Creating a Life Free From Chaos

How to Create Space for Margin in a Too-Much-to-Do World

How to Create Space for Margin in a Too-Much-to-Do World

This is a guest post from Nancy Bouwens at

Do you find yourself in a panic as you juggle activities at work, at home or in your family? Are you perpetually late wherever you go? 

Do you make frequent mistakes or forget scheduled appointments? Is your blood pressure rising just reading these words? 

Do you feel anxious or a little unsettled when you look at your week ahead, knowing short of a miracle it is impossible to do most of what you “need” to do. 

Rushing and attempting 10 things at once, contrary to popular belief, is not efficient. In reality, unlike a master juggler, research shows us our brains are wired to operate at the highest efficiency to do one thing at a time and do it well. The more often we are interrupted, the longer it takes to refocus on the original task.

You do multiple tasks at the same time. You may be a parent, employee, business owner, volunteer, friend, caregiver, spouse, or a multitude of all of these. 

You are busy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked. Your “to do” list is longer than Santa’s on Christmas Eve. Your creative juices are spent, you have forgotten how to dream, you already don’t want to get out of bed on Tuesday and it’s only 9 am on Monday. Sound familiar?

Building a Place for Margin

Richard Swenson, M.D. and author of “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to our Overloaded Lives” describes margin like this:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

We tell ourselves we need more time, more hours in the day and more time to rest — then we could get everything done.  When actually what we need is not more time but margin. 

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded, we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. They are withering away with little to offer anyone in any part of their life. 

If you see yourself in these words, I wish I could take your beautiful face in my hands, look you in the eyes and tell you there is hope. Small steps done well over time bring monumental change.

Creating a Space for Margin

As you begin, look for opportunities to weave margin and space into simple daily activities. 

  • Arrive 10 minutes early to work or an appointment.
  • Look at your spouse or child when they are speaking to you.
  • Plan a week of meals; make a list for the grocery store and stick to it.
  • Schedule consistent physical activity each week; it is proven to increase endorphins and provides you a higher level of well-being. Not to mention, you will look better too! 
  • Buy an alarm clock. Move your phone (far) away from your bedside table. If it’s there, it will be the first thing you pick up in the morning and likely the last thing you touch at night.
  • Put your phone in the back seat when you are driving. Look where you are going, and see the beauty in the world around you. You will be safer and arrive at your destination less stressed and more centered.
  • Look ahead. Consider planning a time-out or short sabbatical for yourself. This can be a day, an afternoon, or a weekend. Recharge and renew your own batteries. No one else will do it for you!

Today’s Challenge: consider your obligations and responsibilities you have on your schedule over the next 24 hours. How can you create more margin and bring more space to your daily activities? 

  • What can you eliminate?
  • What recharges you?
  • Do you see some of your to-do’s as non-negotiable? Are they really? 
  • What would you need to change to allow enough margin in your life for an afternoon or a weekend sabbatical within the next 30 days? 

I believe we grow best in community and I encourage you to reach out to a trusted friend for feedback on what margin looks like in your life. Partner with them for the next 30 days, hold each other accountable and see what changes for each of you. 

Nancy Bouwens

Nancy is a coach, writer, wonder seeker, lover of good coffee, dark chocolate, beaches, travel, new recipes, candles, board games, laughter and gathering around a table with those she loves. She is also a cancer survivor. You can find her posting weekly on her blog and daily-ish on Facebook at The Intentional Life.

How to Make An International Move a Little Simpler

How to Make An International Move a Little Simpler * Modern Simplicity

This is a guest post from Colleen Higgs from Living Well, Right Where We Are.

My daughter’s grade one class hatched salmon eggs as a science project. As their hatchlings grew in the class tank, the kids learned what all animals need to survive. Water, air, food, shelter, and elimination of waste.

That last one doesn’t seem as critical as, say food and air, but it is. An excessive build-up of waste can kill you. Or make you feel like killing someone! Have you ever been around a constipated child?! It’s the worst!

