Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of space, and how I can incorporate more of it into every element of my life. Not NASA space (or perhaps that’s Tesla space now), but room-space. Void-space. Nothingness to expand into (or out of) in day-to-day life. I’ve listed a few realms where adding space, by subtracting obstructions, can assist with our well-being, but there are many other domains where space plays a role in our lives.
1. In Our Thoughts
Whether we’re dwelling on the past, feeling anxious about the future, analyzing the world around us, or processing the logistics of our day, our minds quickly become cluttered with thoughts that don’t serve us. Meditation is leaking into the mainstream because the practice forces you to observe your thoughts and emotions, then allows you to let go of what doesn’t serve you. Through meditation, we can take stock of what’s holding us back, then channel those observed thoughts and emotions into positive actions.
2. In Our Bodies
Through stretching or yoga, we can create much-needed space in our connective tissues and our trickiest joints — the shoulders and hips. Through breathing we create space in the chest and in the belly. Spending a lot of time in your head causes your shoulders to rise and your neck to tighten, almost as though the body is physically being drawn toward the brain. This can lead to chronic tightness and tension — something many of us don’t realize until we experience the sweet release of space with the aid of a good massage therapist.
The space created by just the right manipulation of the muscles is deeply satisfying — sometimes to the point of emotional overflow. I’ve experienced deep satisfaction in a stretch, quickly followed by a rush of guilt that I’d been living in a state of tension that is so easily solved with a simple movement. We learn with the body the same way we do with the mind — by using it, playing within it, and challenging it. Allow yourself space in the day to spend time with your body — stretching, moving, and playing.
3. In Our Homes
Clutter is stressful. Most of us have way too much stuff. Stuff you don’t love or use is clutter, and clutter is a poor use of space. We all know we should live within our means in terms of a budget, but I think it’s also important to live within the means of our accommodations, even if those accommodations are small. This means only bringing home things if you comfortably have the space for them. Jamming another shirt into an already cramped closet makes for complicated mornings. Adding another figurine to a dusty bookshelf complicates cleaning. Choose the things that matter to you and don’t force them to compete for valuable space with things that don’t matter. Do you really need 25 mugs clanging around in the cupboard, or will your favorite eight mugs serve you just as well? What about 20 pairs of shoes? All those trinkets from vacations?
Decluttering to free up space in your home is an extremely satisfying activity for most folks. There are several methodologies for decluttering, the most popular being the “KonMari method” espoused by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (Granted, Kondo is a little woo-woo about tidying, but much like a closet cleanout, take just what you need from her and toss the rest.)
4. In Our Schedules
This is something I really need to work on. I chronically over-schedule myself. I’ll do things like book a flight home from vacation that lands at 11:58 PM on Sunday, then go to work in the morning. Speaking of flights, I’m frequently the last one to board because I wait until the last possible minute to go to the gate. There are nights when I go to meetings for two or three separate volunteer commitments. Many mornings are a disaster for me routine-wise. As a result, I’ll end up at the gym at 10 PM in order to squeeze the last few drops out of the day. Needless to say, it is not a good look.
Earlier in my twenties, I reveled in being a night owl. Doing groceries at midnight was awesome. Meeting friends for 2 AM poutine? I was THERE. I also said “yes” to nearly every opportunity, request for help, or volunteer commitment that came my way. I don’t regret any of it. But as I get older, I’m coming to realize that the fewest hours slept, most packed schedule, and highest number of coffees consumed are not badges of honor. I’m slowly getting choosier about how I spend my time, but I also need to go to bed and wake up earlier. Baby steps.
5. In Our Budgets
By not buying the stuff we think we need, we create more space in our budgets for the stuff we actually need, and the stuff that brings us happiness. Most non-essential goods and services are purchased because we assume they will bring us some form of happiness or convenience. We need food, shelter, basic clothing, basic household goods, and community. Everything else is gravy. Your gravy should make you happy.
What brings you true happiness? Are you sure it’s real happiness, and not just what you think should make you happy? This isn’t limited to consumer goods, as it can also encompass experiences. A good friend once told me she stopped traveling frequently because it didn’t bring her the fulfillment she thought it would. She assumed that seeing new places and bouncing from hostel to hostel would make her truly happy. She’s an adventurous person, and it’s an attractive prospect to be the girl with all the fun travel stories. But in practice, she discovered she was more at peace when she had a firm home base, a sense of belonging, and local friends to rely on.
So ask yourself: Am I spending this money because I think the purchase will make me happy, or does the purchase actually make me happy? This shouldn’t be mixed up with value judgements around whether a purchase is shallow or not. If you’ve got the budget and owning a good designer bag you’ll use all the time will make you happy, then hell yeah, you should buy it. If driving blisses you out and you’ve got the cash to drop on the car you’ve been dreaming about since childhood, then hell yeah, buy the car. The key is being choosy in order to free up enough space in your budget to reach those goals.
You may notice some connections here. By avoiding unnecessary purchases, we create space in our homes and our budgets. By creating space in our minds and our schedules, we make room to explore the space in our bodies through movement. Leave room for growth and serendipity in all things, and you may surprise yourself with what you find.
Where else can we create space?
Alyssa is a 26-year-old policy analyst and serial volunteer living in Calgary, Canada. She spends her free time exploring the Canadian Rockies and aims to build a cabin near the mountains one day. She writes about her millennial money journey at Why We Save.
Image via Unsplash