Learning to Subtract

I’ve spent lots of time at home recently, with lots of time to notice baseboards that need cleaning, books that need rearranging, and a living room that needs adapting.  I knew what to do with the baseboards and books.  My living room had me stumped.  Without realizing other options exist, I went to the default setting for all parts of life:  I added.

First, I bought a new patterned rug to accent the wood floor.  That didn’t fix the problem.   Next, I put a beige throw on the brown sofa.  Still not right.  I added photos to a table and displayed art glass on the mantle.  No matter what I added, the room felt out-of-balance and unsettled.   I must not have found the right item to add.  So, I kept adding.

Nothing worked.

Last week I asked a friend for help.   “Do I need a smaller sofa?” I asked.

He paused and looked around.  “You have too much stuff in here, too much furniture.  Get rid of the antique table, the chair, and that plant.  Move these chairs to the corner with a smaller table.  The room will be lighter and feel bigger.  The sofa?  It’s the right size.”

Coulda had a V-8.  I didn’t need to add more stuff.  I needed to subtract.  The room had too much going on for anything to get the attention it deserved.

It was like when there are too many words,
too many crises, or
too many activities and busyness–
the eyes and heart don’t know where to focus.

As soon as my friend left, I moved the antique table from the living room into a corner of the dining room.  It has a place of honor now below an Audubon print and finally looks at home.  I moved the small antique caned chair into the foyer beside an ancient steamer trunk.

The tall plant from the living room is now on a landing at the top of the stairs.  I put the photos and art glass in other rooms.   The wingback chairs and a small table went in the corner by the front window.  All four rooms look better and, with my treasures spread around the house, I can enjoy them more.

When I finished, I looked around the living room, exhaled a deep breath, and smiled.

With less furniture, what remains receives more attention.  With less distraction, my heart feels more settled.  With less stuff, there is room to breathe.  Lighter.  Spacious.  Balanced.

It’s what I wanted all along.

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