We are consumed by what fills the space around us, and we are trained that every space needs to be filled. We buy junk (or if you prefer, mass-produced art, decorative furniture, and trinkets) and hold onto things for sentimental reasons, even if they no longer provide practical use.
Albert Einstein saw Time and Space as inseparable. He referred to them as a singular concept: Space-time (popularized in Star Trek as the “Space-time continuum“). It is easy to see Space and Time are the same thing (or so interwoven as to be indistinguishable) when you consider what happens when you take any action in space, such as walking across a room. When you walk across a room, time passes. When you lift your finger, it takes a moment to do so. It takes time even to blink. When you move through Space, you move through Time.
Unfortunately, we never seem to have enough time (space). We say, “There isn’t enough time in a day” to get everything done. I think the pressure of Time in our lives comes from the pressure of our space being too full.
My living room used to have nearly every niche, nook, and cranny filled. There was furniture, trinkets, pictures, decorations, shoes, a pile of mail on the table (that kept growing), a television, XBox, controllers, video games, stereo system, speakers, TV stand, a cabinet full of DVD’s, CD’s, and games, etc… a lot of “stuff”. All that stuff taking up all that space demanded time and attention–just dusting was an ordeal because there were so many little trinkets and decorations and piles everywhere that I would put off dusting and cleaning (or just dust the open areas around things). Just like molecules become more excited when you force them closer together, my life became busier (and I became more irritated) as more things took up my space (time).
I began a journey to simplify, de-clutter, and edit my life the way I edit my writing. I looked at all the stuff that took up my time and realized I was wasting a lot of my life. I thought of the sculptor Alexandros, who started with a slab of marble and removed every bit that was not the Venus de Milo until all that was left was his vision. I still work to edit my life and remove what is not needed or useful to my day until what is left is what is important.
Steadily, I chip away things that are not contributing to my being the person I want to be.
With my living room, I sorted through movies and tossed out the ones I don’t watch regularly or can rent online (no need to keep a physical copy of anything I can store and back up digitally). I stopped wasting my time playing video games so I could spend more of it experiencing my loved ones. I traded my TV and TV stand for a projector and the wall, and got rid of cable television. I have a couch and a table now; I don’t need much more furniture than that.
There are no pictures on my walls (I never look at them and visitors don’t know the people in them anyway). I traded my stereo system for one nice high-end bluetooth speaker that sits under the projector. As I convert my CD’s to MP3’s, I get rid of the discs. There is one candle and 2 coasters on my table; nothing more is needed. And there is a lot of empty space, of breathing room. I love it, and so do my cats, who use the empty space to romp around (ever notice how children are overjoyed by large, empty spaces? They understand that freedom and space gives us room to run, to play and create).
It feels good when I open the door and walk into a large, uncluttered area. There is not a bunch of stuff demanding my time. It is so easy to dust and keep things clean (saving time). I can clean my entire apartment, top to bottom, in less than an hour. I unsubscribed to every mailing and call list I could find and pay my bills online so I never have to stare at a huge pile of junk paper that will take more space (and time) in a landfill. I only have to check my mail once per week instead of every day. All the things that took up space for the sake of taking it up are no longer demanding my time.
It has been an adjustment and I continue to work to create space but I’ve been doing this a few years now and I have not regretted giving up any of it. It’s great!
Even this blog has become easier to keep up since I started looking at how I could create more space with it. I recently stopped using photographs in my posts. I spent more time finding just the right picture to fit the post than I sometimes did writing it. I pared down the links and removed a full sidebar. When you visit my blog, I want you to feel unhurried, to experience a moment of space-time and stay long enough to enjoy thought-provoking material you can share with others.
I wish employers took the same approach to work–focusing on creating space instead of always filling it. I hope one day I can bring the principle of Creating Space to the workplace and that it will eventually come from the top-down instead of from the bottom-up. I try to apply it as much as I can. For example, when I delegate a new assignment, I try to find something I can take away–this frees my team to focus on what is really important, instead of on things like reporting on what is really important. It encourages creative thinking and flexibility. I have yet to find an organization that says they do not cherish creative thinking and flexibility, yet, I have yet to find an organization that embraces such things as core principles (I have to give a special shout-out to my former ROWE colleagues here for pioneering the first step in the right direction, though–ROWE definitely creates space).
My rule of thumb is (whether looking at furniture or looking at my career) if I have not worn it, touched it, or looked at it in six months, then it must not be that important. I can always buy a new one if throwing it out was a mistake, or go back to reporting on an old metric if it turns out it was needed, but I see no reason to let my apartment or life become a storage facility for mementos. In fact, I am able to live in a much smaller and cheaper space because I don’t come with a lot of baggage (and the money I save contributes to time for me to spend doing things I enjoy in the space of my life!).
We spend a lot of time thinking about how to have more hours in a day. Instead, I challenge you to stop thinking about how to create more time and instead look around your life (everywhere–your house, hobbies, work, car, etc.) and think about how you can create more space.
There is an easy way to create more time in your life and, to me, it is so simple it is profound:
Create more s p a c e .
Try it. See what happens and let me know about it in the comments if you have some success or if you need help getting started.