The 1 Thing Every Home Needs

cozy minimalist

Every home needs an empty surface zone.

This is a surface in your home that you are deciding is no longer a home for things.

This is NOT to be confused with a surface that you are demanding to be absolutely empty at all times. No way. This is a hardworking surface, preferably the most used surface(s) in your home that you are no longer letting pretty things, often used things, random things live there indefinitely and without question.

I don’t know if it’s a “now I’m 40” thing or a “mom of three teenage boys” thing or a “we moved to a much smaller house” thing but I used to fuss over what to put on every available surface in our home. Now I allow (CRAVE) some surfaces to be gloriously empty.

But that doesn’t mean they never have stuff on them.

I’ve learned to not assign decor objects to a few of the main public surfaces in our house.

Right now those surfaces are the three hardest working, most often used surfaces: the kitchen island, the one main table in our space and the coffee table.

It doesn’t mean they are always empty, but the opposite, stuff is on them often.


There’s something luxurious and quieting in our home when it’s time to straighten up and put away the day’s odds and ends, these much used surfaces are cleaned up and turned into pure emptiness. It’s a feeling so good that it’s not usually worth me junking it up with some decorative item no matter how pretty.

IF I need to get a great photo or want it to look extra special, I will put something pretty on my tables, I get to change my own rules whenever I want. But in our everyday living, it’s nice to have some much needed empty space.

Besides, our mantel is a space that can be filled with meaningful beauty day in and day out without us having to move a candlestick so we can write a check or put our coffee down. Most of us don’t lack in surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, most of us are lacking in a moment of silence in our homes. Some of us have forgotten what its like to experince the joy of an empty surface.

cozy minimalist

Why don’t you join me today?

That table, the one your family eats all the meals at, where the bills get sat down, where the homework gets signed and piled? At some point today, clear it completely off. Empty. Down to the naked bones. And wipe it down with a steamy hot rag. You might just hear your surface utter a cry of deep gratitude like mine did. Then, simply let it sit gloriously empty.

The goal isn’t to keep it empty forever. Oh, that would be a tragedy. That surface is there to serve you well, use it up, spread out, get things done! The goal is to at some point have it empty so you can enjoy the nothingness. It’s a simple way to add a little white space, a little margin to a working home.

You might just get addicted and want to empty it off to nothing every evening or morning or afternoon in between it’s hard working sessions just for the little joy that a quiet surface can bring.

The One Simple Trick To Make Your Space More Luxurious Right Now? A cleared off space.


It’s all too much

On Editing A Room

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  1. My main meal-eating table is actually already has a cleared surface (gasp!), so I’ll try to clear my office/library buffet that look cluttered today :) We have two little kiddos and they are constantly doing their projects on the table, so naturally I stop putting things on it. It’s really challenging to make a beautiful vignette while keeping it simple, but I love the simple look. Thanks for the inspiration! ox

  2. I’m shooting for two. I have my kitchen table cleared most of the time. I’d like to get the breakfast bar / backsplash thing clear as it’ll reduce the cluttered feel of the kitchen / dining room.
    Congrats on the upcoming release of your book.

    • Clearly I need to hang out at all of your houses! How am I the last one to learn this?
      And YES, the high traffic table is just the first baby step! This cleared off highly used surface thing is taking over my world!

  3. You are soooo right! A cleared off table/work space just invites productivity doesn’t it? lol. I have two boys and my husband…who like to cover all flat surfaces with “stuff” so this is often a battle. You will be happy to know I cleared off a table at midnight last night…cause I’m trying to create a better “work” zone for me. :)
    Hello btw …leelee@

  4. As time passes on, I’m craving those white spaces more. Maybe it’s ’cause I collected so much along the way and for so long every square inch displayed some sort of some thing.

    But I don’t want that any more. I want peace, quiet, serenity. In my mind. And in my home.

    Ah. I can breathe …


  5. Yes! I so agree. My kitchen table is almost always empty at the end of the day, aside from the napkin holder/salt & pepper shakers, and my other space I like to have clear is my biggest counter/passthrough to the dining room. It does need to house my fruit bowl and the bowl we put our keys in, but other than that, it can be clear, and I feel SO much better when that’s all that’s on the counter.

