“TO LIVE WILL BE AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE.” J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
I’m not quite sure when or how it happened. But somehow, busyness, a fully-loaded calendar and little free time has become a marker for success in modern-day life. Not only are us adults always running to and fro, juggling a billion things everyday, but also our kids lives are heavily scheduled between school, extra-curricular activities, playdates and sporting fixtures.
There seems to be little down-time in most people’s lives and I can’t help feeling that in the busyness we are losing something. We have somehow become a people that glorify busyness, thinking that in keeping our time constantly filled with activity we are living life to the max. I’m not so sure anymore…
In my pursuit of a simpler life, I have decluttered my home, my car and garage and somehow this physical endeavour has led me to crave simplicity in other aspects of my life too. The removal of material items that no longer serve me in my daily life has meant less time spent on chores and more time spent doing the things I love and it has also led me to think about other types of clutter we gather.
For example, digital clutter. It can take over our lives! Over the years I have followed pages and subscribed to newsletters that are no longer relevant to me. So, I spent and entire evening a while back unfollowing and unsubscribing. Yes, it was a tedious and dull task, but I no longer open my inbox to find a list of emails that I then have to waste time deleting and no more do I scroll through endless Facebook and Instagram posts that I am simply not interested in. Everything I receive or view I have tailored to my likes and interests in the here and now. This may change as times goes on but a digital declutter is definitely worthwhile. It clears the mind of so much mental junk too!
Another area that I have tackled is the busyness of life. I’m getting better at saying no to things that don’t suit. I have for years had this irrational fear of letting people down, or causing disappointment and would sometimes rearrange my plans in order to suit others, often at the expense of my own happiness. I allowed busyness to creep into time that I had scheduled for writing or exercising and the result was that I ended up feeling drained, and when your cup is empty you have nothing to give – your family gets the dregs of you, and that’s unfair on everyone.
At the weekend I was ill. Nothing too serious. I wakened on Sunday morning with a pounding headache, dizziness, an upset tummy and general lethargy. I had planned on going for a trail run with my two youngest boys while their big brother attended a rugby tournament. I convinced myself I would be fine by lunchtime if I rested up for a while. However, by lunchtime I felt much the same and I could feel my frustration growing that I couldn’t fulfil my plans. While I lay in bed the boys ran about the house in their pjs, chatting and putting on their favourite songs. They built me some lego treats…an ice cream sundae and some cake and spent hours drawing out blueprints for their lego designs. They were loving the free time to be creative and use their imaginations. They didn’t feel like they were missing out one little bit. They were living in the moment and enjoying it.
Lying as still as I could, so as not to vomit, I thought about my week that had passed. What were the thing things that had stuck in my head? What moments in my week had shone? I closed my eyes and listened to the kids laughter and I recalled sitting in my bed with my youngest son doing his reading for school. He struggles to focus sometimes and I have been wracking my brain trying to think of ways to engage him in the pleasures of reading. His two big brothers had taken to it so naturally, but not wanting to compare them, I have been seeking ways to help him on his own personal reading journey, trying to find books he will enjoy and to make the experience interesting for him.
So, on this particular evening I told him that if he read to the end of the chapter, I would draw something in his sketchbook for him. His eyes lit up and I listened as he read the rest of the story with lots of expression. Once done, he ran to get his sketchbook and pens. I’m no artist, but as a little girl I was horse-mad, and I spent hours and hours sketching pictures of horses. That’s one of my fondest childhood memories. I told my son to close his eyes and I roughly drew a horse like I used to when I was a little girl. When he opened his eyes and saw it his faced beamed with delight. “That’s amazing!” he said. “Can you teach me to draw a horse?” So I did. We sat there for the next hour (way past bedtime!) doodling and colouring in and just being together doing something lovely. It was sweet. It was connection.