It’s all too much

When we don’t clear out the excess our health suffers and we feel lousy. It can happen in any area — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social.

In his book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne identifies four areas that contribute to anxiety and behavioral problems in children.

  • Too much stuff
  • Too many activities
  • Too much choice
  • Too much information

I feel pulled towards the same excesses in my adult life. 

I need to filter out the waste and excess in every category. How our family does this has been shaped by transitions — international moves and frequently overhauled daily routines.

In the past 11 years, our family has gone through many transitions

  • We’ve welcomed four babies. 
  • We’ve lived on three continents and moved six times. 
  • Our kids have attended public school, private school, and homeschool. 
  • Some years my husband averaged 70+ hour work weeks. Some months, he was on another continent, other months he was home full time. 

Our days look different month to month.  Here are some ways that has played out.

Too much stuff – Pass it on

An international move is a great chance to purge. I refuse to pack, ship and store items I may never need again. 

We’ve left strollers, car seats, high chairs, and playpens behind when we’ve moved. And we’ve always found another one (rarely new). 

I’m currently borrowing a high chair and winter gear. My friend is borrowing items that don’t currently fit any of my kids.

It’s a win-win – less to store and less to buy.

Too many activities – Choose well and reassess often

Each move provides a chance to reassess. We are not minimalists in this area, but we do set intentional limits.

  • One sport at a time plus one instrument through elementary school.
  • No early specialization — no one activity demands 20 hours/week or 10 months/ year. 
  • We look for opportunities unique to our location — horseback riding was convenient and economical in Argentina.
  • When a child stays dedicated to an activity, we make it work.
  • Plan ahead and carpool! 

Too many choices – Fight decision fatigue

Being adaptable serves me well when I land in a new country, but sometimes everything feels open to debate. The decision fatigue can be paralyzing. 

When the specifics of my schedule are upended, rhythms and routines become my lifeline. For example,

  • A sit-down family breakfast on Saturday morning
  • A trip to the playground after dinner
  • Tucking kids in the same way every night – the same book, blankie, tucking-in routine, singing a short blessing

Too much information – Set an intention

There is much to learn with every new move. Schools and classes to find. People to meet. Names to remember. Cultural norms. New foods. Language. Local news and history. 

When we arrived in Argentina, we set very clear priorities for our first months. 

  1. Get the kids settled in school, and making friends. 
  2. Learn the language. 

That’s it. 

That meant many, many days, I felt like I accomplished next to nothing. But I did it with intention. I shopped with illustrated Spanish notes. Conversations were awkward. I understood maybe 20% of what was said at church.

But we learned. Six months in, we could read tourist brochures and follow verbal directions. We booked our own reservations. Ordering pizza still proved tricky. 

In a new and beautiful place, I could have spent time reporting for everyone back home. But that would have taken energy and attention from our priority — being present there, in our new home. 

Staying in touch matters, but not with everyone. I had limited capacity and I needed to get to know people in real life. Learning the language, making friends and helping the kids do the same was our main focus.

Eliminating the excess

We know removing waste and excess from our lives is important to our health, so we: 

  • Pass stuff on to people who can use it now, not later
  • Choose activities carefully and reassess often
  • Fight decision fatigue with grounding rhythms and predictable rituals
  • Set an intention so it’s clear which information is serving us and which is a distraction

Is there an area in your life where you’re dealing with “too much”? Choose one of these steps to implement this week. I bet you’ll feel better.

Colleen Higgs

Five babies, three continents, and six international moves have kept Colleen Higgs in a state of transition for most of her parenting life. Her mini-course will help women handle change better — with less overwhelm, more grace and sanity. It’s coming soon! Sign up at Living Well, Right Where We Are to be first to know when it’s ready. 

Check out Colleen’s website, Living Well, Right Where We Are , where you’ll find practical advice for travel with kids, moving, and parenting. Find grace for living with uncertainty, adapting to change and learning from it.