Busyness – occasionally it’s is unavoidable, but mostly it’s a state of our own making. You don’t sit down and think to yourself, “I want my day to be so frantic I’m bent over in pain at 3 pm cos I haven’t had a chance to pee” or write on your list of goals, “Life so full, catch-ups with friends must be scheduled two months in advance”. You don’t have to. Busyness creeps up on you and is the result of a myriad a small, everyday decisions. In fact, it’s so insidious that unless you take intentional steps to avoid it, busyness weasels its way in as life’s default setting.
That’s my experience. I took a big intentional step to get out of the rat race. I quit my job. Rather than being a mother and a worker, I became just a mother. Problem solved. Except it wasn’t.
Buying a present for a kid’s birthday party, paying for a school trip and finding a new rubbish collection service. These are a few of the things that landed on my plate this week, aside from the usual buying groceries and returning library books. Thankfully, my husband pays the bills.
You think you have all these little jobs that keep things ticking along under control, then something new pops up. It’s constant.
I can’t make these jobs magically disappear, but I can share the tricks I use to keep on top of errands and household administration with a minimum of fuss.
Almost 20 years ago, a 21-year-old me turned up to live in a house with strangers. A friend had told me the university let vacancies in their student flats for cheap over the summer. The only catch was you were randomly allocated a place – sight unseen, flatmates unmet. I had a fulltime job with a two-hour round trip commute and was about to start part-time study. The flats were walking distance to work and school, and the rent wasn’t much more than the cost of my commute. It was a no-brainer. I signed up.
Much more gungho in those days, I still remember how incredibly nervous I was meeting my new flatmates for the first time. I needn’t have worried – we went on to spend years living and travelling together and they’re still some of my closest friends. Years later they confessed they had some reservations about me when I first moved in. To start with they assumed I was just unpacking, but after eight weeks they realised having piles of stuff all around more room was just the way I lived. While they’d never have guessed from looking at me, I was the messiest person they’d ever known.
Fast forward twenty years and I have a new normal. A few months ago, some relatives were in town. We went out for lunch at a local bar and had a great time. They had some time to fill in afterwards, so I invited them back to our place. I simply gave the toilet a quick scrub and chucked a new hand towel on the rail while my husband got started making the coffee. Six guests, zero warning, no problem.
At high school, I wore a uniform. It was hideous. An itchy brown jersey, yellow polo shirt and a brown box-pleat skirt. Maybe it was the height of style in the 70s when the school opened, but definitely not in the 90s when I wore it. At least we all looked hideous together. I remember my glee on the last day of school as I dumped the old thing on a desk in the school office and told them to pass it on to someone else. Finally free.
Back then, I didn’t appreciate the freedom that a school uniform gave me. Four years of freedom from deciding what to wear to school, trying to keep up with trends, arguing with my parents over what was appropriate, and spending my babysitting money on an extensive wardrobe. While my school uniform was terribly ugly, it was also beautifully simple. Twenty years on, I’m grateful to that gaudy uniform for making my teenage years simpler.
Each day, we face so many decisions. The vast majority of them are inconsequential, yet they add to our mental load. Simplifying everyday activities, like dressing, is easy, with a great payback in terms of reducing your mental load.
Imagine if you could repeat 2017 – carry the same responsibilities, meet the same commitments, achieve just as much (maybe more), but feel less busy. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Plenty of doing, but no more feeling rushed or overwhelmed. No more feeling like a little mouse on a wheel, legs frantically moving but not getting anywhere. Well, I think you can. In fact, I know you can, because I’ve done it.