  6. I agree! Its so nice to have my kitchen island cleared. The mornings are busy with stuff on it and usually from the night before too. When I get to clear the papers, pens and what ever its a good feeling:-)

  7. My kitchen and dining room work the hardest. There is usually something on them all the time. I love it when its all clear!

  8. I can’t do it. An empty space makes me nervous. LOL

  9. So true. Since moving overseas and not having much “stuff” our empty spaces give me such peace. We even have empty shelves! Gasp! The thing is, I love these empty spaces. t I’ve tried to keep our counters clear and even the kitchen becomes a more peaceful space – leaving room for creativity (instead of my groaning and complaining when I have to clear off the surfaces just to bake.) I’ve been trying to practice this in our office space but I’m pretty sure my desk and office-supply-addiction is fighting back.

  10. We have a little boy. He’s almost 3. I’m a constant ebb and flow of pretty decor and toy trucks, food, ect EVERYWHERE. Our kitchen is the most commonly used space with the Island being the place to put anything and everything. I fold clothes here, bake cookies with my lil guy, bills sit her sometimes but at the end of every day, I do try to make it so nothing is on it. I have tried to decorate the counter top but I gave up and decided that nothing on top was best because it’s always changing what I use the space for. It’s such a great spot in our house. Initially I thought it would be a hinderance because of it’s placement but it’s proved it’s worth many times over. I completely agree with your post! Every home needs an empty zone.

    • I just started folding laundry on our island recently, it actually motivates me to keep it wiped off, who wants tomato juice on a freshly washed shirt?

  11. I so needed this bit of inspiration. I have a very very long standing habit of letting the clutter get the best of me on the kitchen table and the island. My kids are grown, so we no longer even eat at the table most days, so it’s become a junk heap. Thank you so much for this inspiration! Now, I need to go and find “homes” for all the stuff on my table.

    • you are so right, it truly is just a habit, one I’ve fallen into so deep over the years and I think having a bigger house with lots of surfaces enabled me to ‘hide’ or ignore my little habit!

  12. Goal for today: clear all the sh*t off my kitchen table. I do love white space. It makes me feel more clear & fresh. Thank you! Excited about your new book! The cover looks SO GOOD.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been trying to purge and simplify, and this is exactly the advice I needed. I’m off to clear some horizontal surfaces now!

  14. Every house needs a dog!

    • truth. the title should be One of the MANY Things every house needs! But that isn’t as catchy!

      • I agree – I love your blog and pretty sure you a dog. I agree about the clear table. I use an old farmhouse table in the dining room that I do not worry about it getting messed up. I try to keep it clear so that it is a work space for me and the kids. When I entertain, i make it pretty with a table cloth.
        Have a good weekend.

  15. I started clearing off the dining room table yesterday. I did not finish. But, alas, the universe is at work in its glorious way and you publish this post today and provide the little nudge I needed this morning to keep clearing the surface today. For this post, among many you have written, I thank you!
    ♥ Iris
    Hastag for before/afters? #OperationEmptySurface

  16. I love this post. A lot. I just can’t get my brain to work this way. No kidding my brain is always like “I will fill AALLLL the empty spaces!” LOL. I guess this post is the perfect nudge to train the brain to enjoy a clear chotchkie free zone. Thanks Nester!

  17. Working on emptying some surfaces today. Ready to clear the clutter. Planning to drop it all off at Goodwill and not go in the store!!!!

    ;-) Beth

  18. Love this! I started keeping my dining table cleared out of necessity: two certain toddlers always liked to grab my pretty centerpieces. But now one of my favorite parts of the evening is clearing and wiping down the table. We use it all day long, but after cleaning it I just want it to be a breath of fresh air in my home, with no clutter. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

  19. Yep, yep, yep. You know I like this. XO

  20. Since our dining table is also our homeschool table it is rarely cleared off. We move books and papers in order to eat. :) But I think I’ll make a better effort to keep our kitchen counters clear.

