Tuesday, October 24th, is the fourth annual celebration of "Take Back Your Time" Day, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell University and an initiative of The Simplicity Forum. If you haven't heard about it, it's probably because you've been too busy.
Americans pride themselves on being busy all the time. It's a national obsession. If you ask a simple "How are you?" of your co-workers or friends, most will answer, "Busy!" Many will answer, "Swamped!" But how many will say it with a hint of pride in their voices? We're a nation founded on Puritanical principles, so too much leisure time seems to make us a bit uneasy. We certainly work longer hours and take fewer vacations than our European counterparts. And we are a nation compelled to make certain that our children's time is fully scheduled with homework, sports practices, music lessons, summer camp, etc.
The Take Back Your Time folks think that enough is enough so they created an initiative "to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment."
If you think that sounds a bit dramatic, consider the most obvious results of no downtime: stress and fatigue, two factors that contribute to just about every health problem any of us might have. And, if we're stressed and exhausted, how do we relate to our spouse, partner, children? Probably not in an ideal way. If we're constantly running short of time, how often do we turn to fast food instead of preparing a meal we can share? If our kids' time is jam-packed with scheduled activities, when do they have time to dream, explore, and de-stress from their pressures? If we're always occupied or preoccupied by our work, how do we get to know our neighbors, create a feeling of community, or even just hang out with our family and friends or -- imagine! -- alone? Hang out. It sounds almost old-fashioned. When was the last time you did that? Not a rushed get-together where you're constantly checking your watch, not a forced family holiday meal, not a social event that was really a business "networking" opportunity. Just a chunk of time during which you did whatever you wanted to do. Sounds pretty luxurious, doesn't it?
Of course, some people aren't being "busy" or "swamped" by choice. Some of us need to work two jobs to earn enough to support a family. Or we're time-crunched because we're the caregivers for entire extended families, including kids, grandkids, and elderly parents -- and we may even have full-time jobs on top of that. Some people are extremely grateful to have a few scheduled activities for their children to help keep them off the dangerous streets. Some people are busy just trying to survive.
But if you're one of the lucky people who have a choice to take back some of your time because you've inadvertently become a part of the overworked, consumer-crazed rat race, this day is an opportunity for you to rethink your situation. So, when you're pondering what you'd do if you had, say, an extra hour every day that you could use for yourself, I'd like to suggest that you consider how much time you spend cleaning, collecting, storing or trying to navigate around all the excess stuff in your home. What if you had less stuff? Would you have more time? I can guarantee that you would. Less stuff always equals more time.
Check out my book, "Sorting It Out: One Disorganized Woman Solves the Problem of Too Much Stuff," for advice and personal anecdotes about letting go of clutter. I call it "un-stuffing." It's a good place to start to take back your time -- and your life.
© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob