I find myself in a unique position, I am married with two children, suddenly awash in alone time. Due to my work schedule and an out of state fellowship for my partner, I am with my husband for around 12 waking hours a week. My days off are school days and therefore I have a plethora of time I can spend in my oddly quiet house.
At first, I spent my time running around trying to cram as many things as possible into the day. Somethings were unavoidable – grocery shopping, dropping off children and picking them up, chores – but some were just there to numb my brain into not thinking – a season of RuPaul’s Drag Race should be savored, not gobbled up in a day afterall.
I thought that I was feeling loneliness. But upon reflection, discomfort was at the bottom of it. Discomfort at being alone with myself.
I was wasting time on Facebook, scrolling through Instagram and doing anything but simply exist with myself. The result: me waking up from my screen stupor and then rushing around to get the things that were actually crucial, finished. I felt stressed and depressed. I kept forgetting things (like appointments and essential items for dinner).
This led to some deep thoughts, that have been around likely since Matthew Broderick slapped a phone on a modem – perhaps even decades before that when magazines were the newest craze. They can be summed up in this statement: How I spend my time is how I spend my life.
.I do not want to look back when I am in the retirement community and say, “I remember when I was young and full of energy and I spent hours upon hours a day looking at people complaining about the service in restaurants and pictures of cats.” That kind of reflection is NOT going to liven up the shuffle board competition in Boca Raton.
I am not remotely going to demonize social media, I think it can be a cause for great good in the world – it connects us to one another. However, it is kind of how I view dairy – it provides me with protein and calcium and vitamin D but if I eat too much of it I get sick, feel drained and bloated. Social media has a very similar outcome. It is most effective when taken in small portions.
So, what do I mean by curate? I mean simply to treat your life in the way you would treat an art gallery, a museum or a collection of vintage records. To paraphrase many, many people who get quoted often, life is just a collection of moments anyway, so why not refine your collection and gather it mindfully?
To do this, begin by noting the big stuff, the important stuff, the things that if everything but these things were stripped away you would still be content. The stuff that beyond the basics of food, warmth and shelter are essential to life. For me they are: my family, my friends and my health. Secondary big stuff include: my pets and the ability to do rewarding, fulfilling work.
So I think of actions that are necessary to preserve and honor these aspects of my life and plan my days around them. Things like running errands for my family, spending time with my boys, cooking nutritious food, connecting with friends, working at a job I love and exercise therefore take up a good portion of every day in varying increments according to need.
The next step is thinking about what nourishes your soul. What are the things that give you enough peace, patience, energy and joy to take care of your big important stuff? For me everything falls under the umbrellas of creating, learning and connecting. My cup is filled by writing, drawing, sewing, painting, collage, knitting, crocheting, decorating. It is also fueled by spending time helping others, laughing with a friend and playing games with my kiddos, learning something new, reading a great book or spending time with someone who is ahead of me on the path.
Lastly, make time for stillness. Everyone needs time spent during which they can clear their head and be silent for awhile. It keeps one from being overwhelmed by our ever growing to-do lists. I find my stillness in yoga, running, a quiet bath at the end of the day, or driving with the windows down and the radio off through the country. But the easiest way I find it is by meditating for just a minute or two in the morning before I get out of bed and just a couple more minutes in the evening. It is only at most five minutes out of my day and it makes all the difference.
These second and third tiers are most often what gets lost when I allow my ego free reign to do whatever it wants. And when the secondary tiers go, the first tier suffers.
Cultivating your life is very difficult at first.
We have convinced ourselves that scrolling is relaxing. The action itself tricks your brain into thinking it has accomplished something and that feeling is addictive – but if you do it too much you will find that you can feel the difference between that false sense and a true one. There are things that can help in the transition, and if you are anything like me you can expect plenty of backsliding, the same habits can help you keep up the good work.
Get Some Meditation Backup. Meditating is not intuitive. We are socialized to always be moving and thinking and watching and analyzing and doing. Simply being, even for a few minutes can be challenging. So it’s a good idea to have some support in that area. Breathe is a program available free on IOS, Android and the web. It provides guided meditations to help you learn to meditate. I still use them when my brain is really chugging along and I have trouble switching it off. I just pop in some earbuds, close my eyes for a moment and breathe. This app has helped me through some rough times, I can’t recommend it enough.
