You are not simply going to ﬁnd yourself with margin in your life. Which is ﬁne for most people at ﬁrst glance because what even is margin? Is it like fake butter? No one needs that! But if you look it up in the dictionary you will ﬁnd that margin is more of an edge than a spread for your carbs. It’s a boundary. But above all else, it is the amount by which something is won or falls short. Now this we can understand because we all like winning at life. But strange that winning should have anything to do with boundaries because saying no and winning are opposites on the fun scale. I think we may need to come to terms with that though.
My kitchen was driving me crazy. Thanksgiving was at our house this year and I made the entire meal balancing things on the cooktop stove and the kids little tykes picnic table. Where was my counter space! At one point my three year old handed me a large glass baking dish that I had put somewhere odd due to lack of space. My husband saw this and gave me a funny look. At least I thought it was a funny look but I was probably just feeling guilty about the chaos of my workspace.
“I have no counter space in this kitchen,” I said in an exasperated tone.
“Liz,” my husband said giving me look of reproof for real this time. “I just bought you this brand new house. It’s much bigger than our last house. But if you really need more space to put things get someone to come ﬁx it.”
Perfect I thought! My mind traveled to a gorgeous island piece that a friend had in her ofﬁce. If I just had a kitchen island like that I would be set with space. And the kids could pull stool around it and eat breakfast instead of going to the dining room. Although the back of my mind was nagging me about one fact that I didn’t want to contemplate. How was I going to keep the clutter from overtaking my new island? Well, I just would. Simple as that. Right? I tried to put the fact that my husband had just bought me this great house with a beautiful kitchen out of my mind and pressed on to this amazing fact: tomorrow was black Friday. To me this meant I could probably snag a kitchen island from a local furniture store in record time on a bargain and have it asap. What a delight! Shopping, problems solving and getting some space in my life.
The next morning I made sure to tell Brian that it was black Friday and I was going to need to do some shopping. Since he is amazing – and knows how much I do like to shop and how infrequently I get a chance to do so – he told me to go take a scouting run in the morning and then I could plan my purchases. Dream spot or what!
First I went to a coffee shop and got a large latte because this was fun time. Then I popped into the jewelry store next door and tried on a few Pandora bobbles. Next to the jewelry store was a furniture store so I went in and started looking for kitchen islands. After a lot of searching and one-second of asking I found my way to the island they had in stock. It was beautiful amish construction with a solid oak top. I loved it. Stools would ﬁt magically underneath it’s overhang. I texted my hubby and he thought it wasn’t perfect.
Deﬂated. I thought it was perfect. It was the solution to my inner kitchen chaos in one convenient shopping trip. How could it not be perfect? So I took measurements and pictures to try to show its true nature. But Brian was still less than impressed. The drawers and cabinets were a little chintzy. What? I was just going to ignore that. I mean, it was 53% off so who cares. It was perfect.
Scouting mission was over and I headed home. I never did go back out and get that island. I suppose I could have persuaded Brian that it was just what I wanted but he wasn’t enthusiastic about it and that made me reticent. So instead I went out later and bought gifts for the kids and a really amazing Wood Wick candle that smelled like a real pine tree. I was happy with those things but it wasn’t the miracle trip I was hoping for. Not that I am a compulsive shopper but I kind of have a thing for magical solutions to my problems and that rarely happens. It always surprises me when it doesn’t. Weird, I know.
Cyber Monday rolled around and I got a chance to do some real shopping for a song. Everyone got a new winter coat (except the three year old because hand-me-downs are real). Poor thing. I got a coat that is rated to -40 degrees so I am seriously excited about being warm this winter. I got a cute scarf too so I don’t look completely like an large purple down ball. Of course it took me a day’s worth of free time to make these purchases but it was satisfying knowing that I was saving 50% on everything. Ahh, the feeling of accomplishment.
Tuesday I spent on another grand task. My husband decided that hotdogs were not healthy and therefore he couldn’t eat them any longer with a clear conscience. That being said he loves hot dogs, so he asked me to create a faux dog out of something healthier. Okay. Hot dogs are mostly pork so I decided to take a pork loin and cut it into rectangular prisms, then bake that in the oven with garlic and lots of salt. Put each prism in a bun with mustard, ketchup and a dill pickle and BAM – the hot dog has been remade. I have to say though, that took me all my free time on Tuesday.
