Finding Balance in Empty Spaces
If moving taught me anything, it taught me this: We have a lot of stuff. Even after getting rid of a ton of stuff, we still have a lot of stuff.
I spent a year cleaning every closet, cupboard and drawer to purge the excess. My space was mostly organized and clutter free, I thought.
Our movers, God bless ‘em, only transported the big items, like furniture and appliances and a few things we managed to pack in boxes before they arrived. We moved the rest. It took us two weeks of daily carloads in two, sometimes three cars, to transport it all. I wasn’t expecting to move for two weeks.
It was not fun.
That’s when I felt the full mental weight of our material possessions. When I carried them out of my old house, one item at a time, drove them across town one carload at a time, and carried them into my new house to find a place to store them, one item at a time.
I thought it would never end.
Clutter seemed to materialize out of nowhere. Our things were spawning baby things. Just when I thought the old house was empty, I would open a door or a drawer and find more stuff to pack. Just when I thought I had broken down the last box at the new house, I’d round a corner and find another one. I was like, “Is this some kind of joke? Is someone messing with me? What could possibly be in here that I think I need? Would anyone miss this box if it mysteriously disappeared?”
(No. The answer is no.)
So, even as I unpacked, I did an about-face to take items back to my car to donate. Many items didn’t even make it to the new house. I just stopped at The Goodwill and dumped it all—entire carloads. This was stuff that made the cut in my big Declutter project. By the end, I didn’t even care. I just wanted it out of my life.
All that hard work paid off, because now, I’m looking at this.
And it doesn’t end there.
Because I dedicated every spare minute of the last year to the updating, decluttering and selling of my old house; and also to the building, decorating, and moving into my new house, I suddenly find myself with this:
Compared to this:
Granted, that’s school year month vs. summer break month, but still. Lots of blank spaces there.
I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name. (Sorry, that song has been running through my mind ever since I started writing this post. And now it is running through yours. You’re welcome.)
The funny thing about empty spaces, is that they beg to be refilled. Like dragging a stick through the sand, the water naturally rushes into every groove. When I see an empty surface or shelf or wall, I’m immediately looking for something to place there.
Maybe this old photo.
Maybe a new photo.
Maybe these flowers.
Maybe this knickknack.
Maybe a stack of books.
Maybe a piece of art.
Let’s go shopping!
When I see a series of empty squares on my calendar, I’m immediately wondering what I should schedule there.
Find a ministry.
Start a project.
Take a class.
Get a job.
Society’s pressure to produce is so powerful, isn’t it?
If we’re not rushing, we feel lazy.
If we’re not hurried, we feel unproductive.
When we don’t have every day planned down to the minute, we feel guilt.
Even as I write this post, I feel guilt for writing about having free time.
A few evenings ago, I took a walk down my driveway to get the mail. As I returned, I stopped to notice the deer in the field and the rabbits running through the thicket. I watered my pots of flowers and straightened the chairs around the fire pit. It sounds so relaxing, but I felt myself rushing through the process. I had to hurry and get to the next thing. Except there was no specific “next thing.” I had nothing else I had to do at that moment or that evening. This realization brought a strange mix of relief and angst. Like I could finally breathe because of freedom in my schedule, yet suffocated because I CAN’T JUST DO NOTHING!
*(Before you answer that, let’s just define our term: “Nothing,” as used in this blog post, does not mean literally No Thing. Nothing means life with three kids and a husband who all need love, attention, transportation, food and clean clothes. And also, the afformentioned house, which needs periodic cleaning and straightening, as the husband and children all tend to live in it and disperse their dirt throughout. So, “Nothing” means “nothing, in addition to all of that”.)
Well, last week, because I had nothing* else to do, I worked a puzzle with my children, all day. Because I had absolutely nothing* on the calendar, I was able to go pick up some kids and bring them back to the house to play. Because I’m not rushing from this appointment to that appointment, I’m able to sit on the front porch each morning with my coffee, and each evening with my family, and cook dinner, and read books, and have real conversations with my husband. I’m writing more. I have time for friends. I’m more joyful, more patient, more thoughtful.
The other day, when I took my daughter to run errands, she stopped several times to fiddle with the straw in her milkshake (I actually had time to stop and buy her a milkshake!). I stopped and waited.
“Sorry I’m taking so long, mommy.”
“That’s okay.” I smiled. “We’re not in a hurry.”
We’re not in a hurry.
We’re not in a hurry.
For the first time in forever, we’re not in a hurry. I’m not running like a crazed woman with a stomach ache and an eye twitch, faking nice.
