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We recently had our annual administrative retreat, wherein we disappear into the woods for a few days and hopefully come out refreshed, reinvigorated, and clearly focused on the goals and plans for the year ahead.

Packing for the trip beforehand, I was chagrined out how ill-equipped my biggest bag was for the task at hand. For a week in the woods needs to include things like sleeping bags and multiple changes of clothes… and, if you’re my company, a costume for the annual themed-party. I was horrified as I saw the bag grow perilously stuffed before I had even begun to ponder shoes or toiletries—and then I realized that I had actually forgotten to account for an entire day.

overstuffed luggageThe end result was a busting-at-the-seams-will-it-make-it-to-New-York sack of ridiculous. I had to leave behind the pack of buckets and shovels I was planning to use for a workshop. And don’t get me started on the props and costume pieces that just couldn’t make the trip. Sacrifices had to be made.

Something tells me that my bag might perhaps (and only in the remotest possible way, of course) just slightly resemble my life. Minus the costumes and buckets, though those certainly play a hearty role in my day to day—both at work and at play—but minus even those, the idea of “stuffing” my life to the gills and over-preparing for every eventuality (while forgetting sometimes the most base of basics—like sunscreen! Hello!! And a towel! What?!)… well that rings a bit familiar. Ask anyone who’s ever seen my purse. Or my car snack bucket. Or my office inspiration board. Or… well, I think we have enough examples. Let’s just say I perhaps overdo it in more ways than just my most recent suitcase debacle. Because I definitely take a “why-have-just-one-when-you-can-have-three?” approach to most things, and that translates into a “why-stop-at-a-9-to-5-work-day-when-you-can-also-volunteer-to-bring-the-cupcakes-to-the-school-party-and-say-yes-to-the-community-fundraiser” kind of mindset.

It’s a life overstuffed.

And while I LOVE my overstuffed car and bulletin board and suitcase and schedule and life, I also recognize that overstuffed can sometimes end up busting at the seams. Overstuffed can sometimes collapse at the weight of itself. Overstuffed, by definition, means that there is no empty space left. And no empty space means no time, except when sleeping, for rest. For contemplation. For expansion.

So maybe I didn’t need that fourth “just in case” shirt in my suitcase for this retreat. And maybe I don’t need five varieties of crackers in my car. And maybe I can sometimes say “no” to an event or opportunity even when the only thing currently on my schedule is… well… nothing. Maybe I can keep a little nothing in my life and allow some “understuffed” time to help balance the overstuffed.

I think of this, too, with our children. How often do we “overstuff” their days to make sure they are getting an academic and social edge? Days filled not just with school but with sports and playdates and tutoring and music lessons. Days that also get filled in with time on the computer or I-Pad, time on Facebook, time on the phone. Days that feel rushed, from the moment we wake up until the moment our heads hit the pillow. What are we sacrificing in all this overstuffing? What benefit might our children receive if we make a conscious effort to give them a little bit of time “understuffed,” too? It can’t be coincidence that so many of our nostalgic memories of childhood turn into pictures of leisurely days just staring at the sun or swinging in the hammock. Whether we ever actually had those moments or not, the fact that we long for them as adults should remind us that we have the opportunity right now to create that kind of actual reality for our youth.

What part of your overstuffed lives could you unpack a bit today?

For breakfast I had chia seeds mixed in with yogurt. I haven’t sprouted any green fur yet.

Author Profile: @erikap

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