  21. My kitchen island is totally naked. I love it;)

  22. I clear off our coffee table and kitchen island every night. Every morning, when I wake up, they are clean and ready to be filled-up, piled-on, and used. By the evening, they have things {toys, projects, randomness} all over them. It’s such a great feeling to have a few spots that aren’t decorated and that just get to “go with the flow” of our days. I”m glad I’m not alone in this!! Thanks Nester!!

  23. I’ve tried it and it just looks too naked. I love a “cleared” table with a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit

  24. I’m a HUGE fan of having a cleared off space. For me it’s the dining room table, which is now a pile of mail, books, and a box of Kleenex. My goal is to clear it off tonight!

  25. I agree with this so much! I love an empty space. It’s just refreshing and leaves me feeling free! I aim to have the kitchen table cleared every night because it’s just nice to look at it and see it empty. I really am not a fan of stuff piled up or sitting out but it happens!

  26. Yes. I have experienced the same thing the last few years. We downsized by 1,000 sf to move out of the burbs and into town 3 years ago. I’m mid 40’s with 3 boys (and a 6’4″ husband who can make a room feel smaller just by entering) and people thought I would pull my hair out in 1800 sf but it’s been quite the contrary. We have less stuff, less clutter, cleaner surfaces, are more organized, I can clean up in a snap, and just breathe easier in general.

  27. LOVE this idea. I try to keep our dinner table “clear” but there is always a fruit bowl. I think NOTHING would be nice! Now, where to put that fruit…?? ;)

  28. Hmmm, yes! Less clutter is always perfect.

  29. Thank you for this reminder, when I have some clean, open surfaces I just feel more settled and peaceful. Cannot wait for your book release!!

    xo, Tanya

  30. This is right on time. My dining room table is slowly becoming covered with a lot of little this and that and it’s killing me. I just got on the whole “it’s easier to maintain a clean house than to do the big clean up” is a new concept to me. I just hopped on the bandwagon in December! I have to thank Tsh for inspiring me to create white space. Too bad this isn’t facbook and I can’t tag her in the comment. White space is necessary in every area in our lives, and I’m not sure about you, but I just feel better when a have a few solid spaces in my house that are de-crapafied (that’s a word).

  31. LOVE your simple, helpful tips like these!!! So true. Thank you!!

  32. girl.
    when i look back on clutter ( albeit cute) all over my home, in every nook & cranny stage i think to myself, “why didn’t anyone stop me”???
    what was i thinking
    i’m totally the same way. maybe it’s because there’s just a lot of people here and the people have things? but i too LOVE a wide open spaces spot. kitchen table? my backporch table> i love it when they’re empty. now if i could just keep the laundry basket at that same status! ha!

  33. This is one of my favorite lessons you have taught me. I still think about and remember that post you wrote about your empty Kmart table. I have gotten better at not prettying my empty tables but they still often collect stuff. Currently my kitchen breakfast table and our bar is having a cluttered paper war. I put the paper on the table because I want the bar to be clear. But then it has to be moved back to the bar because we need a clear spot to eat. Perhaps I just need to tackle that pile today!!! But I love this concept and it is amazing to step back and see a cleared off counter or table…who cares how dirty my floors are or if the cabinets need a fresh coat of paint…empty tables make the house look amazingly clean!!!

  34. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I have a problem with clutter, and flat surfaces are the worst. Coffee table, dining table, even the dogs’ crates. And if I HAPPEN to (temporarily) eliminate the clutter, then (ahem) I have a world of blog heroes whose spaces are always staged beautifully, so I feel the pressure to do that. I went through a long phase of keeping a tablecloth on my dining table and it set, but I think that annoyed my husband.

    You have just given me permission to clear the clutter and not try to beautify those spaces. Maybe I can do it!

    I pre-ordered your book and can hardly wait!

  35. We have done this in our home within the last couple of years. About a month ago we hosted a cook out for my husbands coworkers. A female coworker told him the next day she needed to know my secret. How did I make our house minimal and cozy at the same time? That was the greatest compliment!

