Simplifying: harder than a simple equation

A few days ago, I raised the issue of simplification with my husband. It had been a particularly challenging week, with mid-day doctor appointments for my mother-in-law, therapy for Monkey Man, parent-teacher conferences at my school, and a few days in a row so chock full of meetings that it was almost impossible to find time to use the rest room.

Before we talked, while Ed was getting Gorilla Girl to sleep (and had fallen asleep himself), I googled “how to simplify your life” and was surprised by the number of bloggers out there offering advice on simplifying.  I found most of the websites to be of little use to me.  Most of them suggested getting rid of your high-stress and equally high-paying job, buying some land in Montana, Arizona, or New Mexico, and getting rid of a car or two, all while paying the bills with your investments, while consulting from the comfort of your new high-tech yurt.  Of course, a few of the websites advocated getting close to god.  I find both of these tactics impractical.

The writers of these “simplify” websites are passionate about what they are doing to live a more centered life, but when they start explaining how i-phones simplify your life,  my bullshit detection hackles stand alert. I needed to find my own solution.  So much for relying upon the wisdom of the internet to solve my personal woes.

After Ed awoke from his night-time nap, we had a much more practical discussion about our life and its stresses.  Some of our stresses are are  chosen, self-imposed, and exacerbated by the corollaries of our choices. For example, we both have chosen to be teachers of subjects and at schools that demand a high degree of preparation, involvement, and planning (not to mention grading of papers).  We also have high standards for ourselves in our professions, necessitating intensive work outside of class time. Ed’s coaching job is an integral part of his job, but it means late nights of practice, and all day Saturday meets.

We decided to adopt two children, who are now five, and they demand much attention.  Our  son has special needs — not necessarily part of the plan, but something we wouldn’t change for the world — and that demands late evening therapies in order to accommodate our work schedules. Ed’s mom moved in with us permanently this summer, and her presence adds depth to our lives in many ways, but it also means one more person’s needs to be met, one more personality in the mix.

Ed noted that I seemed calmer and less stressed this fall than I had been last year, but that a couple of weeks ago that all changed.  I got sick.  Too many obligations hit me full in the face at once, and I realized that I wasn’t measuring up, but more importantly, I wasn’t able to do things to keep myself sane in the midst of keeping up with the day-to-day demands.

At many times in my life, running or exercising in some way, has been my church, my meditation, my centering, my moment of sanity. Because of schedules and injuries, I am not able to exercise, or run, on a regular basis.  My sense of well-being is dramatically shifted when I can take even thirty minutes a day to exercise. This fall, I have stopped exercising after a fairly active summer of biking and running. Ed says I should not discount walking a mile each way to and from school while pushing a stroller loaded with 60 pounds of kid, a lap top, papers, lunches, coats, snacks and toys. Even though I am technically exercising while I take that mile walk, it isn’t really calm, reflective, centering time.  I am managing arguments, talking about the day, finding snacks, and dealing with insane Hyde Park drivers who seem to see a big read target painted on a woman with a stroller filled with kids.

My life hasn’t changed since our talk.  In fact, every night has been later, more meetings have come up, and Ed has more late night school obligations. However, I feel a little better.  Maybe the first step in simplifying is figuring out that I need to simplify. And maybe the next step is learning to take things as they come, acquiesce to the notion that I can’t accomplish as much as I planned in any given day, and find something to make me laugh each day.

I do plan to simplify my life, and I am making some progress on letting myself find a moment, like now, to write, even if I can’t find a way to exercise. Exercise will come, maybe when cross country season is over.

Baby steps.

This past weekend, after the late-night “simplification” talk, I opted to go on a 20 mile bike ride instead of cooking for the family or grading my papers. The long bike ride on a gorgeous fall day provided enough mental energy to get through most of this week.

I decided that I don’t have to grade every single thing that my students write.  Sometimes, they just need to write and learn and share that information later with the class. Clearing my plate of a few more papers kept me from hitting the wall this week.

One talk + time outdoors – unnecessary grading + more laughter = simplification.

Round Houses & Yurts from Mindful Living

Next post, I’ll be writing from my yurt in the New Mexico desert.

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4 Responses to Simplifying: harder than a simple equation

  1. Jennifer says:

    I really feel for you, Peggy. I am always in awe of what you are able to do as a working mother, as I often feel that my own to-do list just gets longer and longer in spite of the fact that I don’t even work outside of the home. You are amazing and intelligent and dedicated. I wish I had some words of advice for you on simplification, but I’m still trying to figure out how to do that myself. Hope to see you one day soon.

    • Jennifer — Thank you. I hope my post did not sound all “woe is me” because I really do know that I am lucky — to have a job, kids, a home, friends, etc. I worry sometimes that blogging can become too inward looking that way.

      I do think that our lives are much more complicated than our own parents, for example. I share the theory with others that the internet is to blame! Yet, here I am finding solace in it.

      Yes, let’s try to get together!

  2. Deb Hanrahan says:

    Great post! It is hard to simplify and especially for mom’s with young kids. For me, I had to learn how to set boundries with other people and be able to say the NO word when necessary. I also try to keep it simple by eliminating the stuff in my life, a constant battle when one has kids. I love the internet, for me it does make my life easier. I do all of my bill paying and Christmas shopping online, and this has saved me a lot of time. When my kids were young and I was having a particularly busy day, week, month…, I would even grocery shop online and have my groceries delivered.

    I’m sure simplifying one’s life is a very individual matter because everyone has different priorities. Mine are 1. Marriage 2. Kids 3. Health (mental and physical) 4.Friends 5. Writing. Whatever doesn’t fall into one of these categories can wait until tomorrow. Your list is probably a little different. When I feel overwhelmed I break things down according to this list, and it helps me get my head on straight.

    Just remember, nothing lasts forever, this too shall pass, yata yata yata…

  3. jyourist says:

    There’s nothing wrong with temporarily setting the bar just a bit lower. You don’t have to hit every ball out of the park. You can still pitch a good game without your fastball.

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