Living with White Space

I’m writing this from a lakeside in the Sierras.  My closest friends and I have set up camp under a willow just a stone’s throw from the sandy shore.  We spread our towels in the meager shade and proceeded to lounge around in our bathing suits and sip beer, watching the kayakers paddle around serenely and listening to small children splash in the water.  

I’ve written previously about unplugging on a regular basis.  This weekend is one of those times.  We’re camping, so there’s no cell service and certainly no internet.  I’m catching up on my writing, some of my favorite people, and what counts for me as a tan.  

I’ve learned that unplugging is incredibly important to my mental health.  But I’ve noticed something else equally integral to my sanity over the past few months.  It’s actually why I’m out here on this lake.  I think of it as living with white space.

You’ll have to forgive the metaphor. I now live with a designer who’s obsessed with fonts and layout, and some of it seems to have rubbed off on me.  

I know nothing about design.  But I’ve noticed that the designs I like have enough white space to appreciate the actual work.  They aren’t busy or crowded with too many ideas.  Good design reminds me of a favorite quote about composition: “Music is the space between notes."

I think the same idea can apply to how we live our lives.  We’re constantly doing things.  Big things, fun things, important things, sometimes stressful things.  I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have something to do.

We need time in between all the things that we’re doing to really appreciate them.

But I think we need white space around the letters, or silence between the notes.  We need time in between all the things that we’re doing to really appreciate them.  

So I think about my life as a kind of design, at least in how I use my time.  I try to create white space around the things that I do.    

Sometimes it’s just the little things.  Letting myself take a nap instead of powering through writing if I get frustrated.  Or taking the time to sip a cup of tea in my favorite reading nook at the start of a busy day.  Remembering to breathe, be present, and take a moment every time I shift contexts.

Creating white space can mean bigger things too.  Sometimes I need more of a break after several big projects than a nap and a cup of tea.  This weekend is like taking a breathing break that’s several days long.

But the most important—and most difficult—part of creating white space is doing less.  It means literally leaving white space on your calendar.   Having time where you’re not actively doing anything—and not rushing to fill that time with the next project.

Creating white space has forced me to acknowledge that I need to slow down.  I can’t do everything all at once.  And I need to be okay with boredom every now and then. 

So I’m going to enjoy my weekend of white space.  And not just because I’m at a beautiful lake in the Sierras with friends, listening to kids play in the water.  I know that I’ll ultimately be more productive and happier when I get back home.