white space is subtraction

This subtracting part of creating white space takes some grit and resolve. You will put up a fight.

White space is full of possibilities, but the beauty is in the risk you take before you know what they are.

Remember my favorite definition of white space?

"subtract the obvious, add the meaningful"

Today I’m thinking about “subtract the obvious”.

I am not so sure it is always so obvious what to subtract. Unhealthy habits, clutter, histrionics or too much of one thing or another? But what about too much good? Is there even such a thing?

There are so many good things to do, to see, to join, to follow, to enjoy. Our lives can be crammed with these too, so that there is no time to think or listen or wonder.

I do have a tendency to try and add, to squeeze one more thing in, to live on the edge of a packed schedule, closet or budget. Remember brinkmanship? But I am done with that, right? Kyle taught me well. It was a good lesson I am trying not to forget.

Subtraction takes things away. We balk. We white-knuckle it with our pudgy fingers. What do you think of the word edit? I like the concept, but hate the reality.

When I was in college I took a black and white photography class. I LOVED it. We spooled our own canisters of film, went on daily photo shoots and spent hours in the darkroom developing what had caught our eye. My eye settled on old churches, fences and gate, vintage signs, rows of bicycles, children’s faces on the school yard and all kinds of houses, front doors and fanlight transoms.

This was my favorite subject at the time, an Art Deco house in Austin. I must have taken a hundred photos of this one.

It was like a streamliner set on a rocky ledge, all the water gone out with the tide.

Then came the time, at the end of the term, to gather our photos for an exhibit. I recall we were to take a 16 week semester of photographs and choose up to 12 to display in a gallery. I remember laying out the first round and having way too many. One class before the exhibit, we were to present our rough body of work. I laid out my proposal of 12 photos and my professor came around with suggestions.

My professor thought I should take away 2 photographs. What?! These were my babies, my hard work, that certain light I caught on film. And I had already reduced the group to the required twelve. Wasn’t that enough? She said, “Think of the whole, not just the pieces. Consider how it all fits together.”. She explained to me that my whole exhibit gets better, stronger and more precise in it’s message with wise edits.

Translate that to my life,

my whole life
gets better, stronger
and more precise
in it’s message
with wise edits

At the time it was painful. It felt unfair. It seemed as though there should be room for all the good stuff. Can’t I just rearrange so everything fits? But my professor was right. My work was stronger for giving it room to breath and carefully choosing each photograph as it contributed to the whole.

I cannot telling you what to edit from your life. That takes your own listening. We need different things in different seasons and for our own callings, but the subtractions below are helping me breath.

Here are a few practical things I have been subtracting:

Gym membership (Not exercise, just the club)
Errands just to see what I might need
Daily newspaper
Car radio
Celebrity magazines (Taking a book instead)
Half of my holiday decorations (work in progress)
Projects that sounded good at the time
Some books off my bookshelf (I have re-discovered my local library!)
Cruising the middle aisles of Costco
A few pieces of furniture
A few pictures off the wall
A few things in every closet

One simple, example for you.

My linen closet before and after.

I'm sorry you had to see that, but I feel better already. And one thing leads to another.

I have also said some hard no’s to good things. This is tough. My no might not be understood. These are opportunities. I might miss something good. I probably will.

I have said no to:

Speaking at a church retreat
Joining my church council
Going away to a beautiful design workshop (2!)
Finishing my kids’ scrapbooks

The more I am connected to my soul, the more I can discern what my message might be and were my yes is best. I am still a work in progress. I will always be. I still want to hang on to too much. But it will help to understand what I am clearing out for. When I get some white space, what is the meaning I will add?

Tomorrow, my friend, tomorrow.

First things first. I'm pretty sure the waters in the river Jordan did not part until the priests put their toes into the current and then planted their feet firmly on dry riverbed.