Creating Space #1: Your Hierarchy of Needs

The past year I’ve been working at cutting out unnecessariness from my life. You know, those things that say they should be in your life, so you work to fit them in, but you really don’t enjoy them or find they to add anything to your life. Yeah, *those* things. I didn’t dive head-long into my life-purge and cut my days down to nothing, like some sort of fad diet. Instead, I’ve been mindful, contemplative, and intentional with figuring out what goes and what stays. There were times that I was a bit unfeeling in the culling of American mom-life busy work, but generally this has been a very thoughtful process.

I’ve mentioned before that 6 years ago I was in a class that helped me define my life’s values—those abstract ideas that pull my soul into light and move me into life. Adventure landed in my #1 spot, but I’ve taken years to let it live there, seeing light, growing with me and leading me onto a path that I found was single-file width. The path toward honoring our values is narrow for a reason. You can’t fit everyone else’s values next to you on the path. You have to set down the arms full of everyone else’s stuff that you have collected over the years. It was all part of that thoughtful purge to free myself to be myself.

Is any of this resonating with you? Do you feel weighed down by what you think or what you are told you should do? Do you feel sick of it yet? Want to try to let some of that stuff go? Let’s do it. Let’s take a look and see what small steps you can take to free up your life to live your own values.

The term “creating margin” is used quite frequently in today’s blogging and self-help realms. I usually hate any pop culture terms but this one creates a picture in my mind that I love. Imagine that all the space your life can take up is an 8×11” sheet of paper. That’s all you get at any one time. We need to be ultra-picky about what we allow in there. Certainly, we can try to fit on 100 different tiny values/tasks/responsibilities/categories, but then what kind of room are we leaving for the unexpected? What kind of space are we leaving for spontaneity or creative freedom or time zone mix-ups? If we have every bit of space occupied, we aren’t ready when certain categories need more space. Then, we stress when categories overlap or when new categories pop up and need space and there IS NO SPACE. We need margins in that life-space. We need room in between the categories. The margin is where we get to just BE rather than DO.

But how do we create margin? I have some ideas…

So, let’s start with an 8×11 piece of paper. Go get that. Don’t forget a pen. I’ll wait. I use a purple pen almost exclusively. My mom does, too, so does my oldest daughter. It is kind of our thing and I find that I almost instantly trust anyone else I meet who has a purple pen in her purse. Are you back now? Great! Let’s do this!

Look at this cool graphic—Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

hierarchy of needs

This is a great tool and if you haven’t noticed yet, I love a good graphic. On the bottom, you find our essentials, the physiological needs. These are pretty standard for everyone—autonomic responses like breathing and excretion—and biological functions like food and sex and sleep and homeostasis (the ability to come back to “normal” after stress). We usually don’t make space for those things in our lives, as we consider them to be more of a given. Like, they automatically get space; however, moving forward I think that considering those needs is important.

As we move up the pyramid, we find each category builds on the other. We can’t move on to realizing our needs in each level until the needs of the previous level are at least mostly met. That top area is called “self-actualization” which means our needs are met in such a way that we can be free to live as God made us to be. God made me an adventurer, but I couldn’t start realizing that “self-actualization” need until I started to meet the rest of my needs below it.

This is where our sheet of paper comes in. Draw a Maslow’s pyramid for your own life; list HOW each one of your needs are being met in each level. Next to the pyramid list any needs that aren’t being met adequately or at all. Be curious, ask yourself questions, examine your patterns, take your time. Be brave and be HONEST about your needs. I bet if you have some gaps toward the bottom levels, you have some big blanks in the top levels. That’s okay. No one is judging you. This is a tool for you to figure out what gets more space in your 8×11 life. Denying your needs doesn’t make them disappear. So let them take up space.

I’m going to be brave and show you mine:


It isn’t fancy or pretty, but it is pretty accurate. I have a lot of my basic needs met, so I’ve been able to move up to meet other needs…but have a ton of gaps in “esteem” and “self-actualization”. I look down to my see gaps in the bottom three levels. I know I won’t get very far toward reaching my top goals if those gaps don’t get some attention.

THAT is where I start creating margin. I can see from my pyramid that I need more sleep, more water, and skills to manage my anxiety attacks better. I also need peace in my home by making the fixer-upper projects come to an end (good Lord, it has been almost 4 years straight of home repair and dust and tools and odd room configurations). I also feel like I need to make more money in my life. My husband earns more than enough and I work (very) part-time at a domestic violence shelter. I’ve never really been a money-maker as I LOVE the non-profit realm. I’m not lacking money for life, but I do see that I need more for my adventures (distance hiking isn’t cheap and traveling via plane to all the places I MUST see will cost a good chunk change). I think I might be able to make more money doing 2 things I like to think I’m skilled at—writing and speaking. Also, I don’t feel completely connected to my community. I don’t have a church that I love. We have one that we attend irregularly, but I’m just not feeling it. I miss having a church community. I miss being part of that kind of family. It is a need that isn’t being met.

So, let’s start with that and explore more next week. Work on your pyramid this week. Pray, think, meditate, or do whatever you do to process things. Talk to a trusted friend or pastor or counselor or spouse or your mom about your pyramid. They might have some good insight into what they see in your life. Be brutally honest about your needs and if they are being met. I know this might feel like it could hurt someone in your life. That’s okay. Your needs are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to meet your own needs or ask for your needs to be met. Really. You are allowed to take the time and space to do this.

Next week we will have another pen and paper exercise to help us map out our needs and responsibilities AND create margin in between them all. Until then, Brave Hearts, be curious about what your heart and body and mind need. Be brave enough to be honest with yourself and someone else in your world. Be connected with yourself, your real life, your areas or lack and overflow. We can do this!

Feel free to email me at to share your pyramid. How can I support you in this journey? I’m happy to help take a look and help with the process.

Next Post in this series click here!!

3 thoughts on “Creating Space #1: Your Hierarchy of Needs

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