The Merits of Spaciousness – How I Restored My Creativity and Productivity in Seven Steps
“Edit your life frequently and ruthlessly. It’s your masterpiece after all.” ― Nathan W. Morris
Greetings my creative and wondrous friend! Are you frequently at your wit’s end? Overwhelmed by the ocean of options available to you at the grocery, online, in your closet, in your LIFE? Do you find yourself mindlessly consuming Netflix, Instagram or granola that isn’t even that good? You are not alone! In the world of ever expanding creativity there is SO MUCH to take in! It’s miraculous. Abundant!
And, It can result in hazy confusion. I’m finding that when everything around me (including me!) has been thoughtfully curated, I can hear the sweet music of my own creative voice again and get back creating. Do you long to feel useful? To create? I’m going to share ideas to reconnect with your creative voice and regain the energy you need to get your sweetest projects launched (or completed, finally!).
LIKE MANY POWERFUL INSIGHTS, IT BEGAN WITH TIGHT PANTS
After working to clean up my diet for 18 months (to stop over feeding myself and to put a few fences in my lower metabolic crone pastures) earlier this year, I began to feel uncomfortable as I ate less and weighed less. The discomfort arrived as a new feeling: “emptiness”. It was distinct from hunger. This sensation arose when I wasn’t eating in between meals, and when I had didn’t eat to soothe strong emotions (I did this imperfectly, of course). As my stomach got flatter, this anxiety over the “emptiness” feeling grew. It felt kind of irrational: Fear of Annihilation?
(Don’t worry- at a healthy BMI of 21.5 I am still very much here)
Seeking solace, I brought this new feeling up to a supportive group who were on a similar journey and a thoughtful member asked me,
“What if the emptiness you’re experiencing is spaciousness Sarah?”.
My mind wobbled and zoomed…could it be?
Spaciousness sounded wonderful! Expansive! Filled with potential! Potential for rebirth. My fear dissipated and I grew curious.
When I think of spaciousness, the void or the dark fertile womb comes to mind. In the Andean Cosmovision of the Q’ero people, zero represents the great mystery, the cosmic egg, the womb and unity consciousness. From that nothingness (or emptiness) comes EVERYTHING. So, what if the new emptiness feeling was simply evidence I was creating more spaciousness? It sounded extremely appealing.
1. TURNING DOWN THE VOLUME IN THE KITCHEN
Now excited, I decided to bring this emptiness spaciousness project beyond my feeding trough and into other areas of my life. I started in our kitchen. I had read a post by organizing expert Shira Gill (resources listed below) who claimed reducing VOLUME is the fastest way to bring order to your spaces. Right on!
Reducing volume = increasing spaciousness.
Feeling inspired, I removed all but six big and six small drinking glasses from our jam packed cupboard. I stashed the remaining perfectly fine glasses in the basement. Wowzers. I marvelled everytime I unloaded the dishwasher and replaced the glasses in their two neat rows. How much more orderly things felt? I also noticed how we never ran out of glasses (my initial panicked thought). I felt clearer headed. The cupboard was (I was?), in the words of Kanye West, “fire”.
Weeks passed and then, I did the same with the plastic/glass storage containers (we had about thirty five mismatched lids and containers about half of which were damaged/nonfunctional). I reduced it to five containers. Revelatory! Next I took on our outrageously abundant mug collection. Radically transformative So simple, yet so successful. I kept going, using “REDUCE VOLUME” as my mantra.
2. INCREASING SPACIOUSNESS IN IMPORTANT ROOMS
“One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.”Francis Jourdain.
I began to think more about our whole living space. “Did the spaces in our house reflect my dreams/values?”, I asked myself. Not exactly. I wanted to do more yoga and dance. So, impulsively, I drag/shoved the sofa into the next room (making it mildly overcrowded but not horrifyingly so), moved the remaining two chairs to a corner, and turned the coffee table into a funky altar. Instant spaciousness: a yoga studio/dance floor was created. The three teens were highly skeptical in their commentary, as they often are about their mother’s latest moves (they seem to prefer to reflect their values alone in their rooms), but it WORKED. I have done more downward dogs in the last 5 weeks than I have in a year. I expect dancing with abandon will follow.
Enthused and more limber, I removed two large dressers from my attic closet/shamanic closet/writing studio (one went into an unoccupied bedroom and the other into a closet). The room immediately felt holier. I wanted to be in there! To write new things! To meditate! Even so, the clothes in my over jammed clothing rack jeered at me in their colorful, mildly dishelveled and bohemian way. Unsure what to do, I waited.
Days later, inspired by yet another post on “capsule wardrobes” I stumbled into, I reduced the volume in my closet by removing all but 38 items (not including jammies and workout wear). I stashed everything in the basement (to be sure I didn’t regret the purge). For ex: I put 5 pair of jeans in the basement leaving four that I love/that fit in my drawer (one bell bottom, one black, two skinny). More spaciousness. Bonus: I suddenly could see more easily what my “style” was and I was more clear headed and excited to get dressed in the morning.
