Reclaiming Time

March 23, 2011

When Melissa and I started this experiment, Helene and Jim assured us that we would have more free time. For me, this prediction has been true to a certain extent. I rarely run errands at lunchtime or after work these days, and my weekend errands are limited to trips to the farmers market, grocery store, and library. I haven’t seen the inside of a clothing store, big box store, or mall since December. I don’t have any new pants to hem, I make only one shopping list a week, and I spend very little time in the car traveling to and from stores. And yet my days seem filled to the brim with activity.

I’ve been taking notice of all this activity since our first Voluntary Simplicity meeting in January. Even without the extra time spent in cars or in crowds, I still manage to feel harried and irritated at certain points during the week. So, I’ve started taking small steps toward eliminating draining chores from and introducing more meaningful and productive endeavors to my life.

1. I’ve started walking to work.

I had been walking home from work pretty regularly since I began my new job a year ago. On my walk-home days, I would catch a ride with Channing, who passes by my office on his way to the toll road, in the morning. About two months ago, though, I noticed that the morning rides left me feeling rushed. I was on Channing’s schedule, not my own. Plus, the various ranting dude podcasts Channing listens to in the morning usually make me irritable.

Walking to work, in contrast, is ridiculously pleasant, even in chilly weather. My pace is leisurely and the views are fabulous. My route goes past a lake, through the neighborhood shopping center, then past a soccer field and elementary school. Thanks to Reston’s pedestrian tunnels, I have to navigate intersection traffic only once. I notice the trees and the birds (tons of cardinals this winter) and the pattern of ice on the lake. I wave to my neighbors. I occasionally stop at the shopping center for a cup of tea or hot chocolate. The best part is I get to choose my own soundtrack. So, I arrive at work not only feeling more happy and relaxed, but sometimes laughing, singing, or smiling (as was the case after I listened to Darryl “DMC” McDaniels’ story on the Moth podcast a couple of weeks ago).

I do have to leave the house earlier, which requires a little extra planning. I try to make my lunch and set out my clothes the night before. I wake up a few minutes earlier now—mostly to accommodate my running/swimming schedule—but the early alarm also helps me get out the door on time. These are only tiny changes to my daily routine, and they are worth it.

2. I reevaluated my regular activities.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a freelancing project that caused me to cancel all my social appointments for two weeks, I spent a few minutes writing down my regular, free-time activities. The list was pretty simple and included things like running/training, freelancing, blogging, and attending Voluntary Simplicity meetings. I listed eight or nine activities and decided I could cut one entirely (freelancing). Of the seven or eight left, I established a couple priorities (running/training and blogging). The rest I’ll continue to enjoy when I have time. Cutting freelancing alone has opened up a ton of time (ten to fifteen hours a week), but still, I’m planning to reexamine the list in a month or so—maybe swap a volunteer activity or two for one of my other hobbies.

3. I am phasing out my long-term to-do list.

I have a to-do list in my head that includes tasks I’ve been meaning to complete since December. Yikes. Last week I crossed one item off the list when I finally hemmed a pair of pants I bought last November. I’m also making steady progress on one of my outstanding Christmas gifts—a knitting project (my first knit-in-the-round project!). I should wrap that sucker up this week.

In the last month or so, I’ve made a concerted effort not to add to this long-term to-do list. Right now, I plan to finish up the last few tasks on the list and not start a new one—ever. Of course, I will probably take on multiday projects in the future, but I’m hoping to see each such project to completion before I undertake another one. Also, I love lists and imagine I will still make short mental to-do lists of tasks I can reasonably accomplish in one day (the key word here is “reasonably”). But I hope never to have a long-term list hanging over my head again.



One Response to “Reclaiming Time”

  1. Mary Bellamy Says:

    Well done, Julie. These are great ways to simplify your life.

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