You may have gathered that I am in a slump at the moment. I know it is the transition of the seasons from that gorgeous hot summer to the dark of the winter. I know it is the incredible busyness of September and October. I know it is the change in our family circumstance as one of the offspring leaves home. I know all of that. Knowing it makes it much easier and I had a sense of acceptance that this was just the mood of September and October.
I do feel I am coming through it. I have had to rest for medical reasons, so having to focus on sleeping has probably helped a lot. I have tried to spend a bit of time reflecting on what has gone well and a lot has gone very well and I have done a lot despite the energy slump.
One of the things that has helped a lot is social media. I know it is not trendy to see social media as a force for good, but I do. I am vigilant about what I follow and what I click on, generally I avoid news consumption on social media and I make sure I interact with people, so it becomes an important part of my social activity. It’s not my whole social activity, believe me, but it is a good part of it.
Yesterday it came up trumps in many ways. I directly declared I needed motivation to get to a yoga class and it came in spades, delivered with gusto and humour and of course everyone was right, I felt better for going, I also felt better for having some interaction with people and knowing that they were sympathetic of my sofa versus yoga battle. I could have asked some friends via text to nudge me, but that felt intrusive in their days. The friends on Facebook were obviously having some downtime too and were happy to reach out to me in that downtime. That is a lovely feeling.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out the door, I had a great evening and have had the best night’s sleep this week. And, hugely importantly I had to walk home from the class. Walking in the dark for the first time is always a psychological hurdle in the autumn I find. I leapt that hurdle and had a great evening, much of it down to social media. Thank you!
I fell in love with the work of Gretchen Rubin about a year ago and am a little obsessed with her Four Tendencies, which box people very neatly into a specific Tendencies depending on our response to expectations, both inner expectations – those we place on ourselves and outer expectations – those placed on us by others. There are four tendencies: Obliger, Questioner, Rebel and Upholder. If you would like to join my obsession, do take her quiz.
I am an Upholder, which means I respond well to both inner and outer expectations. I have no problem setting resolutions for myself and keeping to them, equally I will make sure whatever other people ask of me gets done. Each of the Tendencies has a downside though. In the case of an Upholder, it is something that Rubin calls ‘tightening’.
I am feeling that this morning. It is the start of a new month, which means that I will think about what I want to achieve this month. I am sure that by the weekend I will have found the thinking space to do this, but part of the tightening process is that it is no longer good enough to just think about the month ahead, it has to be at another level. I have woken up with the thought that I should have a plan of action for the month, neatly prioritised and ordered on a specific page of my journal. I should have a word of the month, illustrated with a word cloud. It is no longer enough to be living with a bit more intention and reflection, now I need to have everything written in a certain way? Good grief.
Last night I had a delayed train journey home from work and was just too tired to plan my month at work as I had planned, instead I rested. I know, that is totally sensible after a twelve hour day – just read some blogs or a novel. But now I have woken up feeling like a total failure because I have not prioritised my whole month. I have a to-do list for this week and next, all beautifully organised and prioritised, but this darned tightening means I still feel bad. because I don’t have a whole month’s plan. Again – good grief!
Word of the month has been decided though as I write this: loosening!
Good morning. Part two was promised for yesterday, but I was interrupted by having to mindfully buying a vacuum cleaner, having managed to blow up mine. Blogging time was, highly ironically, taken up by shopping online instead.
I cannot say I enjoyed the vacuum shopping particularly though – utterly boring. We did discuss whether or not we should repair the vacuum, but as it was a fairly dramatic blowing out of motor and the remaining carcass smells really quite bad, we are abandoning it. Fixing rather than replacing is of course a really important part of the process. It is specifically not-shopping, rather than shopping. My focus here is on the times when it feels we have run out of choices.
Yesterday’s shopping was a good example of the budget I mentioned earlier this week helping me enjoy shopping a bit more. Buying things for the house used to be a bit freeform. Sometimes I would not buy things that would be useful, because I thought they were too expensive, other times I would randomly buy things we probably did not need (Ikea I blame you). Having to decide how much money to put aside for house decoration and maintenance (pretty much the same thing in my book) has helped make those decisions really clear and relatively painless.
I have found reducing plastic has been another way to simplify shopping. It’s a good way to stop mindless purchase of beauty and hair products. It surprised me how much I did this. Instead I have found one shop which sells bars of shampoo so I am working my way through their selection. It will take me a while as the bars last a long time. I stopped buying shower gels and liquid hand soaps and moved to soap instead, it has been great fun experimenting with different soaps and scents. Some are great. Some are awful, but it is definitely a more intentional process than buying whatever is on sale.
All in all, it seems that reducing choice and having some internal rules about what I can and cannot buy has helped enormously. Less sense of overwhelm, a shared hobby or a specific purpose and surprisingly shopping has become much less of a dread.
One of my goals for this year was to be slower in life, to do things with more intention and more deliberately. A surprising manifestation of this has been in shopping. I am not a lover of shopping, I found it stressful – there is too much choice, too much expectation to be buying things to make life better. That never sat comfortably with me.
Somehow this year, I am enjoying shopping. I have not yet managed to totally overcome the impulse to just buy things mindlessly and then feeling guilty afterwards, but a few things have definitely helped.
