Have you ever considered the white space when you’re reading? Because of the white space on this page, 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 were to jumble together on the page, we’d immediately notice its absence.

I personally am a high-capacity and high-achieving person. I’ve always got a to-do list running through my head, goals for what’s next, and a high threshold in my mind before I start to feel overwhelmed.

That serves me well in many ways! However, that high capacity also makes it very easy for me to forget to implement margin in my life, which can in turn impact my relationships, connections, and long-term energy, even when I don’t realize it.

Can you relate?

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. (I wrote about that in detail in my book Living With Less So Your Family Has More)

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

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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 your physical margin.

Any conversation about margin reminds me of the story in the Bible about Mary and Martha (you can find that passage in Luke 10:38-42). Martha got caught up in the “practical” (setting the table, cleaning the house, etc.) while Mary took time to simply sit at Jesus’ feet. This passage always reminds me to ask: Where in my life am I being distracted from what’s most important?

The by-product of a margin-less 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. I hope this does the same for you!

Consider the margin in your life today. Let me know in the comments: Where is “high capacity” distracting you from your need to connect with others? Which of these four areas of margin do you need to focus on this year?


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Living With Less Book by Mark and Jill Savage


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