Have Productive Distractions Readily Available. I am a writer and so I’ve gotten into the habit of always having the tools of the trade at hand. I always keep a pretty journal or notebook and my favorite pens. (Pen link added for family members looking for stocking stuffers, hint, nudge, wink). This is great because I always have a place to stick new ideas or work on a story. On my days off I just carry my laptop with me everywhere (it’s an itty bitty netbook so it’s not a hassle since I’m carrying a bag anyway). The post you are reading was written in a waiting room, a coffee shop and my car. Basically, I turn my downtime into me time. I can feed my soul just about anywhere. One of my friends always has yarn and some needles on her. You can carry art supplies, a day planner or books. Any of them will give you something to do other than scroll.
Speaking of books….Get a Book. Like a real, honest to goodness, paper and cardstock/cardboard, bound book. Put it near your bed and keep your phone and tablet on the other side of the room. With some work, eventually you will reach for the book instead of a screen. In addition to being unproductive the glow from a screen suppresses melatonin which makes it harder to fall asleep. A good book of short stories is always handy to have laying around for when you might otherwise be tempted to overindulge in the social media rabbit hole, may I suggest The Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt you can pick it up at your local library, for free. Because you can take home books from there without paying money. It’s pretty magical. Go get reaquainted. If you aren’t into literature a newspaper or magazine will do the trick.
Have Something Interesting Locked and Loaded. Even if you are unable to carry anything other than your phone you can still avoid becoming overwhelmed with social media. Currently I am using my phone to learn Italian with Duolingo. I am in a constant state of playlist making on Spotify, so that I can enjoy some tunes without having to DJ in the car. In my limited FB time, I save all of the articles I see that interest me in my bookmarks section and bust them out when I want to look at my phone. In this way I’ve discovered new recipes, learned new weight lifting techniques, read about the crisis in Syria, literary critiques and found sewing tutorials. All of which were more rewarding than reading about how my former classmate thinks President Obama is a Muslim Socialist Terrorist.
Keep a To-Do List and Check Things Off Regularly. I can be a complete space cadet sometimes and I would often find myself forgetting to do half of the chores. I could somehow have plenty of time to like everyone’s selfies but couldn’t get the garbage to the curb every week. Enter ChoreMonster, yes it is a cutesy app designed for kids and I use it to keep mine on task BUT you can make as many child profiles as you would like. So I made one for myself too. When I click ChoreMonster I am reminded that I should do the laundry, change the sheets and clean the bathtub. Any To-Do list will work, even one that is written down. It forces you to plan the things that need to be done. Having a list reminds me that I have a lot of tasks that are more important than scroll. Bonus: ChoreMonster allows you to set rewards for points awarded when tasks are performed. My rewards are a guilt free pass to myself to purchase fancy dark chocolate, pricey (well, more expensive than my normal) cup of coffee, take time out for a nap, or have lunch out with a friend. It provides a little motivation.
Streamline your Social Media. In order to spend less time on Facebook, I deleted the app, kept the Groups app and disabled notifications on my phone. So when I feel like engaging with people on Facebook when I am mobile I can do so in a very controlled manner. I try to stick with sites and apps that are very specific: MyFitnessPal only gives me health related updates while I make sure I am eating nutritious food. If you are looking for positivity, there is Happier – an online gratefulness journal. The Community over at Mama’s Hip is a positive, drama-free parenting message board. By keeping it specific, I am able to get what I need from social experience without wasting time or getting distracted.
Parent Yourself. I don’t allow my children to just sit around in front of screens all day, if I can say no to those sweet, cherubic faces, I can certainly say no to my own. But I need a little help. I have added StayFocusd to Chrome, which allows me to limit the time I spend on websites that I select per day. Right now I have Facebook, Reddit, Imgur and Pinterest set to 10 minutes per day on my computer. On my phone I enable the restrictions and block Safari so I can’t get to the aforementioned websites . Yes, all I have to do is disable restrictions and I could be back on, but the annoyance of doing that is generally enough of a reminder to stop me in my tracks.
Doing these things has lessened my stress ten-fold. Suddenly, there seems to be plenty of time to get what I need and much of what I want accomplished. At the end of the day, I feel like I have done something. My life is not neglected, it is purposeful – even if sometimes that purpose is just watching Doctor Who with a couple of kids at the end of the day – and my time was not wasted.