank white walls as well. But I also really love accent walls! I think all white walls with one metallic gold or silver wall is beautiful. Metallics are almost not a color to me. And I don’t think it adds any distraction as a bright or dark accent wall would. As far as knickknacks, excess furniture, and art on the wall or anywhere else, I also agree with your feelings toward them. I’m not too fond of such things. I like perhaps one very large piece of artwork (if I’m going to have any, it needs to be big). I’m Buddhist, so maybe a huge carved wooden buddha head or Buddhist symbol on a wall. I also like large indoor plants like palms. I feel it brings nature in and is extremely refreshing. Green and white is so lush together. Only having a very (very!) few decorative pieces really makes them stand out and are more appreciated in my opinion and don’t cause mental chaos. Other than those few exceptions, I agree completely on having as little in the house as possible.

    Love your posts. I’m going to continue going through your archives now!

  • Tina

    I like plain walls in some areas. We have pictures of the kids and grandkids all over.

  • Tina

    I’ve been in houses where even the bathroom walls are covered in pictures. I like a few things on the walls and the occasional object on a tabletop. There is always more to be recycled and more to give away.

  • Tina

    I like lots of plants and pictures in the living room. Almost nothing anywhere else. I keep giving away bags and bags of dishes and clothing. I have very few linens or clothes. As I go through my craft supplies, I pass on big bags to schools, the library, the park district, a friend who teaches Sunday school and other places. We have another bag for the electronics recycling program.

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