3. INBOX PURIFICATION (…IS ESPECIALLY UNSEXY, BUT PAYS DIVIDENDS)
My inbox was the next obvious opportunity to expand capacity. Though it was about as thrilling as math flashcards, I began clicking “unsubscribe” on two new unwanted emails each morning (most were from subscriptions I was no longer interested in). When I had the energy/time, I unsubscribed to ten at a time. I had to praise myself for this activity because it felt thankless. More “no longer useful” emails continue to flow in (stemming from lots of previous media consumption binges resulting in subscriptions), but I know that these tiny actions will bring more inbox (if not world) peace.
I also began using “canned response” function in Gmail. Its under settings! You can create canned responses to your most received emails. I get many requests a week to allow guest blog posts from strangers on the internet hawking toothpaste or other weird things and it never feels good to delete (plus they are relentless! Now, with a single click I can politely respond and be done.
4. GROCERY SHOPPING/FOOD PLANNING OVERWHELM VANQUISHED
I dislike the chore of grocery shopping in the extreme. As I was (consciously) complaining to my friend about the drudgery of it, she mentioned Instacart, a grocery delivery service app. I decided to give it a whirl. Clicking boxes calmly from an app on my phone whilst sitting at my kitchen table enabled me to check the cupboards (and freezer) to see what I truly needed.
In the past, every time I shopped I had to gin up willpower not to buy (fill in the blank the tempting sugary thing of the day). Outcome of using Instacart: I no longer ended up with tons of stuff I already had and nothing to cook. And, with the approximately 2 hours of time I save weekly, I can do yoga or write. And, I have met some of the loveliest community members when the groceries are delivered!
I mostly order my groceries now from Aldi a chain that is 1. My least favorite grocery store to physically shop at because checking out there, for me, feels inhumane (like cattle being herded minus electric prods). 2. Carries the best priced organic produce in town (win!). Using Instacart resulted in me buying less food, spending less on food and cooking more. It definitely feels like a bargain for time/angst/money saved.
5. BOOK ABUSE and ACCUMULATION QUELLED
When I’m abusing a book, I lapse into a kind of ravenous trance, reading too fast, remembering too little. – Molly Flatt
Like eating too much when I’m not hungry, I also had a problem with books: compulsively buying and reading them. I knew it was time. Our living room was ground zero, I donated (and submitted for credit at a used bookstore) approximately half of my book collection (Don’t worry, my husband’s books are safely shelved in his office where he likes them) and then color coded the remaining books and objects.
I donated all of the books that failed the Maria Kondo test (Does this spark joy?). Not only did the end result visually delight me, but the color coded stacks of books reminded me of the many unusual “clusters” of my passions: death, creativity, great design, animals, homes, prayer, and adventure travel.
Encouraged, I headed to a more sensitive (read: triggering) book filled space. My bedside table usually has a leaning tower of books and the two square feet on the floor next to it is typically littered with ½ devoured novels and non-fiction. Several of the books there, I admitted to myself, I had only read 1/20th of (confession: I can be a skimmer!), but some are absolutely treasures to me. Now, I’m a writer and I LOVE books and reading so, how could this be bad?. The trouble is that reading in bed (for me) OFTEN results in:
- Staying up too late creating sleep deprivation and (later) shoddy performance on many levels.
- Absorbing little of the actual books wisdom or story because I am not reading, I’m falling asleep.
- A sinking feeling of “I am never finishing anything”.
- Continuing to buy MORE books (believing I will get to them) which fuels No. 1.
So, I did a second book experiment experiment. Admittedly, dear reader, I have done this before (never give up on yourself!), but quickly reverted to old ways. I knew I still had work to do. I removed all books from my bedside table (moving them into the new improved living room or I donated them). In their absence, I placed a bottle of essential oil (geranium, a grounding favorite) there instead, to remind me that a bed was a sanctuary for resting, dreaming and sensuality.
Immediately, the aforementioned “emptiness” feeling came when I would head into the bedroom to lie down. No books! What’s a bibliophile to do? But also, I noticed how much more serene the room felt. Uncluttered. NO decisions to make (What will I read???). I leaned into emptiness feeling by reminding myself I was learning to be comfortable in my spaciousness.
Sometimes, I used my phone to do wonderful relaxing/inspiring guided meditations. Other times, I placed a drop of geranium oil on my hands and blessed myself with it and simply breathed. Bonus: This empty bedside table has opened up space for me to connect with my husband more often (because my nose wasn’t in a book). Niiiiiice. That connection has made all the difference.
Note: I’ve discovered, without books at the bedside, that having my phone nearby can be more of a problem and I am working on that awareness too. The books I want to read now sit in a basket next to a chair in the living room…ready to be read with RAPT attention.
