Living with White Space

Roll out of bed to the alarm.  Start the coffee.  Jump in the shower.  Wolf down a quick breakfast.  Buckle in the car for a half hour commute.  Cuss at a few careless drivers on the way.  (I am not prone to cussing but reckless narcistic drivers bring it out in me.)  Find a half decent parking spot and walk briskly into the office.   All this before 8:00 a.m.   Sound familiar?

One of the best aspects of retirement is living without the constant push/pull on my time.  Been there.  Done that and do not want it in my life anymore.  Now I get up without an alarm, enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee and plan my day.  Planning is key because it is all too easy to fall whim to the barrage of demands (yes, we still have them in retirement) or becoming complacent and sitting in front of the screen for hours. 

After the initial euphoria of retirement wears off, people seem to fall into one of two camps.  There are those sad souls who are bored in retirement and wonder how to fill all the extra hours they have worked their whole lives to get.  They do not have enough purpose and meaning in their lives now that they don’t have the adrenaline rush of work.  And then there are those retirees who have too much on their plates and still believe the “busy means I am cool and important” philosophy.  Not cool.  Somewhere in the middle lies the perfect balance of enough.  The balance of having enough meaningful and fun things to do and enough time to relax and play.  It is wondering how you ever fit work into your life, but with time enough to breath.

It is that sweet spot of living with white space.

White space is the area of a page without print or pictures.  The white space that surrounds the text or pictures is what makes them stand out. It allows the eye to focus on what is most important.   We also need white space in our lives.  It is the rest or pause between activities.  It gives definition and importance to the activities we choose to do in retirement. 

Taking time for a moody kayak trip. Being in nature always opens up a lot of white space for me.

During those fun, crazy, busy years of working and raising a family, there was little room for white space.  The pages were almost completely written on, even in the margins.  The same can happen in retirement if we don’t guard our time.   We can get so busy that we lose focus and do not have time for the pause that refreshes.  For me, an ideal retirement is a balance of meaningful, fun activities, with enough white space around them to give them focus and pleasure without exhaustion.  

Of course, we don’t want only white space on the pages of our lives.  White space is meaningless without the script and pictures.  It is just a very boring empty page.  What most of us want and need in retirement are days that are full and accomplished without being stuffed.  Achieving this balance on a daily basis is challenging.   Even in retirement there are still going to be crazy busy days, but now we can balance them with days where we just relax and read a book in front of the fire and order dinner in.  This texture to our week is one of the beauties of retirement.   So instead of trying to create a perfect balance of activity and white space in a single day, I think it is more realistic to look at the overall balance in a week.  Am I getting enough done to feel accomplished and satisfied?  And am I living with enough white space to be able to relax, dream, refresh and be open to spontaneous opportunities. 

Here are five ways we can create more white space in our lives: 

  • Develop a perfect morning routine for you.   Take the time to plan and prioritize what is most important to you for the day or week.   A good way to clarify this is to ask yourself, what will I regret that I did not take the time for this week.
  • Don’t plan too much into your day.  Leave a few hours of unplanned time.
  • Schedule white space around your activities.   If you have two very full days, make sure that you take a day at home to relax a little.
  • Limit time wasters that are not satisfying such as too much screen time.  They clog up your day.
  • Reflect.  As Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”  

With the holidays approaching, it is so easy to become overloaded, even in retirement. So, I am challenging myself to create more white space in my life for the next 6 weeks.   

10 comments on “Living with White Space

    1. This is so true Ashton. However, that is easier said than done when you are in the busy years of working and raising a family. It is one of the advantages of retirement.

  1. Well stated! I am 1 year, 4 months, and 24 days into retirement (according to my retirement countdown clock). Just beginning to feel comfortable with all of the time on my hands. I even tried working part-time and finally discovered I don’t need to work (financially or for something to do) and working part-time was intrusive. I have one day devoted to watching my two youngest grandchildren who bring me so much joy! I spend a lot of free time crafting and crocheting. My house is tidier than it has ever been, which feels amazing! Looking forward to uploading family photos and other documents into a genealogy site (I became the keeper of generations of family photo albums and diaries). We also enjoy traveling and camping.

    1. Thanks so much for your response Sue. It definitely takes some trial and error to get comfortable with retirement. You are a great example of living retirement well!

  2. Beautifully said. I can so relate and still find times that I struggle with that balance. Thanks for sharing your insight.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Connie. I think finding life balance is an ongoing challenge. (It surprised me that it would still be a challenge in retirement.)

  3. “Somewhere in the middle lies the perfect balance of enough.”

    My favorite sentence in your entire post. White space…what a beautiful way to describe the luxury of choosing what to do with your time. Love it! (And, thanks for your recent e-mail, it led me to your wonderful blog, to which I’ve now subscribed). Best of luck, and I look forward to reading along on your journey.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and for your kind words Fritz. Your excellent retirement blog has been such an inspiration to me as I begin this blogging journey.

  4. Like Fritz, I particularly like the concept of white space to describe an essential part of living. Even in retirement, it is too easy to become busy just to be busy. After twenty-one years, I still must remind myself that a to-do list is written by me, for me. So, I should be free to ignore it whenever the mood strikes.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by Bob. I always look forward to reading posts on your blog, My Satisfying Retirement. It has inspired my own retirement journey. I love your comment, “that a to-do list is written by me, for me.” I am going to remind myself of that when I start to crowd my white space.

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