Creation By Elimination: How I Use Empty Space To Fill My Mind

I’ve always liked things to have a place. And for those things to be in that place. And until recently, I’ve never understood quite how much.

About a year ago, I sold my house and a lot of things in it, took what was left and tossed it in storage, and began a journey “to find myself.” Just kidding, I know where I am, I’ve just always wanted to say that. But seriously, I did leave my old life and most of my stuff behind. All but two pillow-sized duffel bags full of clothes, my phone, laptop, and little else.

Half a days drive south, I made a pit stop at a friend’s house that became a prolonged layover. Looking back, I suppose I needed the recharge. Years of working 80 hours a week, apparently, adds up. Even if you don’t like to admit it. So I settled into my buddies’ suburban home, complete with white picket fence, brick-lined mailbox, and ADT security system. A perfect retreat, it would seem. Until that is, I tried to continue some of the habits I’d grown to love over the years; meditating, reading, yoga in the mornings, followed by more reading at tea time and before bed.

After struggling for what seemed like months, I decided it was actually the lack of things I had to do that was preventing me from doing the things I wanted to do. I had become so good at finding little bits of time with which to create, that when I had all the time I ever wanted, I failed to create at all. There’s clearly something to the line, “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”

While I was right to notice the lack of rigor as part of the problem, it certainly wasn’t all of it. For years I’d been unconsciously steering my life in a very specific direction. Whenever I moved from home to home or state to state, I threw away more and packed less. Whenever my dogs shredded some ideal piece of furniture, I refused to replace it. Every month I filled one trash bag full of clothes and donated it to the Goodwill, and if I bought a new shirt, I had to throw away two. Eventually, my small three bedroom home had about five sticks of furniture (bed, couch, bookcase, kitchen table, and standing desk). For the first time, I felt light. I just didn’t know it until I moved in with my friend.

Feng shui is a Chinese system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy. Feng shui is why one home feels open and inviting, while another feels claustrophobic and stale. More importantly, it’s one reason, I’ve come to learn, that a man can create, while another can’t.

When you enter my friend’s home you’re immediately greeted with a leather bench. It’s rustic looking and compliments the hardwood floors well. It’s only there so you can sit on it and take your shoes off. Beside it, a heavy-looking coat rack. Beneath it, a rug that looks like it was alive once. More than half the furniture I owned, just two steps in. I noticed this, I think, immediately. But sort of noticed it without noticing it. Like a light smell of sweat that slips in and out, leaving you to wonder if it’s you or the other guy. The further into my friend’s home, the more the hair on my neck began to rise without me really understanding why. There were ottomans, rugs atop carpets atop more hardwood, random paintings, lamps, and several coffee tables. And two TV’s in the living room alone. Whew, just describing it makes me feel like I’m starving while sitting in traffic, late to work and I have to pee. Now imagine that feeling while you’re trying to create. Or sleep. Or relax.

Some people get out of bed just minutes before they rush off to work. They clock in and out. They return home and binge their favorite show or mow the lawn or take a walk. Then they do it all over again. They are Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and fine with it. These people aren’t bad people, they’re just different from the sort of people I want to imitate. They’ve either never wanted to be a creative, or forgotten how long ago. So, in my humble opinion, they fill their lives and homes with things they don’t need.

Other people, the ones who might find a crowded home stressful, want to give their creations room to move. They have to, in fact. It’s like this; my imagination — my creativity — comes in the form of a phantom. An apparition like that first spooky Librarian in Ghostbusters. From where it’s born I do not know, and how long it must travel to reach me, I am not sure. But I know it’s coming from somewhere else. Call it my muse, my creative juices, my genius, call it whatever you want, just get out of its way. I like to imagine my apparition slowly fading as it works its way toward me. Like Michael J. Fox’s photo in Back To The Future. For it to reach me, there must be as few distractions as possible. Facebook is blocked. Insta is off. Focus is on. And furniture, well, what little furniture I need, is exactly where it should be.

Am I a minimalist? Am I an environmentalist? Am I a snob? No. I am a creator. And this is how I have to live, to live to create. Everything else is suffocating.

Look around. Is your home crowded with things preventing your artistic ghosts from reaching you? Where do you create? Is there space in that space? Can spirits and oxygen and effort swirl about and offer you a hand in your masterpiece, or does it feel like you’re wearing a noose as a necktie?

Here’s what creating looks like for me, and if you’ve been struggling, give it a try. A stand-up desk looking out a window at trees that sway in the wind, and a farm just beyond that looks like something Bob Ross would paint. Silence looms heavy, except for the subtle breath of man’s best friend on the floor beside me. And a single headphone in my left ear, playing whatever ominous tune I need to drown out the voices that say “I’m not good enough.” And absolutely nothing else. No puzzle of furniture. No sea of stuff. Nothing to get in the way of my muse when it comes. And it does. It always does.

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Josh Bunch

Bunch is one of those rare humans who only talks about what he knows; fitness, food, philosophy, and movies. And puppies.