5 Ways to create margin in your life

The much anticipated and equally dreaded Spring Forward! time change has arrived. Those of us who have experienced it with children know how exciting it is for the kids to be able to play outside longer and later, but also know how it can disrupt sleep and morning routines. If you are functioning right to the edges already, this may just push you right over the cliff. . .

Monday morning.


The race is on again for a new week, and you and your mind are running at top speed, full out, and it’s not even 9:00am yet.

Hubbie. House. Job. Laundry. Clean clothes. Ironed clothes.  Lunches.

Kids. Backpacks. Missing homework. Missing sports equipment.

Get in the car. Let’s GO. We’re going to be LATE.

Missing me.

Missing time.

Missing breathing room.


Slow down for just a moment and take a deep breath.

Just. Stop. Being the “good mom”, the “perfect mom” the “can do it all mom”, the “I must or my husband won’t be considered for his promotion mom”,  or the “I must or my kids will miss out and be left behind/not get into the right college mom”.


What is the solution?

You need to build margin into your life.

I learned this term recently from Andy Stanley, through his  study Take It to the Limit, whose description follows:

Overloaded? Maxed out? Our culture encourages us to live as if we have no limits. So we fill up our schedules and empty our bank accounts. We do as much as we can, spend as much as we can, and acquire as much as we can – all in an effort to get as much as we can out of life.

Might I say “whew” again!

Having margin means that you walk yourself permanently back from the precipice so that when there are emergencies, you will not be shoved hard and fast over the edge.

So. What does having margin in your life look like, and how do you get there?


1. Plan ahead for the morning

Teach the kids to prepare their clothes/school needs the night before, allowing for a more relaxed morning. And moms -yes, your children can and need to be taught how to use a washer and dryer. It is not capital punishment. What is cruel is being almost of legal age, and not recognizing what a washer is, let alone how to use it. See here for a how-to for every age.

You can also take the time to do one little something the night before, like fill the car with gas or put your keys with your purse to save time and sanity in the morning.


2. Get up just five or ten minutes earlier

Let’s face it. Just a few minutes extra in the mornings can go a really long way towards avoiding that maddening, last minute rush to get out the door. Get up a little earlier and make those minutes count, whether in prayer or preparation.


3. Add meal planning to your list

Do some meal preparation/grocery shopping over the weekend and/or the night before so that lunches and dinners are not held regularly at the exclusive drive-through of Chez McD’s. Even better, think about monthly meal preparation. I know, it may take a bit to wrap your head around that.

For a terrific resource, visit Kara at Journey of a Home-Schooling Transracial Foster Family for ideas, recipes, and the how-to’s of freezer and monthly food preparation. A shout out to her as well; she was awarded the Star Blogger award for February from No Ordinary Blog Hop, a great gathering site for women of which I am a crew member. I know of parents whose children are old enough so that they participate in choosing and making dinner, with parental oversight and help as needed, of course. This is a great way to get kids into the habit of helping and planning.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, at least consider the Pantry Principle, as wonderfully explained over at Tea Time with Annie Kate, self-professed non-menu planner.


4. Keep a public and up-to-date list of family events and activities

Put a whiteboard on the fridge with weekly events/times/places you need to be at and things everyone needs to have ready for each day. Make it a habit to check it daily for the next day or two to avoid surprises-“Mom! I told you I needed _____ for the school event. Mom!!-said in a plaintive, wailing, accusing voice, of course.


5. Take the time to attend a personal finance class

Perhaps more than anything else, this will add margin in so many areas of your life and will truly be the gift that just keeps on giving. When you learn to manage your money so that you are intentional about where it goes, and about how you save, spend and give, you will find that you can climb out of debt. You will discover that the perennial cycle of building up clutter then giving it away or holding a yard sale stops because you aren’t spending money mindlessly anymore.

Your children will discover the joy, yes, joy, of earning money and saving to buy an item they really, really want. Parent after parent has told me they can’t believe how much care their kids invest in items they worked for and purchased. I know couples who got their finances into such order and debt freedom that moms were able to transition into a stay at home parents, and spouses were able to leave ill-fitting jobs for something much better. We attended Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which I highly recommend as a life and family-tree changing program.


These are just a few ideas to get you rolling. Take a look at the areas that cause you frustration, and think about how you could change one thing that would help you avoid or eliminate that item and create some breathing room-margin-in your life.

Remember to point out the benefits to your family, and how the change will bring something better than what you have now.

Be patient. This can take a little time, depending on how each member handles change.

Once you get one under your belt, add another, then another. The effect of layering these changes together can be very powerful.

I strongly encourage you to build margin into your life starting today. Won’t it be nice to breathe a little easier tomorrow?

Challenge: How do you create margin in your life? If you aren’t, how can we help you get there?

Sharing at No Ordinary Blog Hop, the Soli Deo Gloria Party and Write it, Girl!

Image credit-Brian Rosen

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  1. Great, great article. As a family, we have all of these except #5 under control, and we’re sucessfullyl working on that one.

    But personally, because of ill health(years of undiagnosed celiac disease), I’m at the limits of what I can manage physically. I’ve been trying to build margin there by exercise and healthy eating (you’re welcome to join Fit Mommies: http://anniekateshomeschoolreviews.com/2011/12/be-a-fit-mommy-in-the-new-year/), but it’s a slow, slow process for me.

