Everything in my life has brought me here. ––Rainer Maria Rilke
Each new year, like many of you, I toss the figurative pieces of my life in the air to reimagine myself, our home, our work, our life. Culture-wide, it is the great re-evaluation of what we are meant to do, how we are meant to live, what or whom we truly value. To keep my thoughts free of expectation, I pen them quietly in my journal as I go about cleaning forgotten corners and shelves, emptying the house of unnecessaries. Clearing the contents of a closet or an unsorted drawer seems to inspire my brain to do the same. And like the contents that end up piled by the door to pass on to another home or donate, I often discover it is not that I need more, but to be more disciplined with less. The same can be true of my goals. As I flipped through four journal pages of scrawled lists and fragmented thoughts cluttering my headspace––everything from our family’s core values to the spilled soil in the car that needs vacuuming to unfinished creative projects to a book I want to read aloud with the kids this year to something on this blog that needs fixing and so on––I was surprised to learn that my reaction was not to organize or optimize these thoughts, and it certainly wasn’t to add to it. Instead, I wanted to pen inked lines through them, to discern which mattered the most and fold the rest away with the unnecessaries by the door.
The underlying truth? Everything is a trade-off. I know this. You know this. Whether it is the space in our home or calendar or the more figurative space in our head, choosing one thing always requires us to give up something else. And yet, still, I find myself living and making choices, ignoring this core principle. I learned this the hard way recently. I am home for the bulk of my day, and from the time I wake up through the dinner hour, our energy seems high and buzzing, frenetic even. The hours fold into one another with personal work and chores and schoolwork and play and social media and meals and emails and walks and character conversations. The evening hours have always been life-giving for me in a different way than the day. They restore and quiet me. They allow space for my introverted person, for reflection or reading or time with Mark. Yet not wanting to compromise my daytime rhythms and work, I was scheduling more and more meetings and meet-ups during the evenings.
During much of this last fall, I felt this ongoing frustration at the lack of order in our days. The evening chores were often sloppy and only mostly done, meaning our mornings often started there. I felt this growing exhaustion and grumpiness in me coupled with a lack of creativity. I stopped picking up my camera. My writing felt flat, lacking in soul and often remained in drafts or in journals. Much of my time typically allotted to writing here or on social media was spent in restorative prayer and reading to curb a growing current of anxiety in my chest. There were regular piles in my bedroom: schoolwork needing reading/checking, books and articles I wanted to read, clothes folded and waiting to be put away somewhere in my messy drawer. I planned out my lists weekly and daily, crossing off, crossing off, crossing off; I had an assistant a few hours a week to help manage it all, and yet still, I sensed this looming sense of disorder and disconnection. As I cleared spaces and thoughts last week, wondering and making notes, I realized I had been giving too much to other people in the evenings. I had said yes to meetings and meet-ups with others because the hours seemed available. Technically, I didn’t have things scheduled, right? Without realizing it, I was trading off an essential part of myself, a crucial part of my own creativity, restoration, and connection within the home. One fresh start for the new year? Protect evening margins during the week.
Naturally, your own trade-offs will be different. Your home, core values, and energy will differ, too, sometimes year to year. The aim is not sameness. Rather, it is understanding your/family’s highest value and how to best protect and honor the energy required to work toward it. Sometimes it will mean folding up and shelving something for later; sometimes it will mean better-organization of time or resource; sometimes it will mean letting go of something altogether.