Too busy too busy, and what is it all for?

This week I have been feeling… not quite stressed out, but definitely dissatisfied. First, I’ve let my main action list get out of sync with what I’ve actually been doing, and that’s always anxiety-producing, since I feel like I can’t keep track of what still needs to be done. Second, I’m on my period, and that always produces discontent! Third, it’s the holidays; I suspect lots of people (especially women, to whom so many of the holiday obligations seem to fall) spend the pre-Christmas weeks feeling incompetent and overworked. And fourth, my uncle and aunt were in a car accident over the weekend; thankfully, they’re fine, but for about an hour we thought they might not be. Thinking of that makes me want to focus only on what really matters, yet I can’t seem to find time to do so. In sum, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m physically uncomfortable and emotionally volatile, I’m doing too much, and I know it. Geez, put like that, no wonder I’m a little cranky!

So often in the past year or two, I’ve had cause to note where my habits diverge from Erik’s. It’s pretty startling. We both have many projects to juggle and we’re both in control of our own time. But Erik has an instinct for simplicity. When he’s busy, he lets lesser priorities fall by the wayside: cooking, socializing, exercise. In many ways, monasticism would suit him well! It drives me crazy to watch him ignore emails from friends or eat the same thing for days. If he had his way, we’d still be living like he did in college: four bowls, four plates, four cups, one towel, and one set of sheets. But he gets tons of work done, and since his work pays our bills, his prioritizing enables us to live the life we do.

I, on the other hand, have a gift for making things more complicated, and it’s usually in the name of simplicity. Take this Christmas, for example. I think requisite Christmas gifting is meaningless and contributes to clutter, so I’ve dispensed with shopping and pared my recipient list down to just a few. But because I really do care for everyone on it, and love giving gifts, I’ve funneled myself into making handmade gifts and wrapping everything creatively (which is more eco-friendly, but requires more time). If I’d just decided to spend money instead of time, I could have done all my shopping (most of it online) by Thanksgiving, as I usually do, and now I could be working on the family history instead. But no. I’m sure there are much better ways to avoid consumeristic gift-giving without having to spend so much time, and honestly, would anyone really care if I didn’t give them anything? But there you have it: my choices just tend to complicate things. I’m very lucky to be married to Erik instead of to someone whose tendencies mirror my own!

It frustrates me constantly that I try to make things simpler and instead I only end up making more work for myself. I really want to declutter the house, but it’s such a gargantuan task that it’s been sitting on my action list forever; I clear a quarter-shelf of physical space only at the expense of months of occupied brain space! I’ve tried to exercise by signing up for yoga classes, dance classes, the climbing gym, and capoeira, but in the end I’ve wasted class passes and felt guilty about “neglecting” my favorite yoga teachers, and I’m still not in shape. A simple daily walk would have done much better, but I’m afraid I would get bored and stop doing it… but then, at least stopping walking is free, whereas stopping going to my studios has cost me money and guilt. See what I mean? Erik’s response to too-much-to-do is pare down and take away; mine is switch gears and try new “solutions.”

Maybe my resolution for 2011 should just be “one in, one out.” It’s a tool that decluttering experts use to help hoarders stop their bad habit: if you bring a new thing in, you have to take an old one out. No exceptions, no excuses. I wonder if it would work for more than just clutter… maybe I could try it for habits too, and projects, and routines. No new projects till the old ones are done. No new classes unless I stop taking the old ones. I don’t know; it sounds good in theory, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it and then it’ll just become another thing to keep on my mind and feel bad about.

Or maybe I should think more about Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, in which she says learning writing is about removing our old ideas, and just getting down to the bones of it: the daily practice. What if my new mantra was “don’t add, only take away”? That’s not good advice for everyone, but there’s enough clutter in my life (physical, emotional, mental) that I should be able to “take away” for months without removing anything essential. I will think about this and report back after New Year’s, when I post my resolutions for the year.

In the meantime, I’d better get back to my action list and focus on taking away before Christmas!