Another evening, after work, I came home to a very busy household. There were homeworks to sign, dishes in the sink, kits to pack, washing to sort – just the usual everyday busyness associated with family life. I didn’t want to get caught up in domestic chores, because once you start, before you know it the evening has vanished and the kids are off to bed and really you haven’t spent any quality time with them. So, remembering a leftover pack of marshmallows from our last camping trip I suggested we go outside as the sun set and toast them over the gas camping stove. Of course the kids jumped at the opportunity. I stood back and let them light the flames themselves and toast their marshmallows to gooey perfection. We stood there as the sky glowed orange and the sun dipped down behind the hills, chatting about our day and what tomorrow had in store. It was simple, it was contentment and it was a moment that sparkled in my memory as I pondered.
Being unwell for that one day certainly enabled some time for reflection. I recalled the tiny hand on my arm as we snuggled up to watch The Great British Bake Off on a wet Wednesday afternoon. There was no agenda, no place to be other than in that moment, drinking a cup of tea, fire blazing, and enjoying the closeness while the rain poured down outside.
I believe that in the busyness of our lives we sometimes lose the ability to savour the simple things. I for one, have gone through entire weeks being efficient, getting the job done, making sure everyone is fed, has what they need, house clean and tidy, chores done…but I haven’t laughed or paused to enjoy a sunset, listen to my kids talk…I mean really listen, or found the moments of joy that are there for the taking in the everyday. It is so easy to fall into admin-mode, managing the day-to-day running of a home, yet missing the real meaningful moments among the organisational duties. That saddens my heart. I don’t want my boys to remember me for being busy. I’m not sure they even notice or care if the house is nice and tidy, or if dinner is on the table at a set time, they just want me, there, with them, for real. Not distracted or stressed by my endless list of tasks, but present, with them in the here and now. How much we lose when we get swept along in the whirlwind of domestic duty and forget to look around and see what really matters.
In my workplace, I encounter people battling cancer or living with terminal illness. It is heart-breaking sure, but also some of the most genuine conversations I have in my working environment are with these people who are thrust into the darkest times of their lives. They openly express what is really important in life – family, friends, love. I think deep down, we all know this, yet we chase after things that are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. A bigger house, more wealth, more possessions…we know these things do not bring lasting joy yet we run after them and make our lives so busy in the process. Why?
Why have we lost the ability to be content with slow-living and simplicity? Why do we always crave more, more, more? We know it doesn’t make us happy ultimately in the true sense of happiness. Over this past while I have been learning that this fast-paced world is sucking me dry. I don’t want to live my days running about at a thousand miles per hour just to get everything done. I’m not saying I don’t want adventure and fun. The opposite in fact. I want the busyness removed so that I can savour life. I want to walk to school with my kids in the drizzle, discussing all sorts of bizarre and random things and truly be in the moment, not allowing my mind to wander to all the jobs awaiting me at home or work. I want to read a book and be so engrossed in it that I am unaware what time of day it is – the way I did as a child. I want to taste the coffee, not gulp it down as I sort washing and try to do several other things at the same time.
For years we have celebrated our ability to multi-task, especially us women. NO! I say. No more. It’s all happening too fast and I don’t want to be working on all those things at once. It’s stressful. One job at a time, done well, thank you very much!
So all this talk of slowing down, living in the moment, savouring the simple everyday things is all well and good. But how do we actually make this happen I hear you ask?
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
We so often busy ourselves in the pursuit of perfection. In our homes, in our jobs and in so many aspects of our lives we want everything sitting ‘just so’. This is exhausting, mentally, physically and emotionally. We need to learn to be content with our best attempts and know when to stop. Certainly, aim for excellence, but, sometimes, things get left unfinished or don’t turn out as well as we had expected. That’s ok. Enough is enough. You’ve tried your best, put in enough hours…now know when to go home to your family, switch off the work phone and emails, leave the washing basket overflowing, the dust on the mantelpiece will wait. There is life waiting on you, people who want you near and a big world to enjoy.
