I knew that something needed to change when I’d walk in the door, drop the keys, and start spiraling. My house isn’t messy, but it’s not tidy either. I’d sit on my couch, feeling overwhelmed after a full day at work and an environment that seemed out of my control, and snap at my husband about the crumbs on our counters. The smoke alarm going off during dinner could bring me to tears.
All of these reactions stemmed from my high sensitivity, which craved a calm, stable home space. Instead, I constantly associated our home with stress, and I didn’t know what changes I could make in order to calm myself down.
I struggled to understand why my husband ignored the clutter strewn across the coffee table or nightstand, or why I would feel so overwhelmed at the idea of ignoring the few chores I know would set me up for the week and giving my attention over to a Sunday packed with activities — even fun ones.
It wasn’t until I read about the need for “blank space” that I started to understand that home was not a haven for me. But I could make it one.
HSPs Need Their Blank Space
Highly sensitive people (HSPs) don’t like being busy, and we don’t like it when our homes aren’t sanctuaries. We require time to process the world around us because we feel everything so much more deeply than others, and we require quiet space to do that.
What I didn’t realize was that by jumping from thing to thing, or walking in from work to a sink piled with dishes, I was interfering with my brain’s natural need to reset in a calm environment.
Blank space looks different for everyone, but it simply means giving your brain some breathing room by quieting your thoughts about obligations and worries, and eliminating (as much as possible) those things that stress you out. Blank space helps us focus on what we can control by streamlining some of the common stressors and routine tasks of our lives, and giving us permission to reset in between larger, more complex demands.
For HSPs in particular, blank space can clear away some of the triggers that tend to ramp up our emotions and give us the mental timeout we need to engage with the wider, louder world.
How I Made Room for Blank Space in My Life
For me, the process of creating blank space was first about recognizing my triggers and what made me feel overstimulated. These included walking into a house full of mess or clutter, feeling like I had too many tasks and no plan to complete them, and feeling like I was losing control because those small things were piling up.
While I have larger methods in place to help me work on these triggers (exercise and counseling), I also started to research the changes I could make in my daily routine to help manage my sensitivities and keep them from spiraling into something that caused a large, overwhelming reaction.
Once I was honest with myself about what I needed in order to process and keep myself from spinning out, I started taking steps toward creating blank spaces in both my time and my home. A lot of this centered around acts of decluttering and cleaning, as I found that visually freeing up space not only made me feel more at peace, but also helped me not to get so emotional. And I stopped packing my schedule — or letting others pack it for me — and made sure I had time built into every day to reflect and dive inward.
Like I said, though, it looks different for everyone. Here are a few tips to help you start cultivating more blank space in your life so you have a happier headspace and a happier home space.
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4 Tips to Create Blank Space in Your Life
1. Take 15 minutes a day to spot clean and put things away.
As much as I like the idea of just being able to ignore chores until a designated day, the fact was that letting laundry pile up or crumbs sit on the counter was not going to work for me. Setting aside fifteen minutes after work helps me know that I have time to address things that are bothering me in my home without making me feel like I need to deep clean the whole house. Bonus: the constant, smaller cleaning tasks help make the deeper cleans go more quickly.
Feeling like I have control over these tasks has made me less short with other members of my household and helped me to feel more relaxed when I am at home. Of course, it’s all well and good to say this, but actually finding the time meant moving something else. For me, that meant getting honest about the fact that my after work Instagram scrolling habit wasn’t about destressing, as much as it was about avoidance. If you can find a fifteen (or even five minute) habit that isn’t serving you, try switching it up!
2. Get rid of items that were creating a mess.
If there’s less there, there’s less to clean. While I love decorative objects and knicknacks as much as anyone, the reality was that having a dozen candles on the coffee table that held zero sentimental value (and rarely got lit, if we’re being honest) made me feel like I was failing at organization and made it more difficult to clean and maintain my home. Getting rid of some of these things and adopting a more minimalist aesthetic allowed me to stop spending brain space on them and kept me from stressing over clutter.
3. Develop systems to deal with small tasks right away.
I find to-do lists key for managing tasks and helping me avoid the stress spirals that can quickly engulf me as a highly sensitive person. However, some of the smaller tasks on my lists were taking up more space in my brain than the time it would take to do them. I made a rule for myself that I would deal with any task that took less than a minute immediately.
This meant that I spent fewer moments worrying about everything I had to do and had more time to concentrate on longer, more satisfying projects. The beautiful part is that it can apply to non-household tasks as well. Try simple shifts like automating bills, streamlining your breakfast choices, or muting or deleting apps that demand your attention with little interruptions. For tasks that can’t be dealt with immediately, free up space in your mind by chunking things (like responding to emails) at a certain time, which allows you to not be distracted by decisions they may require constantly.
4. Reframe the idea of downtime.
Like a lot of other people I have talked to, I place a high emphasis on productivity. For me, checking items off a list is a great way to manage some of the anxieties that I deal with on a daily basis. While I’m always an advocate for using time wisely, I also needed to give myself permission to relax in order to reset my brain and achieve some of the calm that is so essential to functioning in our modern world.
I have worked to reframe my view of these activities, so that I no longer see myself as lazy. I know recognize how these breaks help me to be a kinder person and allow me to engage in more stimulating activities, knowing that I will have a reserve to help me reset and take a break from these triggers.
Your particular feelings may not be the same as mine, but I encourage you to take an honest look at how you can create blank spaces in your own life, and how this can help you feel more balanced and whole. HSPs require time and space to process our lives, and if either of those are harried or messy, we’ll be even more overwhelmed at the end of the day. Whatever your particular needs might be, I hope you will find, as I did, that respecting them helps you create more space for joy and peace in your life.