Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Conscious Decompress

Brigid Schulte's new book, Overwhelmed, studies our culture of busy. The book also happens to be a thorough investigation of a kind of culture I know firsthand.

One that involves shuttling kids from soccer games to scout meetings. Squeezing grocery shopping in post-run Sunday, before religious obligations, making sure you have time to grab something to eat before half of the family is due to volunteer to help stock the homeless shelter pantry from 2-4.

Track practice starts at 3:45, but it's okay if the kids miss the first fifteen minutes because the homeless shelter is such a good cause and dropping the kids at track means you have twenty minutes to prep dinner, do a load of laundry run back and get them before you all sit down to the family dinner that research shows plays a crucial role in determining the future success of your offspring. 

In the subtext of the previous paragraph, something is hidden that I've suspected for a while.

Busy is a status symbol.

Ms. Schulte's book, Overwhelmed, points out that at some point, busyness became a symbol of high social status, a testament to our personal importance and something viewed as downright glamorous.

It's nice to hear someone come out and say it.

It also makes me wonder, given the research showing we're at our least effective when we feel pressed for time, that this sensation actually shrinks our prefrontal cortex, if it's not a status symbol that's headed the way of the suntan.

Remember the eighties? When golden brown skin, the darker, the better symbolized the financial ability to fund trips to sunny climes and the free time to enjoy them? That was before melanoma became epidemic and men and women alike realized the real key to youth wasn't so much La Mer as it was avoiding le soleil.

Maybe being ridiculously busy is destined to be the golden suntan of the first part of this century.

All I know is lately our weekends have a lot more free time. I'm consciously choosing not to sign my kids up for so many activities. The dinner parties I used to throw on a regular basis have dwindled in both size and frequency. And family dinner, it's easy to prepare and enjoy when I have all afternoon.

Sometimes we're a little bored, but then we discover long forgotten board games, books and crafty projects gifted to us and shoved in a closet. When given the opportunity, it's amazing how good we are at occupying our time or, you know, sometimes just napping.

Maybe the next status symbol to trend will be that of the Conscious Decompress. Look for a rise in Google status's set to 'Dawdling'.

We'll be the well-rested, unbusy few who inspire the anti-time management movement and a whole new series of non-fiction books that giving precise instructions on how to properly achieve our glamorous empty- calendar lifestyle.

Who's in?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Johanna, that is a smart choice to make for your family, and for your sanity. We are becoming too busy for our own good, and losing the joy of living along the way.

Julie Flanders said...

omg that tanning ad is something else. Even though I remember how trendy it was, it's still shocking to see it now. Of course I have never been able to tan and was as pale then as I am now, so I often felt like a total freak in the 80s. Now I'm glad I wasn't even able to do this to my skin!

I love the idea of dawdling status LOL.

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm in. I am SO in. I've tried to keep my girls' activities to two or less and our weekends are for playdates or a family outing. School days are so rush-rush, we all need to decompress. Except me. Weekends are a bit brutal since I leave all the housekeeping and most of the laundry for those two days. Sigh.

Beylit said...

Between work and faire we never seem to have any down time and it is maddening. That is why during non faire months we make a conscious effort to not do anything more than we have to. Our favorite thing to do is sleep in and then go get breakfast and window shop all day long. We are together with no set schedule or real purpose in life and can enjoy being together without thinking of anything. Oh how I long for June.

Joanne Noragon said...

That kitty owns decompress. This afternoon I found myself lost in day of the week and panicked I was in the wrong place for the wrong kid on the wrong day. I really don't know how my daughter does it, two kids and a business.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I feel busy and overbooked if I have two places to be on the weekend. I can't stand running from place to place, and perhaps I have a low status among my peers in the community.

Too bad. I can't stand that feeling of run, run, run. And as a teacher, it really burns me up when those activities are used as an excuse for not having homework done.

Hey, at what point does being highly educated get its turn at being a status symbol?

Masia said...

I'm very much in, and I do practice it already.
So good to finally hear a voice of reason!!! Yes, it's good to relax and just do nothing or something but not on the run, under pressure. Just rolling with it.
Changing plans last minute - why not.
My colleague asked once what are my plans for the weekend, I answered that I have no particular plans his response was: 'you're leaving on the edge!'. Well, good for me :)
As ever, thanks for your posts :)

Nicki Elson said...

I'm iiiiin!

I've been curiously observing many of the women I work with, trying to figure out why they work so hard for so little in return. I was thinking it might be because they all have daddy issues and are desperate for the big boss' approval, but maybe that's not it - maybe they're all locked in a subconscious competition with each other to see who can be the busiest.

BECKY said...

Bravo, Johanna! I've been thinking for quite a few years now, as I drive past all the LARGE houses that are probably for a family of four...and have huge decks with furniture that I never see people enjoying, etc. etc....that the houses are status symbols. That a large percentage of working women don't make enough money for it to be worth it! And that wouldn't it be nice if more and more moms chose to stay home with their kids, at least until they're older? And I know many will say they can't afford to do that....but I bet they could, if they lived in a smaller home, etc. AND the reason I've only been "thinking" this and not saying it is that I don't want to be thought of as an old fuddy-duddy! :) I've rambled on much too long, but this really does go along with your post about being too busy to be a connected family and the status symbols. Thanks for a wonderful post!