This post was inspired by something I’ve found myself struggling with a lot in the last 6-8 months – something that I think we all struggle with to varying degrees, something that comes and goes in waves (for me at least): Stress, or feeling overwhelmed by our To-Do Lists.
I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the daily tasks of, well, life when I have to go to work for 9 straight hours during the day, preceded and succeeded by a commute that could either be 30 minutes or two and a half hours (no really: I was once stuck on the train before work for TWO.AND.A.HALF.HOURS).
I know that reading that in an isolated context makes it sound like I am totally first-world complaining, and I get it – taken alone, it’s super complain-y and obnoxious and reeks of entitlement.
HOWEVER…the real struggle here is balancing the stresses of work and the commute with all of the things that are supposed to make a good and happy life, home, body, relationship, friendships, etc.
For example, we’re told that we need to cook our own meals – no processed foods or take out – in order to live our healthiest lives. Okay, great, I can get on board with that – but how and when, exactly, am I supposed to do all of that? Last I checked, grocery shopping in New York City is a pain in the ass – you’re either limited to the hit-or-miss quality of the walking-distance grocery stores, or you’re
paying for an Uber hauling your groceries on the subway. Either way, you’re limited to what you can carry, which often means multiple schleps to different stores because oddly enough, your grocer could be overstocked one week on the coffee you like and be completely out of it for three weeks after. This is where stocking up on items would come in handy, except oh wait, your apartment is quite literally the size of an 1800s tenement, so where are you going to put all of your 24 rolls of toilet paper? Certainly not in that crack in the wall they call a closet.
Once you’ve acquired said goods over the course of the week, now it’s time to cook. Of course here in NYC working hours are 8:30-5:30 (if you’re lucky), by the time you get home it’s 6:30, by the time you’re done walking and feeding your dog it’s 7:30, and now the real fun beings: cooking!
Of course cooking healthy meals and “ricing” your cauliflower instead of boiling a cup of actual rice means more time, more money (more problems), and more dishes.
I almost forgot about you – though I’m not sure how, because every single spoon, fork, utensil, coffee cup, and drinking glass that I haven’t washed by hand in my gloriously “dishwasher-free” apartment is piling up in the sink. So now after I’ve cooked my time-consuming “healthy” meal after a full 9+ hour day of work, long (public!) commute home, and taking care of the dog, I can spend the rest of my free evening doing dishes! Not on my watch. To combat that, I picked up a pack of paper plates the other day to save the headache – only to find out that plastic straws and such are being phased out because they destroy the environment.
Thinking about that really stresses me out – maybe I should exercise for 30-60 minutes a day like they tell me to? Okay, sure – I could set my alarm for 5am to make the 6am kickboxing class, to be done by 7, showered and dressed by 8, so I can get to work by 8:30, be home by 6:30, and maybe do a load of laundry that’s been piling up for the past two weeks before promptly passing the hell out on my bed in my couchless tenement and starting it again tomorrow. Because if I’m waking up at 5am, I’m certainly not making it past 9pm.
Speaking of tomorrow…It’s Saturday! Thank God, finally have some time to…clean. Because living in a small apartment with a dog who sheds (who they told you didn’t shed) and likes to drop his wet food around the apartment while spilling water (on purpose?) means that your apartment floor looks like a war zone every 36 hours. At this point your Type A/slightly-OCD tendencies start to kick in and you’re left wondering if your apartment is always going to look like this, or if this is the “new normal.” Maybe there’s a way to clear up some free time on your calendar to clean. Where can you cut some corners? “Meal prep!” they say. Okay, sure! And there goes Sunday.
Oh – and don’t forget about all of those things they tell you are good for you (and which probably really is the stuff that matters in life, if we’re being honest): cultivating relationships, pursuing your passions, yoga/meditation, investing in yourself, taking classes, learning a new hobby.
I don’t know if the problem I’m describing is a NYC thing exacerbated by the daily struggles that seem to compound in even greater amounts in this city (small apartments, the expensiveness of even a slight “convenience,” no car, no storage, notoriously long working hours, a terrible commute), or if this is a problem of the times. Or maybe it was always a problem – at least ever since both people in a partnership/relationship started working, and women stopped getting married off to the first guy they met at age 16. I honestly don’t get how single mothers do it – if you’re in that situation, you have nothing but my respect.
A part of me also thinks this is a problem of Gen Y/Millennials – the “Overachiever” generation, who is constantly being fed the idea that there is something we can do to make us better, happier, more “mindful,” more whole. It’s frustrating in part because I really do want to do all of the things that we’re “supposed” to do. I feel more productive in a clean house. I enjoy cooking and feel physically better when I eat healthy, home-cooked meals. I like kickboxing and the after-exercise glow. I try to plan fun things to do with my friends and boyfriend. If I can get my lunches for the week prepped in advance, I’m on cloud nine. But it’s impossible to sustain that for very long – at least healthily. Instead of living our lives, society – and ourselves to some extent – set these expectations for us, and frankly, it’s exhausting.
So I’m curious, because I see so many successful, seemingly-happy, well-rested/well-adjusted people out there – how do YOU “do it all”? Do you pick and choose? Or are you also in a perpetual state of zombie while trying to accomplish everything on your To-Do List? Any tips or suggestions that really maximize your time during the week and give you more time to do the things you love? Your suggestions in the comments would be MUCH appreciated!