How in the World Do You Make Margin?

July 25, 2012

in the generous life

Yesterday’s tip about slowing down and creating margin hit a sore spot with some gals (I do understand) and I think it needs exploring.

… I am another tired woman, and I suspect so many others are as well, because we are the ones whom our families rely upon to keep everything together and running. We are the ones who get things done. I’m not busy because of selfish pursuits. I’m busy because I have a family to care for and I need HELP doing so, more help than I’m getting.

I have been here. Partly because of things that I expected of myself, partly because of what others expected of me, some because I had created a lifestyle that demanded a huge amount of work (more than I could handle and, like the generous wife above, more than my family was willing to help with) and some because life just has a way of happening.

What goes on in our heads …

I love pretty and clean. Beauty and order are where it’s at for me. I had a crash course in reality when I married and had kids. And, I have to tell you, “House Beautiful” just doesn’t happen when the washer dies, your toddler “makes” her bed and the dog throws up on your sofa in the space of 5 minutes. So you have to find a happy balance and realize that some seasons are just “more creative” than others. We’re talking real life here.

Our culture is very quick to offer up a healthy serving of shame when you don’t measure up to that mysterious perfect standard of beauty and order that we all have floating around somewhere in our heads. I think we all need to hand that serving right back and create a standard that works for us and our family. That will look different from household to household and from season of life to season of life. If your kitchen floor doesn’t get swept all week because something was vastly more important ~ kudos to you! (I encourage everyone to read this lovely post ~ A Kind Wife from Grace Full Momma) 

Our work load …

Ladies, we are not pack mules. The problem is that often we let others treat us that way and then we get ourselves in a situation where we have too much to do and feel trapped. It is a painful (and sometimes slow) process to get out from under that huge load. I’m sorry. It means learning to say “no” and dealing with others’ disappointment and disapproval. (People tend to get upset when their usual go-to girl starts saying no.) It sucks. Really. 

I would encourage you to list your responsibilities and star the ones that absolutely have to be done or the house will fall down (and then consider if there is some way to simplify those – like doing something two times instead of four). Do only those things for a week and see how your life goes. Say no to anything new (unless it takes something else off your plate). Continue to say “yes” and “no” until you have a reasonable amount on your plate. Make simpler dinners or use paper plates. Say no to that extra activity for your kids. They will not die, I assure you. (I’m not saying don’t take care of the important stuff, I’m saying reevaluate what is truly important. If you have too many starred items go through them again or make a plan to work yourself out from under some of the responsibilities.)

If your family relies on you to hold things together, it’s probably because you’ve chosen to play that role in your family. Let some things go. Let others take care of their problems. Stuff might not get done, but you have got to stop being everyone’s solution to all problems. Others need to reap the consequence of inaction on their part (if your teens don’t get their dirty clothes sorted in the “to wash” baskets, then they will have to wear something they don’t like or do their own laundry). You don’t have to be gruff about it, just let people know what you can and can not do and let them deal with their stuff.

Our lifestyles … (and this is so huge, read and re-read this one)

For the most part our culture tells us to do and spend at a furious pace. We are often in debt financially and overextended with our time. Pleeeassseee – simplify your lifestyle – where you live, how you live, how much stuff you have and how much you do.

If you have a smaller house it costs less (you can work less if you choose) and it takes less time to clean and needs less money for upkeep. All of this is more time for you.

Here’s another example. Let’s say your kids’ mess is really getting you down, taking a lot of time to clean and organize. Gather up all their toys in boxes (to be examined and reduced later) and let them pick out three toys to play with each day. That’s an easy clean up for them (did you see where I said “for them” – not “for you“) and it will give them “new toys” each day. If they get bored they can think of something to do. Do not do this for them.

I highly recommend subscribing to this blog ~ Becoming Minimalist. This family has made the jump to a simpler lifestyle and they are enjoying the benefits of it. 

Our spouses …

Yes, they are grown ups, they are a part of the “marriage team” and it would be really great if they would help us shoulder our huge load.

Two thoughts …

1) Huge load? I just wrote “huge load” again. Why are we carrying such heavy loads? We are not pack mules. Memo to self: learn to say no.

2) I know some days they do not help us the way we would like (often they are dealing with busy lives themselves). We can pray, ask nicely, appeal to them for help, etc., but, honestly, there is nothing you can do to make others do what you want (and, yes, The Generous Husband routinely talks to men about being more helpful and thoughtful).  So it comes back to us to consider our time use and make choices that will make margin in our lives. Do not be sucked in to doing everything for everyone else. Learn to say “no” and make it stick.

I know it seems like everyone and everything is making choices for us, but the hard truth is that we are the ones making the choices for how we use our time and if we want our lives to be different we have to make different choices. If you are boxed in a corner with too much responsibility this may be a challenging journey, but it can be done. One step at a time, consider what is important and then keep what supports that and get rid of everything else.

I realize that this advice may seem a bit odd coming from The Generous Wife, but please understand that you can’t really be generous (much less human) if you are constantly worn out, running from one responsibility to another. It is right and good to build a sane life where you get to play sometimes and have some margin in your life. You may not be able to pull that off in the next 24 hours, but you can begin to evaluate what is important, look at how you are living and consider needed changes.

