Create The Good Life - Simple and Slow Living by Design

Life on the Edge

'Edge' is one of our favorite and most used design principles. We apply the concept of Edge all the time whether we are designing a kitchen or planning our social calendar. Once you become familiar with Edge you will start to see it everywhere. We wouldn't go quite as far as to say life is edge, but there sure is a lot of edge in life!

Edge is a key principle in Permaculture, a holistic approach to design that is rooted in observing systems in nature. Permaculture principles and patterns can be applied to the design of all sorts of things like gardens and bicycles, as well as the less tangible stuff like meetings and businesses.

At its most basic, an edge is where two elements come together. Think tile and grout, sidewalk and yard, forest and meadow, land and water. An edge can be as teeny tiny as a cell wall and it can be as humungous as the tectonic plates in the earth's crust.

The cool thing about edges is that they are where stuff gathers and, because of this, edges are where things happen. Edges are where the action is. This is so obvious that we tend to overlook it, but edges play a role in everything from shower tile mildew to the creativity in cities.

Say you really enjoy weeding. In this case, you would be well served by a patio with lots of edge. Bricks with half inch gaps between the blocks would do nicely. What you would notice is how quickly tiny seeds, bits of soil, and drops of water would congregate along the edges of each and every brick, and before long-voila!-you would have a wonderful crop of weeds.

Alternatively, say you are one of those curmudgeonly gardeners trying to eliminate weeds. To do this, you would want to reduce the amount of edge in your patio by using big stones or blocks and minimizing the space between them. Of course the ultimate anti-weed patio is a single concrete slab. In this case you would radically reduce the habitat for weeds by limiting the amount of edge to just the perimeter of the patio.

This example underscores that because edges are where the action takes place, they often require some type of management, even if it is to discard what gathers there. Compare dusting a Victorian house full of bric-a-brac to one of those sleek houses in Dwell magazine with only a couch, a table, and a vase and you get an idea of how edge relates to maintenance. A lot of messiness can ensue from unmanaged edges! So the question for all you good life designers out there is, "How much edge do you need?"

Sometimes we want a lot of edge in order to attract good stuff, like butter and syrup in a waffle's crenulations, or hits on a web site with lots of pages. Other times, less edge is better, like minimal seams in a kitchen counter, or no interruptions during your nap.

Yes, the concept of Edge can apply to time as well as space. Imagine each of these scenarios:
A. Twenty minutes of quiet followed by ten minutes of activity
    (20 + 10)
B. Twenty minutes of quiet with two minutes of activity every five
    minutes (2 + 5 + 2 + 5 + 2 + 5 + 2 + 5 + 2)

When it comes to naps or trying to think through a complicated issue, chances are the first example which has less edge would be best. However if you are procrastinating writing an essay or trying to meet lots of people, the second example is probably the way to go.

As with edges in space, edges in time are where stuff gathers and happens. Have you noticed how the really juicy conversations take place during the breaks between meetings? High edge events are great for when we want to gather ideas, create contacts, see and be seen. Want to meet more people? Find ways to increase the amount of your social edge in person and on line. Conversely, if you want to create some calm, delve deeply into something, or recharge your personal batteries, then look for ways to reduce the edges in your time and space. One beautiful example of the later is simply you and a beach.

Life on the edge is where things happen, but when you don't want more, or you need to take a break, you now know what you can do-start redesigning the edge!


From where you are sitting at this very moment, how many edges can you notice? Look for edges that are working well, like the door mat which collects and holds dirt from your shoes, and ones that are not, like the dust and crumb magnet that is your key board.

Extra credit: Move on to considering edges in time. What is the difference for you between a day with lots of activities, appointments, and people versus a day with just one or two of these?


Pick one thing you are about to design or plan and see how applying the concept of Edge might help you. Remember edges aren't good or bad, it's a question of how much edge.

Sending you warm greetings from the edge,

Beth and Eric

This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.

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