That night when I went to bed I made up my mind not to do anything like internet shopping or recipe invention. My house was a disaster. The long holiday weekend plus two days of distracted mommy meant piles of stuff everywhere. And the focus of my displeasure was of course the kitchen. I looked around and saw my counters were full of stuff that did not belong in the kitchen. As I lay down to sleep I made up my mind that Wednesday would be all about cleaning. In fact. I would clean the whole house. Top to bottom. Because I like making ridiculous plans that are impossible to follow through on. I went to bed certain that it would be no problem.
The next morning I got started. In the kitchen. Why was the nutella on the counter? Oh that was easy, I had a spoonful last night before bed and forgot to put it away. The basil plant that was half dead from this summer. I felt bad thinking about throwing it away because Brian was the only reason it was still alive. I simply cannot bring myself to water plants. It just doesn’t happen. Not sure why. Therapy might help. But seriously, if this much thought was going to go into all the clutter I would never ﬁnish this. I tossed out the herb. And the chives in the next pot. They were equally dry-ish.
In between cutting apple slices and getting people in costume for imaginary play I cleaned that whole kitchen. I scrubbed the cooktop and attempted to scrub the toaster oven. But honestly it was 6 years old and was pretty disgusting. I don’t know why we moved it to this house. It’s not like an antique, it’s just old and nasty. So I tossed it in the garbage. And as I worked something happened that was completely unexpected. The words my husband spoke to me on Thannksgiving started echoing:
“I just bought you this brand new house. It’s much bigger than our last house.”
He was right! There was so much space in this kitchen. There was plenty of counter space and I really don’t need a kitchen island. What I could use is a small kitchen table for the kids to gather around in the morning. And then there was gratitude. Because my kitchen really is gorgeous and because my husband is so generous to me even when I complain. It is completely not earth shattering to say that most of the time you just have to clean up what you already own to be satisﬁed. Of course this was not the case with the toaster over, but I think small electrical appliances are categorically the exception to this rule.
But here’s the thing. I never would have come to this realization if my husband had told me I was just a slob messing up my own space. Or if I kept running from shopping to cooking to laundry (which was next on the list). I actually may have bought a kitchen island if that annoying feeling of clutter had persisted too long because I genuinely thought that that would solve my space problems. But what I really needed was a little bit of margin in my life. The kind of space that allows the anxiety to dissipate and the problem solving to work. By taking the day off from normal chores to organize the kitchen I realized that I didn’t even have a problem.
Which makes me wonder how many other areas of my life I make into problems because I am too busy. Can rushing about cause items to accumulate other places in my house, my soul, in friendships and my marriage that would be better off cleared away? Probably. The difference in my kitchen is huge, but the part that I marvel at the most is the difference that it caused in me. I changed from dissatisﬁed to satisﬁed in a matter of a few hours. By allowing a little margin into my day.
Paul knew about margin. Because something that fertilizes boundaries is gratitude. It is much easier to say no to extra things when you have a base level of contentment that ﬂows about your life. And Paul wrote about this to the Philippians to encourage them saying:
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacriﬁce acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20 ESV)
Remember what I said about the deﬁnition of margin: an amount by which a thing is won or falls short. Do you have goosebumps? I do. Am I letting unanswered phone calls and missed coffee dates cause my friendships to fall short? Am I putting in the extra effort to make lunches for my husband to take to work and ask him how his days was when he comes home to take our relationship for the win? That is where margin comes in. You get margin by saying “no” to the things that you can cut to allow for other areas to grow. Margin creates that little bit of extra space to allow you to work magic in areas of your life.
Paul won the day (even in prison) and shared his secret with us: In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Because creating margin does not just happen. It takes strength to say yes to some things and no to others. But the space created by quality decision making is that secret space of joy.
My kitchen is beautiful. But I almost forgot that fact in my rushing to make Thanksgiving dinner amidst chaos and clutter. What are you overlooking in the marginless spaces of your life? Don’t lose something important – like your husband or your best friend chasing daily drivel. Feel free to toss the toaster over though. Really, you’ll get more margin for other things if you skip cleaning that!