Image credit © Andre Blais |


Again, I highly recommend this book ~ Margin by Richard Swenson 


I can also recommend Joshua Becker’s books ~ Simplify and Inside-Out Simplicity


A great reminder ~ 5 Words Every Marriage Needs (from Do Not Disturb)



{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea July 25, 2012 at 11:55 am

I just wanted to point out that not everyone who feels overextended has said “yes” to the extras. My husband and I chose a small home so that we could afford it and maintain it. However, the size creates problems also. We don’t have any privacy in this house; we don’t have room to have more than the 4 of us in the house at once (no entertaining here) and the one bathroom means it takes 2 to 3 times longer to get ready to go anywhere. So don’t be fooled that downsizing will automatically decrease your time commitment, in our case it doubled it.

Also, most of my feelings come from being chronically ill and therefore forced to stop for periods of time. Then, I have to catch up when my health improves. I am in a constant battle to catch up which is a horrible feeling. So, I have just accepted the reality of my situation and wait and see how it works out.


Pattypro July 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Well said, Lori. Expectations, our own and others’, are the root of so much discord.


Gaye July 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I keep thinking about margins and pondering our difficulty in creating them. I will say to women who have younger children, it can get easier as your children get older. I say “can” because it’s not a given; we still have to work to create margins, but it’s easier when your children are in high school than it is when you have two or three little ones who require a lot of “hands on” attention. For me, I have had to decide on a few key things that are really important to me (gardening/eating well/cooking well for my family, exercising, enjoying sex with my husband, supporting my kids (now just one at home) in their activities). And I also have a job and a house to maintain! I’m selective in what I volunteer for/agree to do – people do not see me as the “go-to person” for everything that needs to be done! My husband appreciates that, because our home life is reasonably calm and peaceful. Of course, there are weeks like this week, with dental emergencies, recovery from oral surgery, car breakdowns, important work deadlines, etc. But, I try to ensure that crazy weeks are the exception, not the rule. I think the key is for each woman to decide on just a few things that are very important to her/her family, and then say no to anything that doesn’t support those key things.


Shanna July 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I too am that “tired woman.” As a full-time working mom of 3 kids (4 years, 2 years, and 3 months) I feel the preasure that I have created for myself as well as the responsibilities I have taken on from others. I definately know what it feels like to just be in survival mode.
Two things I have started doing recently that are making a huge impact in my life and my attitude. First is that I try not to compare myself to others. I do not have to keep up with other moms. Each family is different. God gives us each challenges that He has prepared us to face and we can never know the whole story of others around us.
Second, I spend time with God every day. I love the statement “If you are too busy to pray and read scriptures, then you are busier than God intended you to be.” It is so true. Spending time with GOd doesn’t make all the demands of life go away, it just gets me prepared to face them.

I have only been ready your blog for a short time and only wish I had found it
sooner. YOu are a great encourager!I have Margin on my reading list. Hopefully I’ll have time to read it soon :)I have been wanting to read it since you first mentioned it.


Athena July 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Hi! First off, I really liked what you’ve posted here. I’m single but breadwinner of the family. I like your point when you mentioned here: “It means learning to say “no” and dealing with others’ disappointment and disapproval.” This is so true. I know there comes a time when we want to say no but we can’t just because we thought it is part of our responsibility. A moment when we’re so busy we don’t even have time for ourselves. But things may change and we can also learn from experience. We also need to be happy. It doesn’t mean that when we say no, we no longer want to continue doing what we feel responsible of. We just want to do things properly wherein sometimes, we have to make certain decisions if we didn’t want to but we have to. I really feel your sympathies here. And I would like to thank you for sharing it to us.

Athena Washington
Events Organizer


Celia July 25, 2012 at 11:39 pm

The most succinct and sage advice I ever heard on the whole ‘wonder woman’ syndrome was from stand up comedienne Jo Brand. She said (and please excuse the language) that her theory of house keeping was, “F**k it – that’ll do”.

Which translates to another great piece of words to live by – sometimes, good enough is good enough.

So the floor is dirty and dishes haven’t been done. So the washing is folded or put away. So the toys are everywhere.

Is it unsanitary in here? No. Did everyone get fed today? Yes. Was there laughter and fun in our house? Yes. Then, f**k it – that’ll do.


Martha July 27, 2012 at 7:58 am

Lots to think about. Thanks for the challenge.
At a time in my life when it became apparent that I was NOT going to be able to get everything done on my own, I had to shift my thinking, let go of some standards and enlist the WHOLE family’s help (yes, even help from my 3 Autistic daughters) . My husband and I have always been partners in household chores but I realized I had failed in teaching my 4 kids about what it means to be part of a family “team”. So I enlisted the kids’ help. And although chores are certainly not done to my standard and convincing (hmm, hmm) the kids this is a good idea is still a daily task, this really has been a great help to me and a big shift in my thinking. Being a mother is not about keeping your kids’ clothes clean and their bellies full, it’s about teaching them to do those things for themselves.


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