“Let it all out now.” – Rhodes featuring Birdy
Sometimes the stresses of life become burdensome. It’s good to talk, we all know that – share the load, get it off our chests and all that. I am a great believer in chatting things through with a trusted friend or family member. Sometimes just saying things out loud and knowing you aren’t alone helps put things into perspective. When we carry our pressures and keep them to ourselves we can begin to wallow and lose perspective. In my experience this leads to bitterness and sometimes making the wrong choices. Talk it through then move on. Also, don’t forget to listen. Two ears, one mouth…says it all really! Hearing what others are struggling with and being someone to lean on is as equally beneficial as offloading your own concerns.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible’ – Dalai Lama
I don’t know if it’s a mum thing, a parent thing, a human thing or a me thing…but I am so so hard on myself. As I’ve gotten older, and hopefully a little wiser with that, I have realised that no-one expects me to be perfect. It’s ok to make mistakes and not get everything done all the time. I have started tuning into what my mind and body are really saying. When the bathroom needs a good clean, but my heart is saying it needs some quiet time, my body is crying for some fresh air and immersion in nature, I am listening to what my self needs rather than what the loo needs! It’s fine to care for yourself, in whatever way you need. It’s different for us all. For me, I enjoy solitude and exercising outdoors. For you, it may be something totally different. It’s good to care for yourself, replenish your energies and be kind to yourself so that you are enabled to show kindness to others too.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs
Basically, stop multi-tasking and start single-tasking. I’m sure like me, in your place of work and your home you have a ton of things to do. I would often find myself skipping from one thing to the next, without really completing a task. I’d be doing one thing, anxious that something else needed done urgently. I have learned that I’m actually more productive when I focus on one thing at a time. Complete it then move on to the next thing. We can apply this to so many aspects of our lives and its benefits are great. Our minds slow down, our energies become focused, anxiety reduces and we are present during whatever job needs our attention. And sometimes, you just have to say no!
“Let us drink for the replenishment of our strength, not for our sorrow.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
A car can’t run on empty. I’ve tried this many times much to my husband’s dismay. When the warning light comes on, it’s time to refuel. It’s the same for us. We all know the warning signs in our own lives that signal we are in danger of running out of energy and flipping off the edge of the cliff. Personally, when I’m burnt out I get anxious, my sleep is interrupted, I get confused, uptight, struggle to be in company and become very self-focused. This is unhealthy and if it goes unaddressed it leads to tense relationships, frayed tempers, survival-mode kicks in and no longer am I living life well.
We all face these times I’m sure. It’s about learning to recognise when we are running low, and allowing ourselves the space to step back and replenish ourselves. Again, how we do this as individuals will vary. Sometimes, something as simple as listening to our favourite music does the trick. Music has the ability to transport us, much like reading a good book, to another time and place and can bring great soothing power to our lives. Being outdoors is necessary for my well-being – without trees, mountains and the sea in my weekly journey I start to get agitated and need my fix of nature and outdoor activity.
Maybe you like to draw, dance, stretch, sing, watch the clouds, read a book, or sit quietly beside a fire. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to make time for refilling your cup. As a little aside to this, I have found it beneficial to switch off my phone and internet at times in order to be free from distractions or wasting time scrolling when I could be doing something I really enjoy and benefit from.
Get yourself a good quote!
As a book lover and literature student I love a good quote to remind me of my values and my goals. There are certain quotes that are like a sort of mantra to me and I am grateful for them when I get caught up in busyness.
One particular favourite is a quote from Camus that says: “In the midst of winter, I found, there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
Song lyrics often stay with me too. This post was inspired by the words of Simon and Garfunkel. I first heard these words at primary school, listening to the choir rehearse, I can’t have been more than 6 years old and it has always stayed with me, like a kind of soundtrack for life.
“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last. Just kicking down the cobblestones. Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.” (It’s stuck in your head now isn’t it?!)
I love the words of John Lennon in his song ‘Beautiful Boy’ when he sings “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. I have a little wooden plaque that a friend bought me with these words on it sitting on my bookcase – a prominent position and permanent reminder for me to slow down and not to miss out on real life.