  36. Great post! We have a small home with 2 kids, so every surface in our house does double duty! I don’t have a home office — rather an armoire in the living room — so paperwork can really pile up. I’ve gotten into the routine of clearing the dining room table off right after the kids finish their homework in the afternoon. I am a flower freak so I usually have some on the table, but that’s it. And after dinner the table gets cleared off again, ready for breakfast the next morning. After I take the kids to school I use the dining table as my desk, so it tends to get cluttered throughout the day. So at least it’s cleared off half the time but that has really helped create a nice place to eat and hang out without all the junk lying around! You are so right — we all have so much “stuff” in our lives, and creating uncluttered surfaces definitely feels luxurious!

  37. You’ve inspired me I’m looking at my dining room table that has flowers, table mats (which should all be there) as well as some school paper work, Ikea frames, a can of paint – which really should be there! Time for a declutter :)

  38. This is the equivalent of making your bed just to help the bedroom feel a little tidier. It also reminds me of FLY Lady’s obsession with having a shined (empty, clean) sink every night.
    Even only having one clean/clear space is refreshing.

  39. Over six years ago I decided less was more and I have found it so stress free. I still have
    two area’s that seem to catch stuff, so I still need to work on it. Cleaning goes so much
    faster and I love less clutter!!!

  40. Already done! I love having my table completely cleared between meals and other activities.

  41. It is a rare occasion that any my surfaces are cluttered. I cannot live with clutter….dirt, yes, but not clutter!! :P

  42. I remember when I first moved out of my parents’ house and my mom came to visit. I had every surface covered with some sort of decor object. I thought every spot needed a vignette of some sort! My wonderful mom fixed it for me and she said, “My eye needs a place to rest. If there is an object every place you look, it is so busy your eyes can’t rest.” Genius. I always keep this in mind now. The only problem now is to deal with the junk that accumulates! Having empty spaces means we set crap there for a week and pretty soon I am missing pretty objects because to me they are better than piles. Maybe my laziness is the problem haha.

  43. I thought it was a “turning 50” thing! I read a tip in an ADD magazine once that an empty table top (no tablecloth even) will help those with focus issues concentrate more while seated there doing work…I tried it and found it to be true. Decorating “vignettes” and stylized surfaces now look too forced and unnatural to me.

  44. I agree! I like it when the table and counters are cleaned up…. And your floor is so pretty and clean too!

  45. Love this idea.

  46. We just moved to a larger home and one of the additions I want to make is an anything table for crafts, bills, studying—whatever! I totally agree with you that we could all use a clean, uncluttered table.

  47. I think it may be the 40 thing – i just turned 41, and have been going crazy because of all the stash spots in our house! We still have 5 kids at home, everybody’s crafty and (of course) messy. We all have the bad habit of thinking, “I’ll leave this here “for now” until I get back to it later”, then later becomes months! I just completely removed a buffet table from the kitchen because it was against the wall everyone walked past all day. It now happily resides in the laundry room being useful. I, too, have been focused on keeping our dining table clear this last year, as well as trying to arrange furniture in the least junk accumulating way possible – for us, hahaha! Your floor is, indeed, lovely. Mine are so worn, it’s difficult to keep them looking clean. One of these years we’ll have the time to refinish!

  48. Our standard poodle is finally teaching me to keep the dining room table cleared off: in the last month we have had to replace two pairs of prescription glasses (one pair each for my husband and me), an iPhone case (the phone survived), a calendar (I could handle the chewed up cover but she ate out all of next month’s pages) and miscellaneous coasters and papers. I suspect this time I might be able to stick to my resolution to keep it cleared off;-)

  49. Our dining room table has become this – not by choice just by habit. It’s our catch all – I used to keep decor on it and will during the holidays but it’s our ONLY table surface (we rent a small home without an eat in kitchen so the dining table has become THE table. I always feel at ease when it’s been cleaned off.

  50. A long time ago {I think it was one of your 31 Days series} you talked about clearing off surfaces. I’ve been doing it ever since. Changed my life. : ) Makes the biggest difference in the world.

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