Busy, but not Stressed

Since consciously adopting a Simpler lifestyle I’ve noticed something. It used to be, in my rat-race world, that being busy = being stressed. The stress was usually related to Time. I lived my life according to schedules whereby certain things needed to be done by a certain time. As the minutes ticked by I’d grow increasingly anxious about the looming deadline. And it seemed as though my whole day went that way.

I had to get out of bed at a certain time, even though I desperately wanted to stay in bed. So there would be this internal dialogue in my mind with one side saying “just a few minutes more!” and the other side saying “you’ll be late!”. Heading to work, traffic jams or missed buses were always potential sources of panic. Various deadlines throughout the day brought their moments of panic, even something as benign as hurrying to finish my lunch. Now relatively speaking none of these things rank high on the Life Stresses list, but I had to wonder about the effect of all these little stresses throughout the day. I can’t see that this was a healthy way to live. We now have a good understanding of how stress affects the body, and being in a constant state of stress is no good for anybody.

In our modern world it seems like everybody is always rushing around. The average middle-class family wakes up needing to get everybody fed, dressed, packed for school/work, and out the door by a certain time. The average job involves deadlines and schedules that must be adhered to, while children are following the sound of bells, class schedules, and taking timed tests. At the end of the day there is the rush to get everybody home, dinner on the table, kids usually have homework, and what little quality time can be spent together ends with a strict bedtime, made necessary by the importance of a smooth – and timely – morning routine. Weekends are reserved for all those things that nobody has time for during the week, such as grocery shopping and running errands, housekeeping and yard work, hobbies and extracurricular activities, social engagements, couple time, etc…Trying to fit all that into 48 hours isn’t my idea of a break.

My husband and I have been making conscious choices over the last couple of years to Simplify our lives. And one of the biggest steps in this was choosing to leave the Rat-Race. Husband had planned to leave his corporate job before they did us a favour and laid him off, and I had made the decision not to return to my former career but instead focus on raising the kids and running the household. Hubby now works from home most of the time, which gives him great flexibility in planning his day. On weeks when he has to commute to the mainland he does need to get up early, but the scenic 95 minute ferry trip through some of the most beautiful coastline in the world does much to relieve the stress of having to make an early ferry. These 48 hour trips away from home give his introverted self a much-needed chance to recharge, and thus fits in well to our family life. As for me, my consulting work does include deadlines but my case-load is small enough that I end up working only a handful of hours each month, and I usually have a long-enough turnaround time that I don’t need to panic.

I’ve recently been giving thought to the concept of being “busy”. Because even though our life is somewhat unconventional compared to the average middle-class, dual professional, family of four household I still have plenty to do. When I realize I haven’t called my mother all week I think “I’ve been busy”. And it surprised me at first because I never think of myself like that anymore. That’s when I realized that Busy does not have to = Stress. Yes, I have a lot of things to do. My primary job as mum and housewife involves many daily tasks. For example, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen: making meals for my family, cleaning up after making the meals, baking (loving my 5-minute-a-day bread!), doing laundry (which these days involves hanging laundry out to dry), general tidying (which keeps me on my toes, what with two young children and a husband working from home), feeding and watering animals, etc. Then there’s my paid job which, although thankfully part-time, does require a few hours here and there. And my volunteer work which, although scaled back immensely during the months surrounding our move, is gearing up to get going again. There are also errands to run, weekly library trips with the kids, and these days lots of visits to the swimming hole or our friends’ lake (okay, it’s not exactly *their* lake but they live right next to it) which, especially with young kids, involves some amount of packing and preparation unless we want to end up at the drive-through or paying for bottled water at the gas station.

So yeah, I work a full day from the time I get up until the kids are in bed. But here’s the thing: I’m not stressed. Why?

Because my kids don’t go to school, my husband doesn’t head off to work in the morning, and so we all get up pretty much whenever we feel like it (generally speaking we’re all up by 8:30, though it varies a lot). I usually walk the dog (or we bike) then sit down and enjoy my morning cup of milky tea, which I insist on sipping while either catching up on my email or reading my latest book interest (or, as I did this morning, planning my vegetable garden for next year!). I then put together a breakfast made from scratch for the kids, clean up whatever Husband didn’t get to the night before, then hit the laundry basket (as we are on septic it is better to spread laundry out over the week than to do many loads in one day). As I go about my day I’m constantly picking things up and putting them back in their place in order to maintain some semblance of tidiness. I often bake after breakfast, or I head outside to do some gardening. Soon it’s time to put together some lunch then clean up after that. Afternoons we sometimes go out to run errands or hit the library. If we don’t go out I try to have some sit-down time with the kids to work on projects or play a game. I try to take a rest break mid-afternoon, which usually involves reading for about 15 – 30 minutes (yesterday I went wandering around the property and finally identified a tree that had been puzzling me for some time). Then it’s time to get started on dinner, after which I get to hit the computer for some social networking while Husband washes the dishes. Eventually it’s time for the kids to go to bed, after which Husband and I enjoy some quiet adult time (we like to watch TV series’, marathon style; right now we are on Season 2 of Weeds). Weekends are precious, “do-nothing” days. I let the housework slack a bit, we rarely go anywhere planned except maybe a relaxing dinner with the grandparents or a spontaneous family outing to somewhere free of crowds.

There is definitely a rhythm to my day. But the key thing is that none of my regular activities are time-sensitive down to the level of minutes. Breakfast may be early or late and depends entirely on when we all get up. Lunch is when the kids start getting hungry again, and dinner time often depends on whether we had an afternoon snack. And while there are certain housekeeping duties I like to get done every day, if something doesn’t get completed it’s really no big deal. I’ll just get to it later.

I really like living this way. I have time to stop and smell the roses when the mood hits me, I’m not stressed, life just seems to flow along without too much conscious effort. I don’t think humans are designed to live their lives on tight schedules, and I’m sure our current lifestyle is much better for our health (both physical and emotional). I like being busy, I like having responsibilities. But mostly I like that I can be busy without being stressed.


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