We know when we need space from others. Sometimes others are so talkative, we can't hear our own thoughts. Sometimes they make us so angry, frustrated, or disappointed that we just need to get away. Sometimes the presence of our former loved ones remind us of what we've lost and we need to leave to go grieve in private.

I really think we do a good job of being aware of those situations, possibly because they're so emotionally strong and socially salient, and dealing with them. There are other times, however, when we can become ambitious, overconfident, distracted, or rushed and we forget or refuse to give ourselves the space we need. Here are some of those things to be aware of, and how to deal with them. In general, build space through planning, awareness, and humility. Creating appropriate space is a tenet of both Zen and minimalism.

Physical Space at Work and Home

When putting together a workplace system on your desk or a living space at home, keep in mind the psychological importance of literal separation between areas and objects. Our brains sort our memories by location. They associate certain spaces with certain activities, objects, or events. These memories form better and sort better when there are clear distinctions between spaces. I can remember where my knives are (in a dedicated knife block) much better than I can remember where my peeler, ice cream scoop, or ladle are (jumbled together in a drawer). That's because the knife block forces me to keep space between the knives, while the drawer encourages me to just dump everything in there.

At work, I have a large desk, but for aesthetic reasons, I cram all my papers into the corner. I like the look of a superficially clean desk. But then when I actually need to use the papers, I need to go through them every time, looking for what I want. There's no space between them, so my brain can't remember where each document is.

Let's see how planning, awareness, and humility can deal with both the kitchen and the workstation problems.

Planning: Create a system that forces space between objects. Check out this awesome thing for a kitchen. For work, literally everyone who has a white collar job should have one of these.
Awareness: Pay attention when you do manage to find what you're looking for and when you put things away. Don't stack papers or jumble utensils. Give each item it's own area.
Humility: By definition, the more stuff you have, the less space there is between them (on average). So be humble when taking on projects or buying utensils. I probably use 5% of the utensils I own. I don't need a dedicated onion chopper, a dedicated garlic mincer, and a dedicated salad spinner. The list goes on and on of things one person in our house maybe uses once every other year. It's easy to be ambitious about what you can accomplish in the future when you're shopping. Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior, however, than ambition.

Electronic Space on the Computer

When thinking about creating space on your computer, "space" can mean a couple different things. It can mean physical space on your Desktop or Documents folders as well as memory space on your hard drive.

There are two good philosophies when organizing files to maintain space: either don't put too many files in any given folder or don't even bother with folders and just use a good naming scheme that's easy to search. Our brains aren't really designed to keep track of electronic information and there's usually too much, anyways, to manage it. I went with the searchable naming scheme system. My system looks kind of like C:/Documents/Job/Year/Project/Name_and_Version.ext. That's a pretty complicated system for how few files I have. If you know you're going to have a lot of files for your work, home, or hobbies, consider investing in document management software. It may feel unnecessary in the short term, but don't underestimate the importance of a good system in giving you mental space.

As far as having enough space on your computer's hard drive, it really shouldn't be a problem if you have awareness and humility. What do you actually need to keep on your computer? Do you need five thousand photos of yourself fake-smiling at the camera from two hundred different parties you can't remember? Maybe print the best ten out, frame them, and archive the rest. Do you need those three hundred and fifty romantic comedies you torrented but never watched? What about the hundred thousand hours of music you've amassed? Who has time to listen to that? All this weighs on us and stresses us out. Consider doing away with the non-essentials. It will give you proper mental space so you can enjoy what pictures you do look at, the rom-coms you do watch, and the music you do like.

Space in the Calendar

Einstein taught us that space is time. And time in your day looks a lot like space on your calendar. We love to cram as many activities into our day and lives as possible, but it doesn't make us happier. And don't just "make time for the things and people that are important to you" as we're all told. Create space between that time. Give yourself time to clean up after yourself when you're done eating lunch. Give yourself time to walk leisurely between places, enjoying the sights as you go. Give yourself time to prepare for dates, to get cleaned up and excited. Give yourself time to contemplate what you accomplished during the day and to wind down for sleep. Give yourself time to stretch before and after working out, and then to shower and eat when you're all done. These are the things we sacrifice when we sign up for one more club, project, or outing.

Space in your Social Network

I'm not talking about Facebook. I'm talking about your actual, real life social network. The people you're friends with and the family you care for. We only have so much time for each person we love, and every additional person we befriend (or birth) takes away our time for those already in our lives. I spent all day yesterday with my parents and two of my best friends. And it was an amazing, wonderful day.

Beyond the time cost, I only have room in my heart for so many people. I can only keep track of so many others' lives and what they're up to. Friends are great, but there's such a thing as too much of a great thing.