Free Time. We grow so addicted to not having any that we are at a loss as what to actually do when we find a bit. If you are a full-time working person, your time off is so limited that you likely have become possessive of it. You have to cram family care and events, errands and shopping, cleaning and lawn work, into such a few hours that you feel overwhelmed, stressed and constantly tired. Days off are oftentimes as filled with duty and responsibility as work days that it feels like you never really have a break. Now that I am free to live without the burden of a full-time job, I have the luxury to budget my time differently and I don’t miss the days when ‘free time’ was such a commodity that I would have given anything for it. How did I do it?
For starters, I took inventory. I had been in a professional position in an extremely hostile work environment for years. The fight to end the turmoil there became more overwhelming than my professional duties ever could have been. Free time was something I never had because I couldn’t let go of the worry, concentrate on my personal life and live in those few hours. I always had coworkers and underlings, and their well-being, on my mind. It was a very unhealthy situation. Eventually I would want to do nothing but sleep and it was then I realized I had to take back what I could of my spare moments. I began by making a list of what I did and could do for myself. I already made physical self-care a must: from daily walks with my dog, riding and caring for my horse, and taking exemplary care of my skin and appearance. Despite going through a serious physical illness during those last few years of my work life, I looked pretty darn good!
I also took inventory of what I did for my mental health: outdoor activity is a must for me. Hiking in park, beach walks with Mr. LucyLoves, enjoying meals on our backyard deck. Then there was ‘girl time’ that allowed me to vent frustrations and progress to friends who knew my situation and who prayed for and looked in on me from time to time. There was little else I could do in terms of self-care. But I was still overwhelmed by the idea of housekeeping, grocery shopping and cooking, getting to appointments and paying bills, and the multitude of others things that go into maintaining a home when my husband worked 12 or more hours a day. I never really had the opportunity to feel rested because the stress of my situation was always on my mind.
Once I knew I had done everything I could for myself, I had to decide how to make more ‘free’ time for me. Time that would allow me to sit and read a book or go on a date night without worrying about what still needed to be done. Time to enjoy my rural property, watching ducks on the pond or napping in a lounge chair while the birds sang. This required a schedule much like one I kept for work. I would have to make appointments for free time and force the ugliness of my work environment out of my thoughts or I was never going to ‘get a life’.
It sounds strange but I realized that in order to have more time for fun, I might have to cut back on things I enjoyed. Barn time was a seven day a week treat for me. Going to the barn after work every evening to spend time with my horse was critical to my well-being. But I realized that if I took one night off every week, I could get my house cleaned in that time and free up Saturday mornings. And my horse wouldn’t miss me because there was so much activity in the barn every day with the other owners and riders that I needn’t worry about him. And what a relief those few hours of freedom on the weekend brought to me. I also took grocery shopping out of my weekend routine by going out with hubby for a late Friday night meal followed by an even later trip to the market. Bonus: we had the store practically to ourselves! OK, maybe it doesn’t sound like the most romantic date in the world, but it worked for us. We ended it by putting the groceries away together when we got home followed by a nightcap. We turned what used to be a chore for me into something I could look forward to. And in the process, I now had all of Saturday for fun! I was tired on those evenings that I did those tasks but no more so than I would be from stress after a work day. And it actually helped keep my mind busy those couple evenings a week on something other than the situation at my office.
There are numerous ways to alter your schedule even if it takes some thought and help to do it. You might need to enlist the aid of a partner or friend, and you might even have to say ‘no’ from time to time. So many Americans have gotten so used to over-scheduling their families that they forget their lack of free time is, in great part, their own doing. If your child is in an activity every night of the week, you’re probably doing too much, which is another issue you can control. Children need to learn that we can’t do it all just as we adults have learned it, oftentimes the hard way. Maybe one dance class and one sport’s practice a week is enough. Or, maybe there is a dance class you can take while your children are enjoying theirs. One couple I know rotates their attendance at children’s activities, with mom taking one week and dad the next. The parent who stays home prepares the evening meal, packs lunches for the next day and sets out school clothes. And they swear they are all the better for it. It is possible to save more time if you take a hard look at how you spend it. Don’t forget to include the time you ‘waste’ with your electronic devices which are real time sappers.
Once you’ve carved out time for yourself, you might actually be at a loss as for what to do. We become so used to always being active that sitting idle makes us feel we are missing something. I remember asking myself the same thing. I had to remind myself of some of the quiet things I enjoyed, on my own and with hubby, and then I was able to randomly select a pleasure, be it working a crossword puzzle or searching through recipe books that had been long neglected. Once I got used to having a day just for play, I started making more adventurous plans such as outings at museums and concerts and local festivals. It just took me awhile to get used to having time to truly savor life. Once I was able to do that, I was also able to be less critical of myself for letting some things go. Maybe I didn’t get all the house chores done on cleaning night and maybe the bathroom really did need a thorough deep cleaning but I no longer focused on those things. I was able to let it go until scheduled cleaning time came around again. Because no one really cares if there’s a spot on the shower curtain.
If you are having difficulty finding time to truly live your life, to focus on working to live and not the other way around, maybe you need to schedule your own free time. You may have to take baby steps, such as contemplating what seems like an impossible dream on your lunch break or waking up an hour early one morning to draft a new time schedule. Once you get started, you’ll soon get excited about the possibilities and before you know it, you’ll have a bit more freedom you crave. Freedom to enjoy the gifts your work and family bring as opposed to the efforts they take.
As always, live a beautiful life!
*Images courtesy Classroom ClipArt.