Leaving my home and my furniture behind in Chicago in 2012. I set out to explore the the world. I have lived in some interesting places since: a Korean guesthouse in Thailand, a closet of a warehouse in Melbourne, an exuberant, funky share house in Noosa and a 1980’s caravan in the Australian bush of Queensland.
At the beginning of the year my partner, Jonathan, and I moved from the cramped one room caravan to a 2-bedroom unit at the base of Mt. Coolum. As soon as I walked through the door of our newly rented unit, its raw energy captivated me. Granted, our new place wasn’t lavish, but compared to the tiny squat we came from, it was nice to feel that there was room to streeeettttccccch.
Instinctively, I didn’t want to add any furniture. We were used to living without the so-called “creature comforts”. Previous to our meeting Jonathan, he had his own unique lifestyle, living in a gutted out ambulance during his time at University and a canal boat on the Thames River in the years to follow. It seemed like a natural progression for both of us to continue transforming overlooked and temporary places into “Home Sweet Home.”
So, even now that we had a more permanent place to set up our life, we didn’t want to accumulate things that truly (to us) weren’t necessary. And this is how life without furniture began. Appreciating open space.
Yet, this wasn’t the reason we continued to integrate it into our lifestyle. As a practitioner of yoga for 10 years and a teacher for 5 of them, I’m insightful when it comes to the benefits of moving the body, particularly – the spine. I’ve quoted many times in class, “a healthy spine is a healthy life.”
If you were to analyze most adults’ movements in Western society, their lower spine is immobilized from morning until night. Sitting at a desk for most of the day, sitting in the car driving home, only to sit on the couch/eat at the dinner table, etc. When the joints aren’t used they start to degenerate, resulting in 80% of people in the Western world who suffer from chronic and/or serious lower back pain.1
So when exactly do we use our spine the way it’s intended to be, without any extra (redundant) back support?
Katy Bowman, a wife, a mother of two and a Biomechanist (which is the study of living structures and how the forces created by and placed on them affect how they work), writes, “Furniture creates a development crippling environment in that the stuff literally shapes, our body, both now and in the future.” 2 Katy and her family have been living furniture-free since 2013. To promote natural movement to their children, they built an indoor jungle gym with ropes, rings and bars.. She says they sit on the floor to eat and when they venture out – they walk most places without strollers or carriers .Admitting the elimination of furniture didn’t happen all of a sudden. Gradually they phased out the pieces that were used the most. She states in her online website www.katysays.com re: the elimination of furniture “It is a difficult step because it is hard to wrap our modern minds around the fact that furniture, while completely normal, is entirely unnatural and does us more harm than good.” 3
Galen Cranz, author of the book, The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design 4, explains, “The Western tradition of right-angled chairs is harmful to our health. The posture it forces is the C-slumped spine: The chest caves in, the pelvis gets crunched, the lower back collapses, and the neck thrusts forward. We are locked into a bad habit that saps energy, circulation and strength.”
Encouraging a solution, Cranz created a concept called, Body Conscious Living. She suggests observing your environment and “choreographing” different body postures: such as standing, kneeling, squatting, and sitting, that the space supports. Be mindful of how your body feels and how to change your position by moving around furniture to customize your space, or changing your body position to incorporate natural movement. Suggestions include using stools instead of chairs because you will strengthen your back and abdominals to sit straight. Also, the height of a countertop or desk will change your posture and keep your wrists straight while preparing food or typing on a keyboard. Relaxing on the floor while having knees bent helps to release the lower back. 5
The numerous benefits include improved posture, decrease in joint stiffness, greater mobility in the hips and knees; improved circulation and being able to breath better allows the body to evolve into a greater state of relaxation.
Personally, I feel closer to the earth and more at peace when I sit on the floor.
Living without furniture doesn’t have to make your lifestyle dull or empty. In our unit we have a low table, similar to Japanese style where you can sit on the floor. And we have a low bamboo frame for our mattress to keep it off the ground (humidity and mold being an issue where we live). When our friends come to visit, there are cushions and yoga bolsters to lounge and stretch out on. We have a homemade bookshelf and an adult sized recycled bamboo teepee in our living room. Much of this experience has allowed us to get creative! We are currently working on an outside low seating area made from recycled wooden pallets, big enough to sit crossed legged or recline on.
Whether you decide to take the plunge and eliminate your couch and chairs, or simply develop a more body conscious lifestyle, I would encourage everyone to re-educate the body. Get reacquainted with being on the floor and re-discover the body’s natural range of movement. Take some time to stretch out and just move!
Treat your body well cause it’s the only one you got!
- DVD: Paul Grilley: Yin Yoga: The Foundations of a Quiet Practice
- “Parenting Against the Grain: Going Furniture-Free”
- “Furniture-Free” www.katysays.com/furniture-free-ahs13/
- The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design, by Galen Cranz, W.W. Norton and Co., 1998
- “Beyond the Chair” by Melissa Dalton. Portland Spaces Oct./Nov. 2008