    For various reasons, both important and silly, I’m also nearing my limit emotionally, and I’m working on a ‘sad list’. That includes a list of the things that make me sad, an evaluation whether or not I can change each one, and, for the ones I can change, a list of things I can do. It;s kind of like the Serenity Prayer put into action.

    A thought: Rather than attending Financial Peace University, one could read Dave Ramsey’s books, or some of the other ones out there. That’s easier to fit into lives that are at the limit time-wise and money-wise.

    Thanks for linking to me!

    • Excellent points, Annie Kate! So sorry about your undiagnosed celiac disease. Since my husband was diagnosed in December as highly gluten intolerant, we are learning to navigate the waters of gluten free living. I can only imagine the changes and restrictions that are required for you and your family. Thanks for sharing encouragement and the link to Fit Mommies.

      I love the idea of your actionable Serenity Prayer and how you are identifying what you can change. We would teach our girls how to think of an issue from a different perspective as well, asking what could they learn, do differently, or use as a vehicle to do or be something else.

      Good point as well on FPU. We actually started with Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover Book and then attended a class. He does classes online, too, in addition to the other books and classes.

      Thank you so much for sharing and coming by. I have no doubt your words and information will be a blessing to other moms!

  2. Margin… What a concept.

    In my experience, when moms reach the point when they are ready to surrender to the “I can be super mom” myth, that revelation in and of itself is powerful enough to begin the margining-out process.

    These are wonderful tips Kim. Thank you for sharing.

    If you haven’t already, please share your blog in the http://www.48days.net community.

    • Agreed, Joel, but that surrender can be so very hard to come by. We must come to terms with the fact that not only are we not supermoms, but neither are all the women we mistakenly believe to be supermoms. The powerful persuasion of peer pressure and cultural messages does not end when we graduate from high school, unfortunately!

      I wrote about both here in Failing, Quitting and Winning: http://www.toodarnhappy.com/2011/06/08/failing-quitting-and-winning/

      The other elephant in the room is our mistaken belief that if we do not gladly put on that cape and become the do-all, be-all, then we are letting our children down, but we can discuss that another day. :-)

      Thanks for coming by. You always have a great point of view to share.

  3. Kim, your articles are always great and informative. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with all of us.

  4. Thanks for the great article. We are not a super structured family which comes in handy during times of flux like Spring Forward. I try to take each day; as it comes and live fully engaged in it. Some days that means punting the “to do” list to play with my kids. Other days it means knocking out some extra items to give me more margin when the family gathers around the dinner table. Regardless I want to treasure every moment – when the kids get enough sleep and when they don’t; when there’s time for a family bike ride and when there isn’t. Each day is a gift!

    • Each day is a gift. That is right on the money, Shannon! There needs to be flexibility to allow for the unexpected emergencies (I know, that’s an oxymoron!) as well as the unanticipated joyful events. Building in margin allows us to do that so we are not constantly pushed into a corner where there are few choices.

  5. These were really fabulous practical ideas! We already do a few of them, and I know I’ll need others of them once my little ones are a bit older. Thank you for this!

    • That is great that you are already practicing some of these ideas, Elizabeth. I do believe that the more you practice anything, such as building in margin, the more habitual and easier it becomes. It”s such a great lesson for your children as well!

  6. Very good practical ideas that I know help so much when I actually apply them to my life. We all need to have that margin in our lives. I read an excellent book about this subject awhile back by Richard Swenson Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives and it definitely put things into perspective for me about the areas in my life where I was/am completely overloaded. I came over from write it girl and I’m glad that I was able to be reminded of concepts that I so easily forget.

    • I’m not familiar with that book-thanks for bringing it to my attention!
      It is so easy to let small waves start to swamp our boats. If we are completely overloaded, though, we don’t have the time or energy to bail the water out of our crafts and we just sink faster.
      Thanks for coming by and sharing, Alia Joy!

  7. Brilliant suggestions! Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Great tips, Kim! Thanks for sharing!

  9. yes, more margin. or, as someone else once put it–white space. as in, space on the calendar that’s white–nothin’ goin’ on. doesn’t that sound nice? it applies to the scheduled events as well as the daily routines and i love it. i am a natural planner of it because i a) hate to be late, therefore i naturally create margin, and b) get stressed very easily if i feel too pressured/stressed about life and things. however, even with intentionality it is easy for the margins to creep closer and closer if we are not watchful. so the re-evaluation process is ever so important in our household. and that is what i find myself praying over time and time again. especially being married to someone who doesn’t need quite so much margin as i. :-)
    blessings to you, kim!

    • I had never thought of margin quite that way, in terms of how much do each of us need. I am like you in that I need more than my hubbie! Like you, I get stressed over being late or feeling under pressure about life.
      I imagine we all suffer from margin creep, just as you note. We agree to one-just one! more thing, and then something has to go on the calendar, and then our white space is gone. Ack!
      Thanks so much for coming by. Love it when you share your perspective and experience!

  10. Great meal planning links. I need as much help as I can get in that department.


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