Fall is a busy season. For my family, it’s back-to-school time, serious sports time, and conference season.
Because Will and I are either (a) gluttons for punishment or (b) feeling adventurous this year, we’re packing up our family in the midst of this already-crazy time and heading to NYC. We’re still homeschooling, and we’re deliberately cramming in trips like these while we still can. We may not have this flexibility next year.
In this packed season, my mind keeps circling back to something Gretchen Rubin said years ago about work/life balance:
For me, balance is not a helpful metaphor because it implies that I have ample time to float through the day, with everything very calm. But it’s not my reality. My reality is very busy and packed. When I think of my life crammed, I cram it with the people I want to see and the things I want to do. It also helps me recognize my priorities. I can’t cram everything in. My experience is that some things have to fall away.
This image of cramming my life with the things I love appeals to me: I don’t find “balance” a helpful metaphor, either, and goodness knows my life is packed. For years, this has been a helpful—and certainly apt—metaphor.
But what I’m finding of late is that I’m unable to sustain it long term.
There are days—even weeks, maybe months—when cramming every available moment feels right and true, even gloriously indulgent. (Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”)
But as a lifestyle—as my default setting—it makes me frantic.
It reminds me of when my first kid started preschool, and I was a stay at home mom, and those three hours every Tuesday morning were the shortest hours of the week. I ran around in a mad rush (sometimes literally) trying to pack everything I possibly could into that three hour window. I loved and looked forward to those mornings, but my heart starts racing as I remember.
During our packed autumn, my mind keeps returning to something else I read several months ago.
Like so many women, I’ve fallen into the habit of re-reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea every summer. The book is a little different with each re-reading, because I am different.
In one of the chapters, Lindbergh writes about how things gain significance when they are surrounded by space. On her vacation island, there is lots of space. Lindbergh contrasts this with her life back home in Connecticut, where her life is full. In her words, it lacks the “quality of significance” that her island getaway has:
There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and fill myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things, and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures—an excess of shells, where one or two would be significant.
This season is wonderfully full, but it’s on the verge of being exhaustingly so.
I’m enjoying it while it lasts, but I can already see what I need—what my family needs—soon, in the brief window of time between our crazy fall and the onset of the holidays. We need white space: empty pages in the engagement pad, empty hours in the day, empty rooms in our lives. If this isn’t exactly possible, then emptier. Less packed, less crammed, less full.
Too much of a good thing can be wonderful—but only for a season.
I know many of you have wrestled with these kinds of issues. I’d love to hear your thoughts about good things and white space in comments.
Books mentioned in this post: