Battling the Busy

January 1, 2020 | by brooke wagner

The scene opens in a cluttered living room overrun with books, papers, and all the trappings of life at home with a young family. Toys and sippy cups peek out of every nook and cranny, and mismatched piles of shoes and laundry threaten to overwhelm each square inch of seating space. An exhausted set of parents appears on the screen, tearfully explaining how they can't find joy and peace in the midst of all of the clutter.

Enter, Marie Kondo. The 4'7” Netflix superstar bursts through the door and exclaims, "I'm so excited because I love mess!" Her diminutive stature is no match for her giant personality as she gently molds the home and family back into shape, encouraging them to release anything that doesn't "spark joy" in their lives.  

There is a reason why Kondo's books and Netflix debut have connected with so many Americans. In our culture of busyness, noise, and constant demand for our attention, her methods and philosophy have struck a chord of longing for a simpler way to do life. There is something deep within us that cries, Enough! When we glance at our calendars and see every moment is spoken for - when we look around our homes crammed with enough entertainment options to keep us busy for weeks - yet we still aren't happy. Kondo was listed as one of Time Magazine's "Most Influential People" in 2015 with millions of books sold detailing her organizational method; the demand for her brand of living doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Clutter doesn't have to just be a physical presence in our homes. Our lives can also become filled with excess. A typical response to the question, "How have you been doing?" is "Staying busy!". Busyness can be worn almost like a badge of honor, paying homage to the fact that we aren't sitting around doing nothing - we are out there living our best life now! But are we? The phrase "culture of busyness" turns up dozens of results on a Google search, with most articles explaining why none of us are really happy with our harried lifestyles. Like a hamster on a wheel, we aren't quite sure how we got here, or how to make the madness stop.

Contrary to a century ago, a life of leisure filled with downtime is viewed as less than desirable. Studies show that our society perceives someone who skips leisure in favor or working or staying busy has a higher social status than someone who takes time to relax. Before this perception took over, Americans who had time to travel and rest and recharge were the ones seen at the top of the social ladder.

 So what to do? The start of a new year brings a natural place to reevaluate our priorities, relationships, and schedules. The phrase, "Out with the old and in with the new!" applies as we assess the things in our lives that are working well, and take an honest look at those that may not be. There is no time like the present to take control of the culture of our own lives, no matter what the culture of the world around us says is best. The following are some tried and true tips for stepping out of the "crazy-busy" cycle that may have trapped us, and reclaiming peace and joy in our day to day lives.

1. Take time to rest

Last year, my family was hit with influenza. One by one, I watched it take down each member of my family. As I cared for them, I secretly vowed NOT to get sick. "Moms don't have time for this," I reassured myself. Then, it happened. I sat down on the couch on a Monday afternoon and didn't get off the couch again until Thursday. During that time, I had no choice but to rest. I physically could not force my aching body out into any position but lying down, huddled under a blanket.

Rest is something that we often don't do until our body makes us. How often do we take the time to sit and breathe and just be over the course of our day? Guilt over unfinished tasks or errands that need running often forces us to push our bodies and minds through exhaustion, even though decades of research shows that we need rest to function properly.

Getting enough rest boosts our immune system, our memory, our energy level, and creativity. Sleep has even been associated with weight management and emotional and mental health. Although we know the benefits of sleep, we often treat rest as a commodity that can be exchanged for something else - working more hours, catching up on entertainment (binge-watching Netflix, anyone?), or spending time with friends. Although there are a time and a place for these things, rest should be consistently at the top of our priority list to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

2. Be present in the moment

As the saying goes, "Depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future." Did you notice what is missing from that saying? It's the present. If we aren't fully present in the moment, we risk missing out on what is happening right now. Last Saturday morning, I looked at my family in the living room, snuggling under blankets and watching TV, and thought, "This moment will never happen again." I found my mind rushing ahead to when the kids are grown and worrying about how much different life will look. Quickly, I caught myself and realized that my worry over the future was stealing the joy I could be feeling at that moment when my family was at home safe and sound and tucked in together.

Mindfulness: being present in the moment. The pressure to hurry up and get on to the next thing often robs us of connecting with the people around us in a real and meaningful way.

3. Self-care

You can’t pour from an empty cup, and just like our smartphones need time to be plugged in and recharged, so do we! It often feels too self-indulgent to take time caring for ourselves. Still, it is essential to our physical and mental health. Reading a book you've had your eye on for weeks, going for a walk, listening to a great playlist, or meeting a friend for a cup of coffee can all help to combat the culture of busyness we find ourselves caught up in.

Self-care doesn't have to be expensive - even carving out 15 minutes a day for an activity that brings you joy can have a positive effect on your health. YouTube has tons of video suggestions for a quick yoga session or a focused breathing exercise. Grab that laptop, sneak off to a quiet place away from kids and distractions for a few minutes, and come out recharged and ready to take on the day!

4.  Just say no

I was a young, stay at home mom when I first heard the words, “You can say no, you know!”. I was volunteering at my church, running a household, and basically trying to be Superwife and Supermom - and I was exhausted. I felt like I needed to fill every spot on the school volunteer sign up sheet, bring a homemade meal to every friend with a newborn, and sign the kids up for every extracurricular that came along. 

I realized I was running on fumes, I knew something had to change. My husband and I looked at our schedules and vowed to mercilessly cut every activity that wasn't essential in that season. I literally had to practice saying "No" out loud until it felt natural since, at first, it felt like I was letting everyone around me down. We have seasons that are busier than others. Still, overall, our priority is to protect our time at home and together. Taking a break from serving others to serve our families and ourselves seems counterintuitive to everything our culture values, but in certain seasons, it is the best "Yes" we can give.  

5. Ask for help

No matter how you arrange them, each day only has 24 hours. Twenty-four hours to fill with whatever we choose: things we have to do and things we want to do. Typically, the top of most people's "want to do" list does not include laundry, grocery shopping, and house cleaning. Enter outsourcing! Countless businesses in town exist solely to make our lives easier. From cleaning services to handymen to yard service, if you don't have time to clean it, fix it, or make it better, there is someone who will!

Taking time to evaluate what you can realistically get done in a day versus what you could hire someone to help with can be a lifesaver in the long run. Cutting one thing out of our budgets to make room for something that gives us more space in our day makes sense in the long-term goal of joy-filled living. 

Originally printed in the January 2020 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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