Living with Less: The Importance of Margin

Have you ever considered the white space on this page? Because of the white space, or “margin,” we’re able to read the black words on the page. We don’t often think about the margin, but if it’s missing, and all the words jumble together on the page, we’d immediately notice its absence.

Several years ago I read the book Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. I learned margin is important in more than just newspapers, school reports, and published books. Our lives need margin to find the balance we all long for. Whether we realize it or not, our bodies, our relationships, and even our finances need white space to function at their best.

What does margin look like in real life? Dr. Swenson identifies these four areas:

  • Margin in our time: Do you cram too many activities into your day? If so, it’s a recipe for stress. The pace of our lives greatly affects our physical and mental health. Slow down, leave earlier, and say no more often to increase margin in your time.
  • Margin in our finances: Is there more month than money? Up to your eyeballs in debt? Living paycheck to paycheck? If your answer is yes to any of the above, it’s probably time to increase your financial margin. Save for the future, expect the unexpected car repairs by putting money away to pay for them when they happen, and resist the urge to spend every penny you have.
  • Margin in emotional energy: Relationships take energy. If we are emotionally depleted, we risk not having the energy to successfully navigate a disagreement in our marriage or a difficult parenting issue. When emotional margin is present we increase compassion and empathy and decrease apathy. Rest, laugh, and focus on “being” and not “doing” to increase emotional margin.
  • Margin in physical energy: How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating healthy foods? Exercising regularly? Our body needs rest, good nutrition, and regular exercise to function at its best. Go to bed just a little earlier, reduce your sugar intake, and choose the steps over the elevator in an effort to increase physical margin.

The by-product of a marginless life is stress. A life with margin discovers the beauty of contentment, simplicity, balance, and rest. That was enough motivation for me to make some lifestyle changes that have deepened my relationships, improved my health, and decreased my stress.

How about you? How have you increased margin in your life? Or where do you need to increase margin?

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8 Responses to Living with Less: The Importance of Margin

  1. Vicky says:

    Since becoming a stay at home mom, I’ve found several opportunities to serve in different ministries. However, it’s taken me a while to learn that you can indeed have too much of a good thing! Last fall, I decided to drop one of my activities, and it gave me two more hours in my week where I was able to spend extended quiet time with the Lord. It made a huge difference!

  2. Amber says:

    Oh thank you thank you thank you for this reminder. Lately I have seen a blank space on my calendar and think something is WRONG- what does this “nothing” mean??? I needed to be reminded that a day of nothing is OK- and necessary.
    So timely!!! Thank you.

  3. Jane Graham says:

    Jill,
    Our May was so busy I literally took a photo of our calendar to remind myself to never schedule like that again! Lack of sleep? *Guilty. Foregoing exercise? *Very guilty. I didn’t realize it until I read your post, but I am living a marginless life in so many areas. Now, in the quiet, I can hear my spirit calling out for room to stretch and breathe. Thanks for the reminder to pull back, and in so doing, to pull closer to God.
    Jane

    • JillSavage says:

      Jane,

      I’m so glad that I could help you put a “name” to the stress you were experiencing! Once I learned about margin it made a huge difference in our calendar!

  4. Darla says:

    A wise person told me to take on responsibilities by semester or year with the understanding that I could change after that. As a mom in ministry this has helped me. I have 1 in high school and jr. high. Life is busy. I stepped out of a role this year knowing my kids needed me at home. I took a different role that works better in our schedule. It is only a season as my kids are growing up quickly and I want to be available to them. Amazing how much you hear and talk in the car.

  5. Linda willadsen says:

    wow, the book I am reading My heart’s at home is great. I am learning about things I should have learned when I was a child. I have some issues that I never learned to deal with and what better way is to start from the bottom so then you are. Starting from the bottom and remembering God is in control while I do this learning. Margins are very important and without them you learn negativity, failure, afraid to try, and to give up before you even start. As of this very minute I am giving myself to God and following his instructions from people who know and I will learn.