“But how does she make these huge meals, keep the house so clean, train for a marathon, always look put together, and STILL take care of three kids under the age of 5???” I whined to my mom over the phone. It just seemed unreal to me that a friend of mine could keep everything so organized and running smoothly when I was struggling to find time to the most basic of things (read: put on mascara and brush my teeth) while being a mother to my five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. My exhaustion was real, as was my desire to find a way to do all of the things while also being all of the things.
“Honey, we all have the same number of hours in the day. We just spend them differently, and you have to choose where you want your time to go. So if your day feels full, then there’s something you’ve decided is more worth your time than all the things your friend is doing.”
Well, shoot. Was it really that easy? Have I been overcomplicating everything? I’m not a lazy person, I don’t spend much time sitting on my couch, maybe those extra minutes really were hidden in my day somewhere. Initially, I took what my mom said purely in the complimentary sense. Clearly, I was doing a superior job of parenting which took up more time than others who might just be getting by. Ha. If you buy that, I’ve got some ocean front property in Arizona for you. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are loved, stimulated (not overly so), fed generally healthy meals, play outside every day, get appropriate and carefully monitored screen time, and enjoy most of the other socially acceptable measurements of “good parenting”. But am I really doing MORE than my friends and peers? Probably not. Okay, box checked, the time spent parenting my children was appropriate and didn’t need to be decreased. What about cleaning? Was I spending too much of my day trying to maintain a house? I am admittedly a bit of a clutter-phobe. In my ideal home, I would have nothing on my kitchen counters- no coffee pot, knife block, nada except one vase of fresh flowers-but to balance that, I don’t necessarily remember the last time I mopped…I think it was in a month that ended with -er but whether that was October or December, I couldn’t say for certain. Feeling confident that my house would fall to slum status if I didn’t continue with my normal amount of cleaning, I moved on to other areas of my life that I could cut time. Self-care… for everyone’s benefit, I decided to look elsewhere for the extra time.
Okay, well, I was starting to run out of options, or at least options that I recognized as time investments. Time to take a more honest look at my day… grocery shopping, texting, social media, volunteering… suddenly things started coming a bit more into focus. I love a daily spin around the grocery store. I rarely meal plan, so the kids and I grab what sounds good for the day, pick up seasonal produce, argue about donuts coming home with us, you know the drill. But what if I did a rough meal plan for the week and could cut my grocery shopping to twice a week? Suddenly I had just added thirty minutes to my day, five days a week! Cha-ching! Feeling like I was getting somewhere, I looked at my volunteer work with a military spouses organization next and decided that it was important enough to me to keep it on my schedule. But it was finally time to take a look at the things I didn’t want to admit ate up so much of my day- clicking through social media and always making myself available via text message. Sigh. When we lived overseas, I didn’t have a smartphone so to get on social media or communicate with anyone I had to physically be at home on my computer. When I started thinking about it, I really did have more time then, even with the daily trips to the grocery store. The only way I could really gauge how much of my day was being spent on this was to put away my phone. Like, for the whole day. Or, at least until the kids were in bed.
So I put my phone away…. and I found out what I already knew. I could add about two hours to my day by focusing only on things inside my own home. My house was tidier, the dinner dishes were done before the kids went to bed, I had time for a 30-minute workout(I’m not sure if that’s a win?), and I had time to take the kids on an extra long bike ride. But I also found that I missed out on things! The text from my friend asking if we wanted to meet up at a park(yasssss!), a FaceTime call from my sister and her adorable baby boy, and a couple of tags on Facebook that I would have liked to see earlier. So giving up communication altogether isn’t really the answer for me. But being mindful and honest about it, that’s the better path. I’ve tried to start leaving my phone in my bedroom unless I’m going out, and setting an actual schedule for when I look at it so I can’t say “Oh, I can’t remember the last time I checked my phone, it must have been hours” when it was really about 6 minutes ago. And sometimes, when the kids and I head out to run routine errands, I skip my phone completely like in the olden days of the 1990s- vintage living, right there!
Bad habits start to creep in every now and then, of course, and I start to wonder why my days seem to have gotten so much shorter again. I usually find them – taking ten minutes to cruise Facebook while my coffee brews (it only really takes two minutes), spending thirty minutes to wash my face and brush my teeth (a ten minute task at best) so I can see what everyone is eating on Instagram, and the extra five minutes in the driveway before we leave the house so I can text my mom. I probably won’t give up those texting minutes, though. After all, we all have the same hours in the day, what I make of them is up to me.