Over on my stamping blog, I talk a lot about something called white space. White space, which doesn’t have to be white at all, is simply the empty space in graphic designs and art. Think about GAP advertisements, the old ones where a single model, dressed in stylish clothing, was surrounded by white. Now, contrast that image with the latest flyer from Target, where white space is in short supply. It’s hard to focus on any particular deal in the Target ads because there are so many crammed on the page, and they all scream loudly at you and compete for your attention like game hawkers at a travelling carnival. “Step right up, folks!” You’re not quite sure what to look at first.
The GAP doesn’t make that mistake. Their ads are like a Zen garden with a single rock, surrounded by neat and tidy sand. You really notice the rock. Your eye can only really go to the rock. And the rock looks good.
Life needs more white space.
At least that is the argument of Leo Babauta, author of a blog called zenhabits. His post on white space hit home with me. Where is the white space in my life? Certainly I make plenty of room for white space on the cards and scrapbook pages I create. But what about the rest of my life? It seems messy and cluttered and crazy, with all sorts of pretty and colorful and (often) important things competing for my attention.
I crave white space. But since I have a brain that is hard to shut off, a broad range of interests and a hefty curiosity to explore those interests, two small children, one grown husband, a golden retriever puppy, and chronic insomnia, the metaphorical white space of my life gets quickly filled with stuff. Instead of being a nice, clean GAP advertisement, my life feels like a carnival of fast rides and relentless music and whirls of color and pattern and motion. It has LOTS of stuff in it, and I love most of that stuff.
And therein lies my conundrum.
After reading Babauta's article, I realized that a desire for white space motivates my desire to purge my home of junk. But the difficulty of such purging frustrates me at every turn. A lot of the junk in my house simply isn’t mine to purge. It’s George’s or the boys’ junk. While I can certainly exert some parental authority over the boys’ junk, George is unlikely to take kindly to my tossing his stuff, even if he’s not touched that stuff in twenty years. It’s his, and he’s very territorial. But then, so am I. If he ever entered my craft room with an eye to purge, I’d go nuclear on his butt.
So no matter how hard I work at it or how much time I spend organizing and cleaning, my house will NOT have enough white space. The only practical way to fix this incongruity between desire and reality is this: create pockets of white space in my house and life by making my own little Zen gardens of peace and simplicity.
Recently, I purged my clothes and wrote about it here. No longer are my drawers and closet full of mess. With more than enough storage space (I’m utilizing less than half the space in my drawers and less than a quarter of my hanging space), choosing clothes is an entirely pleasant experience now.
My make-up drawer needs another purge. I did this about two years ago, and what a pleasant way to start each morning! Since then, gradually, clutter has taken over again, and it’s time to re-instate a little white space. My car, my craft room, my silverware drawer, and my bedside table are all places where I can make room for white space.
This piecemeal approach to white space seems worthwhile to me: a happy compromise. If my whole life were a Zen garden, I would most definitely get bored and lonely and start craving the carnival. But with zones of white space where I can breathe and not feel crowded or confused, perhaps I’ll find a little balance throughout my day.
Babauta's article also talks about creating white space in schedules. We don’t have to schedule every minute of our lives. In fact, not leaving white space in our schedule is downright unhealthy. We all need time to relax and unwind, regroup and center ourselves. Even God took a break on the seventh day of creation. Yet so many people act like there’s something wrong with blanks in their schedule.
Adults have always engaged in the rat race of careers to varying degrees depending on the nature of their career, but when did parents start projecting their own rat-race schedule onto kids? Children run from activity to activity in a rush to gather “experiences” or “skills.” For some children, it’s a different activity each day of the week. Other children do one activity that requires all seven days of the week. When do they eat dinner or do their homework? How do they get the twelve hours of sleep kids need? When do they spend time with their immediate family? When do they have a chance to relax and simply be children?
I remember hours, days, weeks, months of my childhood spent mostly in the company of other children or by myself, being creative and using my imagination and laughing and playing and moving free of structure and close adult supervision. I also remember nightly sit-down meals with my family. These are memories I treasure. Somehow, I learned to play nicely on a team without ever being on a “team.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t do organized activities or sports, though I would like to see the organizers of sports for children recognize that they sometimes go overboard with training and schedules. I just think that kids deserve down time, some time daily to rest and to be creative in whatever way their spirit moves them, without grown-ups supervising and coaching and expecting a good performance from them.
They need some time to breathe.
Don’t we all need time to breathe?
White space doesn’t have to be alone space, either. Often, it’s just an opportunity to relax in good company, with no agenda or expectations. I sometimes try to make coffee dates with friends who cannot find an hour in their schedule for weeks or months on end. I know exactly how they feel. When I found myself last week thinking I’d beg off of a regular coffee group because I was just too busy, I slapped myself (metaphorically) and went anyway. I was glad I did. It was an hour of peace and laughter and fellowship that lightened my heart and, ironically, made me more productive the rest of the day.
Take an hour to sit and breathe, and get more done in less time the rest of the day. What a concept!
Ironically, we often need to schedule these times of white space in order to see them as important and valuable to our whole lives. We can’t wait to find white space in the busyness of the day. Schedule family meals, take five minutes to sit at your desk at work and breathe deeply, taste your food rather than gulping it down. White space is really just about focusing on something simple yet important in a relaxed and peaceful way.
If anything positive comes out of the recession, I hope it’s a renewed sense of balance between white space and the carnival of life. Many people can no longer afford to play all the carnival games and ride all the carnival rides, and even those who can still afford the full carnival experience seem to be re-evaluating what’s important in life. Perhaps slowing down and savoring the white space in our lives will help us regain some perspective.
How do you make white space in your life? Your children’s lives? Do you feel you get enough white space? Why or why not? What could you do (or not do) to claim a little white space?