In design, space is determinate. Every project has a given set of parameters which define the physical space that the content will occupy (copy, graphic elements, etc).

Challenges arise when a client provides a designer with either too much or too little content to adequately fill the given space, but trying to accommodate too much content is almost always the greater challenge. The solution usually requires prioritizing and removing less important, or superfluous content, in order to create more space for crucial information.

In life, space is also fixed and finite, but we don’t always see it that way. Metaphorically speaking, life is the project – the defined space, and everything we do in life is the content. In more literal terms, there are a finite number of hours in a day, days in a year, years in a lifetime, and let’s face it – life is full. Full of choices, decisions, distractions, things we want to accomplish, things we enjoy, and things we have to do – whether we enjoy them or not. Add to that our social connections and relationships, and in short order realize we have way too much content for our limited space.

Contrary to popular belief, human beings do not possess unlimited physical, mental, or emotional capacity, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed, it just means we need to get better at creating space.

As a kid, my parents tried their best to help me understand the importance of prioritizing and choosing wisely what I invest my time and energy in because, as they so understatedly put it on a number of occasions, “You have to understand and accept that there isn’t enough time to do everything you want to do, in addition to all of the things you have to do.” Keep in mind that at the time, I was an inquisitive 6 year old (or 10 year old, or 15 year old or 21 year old) who got excited about every idea or new activity that crossed into my personal space. I wanted to try everything, do everything, go everywhere — which was great, as long as I didn’t have to acknowledge one teeny, tiny, little obstacle otherwise known as limited resources.

I got my first hard lesson in the school of limited resources when I was about 13 or 14. I had been taking dance lessons since I was 6 and was at the point where dance took up the majority of my time outside of school. Every year we had a big dance recital, and I had been selected for something like eight or nine numbers this particular year. In my world, this was a huge accomplishment. I felt so proud and excited to get home and tell my parents, who were also proud of the achievement and excited for me.

Proud though they were, when my dad picked me up from dance class the next evening and they told him how much it would cost to outfit me for each of the 8 or 9 dance routines — a thought that has never crossed a 14 year old girl’s mind, ever — his jaw promptly hit the floor. He excused us to the outdoors momentarily where he proceeded to have probably one of the most difficult discussions a father has ever had to have with his proud, excited, 14 year old daughter — we couldn’t afford it. As tears welled up in both of us, he told me that as much as he wished I could be in every performance, I would have to choose only three or four that I really wanted to do. I was devastated, but my 14 year old wisdom understood that my father was even more devastated.

Subsequent lessons in limited resources have illuminated for me the importance of understanding that everything (and everyone) in my life is something I have the power to choose to create space for – be it physical, emotional or mental space – and that space in-and-of itself is inherently finite. Prioritization usually comes into play when choosing to not create space. It allows me to objectively pinpoint what is nonessential, inoperative or fruitless and remove it from my space, or simply not create any additional space for a particular person or activity.

Extroverted people take energy in when they are around others and feel drained of energy when they are alone. Introverts are the opposite, except that one-on-one and small group interaction can be very energizing. Being an introvert myself, I’ve learned to unashamedly prioritize my solitude and limit my social/large group interactions, because I know how quickly my battery can drain to nothing when I fill my social calendar (or spend a lot of time around a lot of people) and how this predictably is followed by the overwhelm of a long to-do list, with no energy left to get any of it done. (Sort of like when you leave the interior light on in your car all night, and the car doesn’t start the next morning because the battery is drained. The most crucial part of getting that car running again is recharging the battery, which takes some time depending on just how dead the battery is.)

We have a lot going on these days, and seemingly less and less time to fit it all in. How does this happen? I think it’s partly because we’ve become very good at creating space for everything and everyone that enters our personal sphere, and maybe even deluded ourselves into thinking we can simply create more space to fit it all, but we can’t, and we’ve either forgotten — or never learned — the value of prioritizing (and creating more space for) what feeds and nurtures us, and letting go of (or ceasing to create space for) that which drains us or fills the space we’ve created for it with toxicity and negative energy.

There are enough things in life that by nature must take priority, (but that we don’t relish the thought of having to do – moving, washing dishes, holidays with family, etc.), without us constantly piling more things onto that list and pushing the people we really enjoy spending time with, or doing things that really excite us, further and further down on the priority list.

Contrary to what we’ve been conditioned to believe, and regardless of what other’s expectations of us are, we do have the power and ability to create space for what recharges and fulfills us, as well as the right to stop creating space for what does not.  ✻