This year I’ve been working on organizing my spaces, and so I’ve spent a contained but real amount of time scoping out other people’s pantries, fridges, and desk drawers, looking for ideas. I’ve chatted with friends and read (too many) essays by experts on how to create a system that will work for me, which may not be the same system that will work for you.
I’ve learned a lot along the way: which skincare products belong in the medicine cabinet (and which can be stored in the back of the closet), just how high the not-so-healthy snacks should be shelved, how to use “out of sight, out of mind” to my advantage.
But one small bit of advice has made the biggest impact in how I store my stuff: if my systems are to work, I need 20% of gloriously inefficient empty space. Because without a little margin, my system will be impossible to maintain.
My friend passed this rule of thumb along to me, after learning it from a personal stylist, whom she’d hired to impose some sort of order on her closet. The stylist took one look at my friend’s closet and said, You are going to LOVE your space once we give you a little room to breathe. Then the stylist gave my friend a new rule: 20% empty space at all times. No exceptions.
When my friend told me about the 20% rule, it immediately struck me as true—not just because a little white space helps me find my lipstick, but because I see this principle at work in the rest of my life as well.
Last year one of the big things I learned was I cannot function without margin. When I’m operating right up at capacity, I start getting anxious, and cranky. I feel like I can’t think.
Years ago, we had an old PC that didn’t work particularly well, or quickly. We assumed the problem was that it was old. But when our tech-savvy friend did some troubleshooting, he told us we could probably eek a few more years out of it—if we added more memory. I was puzzled, because our computer’s memory wasn’t full.
But you don’t want the memory to be full, he explained. The machine needs some margin to function properly.
I think of that old computer a lot, because I need some margin to function properly as well. I need plenty of blank space, literally and metaphorically. I need room to spare on the pantry shelves and empty slots on my calendar. I need to get in bed at night not having completely depleted my emotional energy tank. I need room to breathe.
One of my 2018 resolutions is to explicitly create more margin in my life. I’m not always successful, but I can tell you this: I feel it when I don’t—which confirms just how important it is to try.
How important is margin—literal or metaphorical—in your life? What are your trusted ways to ensure you get it? Have an organizing tip or nugget of advice that’s meant a lot to you? Please tell us all about it in comments!
P.S. I’m a fan of The Home Edit, and I loved seeing Clea discuss the 20% rule (the 80% rule, to Clea) here. And somebody today needs my favorite best book you’ve never heard of on organizing.