Sometimes, I actually get bored. (Gosh, the guilt in typing that is palpable.)
Do you remember the last time you were bored?
I KNOW! ME NEITHER!
I don’t like being bored. But I like that I CAN be bored.
There is a clarity and gentle balance that comes with all these empty spaces. When I open a cupboard, I don’t dig past five things to find what I need. When I enter the room, the walls are clean and simple, so I can see the beauty of our trim work and our floors and our furniture. When I wake up, I don’t have that overwhelming dread of “I have no time.”
It’s so nice.
I wasn’t expecting such a sharp contrast, because I’ve always tried to keep an uncluttered and unhurried life. But something has shifted since the move. It feels more foundational. While, I realize I can’t always control the clutter and the hurry, I’m learning that I may have more control than I previously thought.
I don’t want to be quick to replace all the stuff. The activities, the wall hangings, the gadgets, the clothes. I want to enjoy the empty space a little longer. I don’t even know if I have permission to do so. I feel like I’m doing something illegal. Like the Busy Police will come and arrest me, and make me get a job. A very stressful, time-consuming job.
Life has a rhythm of ebbs and flows. Life’s pace will pick up again, probably. The Crazy Train always stops at the Cooper House, right on schedule. Who knows? Today may be the day my simplicity ends. Today may be the day tragedy catapults me into a tailspin of emergency or grief. I can’t control that.
But I can control our stuff. And I can (mostly) control our schedule.
So, for now, as much as it depends on me, I’m choosing simple. I’m bucking the culture. I’m resisting society’s pressure to produce. I refuse to pack full every possible space, both literally and figuratively. I will hide from the Busy Police and take my chances. I want to see what happens if we do this for awhile.
Years from now, when I look back on this time, maybe I’ll think, “Remember the summer we moved? Remember how relaxed and unhurried we were? That was nice.”
Or, I maybe, just maybe, I’ll look back on this time and think, “Remember the summer we moved?”
“That’s when everything changed.”
I totally get it. I have stuff on my to do list, but nothing urgent. And today is Canada Day. My hubby is home and there are oodles of community activities going on today.
Kevin is sleeping in.
The boys are playing a video game.
I’m laying on the couch in my pjs reading blogs.
And it wonderful. And I feel guilty.
I feel guilty that I’m not preparing my family to go down to the park to eat free pancakes with 10,000 other people (you know, cold pancakes with no where to sit so how do you eat pancakes standing up), or watch the parade (you know, the parade with 25 realtors driving in their convertibles with the mayor and no one throwing candy anymore because of sugar and someone could lose an eye), or take in the festivities (you know, waiting in line for 30 mins for 3 jumps in the bouncy house or navigating the brand new spray park with 30,000 other children). I’m feeling GUILTY for missing all that! Crazy right!
This past weekend I went to a Beth Moore Conference where there were 10,000 people. I realized that I hate places where 10,000 people are. I love Beth Moore. I love the tradition of taking my daughter every year and spending time with my Sis in law and niece…HATE that it has to be 10,000 people. So, yeah, I get it.
Happy Late Canada Day!!!!!!!! I hope you truly enjoyed it and released yourself of the guilt of relaxing.
Hi Sandy, I just wanted to thank you for all that you share. You’re a fantastic writer, but more importantly– you’re refreshingly honest. I so agree that stuff seems to steal from us! I think it’s a result of our growing contentment with the Lord. That’s a great thing!! Things of the world grow “strangely dim” with Him. =) I tend to go to extremes though. I was joking with my husband the other day that I’m a compulsive “ridder” — the opposite of a hoarder. LOL! “Stuff” literally has the ability to make me crazy and I don’t want to be like that either. But here’s the beautiful thing I really want to share with you– as I see my habit of going to extremes in my quest for balance, I continually get brought back to finding rest in Jesus, who **IS** our balance. Grace, Peace & Love sister =)
My balance journey is very much like a pendulum as well. AMEN to the fact that Jesus is our balance. And thank you for the kind comment. 🙂
LOVE this post and something I really needed to read and be reassured I have made the right choices this week. I accepted a new job one where I will work 48 hours straight and be off 4 days straight. Huge change pay cut somewhat but yet I will be home more and can slow down get things done while kids are in school and have time and patience to do evening activities with them. So often we get so rushed you look back and go where did the last 6 months go. It will be a hard change for me new smaller budget having free time (which scares me). Telling my current boss I was leaving was so freeing a weight lifted and stress melted away that I carried daily here.
Wow. Big change. But it sounds like you know it’s the right thing. Best of luck to you!!