I was working with a client not long ago who afforded me one of those “epiphany” moments.
We were diligently rearranging her kitchen because she felt it difficult to work in. She said she could not find the things she needed when she needed them, items were scattered about and nothing seemed to have any order. Once we reorganized everything, she ended up with a totally empty cabinet above her stove. “What am I going to do with that,” she asked me. Good question! “Why do you have to do anything with it,” I replied. As it turns out she, like many of us, felt empty spaces must be filled. After all, if we leave them empty, does that imply that we are forgetting something or have left things only partially done? And so appeared that “aha moment!”
I have ruminated (one of my favorite words) over this cogent thought for quite a while and have even taken to observing people in their everyday lives endlessly filling up everything from shopping carts to task lists in an effort to avoid the dreaded emptiness of that blank space.
Many years ago I came across a book titled, “Entropy” by Jeremy Rifkin where he simplistically states that whenever order is created anywhere in the universe, it is done so at the expense of creating greater disorder in the surrounding environment. So are we, then, naturally held back from creating order because of the discordance we may experience as the price for creating that symmetry? Do we then bend to the rationale that we can’t possibly leave anything empty as it could also represent discordance? I wonder.
But this has really incredible implications. Does the bucket list we pursue as we age represent all of the things we can possibly accomplish in the time we feel we have left to live? What about when we are downsizing or transitioning to a new home? I’ve experienced situations where no matter what I said to a client about the smaller space they were moving into, the client ended up with a lot of furniture and possessions in the hallway of a senior residence because it all simply wouldn’t fit! The physical space had changed, but the mental one had not.
Aging in place, in its most simplified form, is a desire to remain in our home as we age. I sometimes wonder, however, if the driving force behind that concept might be that we don’t want to face a future that might not contain all of the things it does now and force us to experience emptiness. Now granted no one wants to be lonely, bored or feel uncomfortable in their own home.
Enter an empty room and some of us immediately want to fill it up – with something. However, there are those of us that would relish this at it is, to them, what is a called a “blank canvas” – a clean slate upon which anything can be written, so to speak. To others, this is highly uncomfortable. This may also be why some of us feel more at ease in small spaces rather than large spaces, or in rooms that do not have cathedral or high ceilings.
Our lives are filled with work, activities, events, hobbies, church, family gatherings and so on. Our homes are filled with things we no longer need or use or furniture that does nothing but crowd us out. For just one moment, one small space of time, we should just “be,” with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Just breathe. This is harder than it seems.
As we age, we may slow down somewhat, but we still are likely to experience very few “be” moments, and these are the ones we should treasure. For it is in those quiet, “white space” snippets of “nothingness” that we have the opportunity to experience the greatest gift of all – time. Time to engage our future as we age. Time to whittle that bucket list down to what really matters to us and why.
Aging in place is not an event; rather it is a decision-making process. Where we choose to live is actually the answer to a whole host of questions from whether or not our neighborhood is safe or if our town has lighting, sidewalks and businesses that are age-friendly to the types of transportation and health care available to us if we choose to remain in our home.
We are so lucky to be in an era where the aging in place future is unfolding as a flower does in response to sunlight. So much is yet to be revealed. Much will be left by the wayside in a natural progression of “natural selection” of what will benefit the aging population and what won’t. But what remains will, hopefully, bring joy, happiness and peace to the years we so dearly want to experience.
Take time out of your life to cognitively experience “be” moments and avoid the pull to fill up every available moment. Eliminate the clutter from your life (and our home) and you will reveal spaces that may have been unknown to you before. Use them wisely.
Dr. Jill Bjerke