STOP for a minute: The life-changing magic of whitespace

As usual, I was working until the last possible moment.

Plus another five minutes. Give or take fifteen or twenty.

I saw Brian pull into the gravel drive in front of our RV and I scrambled to wrap up what I was working on.

I had only a loose idea of what we were doing for dinner, no room to cook it until I handled the dirty dishes covering our minuscule counter space, and a hungry Greyhound looking at me with big, sad eyes.

John Lee Greyhound & his big, sad eyes
In my defense, he has the ‘big, sad eyes’ look quite a bit.

Multi-tasking to the rescue

I greeted Brian as he came up the steps, moved the dirty dishes to the sink, began filling it with hot water, grabbed the dog’s water bucket, switched to cold water to fill it, added dish soap to the sink, resumed the hot water, got the kibble ready, released the dog to eat, used the bathroom, grabbed a pair of socks and put them on, then shoes, and grabbed a poop bag just as my buddy finished his kibble and headed toward me at the door.

Perfect timing, ya?

Out walking the dog, I pondered what healthy dinner I could make in short order.

Getting away from where I could physically do anything about it provided the space I needed to consider the options. By the time I walked back up the drive 10 or 15 minutes later, I had a plan.

When I left, Brian was outside messing around with one of the inflatable kayaks he’d just bought. He knew when he arrived home to his scrambling wife that dinner might be a while.

Returning from my walk I saw the RV door wide open.

“Hey! You left the door open!” I yelled as I came up the steps.

Because I knew I hadn’t left the door open. And because it’s the South and summer. Sticky and full of annoying insect intruders, some of which bite.

And then he yelled: “YOU LEFT THE WATER ON!!!!!”

No single word accurately describes what I thought in that moment.

“FUCK” followed by several exclamation points comes close.

Add in: Mortified. Ashamed. Foolish. Fearful (for those of you who don’t live in an RV, water getting in places it shouldn’t is a pretty serious issue).

The heart of the matter

My tendency to strive for efficient arrangements – we mustn’t have “wasted” space – leads me to try to fill every moment. Working too much. Letting anything slide that’s not screaming for attention.

When I realize I’ve neglected other aspects of daily life, I try to make up for it with super-duper efficiency. Which sometimes works.

And other times leads to things like flooding our living quarters.

This world desperately needs whitespace

I’m not alone in this tendency to want everything to fit into neat little packages, and those packages to be arranged in orderly rows with no gaps.

Forums and social media channels I frequent are littered with links to posts promising more/better/faster [fill in the blank], and probably an equal number of lamentations about the lack of [fill in the blank again].

Amanda Figlio describes whitespace as both terrifying and necessary, and notes that it helps avoid chaos:

Amanda Figlio – Betty Lou HostingWhen I hear whitespace two things come to mind:

1) The terrifying blank space that you encounter before you start drawing or writing. That whitespace can be very intimidating. But if you have a plan, then it can also be a great clean start.

2)  The necessary blank space included in any design so that you can have good balance, clarity and avoid chaos.

— Amanda Figlio, Betty Lou Hosting

Entrepreneurial bloggers and business owners are, by and large, people who don’t know how to sit still.

Technology doesn’t help, nor does being connected to one other so we all know when there’s a new hack, or tool, or so-and-so did a thing that exploded their traffic.

Honestly, I think we all need to chill out.

Instead of trying to do more with less, how about trying to do less, better? Self included and especially.

If whitespace deficits were possible…

Among blogger/entrepreneur types, I see three worst-offender areas.

Where I struggle less (design), I’ve shared my thoughts. In my weak spots (finance, business), I’ve shared my thoughts along with some wise words from others.

Design

A not-funny joke from my design firm days was “make the logo bigger” – something we’d say mockingly after meetings or calls with clients who didn’t understand that communication/design objectives were more important than visually screaming about the company’s brand.

People who are too right-brained in their thinking often fail to understand that what they think of as extra/wasted space emphasizes what’s important MORE than filling whitespace with the thing.

This example from NZ-based Adhesion, a digital marketing agency, perfectly illustrates the concept:

Adhesion website redesign before & after – more whitespace

I might simplify the page even further, but even with all the same elements the added whitespace makes it more inviting to read.

Finances

Brian and I were always looking for deals and trying to figure out how to get more for less. I wish I could say we were minimalists before we got the idea to live in an RV, but it was the other way around.

Like most first-world folks, it never occurred to me that instead of trying to get more for less, living with less might be a better strategy for gaining the financial breathing room we needed.

Getting rid of so much stuff – and missing almost none of it – made me realize how wrong I was about our spending “needs.”

Spending less and having a reserve help us better deal with the expenses we do have. I like what Rich Howard says about how financial discipline is less constraining than it is freeing:

The discipline we have with our money actually ends up freeing us to spend it on the things we love, the people we care about, and the causes we want to support.

Creating white space and margin with your finances doesn’t restrict you – it frees you.

Rich Howard — PFGeeks

Brian and I are not yet where we need to be with our finances. Hence the drive to hustle and overwork. Which brings me to an equally important point…

Business

All hustle, all the time, leaves no room for pulling back and pondering the bigger picture. Like whether what you’re doing is actually what you or the market wants.

When I’m too busy doing, I crowd out my best creative thinking. I know this, yet I still struggle. Olivia Hall shares wise words around making space:

When you’re building a business (or focusing on any goal, really), it’s easy to get caught up in constant doing and busyness. We want to get onward and upward as fast as possible, right?

I’ve found that it’s critically important to consciously build in space for reflection and (re)assessment.

What’s working and what isn’t? Do I need to adjust my priorities? This is how I ensure any energy I choose to expend is actually moving me closer to my current goals.

Olivia Hall — Happy in the Hollow

Just do less

Dani Schnakenberg’s comment about being intentional with whitespace is an apt conclusion:

Dani Schnakenberg – Simplified Business SystemsIt’s important to budget time, space in design, and money. And with each of those, it’s important to leave intentional whitespace.

That white space is the key to flexibility, clarity, and consistency.

— Dani Schnakenberg, Simplified Business Systems

I know my business, like life in general, is more likely to thrive with ample whitespace. I shouldn’t feel guilty about not filling every empty space.

My intention around this is serious. However, I know how I am. I’ll probably always struggle to fill what feels to me like available space. So I decided I needed a reminder that’d always be within sight.

Here’s my new tattoo:

Here's my new tattoo!

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