The Empty Side of My House


I’m a compulsive plant buyer. Just today, I looked up and realized I’d bought two giant pink geraniums and a lemon verbena. Not quite sure how that happened.

As you can imagine (just ask Adam), over the past five years, the garden beds around our house have filled in.

But I haven’t planted anything on the north side. I decided when we moved in that there had to be one side of the house I wasn’t allowed to plant – or things might get a little crazy.

So, the north side stays plain.


Making a decision not to do something can be freeing. Even to curb something silly, like a plant-buying compulsion.

Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project, talks about decluttering her house (something I also have done recently). An old friend came to visit Rubin during that time and confessed, “I keep one shelf, somewhere in my house, completely empty” (p. 31).

“An empty shelf meant possibility, space to expand, a luxurious waste of something useful for the sheer elegance of it,” as Rubin puts it.

There aren’t any empty shelves in my house right now.  I used to have one or two, after decluttering last winter, but people come over and you need a place to toss a stack of papers or that thing over there.

Leaving a thing undone, unfinished, or empty is a kind of spiritual discipline. Perhaps even a survival skill. It’s good to know when to leave undone, undone.


In our calendar and schedule, too.

Open time means I can look out the window, read a magazine, make a pan of brownies, or do any other useless but necessary thing (not on the internet, preferably). Like an empty shelf: “a luxurious waste of something useful for the sheer elegance of it.”

What seemed empty turns out to be quite full.

For instance, it turns out that the north side of my house is home to many tiny and interesting varieties of moss. Intricate micro-forests, growing in the space I call “empty.”


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They make me happy.

The empty side of the house is my empty shelf. An open space to leave open. An opportunity left standing. A place where emptiness can let the Holy Spirit breathe in.