“It was the small things that helped, taken one by one, and savoured.” ~Rumer Godden
I think about this idea a lot. Savouring things. Slowing things down. Being present in the moment. I sometimes, in my quiet moments, wonder why I have become so consumed by these thoughts lately–the thoughts of slowing down. Of resting. I read books on it. I write in my little purse notebook about it, and jot notes in the margins of a few well-loved books. One book, by Richard Swenson titled (fittingly) Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives has a quote I have underlined. Can I share? He wrote:
“We must have some room to breathe. We need freedom to think and permission to heal. Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love. Our children lay wounded on the ground, run over by our high-speed good intentions. Is God now pro-exhaustion? Doesn’t He lead people beside the still waters anymore? Who plundered those wide-open spaces of the past, and how can we get them back? There are no fallow lands for our emotions to lie down and rest in.”
I have a few theories about my obsession with creating a slower, smaller life. I think it’s a combination of factors–I’m becoming a mother of older children that will soon start going in their own different directions. They have their own opinions and likes and I’ve begun to realize that I don’t have control over them to the extent that I might have once believed. Suddenly the moments that seemed so long when they were babies are flying past more quickly. Suddenly I’m snatching hugs and slipping in extra I love you’s as insurance against the calamities of teenagerhood. My daughter is sprouting up in height and her jokes are becoming funnier. My son can sit still for longer than five minutes now. I want to slow the world down. And guess what, I can actually do it. And so can you.
If you want the world to slow down, you must do it by design–and designing a life is a purposeful thing. Creating moments doesn’t always take a lot of planning, but it does take awareness. The older I get, the more I realize that the art of slowing down is intrinsically tied to my ability to create margins so that it can happen. Margin–or white space as artists call it– can come in a variety of forms–but it is always purposeful. It can look like more time spent at home together instead of being scheduled in activities for a season. It can be deciding that one night every week is family-only pizza night and attendance is mandatory. It could even be the less glamorous but equally as important task of cleaning the house together on Saturday mornings so that there is a comfortable space which draws your people in– a peaceful space to linger longer.
Margin is something that is so often missed and under-appreciated. Did you know that in art that they teach that white space is just as important as the image or text? But how often do we look at something good and only see what IS there, not taking the time to appreciate that it is often what IS NOT there that makes all of the difference. Think about it, have you ever looked at a beautiful bouquet and thought, “Whew, I’m so glad they didn’t add roses. That would have ruined this bouquet for sure!” No, you simply look at the bouquet and think about what the florist chose to put in. You don’t think about what they purposefully left out. But maybe we should start. It’s the art of noticing.
I offer up my shelves as food for thought. As an invitation to consider how beautiful margin and space can be.
I spent some time last week clearing off my shelves. I hadn’t gone what I’d call “overboard” on my pumpkin/fall decorating, but even still I wanted to start with a clean slate. I cleared off almost all of the items, wiped the shelves down, and began to look at my Christmas decor with a critical eye. What things did I actually really love? Which pieces had special meaning? I began to pile things back on–and I realized that I love A LOT OF THINGS. That’s ok, I told myself. It looks cozy. I sat with it for a few minutes. Nope. It look cluttered. Because I had put so many “sorta” special things o the shelves, nothing looked special. I took it all down and started again.
I’m not going to lie and say it was a completely zen experience. I started to feel annoyed with my “stuff” and feeling like it was never going to look nice. I went from loving all of my stuff to suddenly going to the extreme and hating all of my stuff. If only I had better stuff it would look how I wanted! I realize, in saying all of this out loud, that I sound like an annoying entitled person and that’s my whole point, because if we’re being honest, our internal voices all can sound like that. And what’s worse, those voices are wrong. They, my friend, are voices of fear. Not big fear, but little fear. What if I can’t make it look how I want? How do other people’s shelves/mantels/houses/lives seem to be so effortlessly put together. Is it the stuff?? (a hint, it’s probably not the stuff.)
Sometimes it’s about letting a few things shine. Sometimes it’s letting yourself see your things in a new light. Look around your house. Maybe you have a basket that you’ve always just used for holding muffins at dinner. Could it go on the shelf this season? Did your kids collect pine cones during a vacation one year and you’ve always wanted to incorporate them into your decorating? Do you have a stash of Epsom salt under your bathroom sink and never thought about the fact that it could look like snow if you put it in a bowl with a few cherished ornaments your aunt gave you but would look lonely if set up on a shelf by themselves?
Let yourself look at everything you have with curiosity. Nothing is too weird. (That’s a lie, but for this exercise, tell yourself that because unless you’re putting up something akin to the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, then you’re probably safe). Have faith in the process. Let your mind learn to be content with the truth that these things take time. Cut some branches from your yard. Light a candle. Wrap your child in a furry blanket and turn on a Christmas movie, and let it sit. Trust that in this time you have carved out for margin, the answers will come. They always do.
If today or tomorrow or the next day you find yourself in that same zone of frustration–where nothing is looking how you want, or your days are too packed and hectic, or time is going by too quickly and you feel so very rushed–today’s invitation is to consider some margin. Consider what should be taken out. Consider what is worth letting go so that what is truly important can shine.