Furniture trends may come and go, but have you heard of the puzzling new fad of having almost no furniture at all?
Blame Katy Bowman—author of several books on biomechanics, including “Don’t Just Sit There” and “Whole Body Barefoot.” Bowman’s big argument is that we are constantly outsourcing our physical work to our furniture. Instead of holding ourselves upright and carrying our own weight, we let cushy chairs, beds, and couches prop us up.
I know what you’re thinking: Yes, that’s the entire point of furniture! Yet when we do that all day, every day, we miss opportunities to stabilize our joints, improve our range of motion, and strengthen underused muscles. And that can lead to stiffness, joint pain, aches, and ultimately injuries.
One way to combat this slow slide to slothdom is to remove the instruments that enable it—in other words, get rid of our furniture. At Bowman’s house, for instance, photos on her site reveal that there is no sofa, just floor cushions and a couple of stools. There are mattresses on the floor. Her kitchen table’s legs have been cut shorter so it’s lower to the ground. It looks totally different from every American home I’ve ever seen.
But can doing this really make me feel less achy and lethargic? I decided to put Bowman’s wisdom to the test and try going furniture-free for one week in my own home.
So long, sofa
I’ll be honest here: This little experiment was really just an excuse for me to take a break from our sectional, which has slowly but steadily been destroying my lower back. So that was the easiest thing to give up. We already have floor cushions, so I plunked down on those instead of the sofa. Sitting on the floor forces you to change positions frequently, which is actually a plus. It also forces you to sit up straighter. And when I got too tired, I could just lie down.
The floor seating was harder for my partner. He missed cuddling on the sofa together … but not enough to give up his cozy seat and join me on the floor. Sad but true, he chose the sofa over me. I tried to not take this personally.
Eating like the Romans
Not using our kitchen table was also easy because we’re barbarians who never use it anyway. Usually at dinnertime, my son scurries in, piles food on his plate, and scurries back to his video gaming in his room. My partner and I eat on the sofa in front of the TV. Anything is an improvement over this sad situation.
But first, lunch, which I eat alone because I work from home. There’s this photo of Bowman noshing from a bowl while perched in a squat that made me think, hey, that looks pretty cool and doable. But guess what? It’s not.
After a minute of squat-noshing, my wobbling and quaking made it hard to get food into my mouth without dropping anything. Four minutes in, and my calves were burning. Clearly I am not a squatting Jedi master. Yet.
So I mostly ate seated on the floor. And I have to say, once you start a meal on the floor, you keep getting lower and lower and, at some point, you wonder if lying all the way down would really be so terrible. Didn’t the Romans eat reclining? No one can see me doing this. I highly recommend it. But sit up to drink. I learned that the hard way.
Trying to persuade my family to do a family dinner on the floor was more of a challenge.
“Wouldn’t it be fun,” I said one evening, “if we did family dinner around the accent tables in the living room instead? We could pretend to be eating in a Berber tent off in the Sahara desert, except with tacos.”
My son was up for it, but there was grumbling from the man. He finally acquiesced and lowered himself reluctantly to the floor like a beleaguered camel. We each took one of the floor cushions and hunched over the little tables, which were just big enough to accommodate our plates.
I enjoyed seeing my home from a completely different perspective that made it seem a little bigger. I tried not to notice taco filling falling on the rug. But more importantly, I noticed that we lingered after we finished dinner. We were actually engaged in—what’s it called again?—oh yes, conversation. It gushed from us like we were long-lost friends. Everyone forgot to be physically uncomfortable.
Yet alas, the following night we were back to our usual dinner-eating areas. Clearly this was not going to stick.
Working without a desk
Going furniture-free in my own home office proved to be challenging in whole new ways. I’ve never been a fan of the desk and chair setup, so I’m usually on those floor cushions again (laptop on a side table) or I write lying on my belly. Yet this will murder your lower back after a while unless you slip a folded towel or little pillow under your upper hip bones—a tip I picked up from Bowman.
I also set a timer for 25-minute work intervals with five-minute breaks in between to stretch and move around. Bonus: It felt a lot less like work that way!
The bed was a whole new level of challenge—especially since we had just bought a new mattress, and it was really working for me, especially when I slept flat on my back. Bowman’s book had already talked me into getting rid of my pillow, and that ended my chronic neck pain immediately. But the whole mattress?
Bowman writes about the benefits of sleeping in different locations so your body gets used to different positions and surfaces.
“Always sleeping on something flat and squishy has altered the mobility and sensitivity of your parts,” she writes in “Move Your DNA.” “The joint alterations required for ground-sleeping are natural and they’re currently underused.” In fact, she compares sleeping around (no, not that kind) to cross-training.
I compromised by spending a couple of nights sleeping on my sheepskin rug. My partner was not down to party on this adventure, so we spent nights apart. The sacrifice! But I was surprised that this didn’t kill me. I’m suggesting you must try this tonight, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected, and I didn’t wake up feeling like I’d been driven over by a truck. So maybe if I ever go camping, sleeping on the ground won’t suck.
How did it all pan out?
“Are you finished with your no-furniture experiment?” my partner asked after a full week was over.
“I am,” I admitted.
He sighed contentedly, and pulled me onto the sofa with him. “I missed you,” he said. I had missed him, too—not to mention our new mattress, even our slouch-inspiring sectional.
Yet I’d argue that although Bowman’s furniture-free lifestyle was largely a bust for me, her advice lives on in my home in subtle ways. For instance, I sit up straighter rather than just melting to fit whatever piece of furniture I’m in. And that, I must say, does seem to be good for my back, and my overall energy levels.
So if you’re curious to give the furniture-free lifestyle a try, Bowman’s advice on all big changes is to start slow. For example, if you like the idea of eating around a shorter table, try it out with your coffee or accent tables first. If you like how you feel, go lower. Or, at the very least, it could give you a whole new perspective on your furniture, and how much—or little—it does for your life.
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