A decision to be more ethical in my purchasing, specifically about environmental impact of what I buy has been a transformation in my mindset. The fashion industry is one of the major environmental culprits, guilty of mass-producing clothing in appalling working conditions, using and damaging a wealth of natural resources and all with the intention of forcing a complete change of wardrobe every month or so. It seems that a seasonal wardrobe is no longer enough, we now have transition wardrobes, party wardrobes, holiday wardrobes. I struggled hugely and refused to buy anything for ages and then overbought on impulse. I have found a form of clothes shopping I love – charity shops. Not just any charity shop, but a specific few close to home, which I visit in a specific ritual involving hanging out with a teenage son, him browsing for vinyl and DVDs and us both having a fortifying coffee before we even contemplate shopping. So, a new wardrobe and a shared hobby with a teen. Great result.
It is rather odd to realise that I look forward to clothes shopping, but I do. I changed work hours this year and changed them to make sure I could still go shopping. Ok, the coffee and hanging out with the teen are crucial parts, but still, there is also weekly shopping involved.
And it turns out that I have so much to say about shopping that this is going to be a two-part blog post – which is astounding me. Part two tomorrow.
It’s that time of the year when the days are feeling much shorter, we are losing the battle against the falling leaves, the weather forecasters are warning me how chilly it is out there this morning. Winter is close. The year is drawing ever closer to its end, it will be time to sum it all up very soon.
This year has been one of a lot of big changes in our family, but also some tiny changes. Tiny changes which became strong habits. Simply by keeping going.
The first is a gentle exercise programme. I say gentle because it started with a wearable gadget – in my case an Apple Watch. The aim is to close all the “circles”, which insist that I exercise for 30 minutes a day, burn a certain number of calories through activity and stand up at least once an hour. It was a relatively easy step to make it as easy as possible for myself and putting some actual exercise into place – a short run, a long walk, or some yoga are now a feature of most days.
The second is a healthy diet. Last year I got fed up with being obese, I wasn’t unhappy, I was just uncomfortable with sore knees and asthma difficulties. Slimming World was my route of choice, as it encourages small changes , encouraging a healthy diet based on fruit and veg, less saturated fat, a good balance of food types and regular meals. I am now a normal weight and have built up some healthy habits. We plan all our meals, we enjoy cooking new recipes. Cooking a meal from scratch is now as habitual as shoving a pizza in the oven. One very useful habit is not eating biscuits or cakes at meetings.
The final gentle habit is budgeting. A podcaster I listen to mentioned a programme called You Need A Budget (YNAB). It has been hugely useful in our household as we moved from being generally clueless and somewhat careless with our decisions on what to buy or not, to being much more in control of what we are saving for, what our financial aims are (they’re still very frivolous, but at least they’re actual aims) and when we might get there.
In that end of year review I need to remember the many tiny steps which have helped make this year a success overall. And not to beat myself up that they’re not dramatic, just small and effective. There’s a lot I have not achieved, but some crucial things that I have.
I am trying to write this whilst also having a conversation with two members of my family and dealing with a dog who is insisting on being cuddled over the top of the laptop. The teen has just read the first line and has just jokingly accused me of prioritising screen time over him. I have suggested he head towards the shower as he is supposed to be. All fairly normal family chaos.
We have, as the children have got older, settled into a lovely morning routine. We all wake up and prepare for the day in our own way. Not all of us want large amounts of social interaction over breakfast.
But we eventually gather for a walk, which each of us does our best to prioritise. And it is that walk that is the key. We know that whatever else we do in the morning, we will get to hang out with each other at some point very soon.
This has always been true, the walk to school was always the time for us to chat and sort out problems and listen to the news from school, or the latest obsession in the minds of a small child.
It still took me decades to work out that this is our happy time though. My one slight regret is that I did not realise years earlier that we all really enjoy the bustle of the mornings. We all like the noise of a house getting ready for the day. We’re not always cheerful, but somehow it’s at least understandable, and therefore acceptable, to be grumpy or stressed in the morning, so those moods don’t affect others quite so much. It took me years and years though to let go of a vision of bright sunny mornings filled with cheerful humans.
I am pleased we have all reached the point of enjoying mornings though. It makes life much easier. Not much quieter or calmer, but I can’t have everything.
One very important strategy in a full-on work period was enforced rest this weekend. I have just corrected that word ‘rest’ – originally it said ‘nothing’. Resting is not doing nothing though, and this weekend it was meticulously planned to make sure I ahd time properly resting, and time being social and active.
I met a friend of Friday afternoon (one of my two afternoons off in a week) and hung out with the teen a bit. I went to a yoga class and then out for dinner with the husband. A good mix of social and exercise and a lot of fun in all cases. Saturday morning involved a run in the rain, another yoga class and a list of relatively quick chores and a lot of laundry. With that done then I felt very entitled to be less active. I read, I slept and I watched a lot of TV.
I was very tempted to carry on with that on Sunday, but TV was making my head hurt and it was feeling too isolated.
Instead, Sunday was a day of going to church then having the family over for Sunday lunch. A post-lunch snooze (yes, we’re the sort of family who has a race for a sofa for a snooze) was followed by a walk in the local country park. You could tell the dogs were happy with the return of the autumn/winter routine.
I then enforced more rest, whilst deliberately stopping me from hitting the sofa and watching more TV by getting out a jigsaw puzzle. And also cooking an apple crumble with the apple we had found on our walk. Definitely happy family time.
Hopefully that deliberate resting has set me up well for the week ahead.