6. EXPANDING SPACIOUSNESS IN THE CALENDAR:
“Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter.” Harold Kushner.
I removed (at least temporarily) the “free ten minute consultation” option from my website to open space to work on a new project, to be with myself, to swim in the rivers/lakes more with my kids and to focus on my paying clients. My practice is at a mature place where this felt like a perfect move. I may reinstate it again, but, for now, it feels great.
I also made a commitment to myself this year to not be gone (for work) more than two weekends a month. I’ve learned that I require periods of recovery and more time with my family.
7. SPACIOUSNESS AT THE FEEDING TROUGH
So, you already know that nourishing myself better was where all of this began. The opposite of feeding is fasting. I’m pretty used to fasting for 24 hours prior to sacred ceremonies, and post-fasting I always feel so good: lighter and clearer. There’s a reason that ancient cultures all over the world have this practice of reducing your food intake to zero for days or even weeks: it’s so you can be open to receiving sacred wisdom and insights. It’s to create spaciousness within you.
So, when a dear friend mentioned how much she had been loving intermittent fasting (IF), I experimented. I ate only between the hours of 11am and 7 pm for a week. Basically it meant skipping breakfast. In IF, they call it your eating “window”. There’s lots of science backing the health benefits. But, I noticed how much space this tweak opened up in my morning.
I no longer had to take the time to decide what I wanted for breakfast or a pot to clean or a dish to load. I still got to eat my favorite breakfast foods too- I just did it at 11am instead of at 7 am.
I got more writing and yoga done.
I thought less about food when I was fasting.
Surprisingly, I did not feel overly hungry in the morning or more especially inclined to eat sugary things once I opened my “eating window”. In fact, my mid-afternoon energy slumped seemed to disappear. I plan to continue this and am excited about the future benefits that feverish acolytes of this way of life claim.
Have the courage to build your life around what is really most important to you.” Joshua Becker
Now, you might be saying, “But Sarah won’t your spaciousness slowly be eaten up once again by reaccumulation/entropy?”. Absolutely. This is precisely why, for example, the recommendation for creating a capsule wardrobe is to NOT BUY ANY NEW CLOTHES until you have weathered a season with your 37 items. It is up to us to guard the expanse.
The sacred void is meant to be void…if its refilled it’s no longer a void.
I have given myself some helpful new guidelines. For example, I have made it a practice to put books on a list (in my phone notes) and then to only purchase a new book once I have read the current book (or donated it).
This whole process could definitely get derailed if I’m not …..
- Thoughtful about what I purchase/bring into the house (In my case: books).
- Mindful about what I say YES to in my schedule.
- Willing to LEAN into that uncomfortable feeling I get when faced with: a somewhat empty stomach, a spacious closet, an empty night stand, or openings in my schedule.
- Curious about what wants to be born from this new emptiness spaciousness.
You may be asking, “But, Sarah- I am not the problem —it’s my wife/husband/roomate/colleague/….” If your partner or roomie isn’t into expanding their spaciousness…it’s cool. Just do your own work. They may come along. Or not. Remember: Attraction not promotion. As my friend Suzi says, mentioning something more than once is trying to control them.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR
What I have noticed, is that as I create more spaciousness in my life, my creativity is OFF THE CHARTS. I’ve been writing so much, I have a whole new workshop planned, and a new book idea that excites me. AND, in these spaces of more open time and place, I feel calm and unperturbed. So, I plan to keep going.
What would it feel like/look like to create spaciousness in your living quarters, routines (grocery shopping/chores, on your calendar, in your inbox, in your heart, or in your body?
HOW TO EXPAND SPACIOUSNESS IN YOUR OWN LIFE…
Begin with a single tiny area. A drawer you use daily. Your afternoon schedule. A meal. A cupboard. A practice you do. See how it feels and keep repeating the mantra: REDUCE VOLUME and follow your inner guidance on where to remove stuff. I did all these projects over a 3 month period. There is no rush ever. This process may lead you to experience your own discomfort. I suggest sitting with it.
What might be born from this new space you have opened up?
I have a hunch that, like mine, your creativity will come WHOOSHING and SLOSHING back. And, with time, you’ll have so many beautiful new ideas and the energy to act on the most important ones. Join Life Pirates for salty lessons on doing “what you came here to do”, added oomph, coaching calls (with me!) and community! It’s only $65.00 this summer.
Resources to explore:
Shira Gill Home (digital + home volume reduction and more!)
Simple Shui’s Decluttering Archives (so much goodness!)
Instacart Groceries delivered to your door
BORN TO FREAK: A Salty Primer for Irrepressible Humans A book I wrote to help highly creative/loving/sensitive humans THRIVE
Intermittent Fasting Podcast What is IF and how to begin.
Delay Don’t Deny Audiobook version – it’s all about Intermittent Fasting
Insight Timer – meditation timer and amazing plethora of guided meditations.